remembering preliminary exams

To some extent this exam was very important, and I think the questions that I was asked are indicative of why I think this is.  It is 12 years after I took this exam, and well being able to answer these questions today are just as important as them.  I only have the questions that I wrote and the answers, each question was answered offline over a 3 hour writing period in a morning or afternoon, over a 4 day period.  There was an oral exam afterwards.

The topics were:

Internet Studies

Philosophy of Technology

Politics of Technology

Cultures of Technology

1. You are to write about security issues on networks – from electrical networks, to telegraph and telephone, and then to the Internet and wireless networking.  Discuss the engineering and design considerations, such as Vannevar Bush’s work on electrical networks (and as expressed in more recent work like Networks of Power).  Relate the earlier work to contemporary issues in Internet and network security.  How were the concerns expressed in the earliest days of networking similar and different than the ones expressed now?  Is there something fundamental about the concept of a network that demands considerations of security (i.e., is security an element of network infrastructure), or is the consideration of security external to networks, a social, cultural, economic, political (etc.) “overlay,” or do those intertwine, and with what consequences?

2. You have just agreed to write a review essay on Internet Studies for the journal of Science, Technology, and Human Values.  Produce a first draft of your essay, taking care to draw extensively from your reading list while clearly identifying, describing, and comparing the main approaches in this field.  Also be sure to identify questions that merit greater attention but have not yet been pursued sufficiently?
3. What are the differences of approach between philosophy of science as it is practiced in American-Anglo traditions and continental traditions of philosophy?

4. Who are some of the contemporary philosophers of science and technology and what are their primary differences and similarities?  Where do you place my work in relation to their wok in the philosophy of science and technology, especially given the problems for philosophy posed by an age of autonomous technologies?

5.Where are the relations of power in science and technology?  How do power and knowledge interplay in technoscience systems? What is the role of the state and other actors in science and technology policy?

6.Discuss various approaches to the relation of technology and politics.  In what sense are technologies political?  Do artifacts have politics, does politics use artifacts, or should we invoke a seamless techno-politics?

7. Identify three central problems or issues in the STS literature that a focus on Internet studies helps clarify, extend, or otherwise exemplify.  What gaps or omissions in the STS literature can Internet studies help resolve or fill in?  In other words, what does Internet studies contribute to the knowledge of STS more broadly?  Here the focus should be upon the STS literature per se.

8. Connection metaphors abound in STS, critical theory, and on the Internet – networks, rhizomes, webs, links, social worlds, communities, etc.  Compare and contrast various such metaphors, discussing their strengths and weaknesses for the type of theorizing you hope to do.

10 things that i think i know about learning ecologies

10 things that i think i know about learning ecologies

1. human beings learn; we don’t stop learning, we learn while we are awake, we learn while we are asleep, we learn when under stress, and we learn when comfortable and happy.

2. human beings do not always learn what others know,  or think is the truth, the right, the good, or anything else that is socially or culturally endorsed. in fact, we frequently learn what isn’t endorsed, and what is around the endorsed, what structures the endorsed and what endorses the endorsed, etc. etc. instead of learning the endorsed.  the learning around the endorsed learning may be the most important learning in the end.

3. learning is a process. it is not thing, nor a product.  it must be performed, but awareness of its performance does not always improve it.  human beings are not the only things that learn.

4. speed and change occur in ecologies and thus affect learning and learning ecologies.

5. learning constructs relationships. relationships are frequently labeled objects, essences, qualities, etc. but what we are doing is learning to relate one thing or set of things(subject, object, or quasi-object) to another thing or set of things. frequently when learning these relationships, we make them too ‘unchanging’, thus requiring future unlearning and relearning.

6. learning is social. there are always other human beings. other humans exist as learners implicit in everything, from our language, to our actions, to our texts, and to our world.  even if there are no ‘physical subjects’ other than yourself present when you learn, there are tens of thousands of subjects, a virtual society or hidden college, around you.  we learn from and with those human beings.

7. human beings build and inhabit ‘assemblages’ which are systems of relationships which persist through time such as institutions, environments, ideologies, etc. etc.  we build structures for learning too.  we also build ‘mechanisms’ which structure relationships with an intention of producing or re-producing in whole or in part assemblages.  the structuring and/or mechanizing of learning can prevent or hinder the learning, as much as it can help and encourage it.

8. assemblages and mechanisms are internal to our learning ecology, but we do not always learn about them, sometimes they are purposefully hidden from us, sometimes justifiably, sometimes not.  sometimes these assemblages and mechanisms augment human being’s capacity to learn.

9. when we structure and/or mechanize learning, we change its ecology, which necessitates the creation of relationships or the changing of relationships, thus we need to learn the relationships in the ecologies anew.

10. human beings have always been tool users. tools are technologies, and we have always learned about and through technologies.  technologies, as such, are part of our learning ecology and play parts in structuring and mechanizing learning. technologies have always mediated relationships, and all media are technologies.  there is a ‘craft’ to all technologies that must be learned, and in learning that craft, we create new relationships that we share with others.

Learning Infrastructures in the Social Sciences
The final issue of the journal learning inquiry has been published.

The topic was Learning Infrastructures in the Social Sciences.

The contributions are:

Introducing learning infrastructures: invisibility, context, and governance
Jeremy Hunsinger

Virtual office hours as cyberinfrastructure: the case study of instant messaging
Jeren Balayeva and Anabel Quan-Haase

Transforming learning infrastructures in the social sciences through flexible and interactive technology-enhanced learning
Philipp Budka and Claudia Schallert

The Brisbane Media Map: participatory design and authentic learning to link students and industry
Christy Collis, Marcus Foth and Ronald Schroeter

Learning to succeed in a flat world: information and communication technologies for a new generation of business students
Alex Ramirez, Michael J. Hine, Shaobo Ji, Frank Ulbrich and Rob Riordan

And one article not in the special issue, but included in the final issue:

The educational (im)possibility for dietetics: a poststructural discourse analysis
Jacqui Gingras

Jason Nolan and I wish to thank you for your interest and submissions over the last few years.

The Political Economy of Information in an Age of Speed and Excess

When information explodes, systems fail. In our current age, the ability to govern is predicated on the control and distribution of information. This paper confronts the inability to do that, it examines the techniques and systems of informational governance, notes some their defects, demonstrates the incapacities and draws the conclusion parallel to Virilio’s Information Bomb, we are due for a failure.

Informational power is a power of control, control of distribution, control of origination. It is a power of establishing borders, territories, and limiting access. It is predicated on assumptions of normality, and when the normal becomes too fast, too informationally productive, and generates enormous surpluses of capacity, like a bomb, the excessive power; the excessive information explodes. It breaks the boundaries, overwhelms the territory, and forces humans to develop new tactics for management, for governance. I argue that this is the state we are in, a state of excess, of being overwhelmed by information and power, because we have built an informational infrastructure based on speed and power.

There is no end in sight for the progressive development of this infrastructure. With terabit/sec speeds already in place, it is likely already beyond the limits of real human understanding, and we are beginning to see how it manifests itself as a tool of transformation or weapon of destruction of the institutions built on fordist and post-fordist understandings of information, such as music, movies, banking, which have strong informational ties, but this is just the start of a more pervasive creative destruction.

Faced with these issues and their immanent explosion, I look at the proposals for governance, for creating a sustainable political economy that governments are using around the world, such as defining information as artifacts and allowing patents, redefining copyrights, and developing international trade regimes surrounding information. I contrast the governmental systems with the growing cultural awareness of the issue and introduce the question: what if governments fail? how does society reterritorialize information, and what cultural toolkits seem to be arising in the face of speed and excess, such as open source, open content, and related movements that arise out of and restructure the excess into new cultural systems.

Powers of code: software cultures

This panel is located at the interface between social studies of science and technology and the emerging area of ‘software studies.’ Code, from binary machine language to its readable form, takes on numerous powers in the information society. It structures, orders, and governs relationships between humans and amongst technologies, allowing certain actions while preventing others. While information technology and software development have been the focus of intensive study in STS work over the last few decades, the area of software studies has emerged in response to a proliferation of code or software-related cultural and political processes. These include wide-ranging changes in the character of media and communications, the mobilities of code across legal, institutional, economic, national and infrastructural boundaries, the proliferation of discourses of code in many different domains, and the way in which code has become the tool of a comprehensively transnational knowledge class identified in part by the relationship to code in everyday life.

The panel will coalesce around questions concerning the modes of change associated with software, computer code in various senses, and its adjacent practices. It conceptualises code as a hybrid, mobile construction of a technical-culture industry. Code is understood as a political and empowered social construction, which is not purely focused on the enablement of a singular group or social movement, but is systematically distributed across networks spanning nationalities and cultures. The increased visibility of code as cultural-technical entity, and as an object of public attention will be one focus. In the context of massive proliferations of unwanted or ‘junk’ code (viruses, operating systems, ‘bloatware’), the legal struggles over the difference between code as speech and code as technology will be a second focus. Finally, the panel will explore questions concerning the increased visibility of software or code (understood in a range of different ways) as cultural, political, economic and technical entities. Among questions to be addressed by the panel: how have code, programming, ‘cutting code’, hacking, scripting, etc. moved from technical practices carried out in ‘centres of calculation’ to generalised, popularised and politicised techniques? Do code objects challenge existing ontologies of technology and politics? How can we understand the mobility of code and coding practices without reducing them to standard accounts of ‘information society’?