Practice-based Experimental Modules 

MA Studies in Media and Culture (University of Lincoln)

Rethinking Society For The 21st Century

Module synopsis (2014-2015). Coordinated by Dr. Dean Lockwood and Dr. Rob Coley

The theory toolbox of the 20th century (from Freud to Adorno to Foucault) is unable to grasp the dilemmas weface in the 21st. – Steven Shaviro, 11 Sept, 2014

The point of departure for much research in Lincoln School of Film and Media, carried out under the overarching theme of ‘Media Ecologies’, is the speculative and imaginative venture of opening new lines of flight, new possibilities for the future in a context characterized by the subornment of media by and for new forms of power – modulatory, preemptive and premediatory –which aim precisely at harnessing and exploiting energies of invention and experimentation. What is there immanent in the present which affords the possibility of transcending and escaping that which is becoming intolerable in the twenty-first century? Speculation – in theory, practice, fiction and combinations of same – must, we contend, be directed to overcoming and leading us outside prevalent uncritical utopianisms and paralyzing pessimisms. This is the question of the opening of the present by acts of unknown outcomes, the question of the future as event which cannot be known ahead of time.  Research under this heading, and aligned with the exciting, embryonic field of ‘21st century studies’, is explicitly interdisciplinary and ‘transversal’ and links closely to the activities of the College of Art’s Twenty-First Century Research Group. Students taking this module will be provided with a live connection to unfolding research, together with the opportunity to contribute to a collaborative investigation.

The module will critically examine the social, cultural and political implications of contemporary life. It will specifically attend to how these implications are mediated and expressed in popular culture, dominant discourse and creative practice. Our orientation will be investigative rather than instructive and begins with a series of questions: How is the 21st century expressed beyond the calendar? What can we identify as the political, economic and social markers of the new century? Why, for example, has capitalism suddenly returned to the agenda of critical debate? What are the consequences of ongoing conflicts and global civil unrest? How are communities being reorganised in response to globally powerful networks of farming, food production and energy supply? How does all this impact our belief in the future?

Students will be encouraged, both individually and collaboratively, to explore various ways of answering these questions and more. Students will uncover what is at stake in this field of study and challenge traditionally defined boundaries between disciplines and practices. This will entail, on theone hand, surveying current efforts – as explicitly taken up in speculative fiction, artistic and cultural expression, and contemporary thought – to makesense of twenty-first century society. But alongside this, a key concern of themodule is to experiment with the creative (rather than merely communicative) power of media. We aim to provoke creative encounters between theory and practice. Media practice and research is conceived here as ethical praxis,generative of modes of practical thinking and socially-engaged practice withwhich to engage and stimulate, attuned both to the contexts and concerns of thepresent and to speculative horizons of the future. Our engagement with media becomes, emphatically, a tool with a living, social function. In formulating a response to relevant, topical debates in both theoretical terms and through creative practice, student work will explore the crucial relation between these realms.

Human and Inhuman 

Module synopsis (2014-2015) coordinated by Dr. Dean Lockwood and Dr. Rob Coley

the explosion of human and non-human, animate and inanimate agencies as a result of unabashed technization forces us today – under the technological condition – to rethink our mindset and the rationality at the core of the Anthropocene. - Erich Hörl

The set of ideas, questions and debates addressed here will examine the specific social, cultural and political implications of everyday life in the 21st century. It will do this by attending to the expression and mediation of these issues in popular culture, dominant discourse and creative practice.Here, this enquiry will take as its point of departure the ‘anthropocene’, a concept that names the age of Man (anthropo meaning ‘man’ and cenemeaning ‘new’), but does so only at the point of its collapse into ruins. The anthropocene calls forth a new temporality of nature entangled with social history, recognizing the geo-historical period of the present as that in which humans are the preeminent threat to life on earth. On one level, then, the anthropocene is the epoch of accelerated capitalism, and the various practices that have propelled it: agriculture, deforestation, mining, urbanization. It concerns a time of what Stephanie Wakefield has called ‘cascade disasters’, in which the myth of the human’s triumph over nature is punctured not only by its catastrophic consequences, but by its failure to domesticate these forces at all, a time of anxiety over ‘freak’ weather, blackouts, oil spills, nuclear disasters, and, in turn, the expression of these anxieties in various forms of contemporary fiction. 

The anthropocene is concerned with life – life unrestricted to and beyond the human – but only at the moment when that life is under threat of extinction. It is a concept that acknowledges the entwined future of human and material worlds, that gives up on the delusion of an ‘environment’, that accepts nothing can be resolved by simply withdrawing, that there is no homeostasis to return to. It is a concept born of an era in which power is primarily concerned with the creation and management of systems, with the maintenance of complex interconnected infrastructure, an era in which modes of labour and production involve continual self creation and recreation, the ungrounding of the individual. Hence, on another level, the anthropocene also concerns the age of Man after that Man ‘has been mangled and practically dismantled’ (Wakefield). This module will attend to the collapse of the old dualisms of humanist thought: self/other, mind/body, free will/determinism, organic/technological, culture/nature, human/animal, one/many. As Wakefield suggests, the collapse expressed by the concept of the anthropocene ‘isn’t just a mass extinction of coral, bats, and forests – it is spiritual, metaphysical, ethical. The catastrophe is not a hurricane coming in the future – it is our everyday frenetic absence from the world.’ Faced with such a crisis, our conventional resources, intellectual and creative, tend to lead us down pathways that ‘are themselves the fossilized remnants of the civilization passing away.

’This is a module for the anthropocene, a module that attends to this crisis in thought and being by articulating and mapping the age of Man in post-anthropocentric terms, by rethinking the human in relation to the nonhuman, to the unhuman, to the inhuman. In doing so, it will track various ruptures in the field of humanities, ruptures that are producing a movement in critical thinking and creative practice that might be called posthumanities. Students will be required to think ethically about human activity and how this activity functions as part of the world’s natural and unnatural processes. They will have the opportunity to interweave various theoretical approaches with the findings of contemporary science and to intersect these relations with speculative fictions, such as dystopian SF, cosmic horror and the Weird. They will be introduced to a new set of tools that will aid an investigation into human imagination, into the historical construction of human-animal relationships, and into the complexity of the human in all its entangled, prosthetic and ecological materiality.

As in Rethinking Society for the 21st Century, students will be encouraged to survey various ways to use the tools introduced in conjunction with their individual and collaborative creative practice. In doing so, what is entailed is the conceptual capacity and power of media practice to engage within interdisciplinary realms. As with the previous module, speculative praxis is of paramount importance. These are modules of exploration. Once again, we will be concerned to experiment with the creative power of media.

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