Here’s what might be developing for the Writing Machines seminar paper. Comments and feedback, as always, are welcome.
In Race, Rhetoric, and Technology, Adam Banks draws on Heidegger and Patricia Sullivan and Jeanie Dauterman to offer a definition of technology that opens up technological systems to critical inquiry. “. . . [M]ore than mere artifacts,” Banks writes, “technologies are the spaces and processes that determine whether any group of people is able to tell its own stories on its own terms, whether people are able to agitate and advocate for policies that advance its interests, and whether that group of people has any hope enjoying equal social, political, and economic relations” (10). This definition is useful precisely for the way it connects systematicity to technicity; all technologies, Banks implies, are political systems.
This is an important realization, for thinking technicity qua systematicity is a powerful critical heuristic that might be used to expose the mechanics of technological power in systems not normally thought of as technology; in Banks’ own work he cites blankets coded with signals to slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad as an example of such technological systems. However, while Banks gives us a way to think technology, his work does not clearly offer a critical heuristic for interrogating technology.
In this essay, then, I want to pair Banks’ definition of technology with Stuart Selber’s work on digital multiliteracies to theorize a heuristic for conducting such critical and post-critical interventions into technology. In each of the forms of literacy that Selber argues for, computing, information, and communication software is understood not as discrete, value-neutral artifacts but as bound inescapably to questions of access and power: “What is lost as well as gained? Who profits? Who is left behind and for what reasons? What is privileged in terms of literacy and learning and cultural capital? What political and cultural values and assumptions are embedded in hardware and software” (81)? Trying to think Banks and Selber together might point to a way of theorizing technology that works to uncover its own systematicity, in a way that prevents the occlusion of political and economic interests by insisting on a multivalent literacy that not just employs technology but employs it in a way that makes it always already available to critique.
As a test case for this theoretical construct, I turn to the university itself as a technological system in the sense argued for by Banks. In particular, I am interested in using the theoretical apparatus generated by the pairing of Selber and Banks to investigate critiques of the so-called “corporate university.” In this, my work bears some relationship to those critiques offered by Frank Donoghue, Jennifer Washburn, and the authors of the collections Steal This University (eds. Benjamin Johnson, Patrick Kavanagh, and Kevin Mattson) and Beyond the Corporate University (eds. Henry A. Giroux and Kostas Myrsiades). At this point, to say I join these critics in their suspicion of the corporate university is premature; rather, I am interested to see how the theoretical heuristic described here could be of use to furthering such scholarship on the social, economic, and political relationships of the modern research university.