Over the past year, faculty members in my interdisciplinary department at Georgia Tech responded to the request by an external review for improved descriptions of our programs and department. The process of strategic planning is inherited from the corporate world and is the most obvious way that academic institutions are being pressed to function better (i.e., more like corporations). My colleagues and I struggled to agree on the best description of our research and teaching, because we knew that the reputation and future configuration of the department were at stake. Recessionary university budgets meant that we had to be both accurate and persuasive in descriptions that would be read by various interest groups: our university colleagues; administrators, including our dean, provost, and president; former, current, and prospective students and their parents; employers of our graduates; the citizens and legislators of our state who underwrite part of the budget for our institution; and the various other funding agencies and donors who contribute to our research and curricular programs.
After considering what each faculty member does and relating it to the university's recently issued strategic plan, we reached a consensus that our scholarship and curricular programs focus on culture and technology, and particularly on building and critiquing technologies, including technologies of representation. While agreeing on our core activities, however, we also recognized diverse affiliations with other disciplinary and interdisciplinary humanistic fields: rhetoric, literary criticism, creative writing, cinema studies, performance studies, and cultural studies of science and technology. Because it is impossible to be both universally transparent and cutting-edge, there are irresolvable, permanent tensions between our department's general project and individual faculty members' specific research; these tensions are reflected, furthermore, in the differences between our department's configuration and those of similar departments in the state system and beyond.
Our experience of strategic planning represents what Katie King calls "networked reenactment" in building community-identity and embodies what Rob Wilkie describes as the necessary, if unpaid, labor to create culture. King's and Wilkie's respective books, Networked Reenactments and The Digital Condition, both consider the economic forces affecting the creation, deployment, and consumption of technologies and related representations. Both books explain how macroeconomic processes affect scholarly work and undervalue it in the marketplace. Theoretically rigorous, these books are also highly pragmatic in recommending activism for social justice.
In this way, Networked Reenactments and The Digital Condition have more in common than one might expect from their titles. Both texts explore the ways that media technologies are uncomfortably intertwined with entrepreneurial capitalism and with the emerging global university. Developing interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary arguments about human engagement with technology, King and Wilkie consider the constraints and rewards of recently-developed media technologies that promise empowerment while limiting return on investment. The authors discount unabashed affirmations of individual and social empowerment that appear in other cultural theories of media, and assess expanded opportunities for social networking as a poor substitute for social justice.
Networked Reenactments and The Digital Condition present differently constructed, yet complementary arguments about the insufficiencies of contemporary accounts of technology and the context of global capitalism. Both books critique media's facile representations of past and present and indict universities for going along with these dominant yet inadequate ideologies. More specifically, each points to engagements of media and "global academic restructuring," to use King's phrase. She understands that universities
are venues packing simultaneous realities in multitemporal histories that interlace, variate, and shift range. Distributive processes of making, sharing, using, and modeling knowledge reach out among networking knowledge economies such that creating a product, addressing readers and audiences, and finding communication styles are all more difficult.(223)
King and Wilkie explain that contemporary humanities scholarship struggles to represent accurate, accessible narratives about our engagement with science and technology. For Wilkie, such analysis must be grounded in historical materialism and should consider who contributes labor and who profits. He argues that literary criticism and theory are mere distractions so long as they do not consider...