"The Centre is intended to supplement the present departments or their courses of instruction leading to degrees. It will foster a dialogue between the departments, the faculties, the Library and the Administration, in matters relating to cultural change resulting from technological innovation."

 

Marshall McLuhan (Draft Constitution, 1965)

2022-23 Theme
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“We become what we behold.” — Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1994), 19

In Understanding Media, McLuhan diagnosed what he called the “Narcissus narcosis.” Narcissus’s name, he writes, “is from the Greek word narcosis, or numbness. The youth Narcissus mistook his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of himself by mirror numbed his perceptions until he became the servomechanism of his own extended or repeated image. The nymph Echo tried to win his love with fragments of his own speech, but in vain. He was numb. He had adapted to his extension of himself and had become a closed system.” As Narcissus misrecognized his own reflection as another, we misrecognize our extensions—our media, our technologies, our arts—as something other than ourselves, and thereby are numbed by them. For McLuhan, our technologies are indeed extensions of our selves. But this is a recursive relationship: “we become what we behold.” Our technologies are extensions of our selves; our selves are remade in the image of the technologies we use. In McLuhan’s scheme, every technology is a technology of the self.

The McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology will dedicate its programming in the 2022–23 academic year to investigating contemporary technologies of the self. A number of such technologies have seemed salient in recent years: the selfie and its revolutions in our practices of imaging and self-imaging; our constant presentations of self in everyday life online; the endless online avatars we create, from dating profiles to VR avatars to the advertising profiles platforms collect; the intimate biometric technologies of the “quantified self”; or, simply, the endlessly irritating rectangle in the Brady Bunch grid of a video call that shows us back to ourselves—that we hopefully have now mostly grown numb over the last two pandemic years.

Contemporary media technologies—especially but not only social media—do not cease to work on the self, making it sharable, marketable, valuable. Billions upon billions of dollars have been spent on making such online selves seem desirable, salutary, even necessary. But, as Jia Tolentino has written, “selfhood buckles under the weight of this commercial importance.” Something as small and tender as a self may not hold up to such pressure. Social media may be a paradigmatic technology of the self, but it may also be a technology that obliterates the self.

The programming for next year does not presume that McLuhan’s way of entering into these problems is still especially salient, nor even that it was particularly apt in its time. We welcome a very broad array of approaches, including those critical of or oppositional to McLuhan’s thought. That said, we do embrace the generality of the problem of technologies of the self, across many unanticipated or surprising domains.

Meanwhile, the generality of the problem of the contemporary technologized self does not mean that all selves are technologized in the same way, with the same technologies, to the same degree, with the same value, or by the same procedures. “Our Selfies, Our Selves” intimates that the crux of contemporary selfhood may lie in the familiar imaging genre of social media, but it does not stop there. More than anything else, this theme is dedicated to critical inquiry into the ways different selves and different kinds of selves are gathered together, dissipated, forced into being, shattered, unraveled, stabilized, valourized and monetized, lived through—in an age of an unprecedented technical and mediatic investment of the self.

Finally, we mean the playful reference to the classic feminist text, Our Bodies, Our Selves, as more than a mere reference. We take the problem of the self to be worked out most explicitly in theories, arts, and activism from those who are marginalized—women; queers; those who are trans, nonbinary, and/or gender-nonconforming; the disabled; migrants; people of colour; Black people; Indigenous people. For it is frequently those who are marginalized who must live with a self that structures of extraction and domination have made a problem.

 
2022-23 Programming

The McLuhan Centre will host a number of programs dedicated to exploring the theme of Our Selfies, Our Selves. Programming includes:

  • an Artist-in-Residence, whose work substantially engages the question of the technologized self;

  • three Faculty Fellows, who will give public lectures offering critical accounts of technologies of the self;

  • three Graduate Fellows whose scholarly work engages in these questions;

  • six working groups with projects that touch on these questions;

  • and regular programming of Monday Night Seminars.

Artist in Residence

Our inaugural Artist in Residence will engage questions of the “technologized self” or “technologies of the self” in an exhibition of their work at the Coach House and will participate in the Centre's programming.

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Francisco González-Rosas (b.1984) is a performance and new media artist born in Chile, and currently based in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. Their creative research practice revolves around the constant mediation of reality in contemporary life, using performance as a generative device for inquiry rather than an end in itself. González-Rosas holds a MFA in Intermedia from Concordia University (Montréal), and a BA in Acting from Finis Terrae University (Santiago). Their work has been exhibited internationally.

Faculty Fellows

The Centre's three Faculty Fellows (two external, one internal) will conduct research, deliver a lecture and participate in programming that intersects with the annual theme and the work of the Artist in Residence. 

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Nicole Erin Morse (External Faculty Fellow) is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Multimedia Studies and Director of the Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Florida Atlantic University. Their research has been published in Discourse, Journal of Popular Film and Television, Jump Cut, Feminist Media Studies, Porn Studies, [in]Transition, and elsewhere. Selfie Aesthetics: Seeing Trans Feminist Futures in Self Representational Art is available from Duke University Press and examines the political, theoretical, and aesthetic potential of selfies.

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Damon Ross Young (External Faculty Fellow) is Associate Professor of French and Film & Media at the University of California, Berkeley and Visiting Professor of Media Studies at Pomona College. He is the author of Making Sex Public and Other Cinematic Fantasies (shortlisted for the 2019 ASAP Book Prize) and co-editor of “The Cultural Logic of Contemporary Capitalism,” a special issue of Social Text, and of “Proximities: Reading With Judith Butler,” a special issue of Representations. He is completing a book project on media technologies of the self.

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Negin Dahya (Internal Faculty Fellow) is an assistant professor at University of Toronto Mississauga’s (UTM) Institute of Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology (ICCIT). She is Special Advisor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion for UTM’s Office of the Vice-Principal and holds graduate appointments at University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information and Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Dahya’s research explores race and gender equity in relation to media and technology with a focus on girls, women, people of colour, and migrant groups.  Her current research aims to better understand the role of media and technology on the formation of race among refugees as they move across place, time, and technology. 

Graduate Fellows

This year we welcome three new graduate fellows and one returning fellow whose scholarly work engages with questions of contemporary or historical media and mediation, using humanistic or social scientific approaches.

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Hannah Roth Cooley is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History. She is a settler scholar, originally from Treaty 6 Territory in Saskatchewan. Her in-progress dissertation “Indigenous Journalism and Cross-Border Activism, 1969-1975” explores the intersections of print media, anti-colonial activism, and borderlands spaces in the North American prairies. Her research seeks to understand how activists crafted networks of solidarity across the colonial border, how media facilitated these connections, and how political thought was constructed alongside and within grassroots media projects.  

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Réka Gál is a fourth year PhD candidate at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto returning to the Centre for 2022/23 as a Graduate Fellow. She completed her master’s in Cultural Studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Her work unites feminist media theory and feminist and decolonial technoscience and explores how technological tools and scientific methods are employed to purportedly solve socio-political problems. In her master’s thesis Cosmic Colonial Fantasies, she explored the historical stages through which outer space colonial fantasies evolved, from ancient Greece until the 18th century. She is extending this research during her PhD to investigate contemporary outer space colonial initiatives, focusing on the implications of human-machine interdependence in outer space as it relates to issues of sustainability and environmental justice. She is excited for the opportunity to engage with the Centre and to participate in interdisciplinary conversations about technology and culture.

 
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Paula Nuñez de Villavicencio (she/her) is ​​a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the historical and political dimensions of media technology used for the governance, subjectivation, and surveillance of select populations. Specifically, her work looks at optical media and their role in shaping human conduct in visual information systems. She is a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow and her forthcoming co-authored book, Prisonhouse of the Circuit: A Media Genealogy, will be published by University of Minnesota Press in 2022. 

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Christine H. Tran is a fourth-year PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. Extending methods of digital ethnography alongside an ethos of research-creation, their SSHRC-funded dissertation explores the domestic(ating) work conditions of gendered and/or racialized game streamers on Twitch.tv, Amazon’s world-leading platform for live video entertainment. Christine’s published research has appeared in journals such as Television & New Media and Communication, Culture & Critique. Their work advocates for an intersectional feminist game studies approach to resolving issues in platform labour, the cultural industries, and the creep of livestreamed influencer logics (and harassment tactics) into Zoom and other homeward-looking platforms.

Working Groups

Working groups will operate from September 2022 until April 2023 (8 months) and supplement our programming for the 2022/23 academic year. The groups will engage fundamental questions about media and mediation, drawing on McLuhan’s spirit, working in theoretical, creative, and/or historical modes—from any constellation of disciplines in the humanities and critical/qualitative social sciences.

Queer Media Archives​

Convener

  • Patrick Keilty (Associate Professor, Faculty of Information and Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies)

Members

  • Cate Alexander (PhD student, Faculty of Information)

  • Elspeth Brown (Associate Professor, Department of Historical Studies)

  • Elio Colavito (PhD Student, Department of History)

  • Rachel Corbman (Postdoctoral Fellow, Critical Digital Humanities Institute)

  • Robert Diaz (Associate Professor, Women and Gender Studies)

  • Angela Fazekas (PhD Student, Women and Gender Studies)

  • Islandia Guzman (PhD Student, Faculty of Information)

  • A. Hawk (PhD Student, Performance Studies)

  • Daniel Laurin (PhD Student, Cinema Studies)

  • Bliss Lim (Professor, Cinema Studies)

  • Chido Muchemwa (PhD Student, Faculty of Information)

  • John Ricco (Professor, Art History, Visual Culture, and Comparative Literature)

  • SA Smythe (Assistant Professor, Faculty of Information)

  • Simon Stern (Professor, Faculty of Law and Department of English)

  • Madison Trusolino (PhD Student, Faculty of Information)

  • Andrew Wiebe (PhD Student, Faculty of Information)

  • Shana Ye (Assistant Professor, Women and Gender Studies)

Research

What is the radical potential of queerness in the archive? Following what Alex Juhasz has described as “queer archive activism,” this is the primary question our working group explores. 

 

The purpose of the working group is to:

  • Bring together established and emerging scholars of queer media archives from a range of disciplines to create an intellectual and professional support network

  • ​Identify connections across research projects, introduce scholars to the resources available for their research and teaching

  • Activate local queer media archives. 

 

With a sense of the entanglements of racialized sexuality, historical erasure, and material precarity, queer scholars pose questions about what gets absented from collections as a “bad,” risky” or unarchivable object. Collectively, we grapple with the problems and pitfalls of curation, evidence, epistemology, and historiography when queerness is an archival object. An archive is not simply a site for historical accumulation and biopolitical administration. Instead, it is also a site of creative irruption that re-assembles histories to serve as the contestatory ground over the boundaries of community, identity, pleasure, and desire.

Beating Time

Convener

  • Josh Dittrich (Lecturer, Communications, UTM)

 

Members

  • Mitchell Akiyama (Assistant Professor, Visual Studies, Daniels Faculty) 

  • Aljumaine Gayle (Design Technologist, based in Toronto)

  • Kanishka Goonewardena (Professor, Geography and Planning, St. George)

  • Kate Maddalena (Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Communications, UTM) Alexis 

  • Millares Thomson (PhD Student, Music Theory, St. George)

  • Anna Renken (PhD Student, Architecture, Daniels Faculty) 

Research

This working group aims to (re)construct critical and creative possibilities of thinking and making rhythm outside/within the grind culture of contemporary capitalism. 

We take rhythm to be one of the crucially unexplored interdisciplinary “elements” of the current moment. Borrowing from John Durham Peters’ notion of “elemental media,” the working group approaches rhythm as a constitutive element for apprehending and organizing lived experience and understanding how individual lives are integrated into larger social and collective contexts. Rhythms (like media, like environments) are immersive, but also infrastructural, a set-up for how we experience the world that is, every step of the way, part of that experience and of that world. Rhythms are a fact of collective existence that must be felt subjectively in order to be grasped analytically; in a quantified, data-driven world, rhythms exist at the interstices between experience and data. 

 

Our primary objectives are:

  • To (re)construct a critical concept of rhythm in three areas of 20th / 21st century thought: critical theory (Bloch, Adorno, Stiegler, Crary); process philosophy (Bergson, Whitehead, Simondon, Deleuze and Guattari); and especially the rhythmanalysis of Henri Lefebvre.

  • To gain theoretical insights in rhythm from contemporary perspectives in Queer and Crip phenomenologies and Black and Afro-Futurist temporalities; and aesthetic insights from contemporary artists, architects, and designers whose “anti-24/7” creative practices thematize idleness, slowness, quiet, rest and failure. 

  • To conceive research-creation experiments that misuse the digital platforms and devices of the 24/7 world to generate alternative ways of experiencing, knowing and sharing the rhythms of bodies, places and environments. 

Thinking Organically

Conveners

  • Auguste Nahas (PhD Candidate, Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology)

  • Félix Veilleux (PhD Candidate, Cinema Studies)

 

Members

  • Qieyi Liu (PhD Candidate, Department of East Asian Studies)

  • Gregoire Benzakin (PhD Candidate, Department of Geography and Planning)

  • Cole Armitage (PhD Candidate, Cinema Studies Institute)

  • Lindsay Leblanc (PhD Candidate, Women and Gender Studies Institute)

Research

This working group wishes to situate the epistemological, historical, philosophical and scientific implications of the concept of biological agency over the course of the 20th century, in order to reconsider the age-old debate between the vital and the mechanical today.

 

With the popularization of concepts such as the Anthropocene, which effectively situates human activity as a geological force, the question of the agency of the living has become central to many disciplines across the humanities and the life sciences. Inside the present concretization and self-organisation of a planetary assemblage of sensors and different ‘smart’ technologies of data aggregation, the boundaries between the mechanical and the vital have become blurred. In media studies, concepts such as the “anima,” with its emphasis on movement and the generation of relations, describes a situation where agency becomes immanently distributed and negotiated between the user/designer and the media object. In biology, the revival of a largely forgotten “organicist” tradition of thought is being revived in light of the shortcomings of the so-called ‘modern evolutionary synthesis’ which has put the notion of the gene at the centre of biology. Recent advances in ecology and developmental biology have forced biology to reconsider its reductionist dogma and return to a holistic vision of the organism as dynamic, self-organizing, and purposive entities which act on their own behalf and are not just the object but the subjects of their own evolution. As we see it, the current challenges in coming to grips with the Anthropocene are intimately linked with the impoverished understanding of biological agency which we have received from modern biology.

 

Our working group will aim to show the crucial role modern technological development play in ignoring or undervaluing concepts such as metastability, contingency and purposiveness for conceptualizing the relativizing human agency inside both its scientific and artistic realisations. These considerations, we believe, are crucial for negotiating the scientific, cultural, ethical and philosophical consequences of the planetary challenge of climate change.

Selfhood, Identities, and Collectivities of Platform Workers

Convener

  • Rafael Grohmann (Assistant Professor, Media Studies, Faculty of Information and UTSC)

 

Members

  • Julie Yujie Chen (Assistant Professor, ICCIT and the Faculty of Information)

  • Nicole Cohen (Associate Professor, ICCIT and the Faculty of Information

  • Alessandro Delfanti (Associate Professor, ICCIT and the Faculty of Information)

  • Youngrong Lee (PhD Student, Department of Sociology)

  • Christine H. Tran (PhD Candidate, Faculty of Information)

  • Asmita Bhutani Vij (PhD Student, OISE)

  • James Steinhoff (Postdoctoral Fellow, UTM)

  • Greig de Peuter (Associate Professor, Department of Communication Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University)

  • Hannah Johnston (Assistant Professor, York University)

Research

This working group aims to decipher how popular conceptualizations of “self” and “platforms” put eachother to work. Specifically, we seek to study the possibilities and constraints of selves, identities and collectivities among the rise of cultural interest in “platform workers,” that assemblage of people involved in the commodification and enclosed financial and social value for major technology companies. 

The questions we consider are:

  • What are the theoretical and methodological challenges of researching platform workers' identities, collectivities and selfhood from a media studies perspective? 

  • How do the relations of gender, race, class, sexuality, territory, among others, affect the formation of selves, identities and collectivities of platform workers? 

  • How do the materialities of the platforms enable or constrain performativities, the formation of identities and collectivities? 

  • How can we qualify the "quantified self" and other bywords that attach themselves to popular descriptions of platform workers and their data assemblages?

  • How do we understand the different formations of selfhood, identities and collectivities of platform workers from the observation that media play a central role in their everyday lives?

Specific topics of interest to the working group include:

  • Deconstructing assumptions of "platform worker" as a keyword in digital discourse

  • Selfhood, subjectivities and collectivities of platform workers

  • Platform workers as influencers and content creators

  • Workers' data and datafied workers as selves in the digital traces

  • Organizing and solidarities among platform workers

  • Selves of platform workers and class composition

  • Identities of platform workers and the State

  • Performativity and identities of platform workers

  • The rise of "anti-work" movements as co-developed with platform identity

  • Materiality of platforms and worker identities

  • Worker writing and stories as part of identity formation

Second Foundation

Conveners

  • Paula Nuñez de Villavicencio (PhD Candidate, Faculty of Information)

  • Alexander Ross (PhD Candidate, Faculty of Information)

 

Members

  • T.L. Cowan (Assistant Professor, Department of Arts, Culture and Media at UTSC and the Faculty of Information) 

  • Jas Rault (Assistant Professor, Department of Arts, Culture and Media at UTSC and the Faculty of Information)

  • Réka Patrícia Gál (PhD Candidate, Faculty of Information)

  • Emily Halliwell-MacDonald (PhD Candidate, Department of English)

  • Nelanthi Hewa (PhD Candidate, Faculty of Information

  • Arun Jacob (PhD Student, Faculty of Information)

  • Maggie MacDonald (PhD Student, Faculty of Information)

  • Christine Tran (PhD Candidate, Faculty of Information)

Research

Second Foundation: Media Dialectics of the Self is a working group dedicated to using critical media philosophy to investigate crucial questions surrounding technology, selfhood, and mediation. Media philosophy, as defined by Armond Towns, “uses the study of media as important to what makes us human.” While a lively media philosophy discipline exists in continental Europe and beyond, the University of Toronto currently lacks a dedicated forum for researchers to engage media philosophy in discussion and debate. We aim to create this forum by taking foundational texts in media philosophy and putting them in conversation with contemporary critical media philosophers.  

We ask how a dialectic of critical media scholars and philosophers can induce productive conflict between works generated through radically different orientations, politics, and ethics. Our vision for this group is inspired by Marshall McLuhan’s groundbreaking publication Counterblast (1969), which launched a new wave of interdisciplinary media investigation at the University of Toronto. However, we recognize the limitations of the original “Toronto School of Communication:” our goal is not to redeem or repair problematic theorists or philosophies, but rather look to the ways a “second foundation” of feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial engagement with media philosophy can build more inclusive visions of the human, the self, and the other.