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Dissertation Abstracts

PhD, Media, Culture, and Communication

An Art of Ambivalence: On Jean Rouch, African Cinema, and the Complexities of the (Post)colonial Encounter

Jamie Berthe

French anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch made over 100 films throughout his long career, the bulk of which were recorded in West Africa. Founder of the cinéma-vérité movement and pioneer of techniques like 'shared anthropology' and 'ethno-fiction,' Rouch used the medium of film to stimulate new ways of thinking about anthropological knowledge, cross-cultural encounters, and the apparent fixity of social roles in the (post)colonial world order. Furthermore, in his drive to 'share' anthropology, Rouch sought to use his skills and resources to assist his African collaborators in their own ambitions to make films, either with him or independently. But as a French man working in West Africa both prior to and following French colonial rule, Rouch's practice evolved out of a historical moment fraught with complexities and ambiguities. And in spite of Rouch's efforts to use film as a means to transform anthropology into a more collaborative and dialogic undertaking, many African filmmakers accused Rouch of having an imperialist vision of his African subjects. Rouch was also criticized - and not only by Africans - for his aversion towards politics and for what some perceived as a tendency to avoid political controversy in his films. This dissertation examines the evolution of Rouch's filmmaking practice, looking, in particular, at the role that French imperial culture and the colonial situation played in shaping his ideas about both anthropology and film. Rouch's life and work took shape in dialogue with both France's imperial project and West Africa's struggle for independence from (neo)colonial power. In light of this, I argue that Rouch's story needs to be retold, as one that is not altogether unique, or even specifically French, but rather, as part of a narrative about Franco-African (post)colonial history. Unpacking this history helps to resituate Rouch's film work as part of a larger discussion about the complexities of the (post)colonial encounter, and about the role that visual artifacts can play in helping contemporary thinkers work through those complexities.

Before Truth: Memory, History and Nation in the Context of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada

Naomi Angel

The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in June 2008, and focuses on the mistreatment and abuse of Aboriginal children in the Indian Residential School (IRS) system. The system, run by the government of Canada and the Presbyterian, Anglican, United and Catholic Churches, separated Aboriginal children from their families and placed them in the Indian Residential School system. Children at the schools were forbidden from speaking their traditional languages or practicing their cultural and religious beliefs. When parents objected to having their children taken, their children were often forcibly removed. Many former students have now spoken out about the physical, emotional and sexual abuse that took place at the schools. The IRS system is now recognized as one of the major factors in the attempted destruction of Aboriginal cultures, languages and communities in Canada. Through an analysis of archival photographs from the Indian Residential School system, testimony taken at TRC gatherings, and popular representations of the IRS legacy in media and literature, this dissertation focuses on the complicated terrain of reconciliation in Canada. In particular, I concentrate on how reconciliation influences and is influenced by 1) understandings of Canadian nationhood, 2) the ways in which visibility and invisibility are negotiated through truth commissions, and 3) the dialectical relationship between remembering and forgetting. To discuss these three themes, I focus on the cultural dynamics and various mediated forms (performance, photography, artwork) involved in the representation of the Indian Residential School legacy. My project seeks to understand the normative orders of remembrance as dictated through the IRS TRC, and the ways in which individuals and communities take up/negotiate/and push back against these imperatives. By framing reconciliation as a way of seeing, I focus on the ways in which reconciliation is mediated through visual culture.

Book Typography and the Challenge to Linear Thought

Katherine Brideau

This is a shape-based study of typography as a medium. The analysis herein focuses on the structure, and to a lesser extent the infrastructure, of one of our most omnipresent yet overlooked media. Typographical shapes have been neglected by works in media studies that address "print media" and the threat of "digital media," and also by design fields that study the semiotic, socio-historical, or classificatory sides of typography. In contrast, I maintain that it is shape that most notably set the typographical medium apart from handwriting, and also that that which is essential to typography is its visuality, not the linguistic function to which it is often put. The motivation for this project is epistemological. Media philosopher Vilém Flusser argues that when we lack immediate access to an object, knowing that object requires we learn to read media. Building on his work, this project assumes an epistemological necessity to study the media we use to record, store, and communicate ideas. It explores how the structure of typography influences the structures of our daily thought. However, typography makes this structural analysis challenging, because of an inherent tension between typography's visuality and function--when we read type we most often fail to see type. In both practice and study, we ignore the visual thing before us, and instead look through typography at its linguistic, social, and symbolic functions. Both critiquing and bracketing these traditional function-focused studies of typography, this dissertation uses Flusser's concept of the techno-image and the model of the diagram, to propose a shape-based analysis of this medium. It identifies a series of features that come to the fore when one studies typography as shape, and it sketches out a diagrammatic analysis of eighteen character forms. The new typographical system proposed here highlights typography's technologies and its non-linear, quantized structure; and through the diagram it promotes typography as a functional visualization in which function no longer obscures visuality. This project presents an understanding of typography that better reflects its many details, an approach to media that stresses structure and infrastructure, and contributes to the study of visualization's role in knowledge production.

Bounce: The Material Certainty of Sporting Chance

Carlin Wing

This dissertation traces the development of “true bounce” in modern sport. Almost all human cultures engage in some form of ball play. Playing with balls and other kinds of bounding objects is a basic way that humans hone their spatiotemporal skills and learn what kinds of motion to expect from their own and other physical bodies. When play becomes rule-bound game, these activities become dialogic and narrative encounters of the self with the social. And when games become institutionalized and ritualized as sports, theories of the social order and the natural order come fully into contact. That is to say, when ball play becomes sport, players simultaneously enact both ideology and physics through their bodies. With the invention of digital computing in the mid twentieth century, ball play was redirected into electronic space, creating new conditions of bounce and changing the terms of both bodies and play.

Drawing on archival materials, fieldwork, and interviews, I map a theory of bounce that connects sixteenth century European court tennis first to nineteenth century British imperial sports played with industrial rubber balls, then to the squash-and-stretch techniques in Disney animation, and finally to the bounce programs that sit under contemporary computer graphics and world modeling practices. I argue that bounce is a property distributed among people and things – a name for those kinds of interactions from which all of the entities involved emerge with their shapes and speeds relatively intact and with their identities confirmed – and that sport and other rule-bound games provide frameworks for these kinds of material symbolic interactions and thus offer method of measuring, situating, and placing the self in the world. If bounce has emerged as an essential conceptual metaphor for interaction in the context of digital computing, my project’s lounge durée situates this emergence by showing how different kinds of bounce have been enacted and made into material metaphors for communication in both physical and digital realms.

Data Mining: Ethics, Ethos, Episteme

Solon Barocas

This dissertation examines the novel challenges that data mining poses to privacy, fairness, and autonomy. It first shows how ‘big data’ necessarily reflect pre-existing views about what exists and what is worth capturing. It further demonstrates how the information systems that ‘capture’ big data are shot-through with specific ideas of a social world and sociality that they are innocently meant to mediate, but which they quite clearly shape. These findings suggest that practitioners, policymakers, and scholars should attend to the properties of such systems before they adopt big data as objective evidence for their own purposes. The dissertation then delves into the inner workings of the data mining process to better account for its foundational assumptions, its potential sources of bias, and its claims to accuracy. It demonstrates that the push for improved accuracy may have the perverse result of reifying evaluation methods that cannot capture the full range of bias and error that may beset a data mining project. It also addresses the fact that improved predictive accuracy often comes at the cost of greater complexity. 

The dissertation then develops a framework to explain why consumers may perceive certain kinds of inferences as violations of their privacy. It focuses on a series of real-world cases where the very possibility of making inferences was not apparent and where individuals could not arrive at these conclusions through their own powers of reason. The dissertation argues that where such inferences deny individuals the ability to anticipate the possible import of the behaviors that they exhibit, individuals will perceive data mining as a profound threat to their privacy and autonomy. Finally, the dissertation explores the paradoxical finding from computer science that attempts to ensure procedural fairness in data mining may be in conflict with the imperative to ensure accurate determinations. It shows that data miners cannot disentangle legitimate and proscribed criteria from their model-building because proscribed attributes meaningfully condition what relevant attributes individuals possess. The dissertation concludes by considering the policy implications of the finding that any decision that only takes these relevant attributes into account would still nevertheless recapitulate inequality.

Designing the Amsterdam Red Light District

Magdalena Sabat

This study broadly explores urban prostitution. Specifically, it examines the urban renewal of the Amsterdam Red Light District, locally known as De Wallen. Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District is a legal place of prostitution, a global sex industry hub, and a mass tourism and entertainment zone. The district represents an intrinsic and authentic part of the city because of its long history and the specific type of prostitution that has developed there–the red light window. But recently public perception has shifted. The district is increasingly seen as a foreign, crime-ridden area, and a place of sexual exploitation. As a response, in 2007, Amsterdam’s city council launched Project 1012, a large-scale urban renewal plan to restructure Amsterdam’s city center, with the major goal of substantially limiting sex industry presence in De Wallen. 

Shifting focus from legal and ethical issues surrounding the sex industry, but not omitting them, this study looks at the spatial environments of urban sex commerce. The study has two main goals: 1) to detail the self-design of the sex industry in De Wallen, and 2) to look at the way professional designers redesign the district and reshape the city’s sex industry. The study uses archival, ethnographic, and discursive analysis research to show how the sex industry organizes itself and self-designs spaces for sex commerce, opening up new terrain through which to understand this complex and contradictory sector. Through a geneaology of De Wallen, it also connects the urban spatialities of sex work to specific moral discourse about prostitution, showing that urban spatial forms of sex commerce are key discursive sites. Ultimately, the study zeros in on new urban design ideology and practice, demonstrating how they transform and dematerialize sex work in the city, in the process erasing vernacular city spaces like the Red Light District. The study’s design lens uncovers a complex relationship between the visual and highly aestheticized design practices in the district, and the hidden politics and problems facing sex workers. It problematizes the market model of prostitution and sheds much needed light on the effects of urban design on sex work in the city.

Desk, Firm, God, Country: Proprietary Trading and the Speculative Ethos of Financialism

Robert Wosnitzer

In 2009, in the wake of the global financial crisis, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank Paul Volcker proposed a ban on capital markets proprietary trading by the nation’s largest banks and financial institutions. Yet, the term proprietary trading is ambiguous, as it can refer to a variety of competing trading activities, financial instruments, and agents operating in the financial field. The ambiguity arises from the complexity by which financial action and value are mediated in the global capital markets, as well as from a lack of historical context. This dissertation uses the figure of the credit trader to examine the complex history and organization, as well as the technical tools and devices used in the contemporary practice of proprietary trading in the global credit markets, in order to show how an orientation to risk and speculation has emerged as a productive means, or ethos, by which different forms of value are mediated. Relying upon a deeply social and agentive practice, the day-to-day practice of proprietary trading and the circulation of credit instruments constructs a picture of finance that resembles a ritual form, one that ediates social relationships and value, operating to secure and enclose claims on wealth generated in the market. The attempt to ban such practices emerges not so much as meaningful reform, but rather as redefining the spaces of circulation calling attention to how governance simultaneously invokes and denies different publics. The practice of proprietary trading and its history reveals much more than how value is produced and disproportionately claimed by financial actors, but demonstrates how the act of risking together can make wealth more expansive.

Digital Afterlives: From the Electronic Village to the Networked Estate

Tamara Kneese

Everyone with a web presence has the potential to live on as information. Today, numerous stories in the popular press examine the afterlives of social data, asking what happens to our online profiles, feeds, blogs, and accounts after we die? This dissertation traces the rise of digital estate planning, a new cultural field that organizes individuals' various online accounts and bequeaths control of these materials to designated kin members. I locate the origins of digital estate planning in the aftermath of the campus shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007, when victims' loved ones petitioned Facebook to keep the profiles of those who were killed as virtual, interactive shrines. Virginia Tech was a particularly networked place, and the Blacksburg Electronic Village already shaped campus life. By connecting the valorization of Facebook pages to a longer history of web memorialization practices that appeared during 1990s net culture, I show how Web 2.0 logics about user-generated content and collaboration enabled profiles to become valuable objects worthy of preservation. Based on qualitative interviews with digital mourners and digital estate planning startup company founders alike, I discuss how Facebook memorialization precipitated the emergence of digital estate planning as a way of capturing what I call communicative traces, or the electronic ephemera people constantly create over a dense ecology of interfaces, platforms, and devices. In aggregate, communicative traces are speculatively valuable because of their connection to data mining as well as their potential to become meaningful heirlooms transferred across generations. Some digital estate planning websites are tied to transhumanism, a movement that promises immortality by uploading human consciousness into computers, thus connecting mundane actuarial practices to loftier techno-utopian goals. For surviving kin members, digital remains are complicated by the burdens of caring for them, which requires physical infrastructures, perpetual upkeep, and affective labor. Do we have obligations to digital souls, and what are the ethical, legal, emotional, and material implications of this kind of afterlife?

Divination Engines: A Media History of Text Prediction

Xiaochang Li

This dissertation examines the historical development of text prediction technologies and their role in the rise of so-called “big data” and machine learning. Historically, efforts to grapple with text computationally have played a pivotal yet largely unexamined role in both the technical development and popular imagination of computing, artificial intelligence, and data processing. In the present, predictive text systems continue to saturate our everyday experience, from the minute interventions of “autocomplete” and “autocorrect” software in our most mundane communications to the influence of text-mining as a core component for data analytics in areas such as business intelligence and public policy. Through archival research and original interviews, I map the discursive and material arrangements that brought language under the purview of data processing and the corresponding development of statistical techniques that today underwrite applications across diverse fields, generating financial models, genome sequences, and web search results alike. The pursuit of text prediction, I argue, prepared the conceptual terrain for predictive analytics as a distinct and pervasive form of knowledge work, where information could be unanchored from the demands of explanation. At the same time, it drove technical developments in natural language processing that were pivotal in making data “big,” transforming previously “unstructured” text into vast troves of computer-processable data used in modeling everything from cholera outbreaks to purchasing habits. Centering on two pivotal encounters between statistical modeling and text processing—first in speech recognition research beginning in the 1970s and then in text-mining in the 1990s—this project offers an account of how data processing became a means of not only transmitting, but also generating knowledge. By drawing out the history of its epistemic underpinnings, this research wrests data-driven analytics from the quarantine of technical inevitability, and highlights the sociotechnical arrangements in which such practices became not only technically feasible, but thinkable and desirable in the first place.

Far Corners of the Earth: A Media History of Logistics

Matthew Hockenberry

“Far Corners of the Earth” narrates the media history of logistics. In so doing, it follows the transformation of early forms of logistical media in order to historicize their impact on the development of decentralized manufacture and the arrangement of the productive apparatus over the prior two centuries. This argues for an understanding of logistics as a second-order operation, the optimization and encapsulation of networks already well understood. To this end, I examine the extent to which emergent mediators—sites like the warehouse, small shop, and factory; documents like the bill of lading, parts list, and catalogue—came to be inscribed within the pattern of production externalized by technologies of telecommunication like the telegraph, telephone, and telex.

In developing these accounts, I consider how these mediators circulated between actors as they engaged in historic debates about the nature of production. By reading media forms like advertisements, pamphlets, and reports not only as functional documents, but as emblems and spokes-things reinforcing particular patterns of association, these forms emerge as the very mechanisms defining emergent practices of manufacture and trade. They become not only the raw material for new patterns of association, but often the very means through which those associations became durable. By leveraging manufacturing networks into pathways for product distribution, some early twentieth century companies were able to marshal vast numbers of suppliers as sources for other businesses. For the readers of their supply catalogues or owners of their order books, this promised a singular point of origin for material needs. The incarnation of modern production that has followed from these promises arose not, I argue, from some “logistics revolution,” but rather from the steady march of these communication technologies as they formed new assemblies of assembly. Through the work of the telecommunication and electrical industries—the companies of the Bell System, electrical manufacturers like Western Electric, and nascent computing concerns like IBM—the language of logistics has, I argue, become ingrained within the mechanisms of modern mediation.

Fixing Identity: A Socio-Historical Analysis of State Practices of Identification Mediated Through Technologies of the Body

Travis Hall

This dissertation explores historical and social contexts through which governments employ technology to identify individuals through their bodies. It poses the question of why these programs are necessary and investigates the promise and limitations of these technologies' influence on policy and the relationships that they mediate. It does this by considering historical and contemporary identification programs: tattooing in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps during World War II, mobile fingerprint and iris scanning by the United States military in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000's, and the ongoing implementation of the Unique ID project in India. Through these case studies, I show how governmental programs that affect people as individuals, i.e. not merely affiliated with a group, class, or geographic location, require particular forms of identification. Further, in situations where the control and surveillance of individuals is at its peak (prisons, welfare systems, occupied territories), more stringent and innovate means of identification are deployed. Specifically, when forced to manage the anxiety of fluid identities, government officials reach for the stability of the material, i.e. bodies. The alluring yet elusive promise of perfect universal identification is one of the most pervasive and interesting characteristics of the policy discourse on modern identification. It is the disconnect between the promise of an ideal future and the technical failures of the present that allows the flexibility necessary for those tasked with governing to reconcile the messiness of reality with the abstract dictates of bureaucracy, while legitimizing these decisions in routine practice. Yet for those who are subjected to such programs, identification is a mixed blessing. With each identification transaction, there is a possibility that the individual is a fraud. In order to fight the chance of deception, the mechanisms of identification must be opaque to the very populace that they aim to make transparent. Instead of clarifying and simplifying the relationship between those who have legitimate claims on the state and the agencies set up to help or protect them, identity regimes create technological black boxes whose output is often a matter of life and death.

Freud's Jaw and Other Lost Objects: Psychoanalysis and the Subjectivity of Survival

Lana Lin

This dissertation examines the psychic effects of cancer, in particular how cancer disrupts the security with which a body ordinarily feels coincident with the self. Using psychoanalytic theory and literary analysis of atypical pathographies, the study shows how cancer prompts a loss of feelings of unity, exposing the vulnerability of bodily integrity and agency. The thesis analyzes how three exemplary figures, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, poet Audre Lorde, and literary theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, grapple with life-threatening illness that is compounded with other violences to their identities, such as racism and homophobia. Cancer's destruction demands from each a creative response that mediates their relationship to morbidity and mortality. Freud's sixteen-year ordeal with a prosthetic jaw, the result of oral cancer, demonstrates the powers and failures of a prosthetic object in warding off physical and psychic fragmentation. Lorde's life writing reveals how losing a breast to cancer recapitulates the loss of the original "first object," the maternal breast, and the reassurance of wholeness and protection that it promises. Drawing on Lorde's critique of breast prostheses, I interpret the social pressure to reconstruct the absent breast as fetishistic. Sedgwick's memoir and breast cancer advice column function as explicitly reparative projects that seek to come to terms with impending death by disseminating a public discourse of love and pedagogy. I conclude by interrogating reparative efforts at the rival Freud Museums. In London, where Freud fled to "die in freedom," the analyst's possessions are mobilized to symbolically defy his death, while in Vienna, photographs taken prior to Freud's exile are recruited to compensate for the Museum's material and historical losses.

Affliction has the capacity to uncover knowledge that is typically repressed in quotidian existence, for instance, awareness of death's immanence in life. Psychoanalytic intervention clarifies problems that physical trauma can pose, which cut across the tenuous divide between the conscious and unconscious. I argue that the habitual threat to life forces the unconscious to become conscious, a process that is disconcertingly destabilizing and itself divisive. However, the prospect of imminent destruction paradoxically incites a creativity that I suggest is a requisite albeit inadequate reparative endeavor.

Homework and the Bedroom-Study: Work, Leisure and Communication Technology

Elizabeth Patton

(Home)work and the Bedroom-Study: Work, Leisure and Communication Technology, investigates the myth of the bedroom as a space of sex and privacy and the disruption of the myth through the introduction of communication technology. This project examines the bedroom as a site of work, although it is commonly associated with modern notions of what constitutes the private sphere. Privacy has historically been reflected in the separation of home and work, the private and public spheres, respectively. However, as I argue, the bedroom has always been a space where the line between public and private is blurred. This research examines representations of the bedroom (and its co-evolution with the study/home office) to argue that the bedroom has always been a space of work within the system of capitalism. Within the home, the bedroom is a key site for this intersection of leisure and work. In examining the bedroom as a social space, this project reveals how representations in popular culture of the bedroom depict persistent and shifting American ideologies about family life, class, gender, and the relationship between work and leisure and potentially challenges them. Furthermore, this research reveals how the production and design of the hybrid bedroom-study have helped alter and consequently reveal transformations in the meaning of leisure and work life. That practices of the bedroom-study reveal how media and communication technologies have transformed social and labor relations within and outside the home by undoing spatial divisions between the sites of leisure (formerly coded as unproductive by disregarding unpaid labor) and sites of work/labor. This research contributes to the interdisciplinary areas of cultural studies, communication and media studies by combining the social history of the bedroom and media studies to understand the influence of long-term social processes on the present and to determine connections between media, space, technological development, and structures of power. Specifically, this research examines the social organization of space as a site of ideological meaning, where markers of difference such as class and gender are contested, negotiated, and transformed, and the role of communication technologies in those processes.

Humanity's Publics: NGOs, Journalism, and the International Public Sphere

Matthew Powers

As legacy news outlets slash foreign news budgets, international NGOs have been discussed as sources of both promise and caution with respect to the future of foreign news - for journalists, for advocates and for citizens. To optimists, NGOs provide original, insightful reporting from neglected areas of the world. To skeptics, the influence of such groups augurs a worrisome conflation of the lines between advocacy and journalism, with deleterious consequences befalling both parties. This dissertation tests these competing claims by asking what the information work of NGOs is, what types of news coverage they support and whether NGOs expand or reinforce established patterns of international news attention. The dissertation puts forward three primary findings. First, NGO information work is neither singular nor shaped entirely by the preferences of the news media. Instead, both NGOs and news media are internally differentiated between elite and general public sectors and the international differentiations correspond to different relations across sectors - making interactions between elite-oriented NGOs and the prestige press much more likely than interactions, and vice versa. Second, different relationships between NGOs and news outlets shape different types of news coverage, including a policy/elite set of discussions conducted in the prestige press and oriented towards high-level decision-making; and also a discourse of donation and charity in search of potential donors. Third, the capacity of NGOs to live up to their stated missions of raising awareness of neglected parts of the world depends on where they seek publicity. A group's capacity to bring countries from outside the media spotlight into it is most likely to occur in the prestige press, not the broadcast media. The dissertation concludes by evaluating the normative implications of the research findings. If one sees the role of public communication as mediating between experts, the data provide room of cautious optimism. NGOs that align with the prestige press constitute a modest expansion of elites and allow for civil society perspectives to be articulated in elite discussions. If, however, one sees the role of NGOs as raising general public awareness of issues outside the media spotlight, the space for optimism diminishes greatly.

Hurricane Katrina: Visuality, Photography, and Representing a Crisis

Song Chong

This dissertation explores the ways in which the photography of Hurricane Katrina is informed by historical networks of representation and distribution through the strategies of visuality and countervisuality. Photography and visuality have a unique relationship, both in terms of the importance of both as a commodity, but also in that they both represent ideologies. In the case of post-Katrina photography, what emerged was my inquiry into the experience of the body, specifically the black body, in the circum Atlantic "new world" that was the United States and the unique subject position that the body occupies within the photographic archive.

Image Objects: An Archaeology of 3D Computer Graphics, 1965-1979

Jacob Gaboury

Image Objects: An Archaeology of 3D Computer Graphics, 1965-1979 explores the early history of 3D computer graphics and visualization with a focus on the pioneering research center at the University of Utah. The University of Utah is one of the most significant sites in the history of computing, but has been largely neglected by historians and digital media scholars alike. From 1965-1979 almost all fundamental principals of modern computer graphics were developed by Utah graduates and faculty, many of whom went on to found some of the most important research and technical organizations of the past fifty years, including Adobe, Pixar, Netscape, and Atari. The project begins with this history, but looks to pull apart familiar narratives of invention and innovation by engaging the challenges and failures of early research into computer visualization. As such the project is organized around a set of technical and cultural objects of particular significance to the early history of graphics. Chapter One introduces the project and its research site and the University of Utah, discussing methods, archives, and the history of the Utah program. Chapter Two offers a meditation on questions of vision and visibility, structured around the development of the "hidden surface algorithm" for graphical display from 1965-1969. Chapter Three offers an analysis of memory and materiality through the lens of early graphics hardware, with a focus on the development of the first commercial framebuffer in 1973. Chapter Four investigates objects and ontology through an analysis of the "Utah Teapot", a famous graphical object standard developed in 1974 and used widely in contemporary software, film, and research demonstrations. Finally, Chapter Five offers an analysis of language and text through an exploration of the object-oriented paradigm first conceived by Alan Kay at the University of Utah. By looking to the first moments in which visual computing is made possible this project critiques popular narratives that view the digital image as an extension of earlier visual forms, arguing instead that the development of 3D interactive graphics marks the moment at which computer science develops a concern for ontology and the simulation of objects in the world. Ultimately the project seeks to make the familiar strange, offering a theory of the digital image that refuses a genealogy of the visible.

Imagining the Art Market

Paul Melton

Whereas many studies of the art market have focused on market participants and technologies, this study has taken as its object the ways in which popular portrayals of art market - the understandings they disclose - index the development of the neoliberal "regime of truth." In this regard, the study complements the literature on the artist / creative (and artistic / creative labor) as the model for neoliberal labor, precisely because the spheres of discourse analyzed - entertainment, education, and regulation - are vectors through which that model is disseminated. Surveying board games, reality television, investment manuals, graduate education, and legal battles, the dissertation charts a wide array of attempts to inscribe (or prescribe) neoliberal rationality - its reducation of the social to competition, of knowledge to action-oriented calculation, and of being to invested human capital - in the art market and, importantly, their failures. In theorizing those failures, the dissertation seeks to illuminate the very limits of neoliberal rationality and its concomitant subject formation and, thus, point toward potential for resistance and advance the rethinking both our governing forms of reason but the subject itself.

Listening Intently: Towards a Critical Media Theory of Ethical Listening

Jessica Feldman

This dissertation considers how advances in the surveillance of cell phone data, decentralized mobile networks, and vocal affective monitoring software are changing the ways in which listening exerts power and frames social and political possibilities. The low- and middle-level design limitations and broad implementations of these communication media frame cultural circumstances in terms of what kinds of emotional expressions and social relations are both perceptible and acceptable. The first chapter looks at recent and contemporary software that seeks to identify emotions in the acoustic voice by ignoring words and instead measuring quantifiable parameters of sound. The design of these algorithms shows a change in their conception of the human emotional system as they evolve from truth-telling to predictive machines. The chapter views this techno-psychological shift as the enactment of an emerging mode of surveillance, which serves the risk economy by claiming to predict subjects’ behavior by coding and categorizing their emotional motivations. The second chapter traces the development and global dissemination of cell phone surveillance programs. Here, the research draws on declassified white papers, interviews, and legal scholarship to make a “fear-based standing” argument against ex-ante mass surveillance, showing how the capture and storage of real-time communications can cause low-level psychological trauma, and how the chilling effect obstructs political progress and experimentation. The third chapter considers non-hierarchical models for listening, consensus, and community governance, as practiced in the “movements of the squares”, together with a handful of emerging, but marginally adopted, circumvention apps and peer-to- peer networking tools that these movements developed in order to overcome blocking and surveillance. It concludes that these social movements experimented with autonomous zones of horizontal connectivity, but failed to sustain themselves in part because of a lack of resilient communications infrastructures to mirror and facilitate their politics. The fourth chapter is a whitepaper outlining the requirements elicitation for the amidst project, an ad-hoc peer-to- peer decentralized network for mobile devices, which is a collaboration between the author and three engineers. This project proposes a remedy to the critiques of surveillance, blocking, and infrastructural weakness elucidated throughout previous chapters.

Making Brooklyn Local: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Postindustrial City

Kari Hensley

This dissertation explores localism through a variety of lenses. It primarily examines Brooklyn's local, artisanal food movement and the branding of Brooklyn, and also looks at early localist tendencies in the borough as well as the early food movement in California. It positions the localism movement as a cultural response to globalization and the post-industrialism. This project is not only about food and branding but about how nostalgia for the late nineteenth or early twentieth century becomes the primary form of these post-industrial practices. Once a major port and industrial sector and renown for its village-like ethnic neighborhoods, Brooklyn has responded to an economic imperative and transitioned into a post-industrial economy. Its population and neighborhoods have dynamically transformed, largely due to immigrants and rising real estate prices. While the borough's economy is no longer based on a producerist model, there has been a ground-swell of efforts to reverse the trend of globalization by creating small-scale, "local" food networks and to "return" to a kind of pre-industrial mode of food production, whether in practice or in aesthetics. In Brooklyn, part of one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the world, the local food movement has emerged in tandem with an ethos and aesthetic of craftwork, in part, as a response to shift from manufacturing and manual labor to a service economy where much work is considered "immaterial." This dissertation explores pre-branded forms of localism in Brooklyn: the rise and decline of industry and shipping in Brooklyn and the history of its neighborhoods and ethnic groups. It traces the rise of conscious locavore practices nationally, internationally, and in Brooklyn. It interrogates the politics of the local food movement, through discourses and practices of localism and of craftwork within the milieu what has been called "New Brooklyn Cuisine," a subgenre of American Cuisine that has a particular century-old, rustic aesthetic. Finally, this dissertation analyzes Brooklyn's turn to branding and destination marketing to be economically competitive in the global economy, efforts which are equally steeped in nostalgia for a Brooklyn of yore. What is at stake here, in each case, is the question of urban authenticity.

Objectivity in an Age of Dissensus: Mainstream U.S. News in the Context of Fragmentation, Pluralism, and Polarization, 1958-2009

Sarah Stonbely

This dissertation is about how mainstream U.S. news has responded to three major developments in latter-twentieth century American culture and politics: the fragmentation of the journalistic field after the uptake of cable television and the Internet, the greater acceptance of pluralism after the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and the polarization of U.S. politics, beginning in the early 1980s. These three developments, I argue, were pivotal in re-shaping the public sphere from one where relatively few voices and viewpoints prevailed, to one where a greater diversity of voices and viewpoints are considered legitimate, thereby increasing the instances in which no one narrative becomes widely accepted as "truth;" or, stated differently, decreasing the salience of issues or ideas on which a broad majority of Americans are in agreement. This dissertation finds that mainstream news, with its mandate of objectivity, has increasingly imposed its own logic on a socio-political world with multiple, often conflicting, voices, while at the same time working to defend against successful challenges to the very institutions on which its own legitimacy rests. As such it highlights the historical contingency of the practice of journalistic objectivity - how it is indelibly marked by its formation in the crucible of the liberal-centrist twentieth century - and shows how "objective" news has adapted to the epistemological challenges posed by a pluralist and partisan political sphere.

Red Gold: On the Global Politics of Regulating Marine Life

Jennifer Telesca

Canned and worth pennies a half century ago, a single bluefin tuna sold at auction in Tokyo for a record $1.7 million in January 2013. Global demand for the planet's best sushi has fueled the environmentalists' concern that the prized bluefin--what industry insiders call "red gold"--is on the brink of extinction. At the same time, nation states have agreed to protect it and other animals on the high seas through the policies adopted by the treaty body known as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Because marine life has plummeted under ICCAT's watch since its inception some four decades ago, this dissertation asks: what is ICCAT achieving, if not its advertised purpose to conserve sea creatures? This ethnographic study illuminates environmental diplomacy in action, and takes the supply of the high-profile Atlantic bluefin tuna as material to explain how the oceans are governed, by whom, for whom and according to what values and logics. Based on time-series data collected over three years, it shows in situ that ICCAT is entangled in a larger universe of international lawmaking, economic development, statecraft, civil society and fisheries science--all to master very mobile things of nature. The dissertation advances three primary findings. First, red gold and ICCAT co-produced one another, and did so under pressure from the environmentalists and from encroaching international legal instruments. As delegates safeguard the survival of red gold for the export markets of ICCAT signatories, red gold ensures ICCAT's importance in the emergent field of ocean governance. Second, two bets organize ICCAT's regulatory action. In the game of marine conservation, delegates worry about the net total of the export quota. Yet in the game of economic development, member states seek to grow their share of the pie. Conservation is calibrated to supplying the market for economic growth, not to creating an ocean full of fish. Third, as delegates aspire to control the supply of red gold, ICCAT proclaims its empire too: today member states assert their sovereignty by demonstrating their good standing in supra-national regulatory regimes, even when a meeting's outcome does not satisfy their interests.

Retreat: Hurricane Sandy, Home Buyouts, and the Future of Coastal Cities

Elizabeth Koslov

This dissertation explores the social and cultural dimensions of urban climate change adaptation through an ethnographic study of “managed retreat.” As storms grow stronger and sea levels rise, one response is to move away from certain places entirely, to “retreat” by relocating people, clearing land, and restricting future development. Research in urban and environmental studies consistently shows the devastating impacts of forced relocation; however, climate change is now rendering some places increasingly vulnerable – even uninhabitable. What are the social, political, and cultural consequences of these changes? How do individuals and communities mediate bodies of knowledge about climate change, risk, and vulnerability in ways that are in tension with government policies meant to alleviate those risks? Who decides when it is time to retreat, and how does this form of collective movement reshape the urban landscape and everyday life? While managed retreat is conventionally understood as a top-down process, this dissertation charts the rise of communities organizing from the bottom-up to enlist government support to move. It draws on fieldwork over four years in the New York City borough of Staten Island, where residents mobilized in favor of retreat after Hurricane Sandy, lobbying the government to buy out their damaged houses and return their neighborhoods to wetlands rather than rebuilding. It shows how this mobilization for retreat emerged and spread, analyzes the conflicting government responses to residents’ demands, and explores the fraught determination of which places are sufficiently at risk to be permanently un-built. Examining the paradoxical process of a community organizing to disperse itself, the dissertation argues that retreat is not the direct result of individual decisions or objective measures of imminent danger but rather is mediated by social and cultural dynamics, government policies, and contested technologies of representing risk. Understanding the lived experience of retreat on Staten Island, where moving away from the waterfront came to mean, for many, an empowering act of personal sacrifice for the greater good, but was ultimately only possible for a select few, lends insight into the complexities of responding to climate change in ways that are both environmentally sustainable and socially just.

Sounding Western: Frontier Aurality, Tourism, and Heritage Production in South Dakota's Black Hills

Jennifer Heuson

This dissertation explores how heritage experiences are made and managed through sound in one of the most sacred, contested, and popular tourist regions in the United States. Located in western South Dakota, the Black Hills are home to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorials, the town of Deadwood, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and the site of Wounded Knee, an enduring symbol of cultural genocide. Tourism is big business in South Dakota, and like elsewhere in the American West, it relies upon producing experiences that draw heavily from frontier histories and mythologies. Based on a production-centered sound ethnography conducted over four summers and drawing on the approaches of sound studies, media and affect theory, and historical and cultural analysis, this dissertation argues that the aural modes used to produce frontier experience in the region are the most crucial and under theorized aspects of tourist production.

The dissertation traces frontier and tourist myths to a shared belief in the material emplacement of future transformation, arguing that tourism is an extractive industry built upon the methods and infrastructures of earlier resource-based industries. It outlines a conceptual frame for understanding how sound, noise, and silence are used to produce frontier experience and showing how aural relations between silent nature, noisy technology, and sounded culture are naturalized. It investigates the forms of hearing, listening, and sound making that work to solidify the region as an experiential artifact of the originary conquest of the American West. Finally, it explores how regional Lakota and non-Lakota producers negotiate frontier aural productions and politics. Ultimately, this dissertation articulates how audibility is constructed along racial lines as a form of heritage. Through the aural stances enacted at tourist venues in the Black Hills, Lakota peoples and lands are consistently exploited and colonized. They are protected as valuable, spiritual silences and made inaudible by the noise and sound of technological processes. These processes, in turn, shape non-natives as active participants in sounded culture. This dissertation thus argues that frontier aural productions have profound consequences for the future cultural, political, and economic sovereignty of Lakota peoples.

Stand-Up Comedy in the Biomedicalization Era: Negotiating the Ideological Production of Health

Beza Merid

In the last forty to fifty years, stand-up comedy has emerged as a site where anxieties about health, illness, death, and dying are negotiated. Part of a proliferation of health discourses beyond clinical spaces and encounters between physicians and patients, stand-up comedy and stand-up comedians participate in the construction of new publics and practices that reflect changes in how health, responsibility, and health risk are acted on at the intersection of biomedicine and culture. Stand-up comedy is at once deployed to communicate the moral imperative of and resistance to idealized notions of responsible patienthood in the present-day United States. Drawing on biomedicalization theory, this dissertation examines how the emergence of stand-up comedy in our health discourse reflects critical changes to how we talk about illness and loss, and how we understand health as a personal, moral responsibility. Defining ‘health’ in the United States today is as much about ideology as it is about well-being. From the imperative to be positive and cheerful in the so-called culture of ‘cancer survivorship’ to the targeting of high-risk racial minorities through coded signifiers of race and difference, the language we use to talk about health and illness is deeply constrained. This dissertation examines three key sites where stand-up comedy participates in this ideological negotiation: illness narratives performed by professional comedians, self-help organizations that promote ‘therapeutic humor’ as a care of the self, and public service announcements that use stand-up comedy to inculcate self-surveillance behaviors within high-risk target populations. Employing discourse analysis and an ethnography that includes participant-observation and semi-structured interviews, I examine how and why stand-up comedy emerged as an important site of inquiry for the cultural study of health.

Stand-up comedy has long functioned as a bastion for the transgression of cultural taboos. I am interested in what the emergence of stand-up comedy in our health discourse uncovers about how we talk about illness experiences, and how that is changing. I argue that these emergent practices reveal a profound discomfort in addressing the lived experiences of illness, death, and dying in frank terms. Further, I argue that the ideological production of health in the present-day United States frames the ‘ideal patient’ as an active and responsible consumer of biomedical knowledge sources while simultaneously and aradoxically restricting the languages we use to talk about pain and loss in public. Located at the intersection of science and technology studies (STS) and the cultural study of health, my dissertation explores the cleavages between these efforts, and considers what the utilization of stand-up comedy on both sides of this divide reveals about how we understand health and the experience of illness in the twenty-first century.

Substance and Mediation: Towards a Critical Hylomorphic Metaphysics of Media

Aaron Pedinotti

Recent years have seen a significant revival of interest in Aristotle's hylomorphic philosophy among intellectual historians and philosophers working in both the analytic and continental traditions. This dissertation applies the diverse conceptual outgrowths of these contemporary engagements with Aristotelian thought to the study of media and mediation. This objective is pursued in three distinct but related ways. In its first three chapters, which are primarily theoretical in nature, the project develops a hylomorphic metaphysical system that centers upon the motif of mediation. In its fourth and fifth chapter, which are focused on empirical content, it applies this system to the analysis of multi-modal texts and products of the current media landscape. Throughout both of these broad sections, the project also develops and demonstrates a uniquely critical approach to hylomorphic thought, one which fuses modified Aristotelian concepts with post-Marxist approaches to cultural studies. Taken together, Chapters 1-3 incorporate a number of influences from Aristotle and other, more contemporary thinkers into its metaphysical system. Chapter 4 then carries out the first empirical application of the project's metaphysical system through an analysis of the contemporary media phenomenon known as "Game of Thrones." Engaging in a technical demonstration of the theoretical apparatus' relevance to actual media products, this chapter applies the ideas that are developed in Chapters 2 and 3. While building on the empirical demonstrations of Chapter 4, Chapter 5 focusses more extensively on the critical applications of the project's metaphysical scheme. Applying the method developed in the previous chapter to the famous real-time strategy videogame entitled StarCraft, this chapter analyzes the manner in which the game mediates specific elements of Cold War-era defense ideation and military-industrial economics. The conclusion then summarizes the arguments and findings, and proposes further applications.

That Sognal Feeling: Emotion and Interaction Design from Smartphones to the "Anxious Seat"

Charles Luke Stark

This dissertation examines how computational interaction design has been influenced by theories of emotion drawn from the psychological sciences, and argues that the contemporary field of interaction design would be impossible without the developments in psychology that allowed human emotions to be understood as orderable and classifiable. Interaction design, or the process by which digital media are created and modified for human use, has grappled with theories of human emotion since its inception in the early 1980s. The project examines how the longer histories of psychology and psychiatry have changed conceptualizations of emotion in relation to cognition and behavior, and how shifts in these theories have shaped the development of a burgeoning array of digital tools for tracking and managing human emotions. Examining the continuum of humans and machines desired and configured by individuals throughout this history, the project explores how these subject identities, both imagined and made, have reflected broader changes in the exercise of social power and authority. The research draws on materials from several archives, including newspaper reports; the published works and archival materials of psychologists and computer science researchers; materials from the West Coast Computer Faire tradeshow in the late 1970s; interviews with designers; and psychological texts and textbooks. Alongside a design assessment of smartphone apps for mood tracking grounded in Values in Design (VID) scholarship, the project deploys historical, philosophical, and qualitative methods, including close reading and discursive and thematic analysis. The key mechanism for understanding emotion's role in digital media design is the drive to make human feelings both technically ordinal and scalable. Through these conceptual mechanisms, human feelings have become increasingly classifiable not only horizontally as different categorical types, but also hierarchically in ways that differentiate and assign value to the emotions and moods of individuals in relation to a larger mass of data. Accomplished through both natural and symbolic language, these mechanisms combine qualitative and quantitative modes of classification, enabling sociotechnical phenomena ranging from personal applications for digital mood tracking to the analysis of emotional "Big Data" by social media platforms.

The Documentary Debates: Censorship, Protest, and Film Festival Publics in Contemporary India

Tilottama Karlekar

This dissertation is an ethnographic study of the socio-political and economic contexts, ideologies, and activism of documentary filmmaking in post Nehruvian India. Focusing on documentary filmmakers' rejection of state-sponsored documentary canons, their critiques of state, cultural, and economic institutions, and their battles against censorship, this ethnography links documentary's legacy of political activism to the far-reaching social and political transformations of post-liberalization India. In doing so, it asks: in what ways does the social world of documentary film open up new possibilities for political engagement and social transformation? And, how do documentary filmmakers reimagine and reinterpret discourses about the national public sphere and citizenship in India in a time of "globalization?"

The dissertation engages documentary filmmakers' battles against censorship amidst the vast expansion of documentary film festivals and screening spaces in the early twenty first century. Focusing on the Campaign against Censorship, in which filmmakers directly confronted the state over the censorship of their films, it explores the ways in which the "censorship debates" among filmmakers foregrounded questions of activist ideologies, form, and the aesthetics of political filmmaking. These questions were inextricably linked with histories in which documentary filmmaking has been deployed within "nation-building" projects and as activist tools in social movements in postcolonial India. I show how this legacy continues to define documentary film, even as filmmakers attempt to rearticulate and question these histories in the context of shifts in markets, audiences, and technologies that redefined the terrain of political activism in post-liberalization India.

Even as collective action on censorship stalled amidst internal dissensions, these critical debates took vital, material form within the rapid proliferation of documentary film festivals in the country. The new festival spaces marked the emergence of "documentary publics," critical counterpublics that, I argue, represented a distinctly alternative political formation in the context of the forces of religious nationalism and globalizing consumerism that have defined India's post Nehruvian public sphere. Converging through multiple, divergent screening histories, these publics embodied a social imagination based on ideals of collectivity, inclusiveness, and an abiding ethical commitment, and marked the unpredictable borders of political possibility in contemporary India.

The Dying Patient, The Invincible Mouse and Tumor Media: Representation of Cancer Research at the Human-Animal Crossroads

Ekin Yasin

Cancer is no longer just one entity. In fact, advances in genetic sciences reframe our understanding of the disease(s) and shape how cancers will be treated in the future. These new developments highlight the importance of the genetic make-up of each individual. The quest is not to find a cure, but to devise personalized solutions. Based on a multi-sited ethnography, the dissertation describes the network amongst patients, scientists, institutions, and animals in the rush to find cures for cancers. It is concerned with understanding moments of mediation and mediatization of cancer research that identify cultural transformations around the understanding and representation of the disease. This interdisciplinary dissertation first identifies the field of cancer studies historically. It then, explores the role of Jackson Laboratory and mice in the creation of a new imaginary of cancer. Next, it describes the rise of the field of personalized medicine, which needs mice to see, understand, and ultimately cure cancers. Created and trademarked at the Jackson Library in Bar Harbor, ME, avatar mice are engineered to host human tumors on their bodies. These mice allow researchers to test drugs and to attempt to see and understand the patient’s tumor on these through a new lens, the animals themselves. My research describes these advances in cancer research and comments on theories of posthumanism, avatarity, virtuality, and actuality. An examination of Jackson Library’s self-promotion shows how this particular institution presents itself as a genomic medicine center and self-identifies as a defining site of future cures of cancer. I observe the interplay between mediatization and biomedicalization by examining promotional materials at the laboratory, and conclude with a consideration of the role of affect for animal/products of the laboratory. Here animals are sold as media technologies and made part of scopic regimes. My exploration for for-profit mice sales, introduces the notion of bioaffect to make sense of the constant state of exception that such laboratory mice live under. Overall this dissertation presents a platform by which questions about biopolitics, affect, animality and bioethics are posed and argues for the importance of a media studies approach to the study of cancer.

Up Against the Real: Anti-representational Militancy in 1960s New York

Nadja Millner-Larsen

This dissertation traces the history of anarchist anti-art collectives Group Center, Black Mask and Up Against the Wall/Motherfucker, active on the Lower East Side of New York City between 1961 and 1969. Group Center organized art exhibitions, lectures and jazz shows and Black Mask produced an eponymous Dada-influenced broadside and participated widely in anti-war agitation. Eventually taking the name Up Against the Wall/Motherfucker, the group ran crash pads, neighborhood watch brigades and a local free store. These groups also persistently performed actions against the art world, including protests against the Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center, and even the New York School poets. This dissertation argues that such protests were aimed at the institutionalization of culture, but also at the very logic of representation. Situating Group Center and Black Mask's early aesthetic experimentalism as central to the formation of their anti-representationalism, the dissertation follows these groups' collaborations with the artist Aldo Tambellini on a series of "electromedia" performances that addressed the rise of Black Liberation within abstract form. In addition, the dissertation traces the connections between these collectives and a broad range of art practices in which they were engaged, including televisual art, a nascent "expanded cinema" scene, Intermedia, art practices surrounding Judson Memorial Church, a radical theater scene surrounding the anarchist Living Theatre, early Minimalism and the Black Arts Movement. Alongside this cultural history, the dissertation follows these groups' relationships to the politics of numerous contemporaneous leftist groups including New York Anarchists, the Situationist International, Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Power movement and Radical Feminism. While the groups that form the core of this study eventually rejected art practice in favor of "the real" of on-the-ground activism, I argue that the negotiations between politics and form entailed by their earlier aesthetic experimentalism were constitutive of the anti-representational politics they would later embody. Operating at the intersection of aesthetic and political avant-gardes, Group Center, Black Mask and Up Against the Wall/Motherfucker have resisted historical legibility because they maintained an ambivalent relationship to the era's prevailing "new social movements" as well as most institutionalized art movements. This project thus aims to open out this "minor history" to a broad range of influences in order to show how the extremity of these groups' anti-representational militancy was no mere aberration from the modernist project, but rather, an attempt to push the avant-gardist protest against the separation between art and life to its limits, and beyond.

Value-able Circuitries: An Examination of Human Values Embedded in Commercial Video Game Design

Kyle Rentschler

Over the past decade, video games have been commercially substantiated as a mass medium, addressing an increasingly broad audience. With the sudden explosion of mobile platforms and social network games, hundreds of millions of users now play video games. Yet, it seems few industry developers pay heed to the impact video games have on the day-to-day lives of their players, as they continue to design games primarily for economic profit. As both media and technology, however, video games are imbued with ethical, political, and social values expressed through the various components of the games themselves.

In this dissertation, I seek to examine how these human values are expressed in video games by focusing on four layers of the video game: rules, fiction, platform, and kinesthetic. By negotiating how each of these layers is expressive of human values, I explain how video games are capable of uniquely communicating ethics and politics through the intricacies of their complex design, including the more commonly analyzed sites of the visual, aural, and narrative, as well as rule sets, code, and input mechanisms. In my case studies on melodrama, proceduralized gender, and gunplay, I also examine some of values communicated by popular industry video games thus far, understanding what values and ideologies these seemingly frivolous media artifacts operate by and communicate in toto.

Vaudevillian Returns: Space, Community and Economy in Post-millennial Theater Cultures

James Stanley

This dissertation examines several contemporary East Coast theater projects that, in pursuit of individual communitarian missions, self-consciously evoke "populist" cultural forms of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, namely vaudeville, Chautauqua, and American folk music. Through a series of case studies, I explore how contemporary cultural practices emerge from a precarious encounter between modernist aesthetics and various technical, social, and economic pressures, from the rise of digital recording and processing technologies to shifts in local real-estate markets to the changing priorities of funding agencies. Combining ethnographic and archival research with practice-based research attained in the field of theatrical production as playwright performer and theatrical producer, I argue that these contemporary creative communities try, and ultimately fail, to overcome the contradictions of post-millennial cultural production through a return to traditional forms. To the extent to which they do succeed, however, they do so by consciously looking past romantic and ideological notions of "community" to the material practices and social processes that constitute historical change. This work, then, contributes to account of American theater history attuned less to movements, canons, stars and spectacles than to the challenges of participatory action and the necessity of historical memory within the extended moment of American neoliberalism.