Technology, Communication,
and Cultural Studies
Comm 3325 — Fall 2001
Tuesdays 5:20-7:50pm, 1128 CL

Jonathan Sterne
Office: 1130 CL (mailbox in 1117 CL)
Office Phone: 624-6797 (I check once a day MTW)
Email: (I check at least once daily when I’m in town)
Office hours: by appointment

Required Books (available for this course at the Pitt bookstore):

Thomas Hankins and Robert Silverman, Instruments and the Imagination.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.  (Also available on reserve at Hillman Library).

Allucquère Rosanne Stone, The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age.  Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995. (Also available on reserve at Hillman Library).

Bruno Latour, Aramis, Or the Love of Technology, trans. Catherine Porter.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method and Mediations on First Philosophy, 4th  Edition, trans. Donald A. CressIndianapolis: Hackett publishing, 1999.

Recommended Books:

Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form.  Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1992.  (This book is out of print; it is on reserve at Hillman Library.  It may be available used online).

Jean Baudrillard, Simulations, trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman.  New York: Semiotex(e), 1983.


This course aims to provide students with the historical and philosophical grounding necessary to consider contemporary changes in communication technology and to assess contemporary discourses about communication technology.  The course emerges from a particular orientation toward questions of communication and technology: cultural studies.  “Cultural studies” means many things to many people; most broadly it is concerned with changing connections between culture and power, and carries with it an attention to context, a “commitment to theory” and an emphasis on the political character of intellectual work.  This is especially important for the study of technology because media corporations, pundits, and policy bodies have been very attentive to the political stakes in the questions we ask about technology.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, as scholars we are always already caught in larger political discourses about relationships between technology, culture and society. 

“Technology” and “communication” are also contemporary buzzwords in journalistic and academic writing.  Inside and outside academia, the contemporary study of communication technology is populated with clichés and otherwise “unthought” propositions.  Questions of history, theory, context, and power are essential to a politically and intellectually vigorous analysis of technology, and that is where the course begins. 

Rather than treating communication technology as a unique phenomenon, we will consider it as part of the larger fields of history and philosophy of technology.  We will consider questions such as: what is new about new technologies?  How can we understand technology as a cultural force and a cultural artifact at the same time?  How should we understand the relationships among social, cultural, and technological change?  Is technology at the core of what it means to be human, or is it an adjunct or remaking of our humanity?  How should we think through the relationship of technology and communication?  How do the associations among technologies, practices, institutions, and discourses enable, constrain or shape human action?

So – by itself – this course is not a survey of all major schools of thought about technology; it is not going to make you an expert on new media technologies, and you will not be a fully qualified historian or philosopher of technology after taking this course.  We will instead take the first and most necessary step together by asking intelligent questions about technology and communication. 



1.   Full and complete attendance, attention, participation, listening and reading.  I expect the very best you can give.

2.   Good faith and good humor toward your colleagues in the classroom and on the mailing list.  For both: disagreements are expected and encouraged, but please keep nitpicking to a minimum; personal attacks are not acceptable under any circumstance.  Follow the Golden Rule.


I.          Threaded Journals

For the second week of class, you’ll need to purchase or otherwise acquire a notebook or other similar paper device that allows for 14 weeks’ worth of written text.  Having acquired said “journal,” you’ll write something in it (or otherwise create text) based on your reaction to readings or class discussions, and bring the journal to our second class meeting.  There, you will put it in a pile, and take someone else’s journal.  In that journal, you can respond to the original entry, build on it, or react to further readings and class discussions.  I will not read and grade the journals per se, though I will participate in the project.  If all goes as planned, we’ll return the journals to their originators on the last day of class, and you’ll see what was written throughout the semester.  If you wish to keep an entry you make during the semester, I recommend photocopying it before bringing the journal to class.

The rules are very simple:

            a.         Please try and avoid writing in the same journal more than twice.

            b.         Be creative, spontaneous, and have fun. 

            c.         Sign your name, so people can talk to you about what you wrote.

            d.         Follow the rules of etiquette listed above. 

II.        Periodic Responses

Writing stimulates thinking, and developing a regular habit of written responses to readings will help you immensely in this class and all your scholarly work.  Once every three weeks, at the beginning of class, you will turn in a short paper that responds to some issue in the readings.  It does not need to cover all of the readings, though it must cover more than one reading or one chapter of a book.  The paper can be about something you found powerful and persuasive or something that challenged your way of thinking.  You can write about tensions or connections between readings for the week, and also connections and tensions between readings for the current week and previous weeks.  The paper can also be about something you didn’t understand in the reading.  You’re also welcome to bring in issues from class discussions, lectures, and etc., but please keep a focus on the readings.

In general, I am pretty open on questions of length, style and content.  However, there are three kinds of papers I will actively discourage:

1) “Seek and destroy” papers that set out to trash an author’s argument.  Disagreement is fine, but for the papers I want you to make an effort at positive, constructive, and creative thought. 

2) Papers that are largely about something other than what was contained in one of the readings; for instance, pointing out that an author reminds you of something you read in another class and then expounding on the text from the other class.  The point of the paper is to have you reflect on the readings over a couple weeks.

3) Summaries of the readings.  I read them too; I want a thoughtful reaction. 

My written comments on these papers may be relatively brief, but you are of course welcome to meet with me about them at any time. 

Due Dates for Periodic Responses (turn in one paper during each period – choose a day):

1.   4, 11, or 18 September

2.   25 September, 2 or 9 October

3.   16, 23 or 30 October

4.   6, 13 or 20 November

5.   27 November or 4 December

III.       Informative Presentations

Those of you who have taught (or taken) Public Speaking know all about the informative speech.  Over the course of the semester, each student will make a 5 minute informative speech about how a particular communication technology (or group of communication technologies) works.  After that, there will be a short question and answer period.  Your goal is to explain how your technology works to the rest of the class, in terms that they can easily understand.  I will provide a sign-up sheet on the first day.  If you need a handout photocopied for your presentation or have some other request, please get it to me 24 hours before you present.

The basic mechanics of most technologies are pretty easy to understand.  If you’re going to study technology, you might as well acquire a bit of technical knowledge.  After listening to a semester’s worth of speeches, you’ll learn how a bunch of different communication technologies work. 

IV.       Discussion Questions

Each week, two students will be responsible for bringing discussion questions to class.  These should aim to get at the most important issues in the readings, and can be anything from really basic content questions (like “what does the passage on p. 25 mean?”) all the way up to “big picture” questions that connect the week’s readings with other discussions we’ve had in the course.  My requirements for the questions are similar to my requirements for the weekly responses: good faith, attention to the readings, and relevance to the course.

Questions must be emailed to me at least 24 hours before the class meeting for which we will discuss them (5:20pm on Monday).  I will make copies and forward them to the rest of the class.

V.        Semester Project

Since it is almost impossible to take a course and then immediately produce (from scratch) a fully-developed study of something in the same semester, I have provided three alternative options and an escape hatch. 

Please note the following due dates.  You may submit materials early:

23 October: a well-thought-out and somewhat formal proposal of about 5 pages.  See your option for details.  I will give you detailed comments in response to what you write.

20 November: a 1-5 page update explaining what progress you’ve made or how your thoughts have changed.  This may be fairly informal, but I do expect to see some progress from the Oct 30th paper.

Final projects will be due in my mailbox on 12 December.

You are encouraged to meet with me throughout the semester as your work on your project, and you are encouraged to submit your proposal early.

Option 1:  The research proposal

Much of our discussion during the semester will revolve around the philosophical, cultural, and political issues surrounding the study of technology.  This assignment will give you a chance to work on your research design skills.  Outside formal methodology courses, graduate students have few opportunities to gain experience in research design before their dissertation proposals.  So here’s a chance.

Your task is to figure out everything you would need to do in order to carry out a research project on some concrete issue related to technology.  You will then write a proposal following the form I have listed below (this is modeled after the kinds of proposals you have to write for fellowships and other funding sources).  The proposal will have the following components:

1.         A description of your object of study, its significance, and the fundamental issues or questions you wish to address in your research.  Do you have a novel approach or hypothesis?  Is your object under-explored?

2.         A review of the extant scholarly literature on your topic.  This review should encompass your own field, but it should be cognizant of important research on your topic carried out in other fields.  You should position your own research with respect to the other work you cite. 

3.         A research plan that includes a discussion of method and sources.  What kind of research do you need to carry out in order to write your paper?  What kinds of sources and materials will you need?  How will you be approaching your source material? 

4.         A timetable for research and writing.  How long will it take you to carry out this project and what are the stages you’ll need to go through?

5.         A statement discussing your qualifications to carry out this research or any further training you require to carry it out adequately.

6.         A statement of costs.  What kind of funding and resources will you need to carry out the research?  Think about both ends of the spectrum: what do you minimally need to carry out the research, and what could you do if you had a real research budget?  How would you justify that larger budget?  (On a real proposal, you’d only deal with the latter, of course – since all proposals aim to get as much money as possible.  For this exercise, I simply want you to think about the economics of research.)

The entire proposal should be written in clear prose aimed at faculty who aren’t necessarily educated in your field, using jargon only when absolutely necessary and explaining it clearly.  Your proposal should be about 15 pages long; it may be longer.  Keep in mind that in real life, you’d be under extreme space restrictions.  But the extended space is for you to really reflect on what it would take to do a creative and intellectually significant project on technology.

Option 2:  Two short seminar papers

This assignment is modeled on the Communication Department’s comprehensive examination system.  On November 27th, you will arrive at class with 3 or 4 substantially different questions on which you’d like to write a paper of 7-12 pages.  These questions should allow you to comment upon readings and class discussions at some length.  From your four questions, I will select and edit two, each of which you will then answer in a paper of 7-12 pages.  You may rank order your questions in terms of your preference – just make that clear to me.  I expect your actual final papers to deal mostly with texts and issues raised in the course, though you may bring in other material as supplements. 

For the midterm, tell me that you’re planning to pursue this option, and then generate four “problems” or “intellectual questions” raised by the course thus far.  Carefully explicate each and then discuss its broader intellectual and/or political significance.

Option 3:  The critical revision.

Revision is not a skill often taught in graduate school, but it should be.  This is your chance to take a piece of writing about technology that you’ve already begun and revise it toward a concrete end (for instance, for publication in a journal), using materials from the course to refine your thinking about your project and develop your analysis.  Keep in mind that the purpose of this option is to facilitate extended reflection upon research you have already undertaken; it is not simply to facilitate further research.  

If you wish to carry out this option, you must submit a proposal for the midterm.  Proposals for this option should include a discussion of the project as it currently stands; why you want to rewrite it for this course; a substantive plan for further revision – especially in terms of how you want to make your argument, your vision of the paper’s intellectual or political task, and your construction of context; and a discussion of other work that you need to do in order to be able to rewrite the paper (such as additional outside reading or revisiting source materials).  You should also append a copy of the current version of the paper to the proposal.

Option 4:          ?

I am open to other options for a final project.  For your midterm, submit a detailed written proposal explaining the project, how it relates to the course, and why it is preferable to the other three options.


If your performance on any assignment is not satisfactory, I may ask you to do it again. 

Late papers may not receive written comments, and will earn a reduced grade.

Activities for which you must be present (presentations, helping to lead discussion) cannot be made up.  If you know you will be absent on a day for which you are obligated, trade with one of your colleagues.

Final grades may be reduced for unsatisfactory performance in any of the categories listed under “requirements” or “etiquette.”

I do not give incompletes except in truly extraordinary personal circumstances that can be documented.  Students may, however, elect to take an “F” for the course and have their grades for the course changed upon satisfactory completion of all course requirements. 

Course Outline

All readings are due on the date for which they are listed
[except for recommended readings, which are in brackets].
Schedule changes and additional recommended readings will be announced in class.

28 August:        Apologia

On the newness of new technology; on the explosion of contemporary interest in technology; on cultural studies as an approach to technology; on the structure of the course. Communication technology in historical and theoretical perspective; basic terms and concepts; marking the key debates; and an exercise.

I.   Politics, History, and Technological Change

4 September:    Technology is Political / NASA as Technological Phenomenon

Winner, Langdon.  1986.  A Philosophy of Technology.  The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in the Age of High Technology.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 3-58.

Penley, Constance.  1997.  NASA /.  NASA/Trek: Popular Science and Sex in America.  New York: Verso, pp. 11-88.

Spigel, Lynn.  2001.  Outer Space and Inner Cities: African American Responses to NASA.  Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs.  Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 141-182.

[Sterne, Jonathan.  1998.  Thinking the Internet: Cultural Studies Versus the Millennium.  In Doing Internet Research, ed. Steve Jones.  Thousand Oaks: Sage Press, pp. 257-288.]

11 September:  A Cultural Study of Technology and Communication

Williams, Raymond.  1974/1992.  Television: Technology and Cultural Form.  Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.

18 September:  Substantive Theories of Technology

Mumford, Lewis.  1934.  Objectives; and Cultural Preparation.  Technics and Civilization.  New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., pp. 3-59.

Innis, Harold.  1951.  Minerva’s Owl.  The Bias of Communication.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 3-32.

Ellul, Jacques.  1964.  Characteristics of Modern Technique.  The Technological Society, trans. John Wilkinson.  New York: Vintage Books, pp. 79-147.

[McLuhan, Marshall.  1964.  Introduction;  Medium is the Message; and Media Hot and Cold.  Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.  New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 3-32.]

[Heidegger, Martin.  1954/1977.  The Question Concerning Technology.  The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt.  New York: Harper and Row, pp. 3-35]

25 September:  Rethinking the Relationship between Science and Technology

Hankins, Thomas and Robert Silverman.  1995.  Instruments and the Imagination.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[Ihde, Don.  1983.  The Historical-Ontological Priority of Technology Over Science.  Existential Technics.  Albany: SUNY Press, pp. 25-46.]

2 October:        Mechanization/Industrialization

Marx, Karl.  1867/1990.  (Sections of) Machinery and Large Scale Industry, in Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol 1, trans. Ben Fowkes.  New York: Penguin Books, pp. 492-508 and 517-543.

Cowan, Ruth Schwartz.  1983.  Introduction; and Twentieth-Century Changes in Household Technology.  More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave.  New York: Basic Books, pp. 3-15 and 69-101.

Noble, David.  1977.  Introduction; A Technology of Social Production: Modern Management and the Expansion of Engineering; and Epilogue.  America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism.  New York: A.A. Knopf, pp. xvii-xxvi, 257-324.

[Marx, Karl.  1867/1990.  The Struggle Between Worker and Machine, in Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol 1, trans. Ben Fowkes.  New York: Penguin Books, pp. 553-564.]

[Cowan, Ruth Schwartz.  1983.  Household Technology and Household Work Between 1900 and 1940.  More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave.  New York: Basic Books, pp. 151-191.]

9 October:        Electrification

Sconce, Jeffrey.  2000.  Introduction.  Haunted Media: Electronic Presence From Telegraphy to Television.  Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 1-20.

Carey, James (with John J. Quirk). 1970/1988.  The Mythos of the Electronic Revolution.  Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society.  Boston: Unwin Hyman, pp. 113-141.

Marvin, Carolyn.  1988.  Introduction; Community and Class Order: Progress Close to Home; and Epilogue.  When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electrical Communication in the Nineteenth Century.  New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 3-8, 63-108, and 232-236.

Nye, David.  1990.  Preface; Middletown Lights Up.  Electrifying America: The Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940.  Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. ix-xi and 1-28.

[Hughes, Thomas.  1983.  Introduction.  Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930.  Baltimore: the Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 1-17.]

16 October:      Digitization

Schiller, Dan.  1999.  Introduction; and The Neoliberal Networking Drive Originates in the United States.  Digital Capitalism: Networking the Global Market System.  Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. xiii-36.

Nye, David.  1997.  Postmodernism and the Computer Society.  Narratives and Spaces: Technology and the Construction of American Culture.  New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 161-178.

Berland, Jody.  2000.  Cultural Technologies and the “Evolution” of Technological Cultures.  In The World Wide Web and Contemporary Cultural Theory, eds. Thomas Swiss and Andrew Herman.  New York: Routledge, pp. 235-258.

Stone, Allucquère Rosanne.  1995.  Agency and Proximity: Communities/CommuniTrees; The End of Innocence (parts I and II). The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age.  Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 99-122 and 123-157.

[McChesney, Robert W. 1999.  Will the Internet Set Us Free? Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 119-185.]

23 October:      What Do We Study When We Study Technology?

Latour, Bruno.  1996.  Aramis, or the Love of Technology, trans. Catherine Porter.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

II.        Minds, Bodies, Machines: Theoretical Perspectives on Technology and Communication

30 October:      From Descartes to Cyberspace and Back Again

Descartes, Rene.  1641/1999.  Discourse on Method and Mediations on First Philosophy, 4th  Edition, trans. Donald A. CressIndianapolis: Hackett Publishing.

Stone, Allucquère Rosanne.  1995.  Collective Structures; In Novel Conditions; and Reinvention and Encounter. (Chapters 1, 3 and 4 of) The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age.  Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 33-44 and 65-99.

[Stone, Allucquère Roseanne.  1995.  Risking Themselves, Chapter 2 of The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age.  Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 45-64.]

6 November:    Technique, Habitus, and the Body

Elias, Norbert.  1939/2000.  On Behaviour at the Table.  In The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Revised Edition, eds. Eric Dunning, Johan Goudsblom and Stephen Mennell.  Malden: Blackwell, pp. 72-109.

Mauss, Marcel. 1950/1979.  Body Techniques.  In Sociology and Psychology: Essays, trans. Ben Brewster.  Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp. 95-123.  (I am most interested in “The Notion of Body Techniques” pp. 97-105 and “General Considerations,” pp. 120-123).

Bourdieu, Pierre.  1980/1990.  Structures. Habitus, Practices; and Belief and the Body.  The Logic of Practice, trans. Richard Nice.  Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 52-79. 

[Elias, Norbert.  1939/2000.  The Social Constraint Towards Self-Constraint.  In The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Revised Edition, eds. Eric Dunning, Johan Goudsblom and Stephen Mennell.  Malden: Blackwell, pp. 365-379.]

[Bourdieu, Pierre and Loïc Wacquant.  1993.  The Logic of Fields; and Interest, Habitus, Rationality.  An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 94-140.]

13 November:  Two More Takes on Technique and the Body

Latour, Bruno.  1988.  Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: the Sociology of a Door-Closer.   Social Problems 35:1 (June), pp. 298-310.

Foucault, Michel.  1978/1991.  Governmentality.  The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 87-104.

_____.  1982/1997.  Technologies of the Self.  Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth, ed. Paul Rabinow.  New York: The New Press, pp. 223-251.

[Gordon, Colin.  1991.  Governmental Rationality: An Introduction.  The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 1-52.]

20 November: Cybernetics: Information on Speed

Wiener, Norbert.  1950.  What is Cybernetics?  The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society.  Cambridge: The Riverside Press, pp. 1-19.

Baudrillard, Jean.  1983.  The Implosion of Meaning in the Media.  In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, trans. Paul Foss, John Johnston and Paul Patton.  New York: Semiotext(e), pp. 95-110.

_____.  1983.  The Metaphysic of the Code; The Tactile and the Digital; and The Hyperrealism of Simulation.  Simulations, trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman.  New York: Semiotext(e), pp. 103-159.

Virilio, Paul.  1977/1986.  The State of Emergency.  Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology.  New York: Semiotext(e), pp. 133-151.  

[Lyotard, Jean-Francois.  1979/1984.  The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.  On reserve at Hillman Library.]

27 November:  Cyborgs

Haraway, Donna.  1991.  A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.  In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women.  New York: Routledge, pp. 149-182.

Stabile, Carol.  1994.  Calculating on a Frictionless Plane.  In Feminism and the Technological Fix.  New York: Manchester University Press, pp. 134-160.

Stone, Allucquère Roseanne.  1995.  Conclusion: The Gaze of the Vampire.  The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age.  Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 165-184.

Sobchak, Vivian.  1995.  Beating the Meat/Surviving the Text, Or How to Get Out of This Century Alive.  In  Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk, eds. Mike Featherstone and R. Burroughs.  Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp. 205-214.

[Balsamo, Anne.  1996.  Reading Cyborgs, Writing Feminism: Reading the Body in Contemporary Culture; and The Virtual Body in Cyberspace.  Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women.  Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 17-40 and 116-132.]

4 December:     Monism

Wise, J. Macgregor.  1997.  Episteme.  Exploring Technology and Social Space.  Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp. 3-82.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari.  1987.  Rhizome.  A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 3-25.

Grosz, Elizabeth.  1995.  Bodies-Cities.  Space, Time and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of Bodies.  New York: Routledge, pp. 103-110.

[______.  1994.  Refiguring Bodies.  Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 3-24.]

11 December:   Technology and Culture, Once More. . . .