Thesis Info

Interactive Technologies for the Public Sphere: Towards a Theory of Critical Creative Technology
Dr. Pamela Jennings
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
University of Plymouth
Thesis Supervisor
Roy Ascott
Supervisor e-mail
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
School of Computer Science, CAIIA
Languages Familiar to Author
URL where full thesis can be found and Available Upon Request
Critical Creative Technology, Public Sphere, Collaboration, Information Technology, Generative Design Methods, Discourse, Critical Theory of Technology
Abstract: 200-400 words
Digital media cultural practices continue to address the social, cultural and aesthetic contexts of the global information economy, perhaps better called ecology, by inventing new methods and genres that encourage interactive engagement, collaboration, exploration and learning. The theoretical framework for critical creative technology evolved from the confluence of the arts, human centered computing, and critical theories of technology. Molding this nascent theoretical framework from these seemingly disparate disciplines was a reflexive process where the influence of each component on each other spiraled into the theory and practice as illustrated through the Constructed Narratives project. The traditional reductionist approach to research requires that all confounding variables are eliminated or silenced using methods of statistics. However, that noise in the data, those confounding variables provide the rich context, media, and processes by which creative practices thrive. As research in the arts gains recognition for its contributions of new knowledge, the traditional reductive practice in search of general principles will be respectfully joined by methodologies for defining living principles that celebrate and build from the confounding variables, the data noise. The movement to develop research methodologies from the noisy edges of human interaction have been explored in the research and practices of ludic design and ambiguity (Gaver, 2003); affective gap (Sengers et al., 2005b; 2006); embodied interaction (Dourish, 2001); the felt life (McCarthy & Wright, 2004); and reflective HCI (Dourish, et al., 2004). The theory of critical creative technology examines the relationships between critical theories of technology, society and aesthetics, information technologies and contemporary practices in interaction design and creative digital media. The theory of critical creative technology is aligned with theories and practices in social navigation (Dourish, 1999) and community-based interactive systems (Stathis, 1999) in the development of smart appliances and network systems that support people in engaging in social activities, promoting communication and enhancing the potential for learning in a community-based environment. The theory of critical creative technology amends these community-based and collaborative design theories by emphasizing methods to facilitate face-to-face dialogical interaction when the exchange of ideas, observations, dreams, concerns, and celebrations may be silenced by societal norms about how to engage others in public spaces. The Constructed Narratives project is an experiment in the design of a critical creative technology that emphasizes the collaborative construction of new knowledge about one’s lived world through computer-supported collaborative play (CSCP). To construct is to creatively invent one’s world by engaging in creative decision-making, problem solving and acts of negotiation. The metaphor of construction is used to demonstrate how a simple artifact – a building block – can provide an interactive platform to support discourse between collaborating participants. The technical goal for this project was the development of a software and hardware platform for the design of critical creative technology applications that can process a dynamic flow of logistical and profile data from multiple users to be used in applications that facilitate dialogue between people in a real-time playful interactive experience. Rorty’s persona of the liberal ironist is presented as the spirit by which this text and research has been approached. Shear and Varela’s concept of first person methodology as a viable place from which to cultivate scientific research is discussed and followed with the description of a travel experience by the author which instigated the development of the theory of critical creative technology. The critical social cartography that informs the theory and the Constructed Narratives includes the following philosophical premises. Thompson’s theory of enactive cognition and empathy set the foundation from which inquiry into the role of empathy, intentionality and intersubjectivity in supporting discourse, initiated from the author’s person story, evolves to a theory of research and practice in digital media. Habermas’s models of the theories of society, in particular his fourth model for communicative theories founded on intersubjective experiences sets the stage for the development of the theory of universal pragmatics and ideal speech acts. Alternative theories of communication and society that fit the specifications of the fourth model, which Habermas does not address, are discussed including Wittgenstein’s “language games,” Bakhtin’s “speech genres,” and Vygotsky’s “constructivism. A metaphor for visualizing the polemic theoretical positions on the nature of discourse from Habermas’s validity claims to Rorty’s liberal ironist stance based on Davidson’s concept of “passing theories” is presented. Models and theories of the public sphere are examined. Dewey’s concept of the public sphere as the locus of political decisions is followed by Broeckmann’s argument for engaging the public domain. Habermas’s infamous theory on the bourgeois public sphere is addressed along with comments from several of his critics. Alternatives to the bourgeois public sphere are explored including Mouffe’s agonistic democracy and Negt and Kluge’s proletarian public sphere. Habermas’ reprieve to his critics and an enlightened view to the nature and potentialities of the public sphere as a place to influence policy in a “siege-like manner” leads the text to consider Feenberg’s theory of critical technology. Feenberg’s analysis of the two main camps of critical theories of technology, instrumental and substantive, is examined. Instrumental theory is illustrated with an analysis of Vannevar Bush’s article “As We May Think”, Englebart’s HLAM/T theory, Weiner’s cybernetics, and Weiser’s ubiquitous computing framework. The substantive theoretical platform is supported with Heidegger and Habermas’s concerns, or lack of concern, on the impact of technology on society. Feenberg’s position on the critical theory of technology his elaborations on the bias and neutrality factors of technology leads to discussion about and elaboration on his dialectics of technology. Feenberg’s dialectics of technology and its four core components; concretization; vocation; aesthetics; and collegiality, are explored, dissected and augmented with examples from contemporary digital media, interaction design, human computer interaction and pedagogical practices. Among the theories and practices brought forth in support of his theory is the New London Groups theory of multiliteracies, Fuller’s critical software, Fogg’s persuasive computing, Dourish’s embodied interaction, Ascott’s behaviorist art; Rokeby’s transforming mirror; Fischer’s metadesign, and digital divide community empowerment efforts. The discussion leads to the connection of Feenberg’s dialectics of technology to the theory of critical creative technologies proposed in this dissertation. From this academic exercise, three main principles in the design of applications in the spirit of critical creative technologies are described. Principle 1: Place as Connected Space is supported by theories that differentiate the terms space and place as one that defines logistics and the other which defines contextual attributes. Research methods, such as Hillier’s space syntax, designed to analyze and assign attributes of quality to the quantified data are examined in comparison to Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome as a metaphor for place. Principle 2: Empathetic Intersubjective Experience takes its lead from the discussion on Thompson to further elaborate on situational requirements for an empathetic experience. Principle 3: Discourse and Play seeks to define a notion of “deep play,” by examining the important western historical and philosophical platforms in which play was relegated as an important element of society or treated as an unnecessary distraction to rational discourse. The principles lead to the main goals involved in developing applications for critical creative technology in the form of tangible social interfaces (TSI). The Constructed Narratives project was initiated as an experiment in the design of tangible social interfaces for facilitating communication between people in public spaces.