Mirko Tobias Schäfer / Assistant Professor
University of Utrecht Department for Media and Culture Studies

Coding Culture. Between Map &    

Course Description


The dichotomy between technology and culture is vanishing in a society that recognizes more and more the fact that culture and technology are deeply intertwined. Computer technology and software have a big impact on cultural practices, and at the same time cultural discourses on technology are shaping the construction of technical artefacts. The aim of this course is to study the mutual influences between technology, culture and artefacts. The students will be divided into two groups. The students will investigate the agency of technology in the information society. The Actor Network Theory and Latour's notion of the 'thing' will be used to map and revisit the relations between artefacts (technology) and developers and users (culture). Based on existing literature on the subject, students will explore the following themes:

    * The medium specific characteristics of computer technology and software
    * The agency of computers, software and protocols
    * Connections and influences between artefacts, developers and users
    * The parliament of things (Latour) for the information society

Course objectives

Students will learn to differentiate different approaches to describe and research technology. By reading literature from the field of Science and Technology Studies (S+TS) with special focus upon Actor Network Theory (ANT) students will obtain the terminology and methods of this field and be able to apply them to their own research. They will develop a balanced understanding towards the "nature" of technology and its socio-political denotation.


  • Assignments are due every Friday 12:00, posted to the discussion forum on the course's website (do not post attachments).
  • Presentations are due the Friday before. Students presenting in Tuesday's class meetings have to attend the consultation hour on Thursday (14:00-15:00).
  • Final paper is due 28th June 2010; 12:00 in the course's pigeon hole on the first floor at KNG 20 and by e-mail to M [dot] T [dot] Schaefer [at] uu.nl as odt, rtf, txt or doc; (individual works only; group papers are not admitted, re-submitting earlier work is not admitted).

Week 1: Coding Culture. Introduction, Plenary Session April 27th 2010

Introduction (Mirko Tobias Schäfer)

Compulsory Reading

    * Rammert, Werner (1999), Relations that Constitute Technology and Media that Make a Difference: Toward a Social Pragmatic Theory of Technicization, in Phil + Tech, 4:3, 1999. Online (pdf)
    * Bowler, Peter J; Morus, Iwan Rhys (2005), Making Modern Science. A Historical Survey, Chapter 17: Science and Technology, pp. 391-414. (Collegeplank)
    * Flusser, Vilém (2002), The Codified World, in Ströhl, Andreas (ed.): Vilém Flusser. Writings, pp. 35-41. (Reader)

Compulsary Activity
Visit your local science and technology museum and have a look at the collection of scientific instruments and think of the relation between instrument, the collection of data and the representation of nature.
University Museum Utrecht

Further Reading

Highlights from 350 Years of modern science presented by The Royal Society, 2009 (pdf)

Further Viewing

The Machine that Changed the World, Jon Palfreman USA/1992, online

Week 2: Studying Technology. May 4th 2010

Compulsory Reading

    * Feenberg, Andrew (1999), Questioning Technology, Chapter 1: Technology, Philosophy, Politics, pp. 1-19.
     * Latour, Bruno (2005), Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor Network Theory, Chapter 1, pp. 21-62.
   * Sismondo, Sergio (2009), An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, Chapter 8, p. 81-92. (Reader)

Further Reading

    * Law, John; Callon, Michel (1992), The Life and Death of an Aircraft: A Network Analysis of Technical Change, in Bijker, Wiebe; Law, John: Shaping Technology / Building Society, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992, pp. 21-52. Collegeplank.
    * Geoff Bowker (1992), What is in a patent?, in Bijker, Wiebe; Law, John: Shaping Technology / Building Society, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992, pp. 53-74. Collegeplank.


    * Presentation 2A: Researching Technology. Key concepts of Science and Technology Studies.
    * Presentation 2B: The terminology of Actor Network Theory
    * Presentation 2C: Networks of Human and Non-human Actors.

Week 3: Information Infrastructures. May 11th 2010

Compulsory Reading

    * Hughes, Thomas P. (1987), Evolution of Large Technological Systems, in Bijker, W. E.; Hughes, T.P.; Pinch, T.: The Social Construction of Technological Systems, pp. 51-82. Collegeplank.
    * Leinweber, David (2009), Nerds on Wallstreet, Chapter 1, pp. 5-29. (Reader)
    * Mitchell, Melanie (2009), Complexity. A Guided Tour; Chapter 1: What is Complexity?, pp. 3-14. (Reader)

Additional Reading

    * Reddy, Arun (2010), The Science and Technology of Air Traffic Control, in Ars Technica, March 2010, online.
    * Stokes, Jon (2009), The Matrix, but with Money. The World of High-Speed Trading, in Ars Technica, July 2009, online.

Further Viewing


    * Presentation 3A: Software as Infrastructure
    * Presentation 3B: Complexity and Technological Systems
    * Presentation 3C: Innovation and Technological Systems

Week 4: Visualization. May 18th 2010

Compulsory Reading

    * Hartmann, Frank (2005), Humanization of Knowledge Through the Eye, in Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel: Making Things Public, pp. 698-707 (collegeplank).
    * Van Fraassen, Bas (2008), Scientific Representation. Paradoxes of Perspective, Chapter 4, pp. 93-114 (Reader)

Further Reading

    * Migurski, Michal (2009), Visualizing Urban Data. The Stories Behind Elegant Data Solutions, in Segaran Toby; Hammerbacher, Jeff: Beautiful Data, pp. 167-182. (Reader)

Further Viewing

Visual Complexity

Data Visualization Tools 

The Open Graph Viz Platform, Gephi

Digital Methods.net


    * Presentation 4A: Translating Data into Pictures
    * Presentation 4B: The Mechanisation of Vision
    * Presentation 4C: Seeing Nature through Techno-Images

Week 5: Computer Simulations. May 25th 2010

Compulsory Reading

   * Keller, Evelyn F. (2003), Models, Simulation, and 'Computer Experiments'. In Hans Radder (ed.) The Philosophy of Scientific Experimentation, pp. 198-215 (Reader).
    * Pilkey, Orrin H. and Pilkey-Jarvis, Linda (2007), Useless Arithmetic. Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future, Chapter 2, pp. 22-44 (Reader)

Compulsary Activity
May 27th, 20:00 Utrecht Nieuwe Media Avond 4 on Augmented Reality at SetUp Utrecht, Neude 4, ABN Amro Building

Further Reading

    * Turkle, Sherry (2009), Simulation and its Discontents, pp. 3-102 (collegeplank)
    * Gramelsberger, Gabriele (2006), Storytelling with Code. Archeology of Climate Modelling, in TeamEthno-online Issue 2, June 2006, pp. 77-84, (pdf).

Further Viewing

Wall Stree Raider (Ronin Software)

The Bathtub, Climate Simulation (Sustainer.org)


    * Presentation 5A: Simulation as Techno-Image
    * Presentation 5B:
    * Presentation 5C: Questioning Simulation

Week 6: Augmented Reality. June 2nd 2010

Compulsory Reading

    * Coulter-Smith, Elisabeth; Coulter-Smith, Graham (2009), Mapping Outside the Frame. Interactive and Locative Art Environments, in: Anna Bentkovska-Hafel, Trish Cashen, Hazel Gardiner: Digital Visual Culture. Theory and Practice, pp. 49-65.
    * Manovich, Lev (2002), The Poetics of Augmented Space: Learning from Prada, online text (pdf)

Further Reading


    * Presentation 6A: Infrastructures for AR
    * Presentation 6B: Practices of Augmenting Reality
    * Presentation 6C: Tagging Cultural Heritage

Week 7: Mapping Territory. June 8th 2010

Compulsory Reading

    * Seeburger, Jan; Schroeter, Ronald (2009) Disposable maps : ad hoc location sharing.  In: OZCHI 2009 Proceedings, 23-27 November 2009, Melbourne. (pdf)

Further Reading

    * Chatzichristodolou, Maria (2009), When Presence-absence becomes Pattern-randomness: Blast Theory's Can You See Me Now, in Anna Bentkovska-Hafel, Trish Cashen, Hazel Gardiner: Digital Visual Culture. Theory and Practice, pp. 79-87.

Further Viewing

Dispo Maps


The Participatory Geoweb

Cartography 2.0


    * Presentation 7A: Rewriting Territory. Activism and Mapping
    * Presentation 7B: Territory, Data and Processes of Abstraction
    * Presentation 7C: MashUp Maps and Information Infrastructures

Week 8: Politics of Technology. June 15th 2010

Compulsory Reading
    * Latour, Bruno: From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik, in Latour, Bruno; Weibel, Peter: Making Things Public, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005, pp. 4-31. (pdf).
    * Sassen, Saskia (2006), Territory, Authority, Rights. From Medieval to Global Assemblages; Chapter 7, pp. 323-375. (Collegeplank)


    * Presentation 8A: Tracing Politics in Technology
    * Presentation 8B: Complexity Imaginaire
    * Presentation 8C: Analysing a Codified World

Additional Course Literature

Beniger, James Ralph : The Control Revolution; Cambridge, Massachusetts, [etc.] : Harvard U.P.

Bijker, Wiebe Eco : Shaping technology, building society : studies in sociotechnical change / ed. by Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law. Cambridge, Massachusetts, etc. : The MIT Press, 1992.

Bolter, Jay David : Turing's man : Western culture in the computer age / by J. David Bolter; London : Duckworth, 1984.

Bowker, C. Geoffrey: Social science, technical systems, and cooperative work : beyond the great divide / ed. by Geoffrey C. Bowker ... [et al.]. Mahwah, NJ, [etc.] : Lawrence Erlbaum, 1997.

Bowler, Peter J. : Making modern science : a historical survey / Peter J. Bowler and Iwan Rhys Morus. Chicago [etc.] : Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005.

Callon, Michel: Mapping the dynamics of science and technology : sociology of science in the real world / ed. by Michel Callon, John Law [and] Arie Rip. Basingstoke, Hampshire, [etc.] : MacMillan, 1986.

Ceruzzi, Paul Edward : A history of modern computing / Paul E. Ceruzzi. Cambridge, MA. [etc.] : MIT Press, 1998.

Deibert, Ronald (ed): Access denied : the practice and policy of global internet filtering. Cambridge, MA. [etc.] : MIT Press, 2008.

Druckrey, T. (ed.) : Ars electronica : facing the future : a survey of two decades. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT, 1999.

Friedman, Batya: Human values and the design of computer technology / ed. by Batya Friedman. Stanford, California, [etc.] : CSLI Publications [etc.], 1997.

Galloway, Alexander R. : Protocol : how control exists after decentralization / Galloway, Alexander R.: Cambridge, Massachusetts, [etc.] : MIT Press, 2004.

Harper, Kristine. 2008. Weather by Numbers. The Genesis of Modern Meteorology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hayles, Nancy Katherine : Writing machines / N. Katherine Hayles ; designer Anne Burdick; ed. direc. Peter Lunenfeld. Cambridge, MA [etc.] : MIT Press, 2002.

Hofstadter, Douglas R. : Gödel, Escher, Bach : an eternal golden braid / [by] Douglas R. Hofstadter. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, [etc.] : Penguin Books, 1982.

Latour, Bruno : Science in action : how to follow scientists and engineers through society / [by] Bruno Latour. Milton Keynes : Open Univ. Press, 1987.

Law, John: A sociology of monsters: essays on power, technology and domination / ed. By John Law. London [etc.] : Routledge, 1991.

Mackenzie, Donald: Knowing Machines. Exxays on technical Change; Cambridge, MA [etc.] : MIT Press

Moles, Abraham Andre : Kunst und Computer / Abraham A. Moles ; ed. by Hans Ronge ; [trans. from French]; avec la collab. de Marie-Luce Andr. Tournai : Casterman, 1971.

Mumford, Lewis : The myth of the machine / by Lewis Mumford. New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967-1970.

Nelson, Ted : Computer lib ; Dream machines / Ted Nelson ; [introd. by Stewart Brand]. Redmond, Wash. : Tempus Books of Microsoft Press, 1987.

Pacey, Arnold : The Culture of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts : MIT Press, 1983

Pynchon, Thomas : Gravity's rainbow / by Thomas Pynchon. New York : Viking Press, 1973.

Rogers, Everett : Diffusion of Innovations; New York [etc.] : Free Press, 2003

Scharff, Robert C. et al. : Philosophy of technology : the technical condition / ed. by Robert C. Scharff and Val Dusek. Malden, Ma, [etc.] : Blackwell, 2002.

Schot, J.W. et al.: Techniek in Nederland in de twintigste eeuw / ed. by J. W. Schot [et al.]. Zutphen [etc.] : Walburg Pers [etc.], 1998-2003.

Sloterdijk, Peter : Schaeume / Peter Sloterdijk. Frankfurt am Main : Suhrkamp, 2004.

Stocker, Gerfried; Schöpf, Christine: Code : code: the language of our time : code=law code=art code=life / ed. by Gerfried Stocker; Christine Schöpf. Ostfildern-Ruit : Hatje Cantz, 2003.

Turing, Alan Mathison : The essential Turing : seminal writings in computing, logic, philosophy, artificial intelligence, and artificial life plus the secrets of Enigma / ed. by B. Jack Copeland. Oxford [etc.] : Clarendon Press, 2004.

Winograd, Terry : Understanding computers and cognition : a new foundation for design / [by] Terry Winograd [and] Fernando Flores. Reading, Massachusetts, [etc.] : Addison-Wesley, 1988.

Date April 2010 Category University

Coding Culture. ICT and the Constitution of Culture
MA course, 200600075
Class meetings every tuesday from 13:15 to 17:00

2000 - 2022 Mirko Tobias Schäfer

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