Tools: Anvils to Androids

Undergraduate seminar-studio

Silicon Valley loves its “tools.” Tech critic Moira Weigel notes the frequency with which tech chiefs use the term, and she proposes that its popularity is largely attributable to its politics — or the lack thereof; tool talk, she says, encodes “a rejection of politics in favor of tinkering.” But humans have been using tools, to various political ends, for thousands of years. In this hybrid undergraduate seminar/studio we examine a range of tools, the work they allow us to do, they ways they script particular modes of labor and enact particular power relationships, and what they make possible in the world. After building up a critical vocabulary (of tools, gizmos, and gadgets), we’ll tackle a number of case studies — from anvils, erasers, and sewing needles to algorithms and surveillance technologies. In our Monday sessions we’ll study the week’s case through critical and historical studies from anthropology, archaeology, media studies, science and technology studies, and related fields; and in our Wednesday sessions we’ll explore that tool’s creative applications, either by studying the work of artists and creative practitioners, or by engaging in hands-on labs. Each student will develop a research-based “critical manual” for a tool of their choice.

Fall 2019 Website