Michael saved in Pocket: ‘The Queer Art of Failure’ (Halberstam 2011)

Inspired by a comment Val posted on my visual artefact, I’ve been reflecting on the problematic ‘success’/’failure’ binary, inspired by books such as The Queer Art of Failure by Halberstam (2011). (See also this New Statesman article.)

I wonder how assumptions about ‘success’ and ‘failure’ (by designers, tutors, participants and so on) may guide the design of, and participation in, the MOOCs we are currently studying as part of our micro-ethnographies? How might this all affect the course/community?


The Queer Art of Failure is about finding alternatives—to conventional understandings of success in a heteronormative, capitalist society; to academic disciplines that confirm what is already known according to approved methods of knowing; and to cultural criticism that claims to break new ground but cleaves to conventional archives. Judith Halberstam proposes “low theory” as a mode of thinking and writing that operates at many different levels at once. Low theory is derived from eccentric archives. It runs the risk of not being taken seriously. It entails a willingness to fail and to lose one’s way, to pursue difficult questions about complicity, and to find counterintuitive forms of resistance. Tacking back and forth between high theory and low theory, high culture and low culture, Halberstam looks for the unexpected and subversive in popular culture, avant-garde performance, and queer art. She pays particular attention to animated children’s films, revealing narratives filled with unexpected encounters between the childish, the transformative, and the queer. Failure sometimes offers more creative, cooperative, and surprising ways of being in the world, even as it forces us to face the dark side of life, love, and libido.

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Week four and community cultures: exploring the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ (false) binary

Dualisms visual artefact
A ‘creative “gathering”‘? (Dualisms visual artefact)

Moving into our community cultures block, and preparing my micro-ethnography, how might we take a critical view on the relations between technologies and people? Could we imagine a ‘creative “gathering”‘? Might we envisage relations between technology and culture as ‘co-determining, co-constructive forces…a complex dance, an interweaving and intertwining’ (Kozinets 2010: 22)? Would an agential realist perspective (Barad 2003: 828) – where ‘there is no…exterior observational point’ and ‘we are part of the world in its ongoing intra-activity’ – encourage us to think differently about notions of ‘community’ and how we might explore it?

'Open'/'closed' binary
‘Open’/’closed’ binary

Building on the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ binary touched upon in the Dualisms visual artefact, I am questioning the (false) binary between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ (Collier and Ross 2017: 8; Ross et al. 2019: 28). This is particularly pertinent, as I am looking to focus my micro-ethography on the ‘open course on digital storytelling’ ds106, joining as an ‘open participant’. The open course originates from (and follows) a Spring 2020 university course at the University of Mary Washington. Each student has a blog and weekly assignments, both public, and there are also ‘Daily Create‘ challenges and a ds106 radio; ‘open’ participants can engage in many aspects.

As I begin my micro-ethnography, I reflect on several suggestions from boyd (2009: 29), namely to read other ethnographies, and then to…

‘…begin by focusing on a culture. What defines that culture? Its practices? Its identity? Who are the relevant social groups? What are the relevant social dynamics? What boundaries are applicable?’ (boyd 2009: 29)

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The end of our second week on cyberculture

Our second week continued with questions raised through films (including A New Hope and Cyborg) and books (Machines Like Me and Iain M. Banks’ series). Themes that particularly struck me include:

1) Assuming that ‘human’ is not an objective nor inclusive term (Braidotti 2013: 26), how might this affect how we think about ‘artificial intelligence’, power and agency?

2) If we take a ‘dynamic partnership between humans and intelligent machines’ (Hayles 1999: 288) as a point of departure, how might we consider concepts such as consciousness, (distributed) cognition and agency?

3) Can machines make ‘moral‘ decisions?

4) Building on a discussion about gender and ‘virtual’ identities, are we ‘performing’ or is it ‘performative‘? Should there be a distinction between ‘real’/’virtual’ here, and how do we define ‘real’? (The Matrix comes to mind here…) How might this play out in on our identities on Twitter, lifestream-blogs etc.?

5) Thinking beyond assumptions that the ‘human’ is at the centre of education, and technology is a ‘tool‘ or ‘enhancement‘, what are the implications of a complex entanglement of education and technology (Bayne 2015: 18) for this course?


Complex entanglement (‘Entanglement’, ellen x silverberg, Flickr)

Many discussions were via Twitter, drawing in questions from the public:

I have also been commenting on others’ lifestream-blogsbringing them in as feeds.

Following on from last week’s map, I have opened new and revisited old avenues:

EDC week 2
EDC week 2 (enlarge)

I have also experimented with visualisations of my feed ahead of our visual artefact task…

InfraNodus: Text network visualisation and discourse analysis (described as 'postsingularity thinking tool'
InfraNodus: Text network visualisation and discourse analysis (or ‘postsingularity thinking tool’)

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Binary oppositions – why should it always be one or the other?

Building on a comment on Thomas Reinhardt’s post during the film festival, some binary oppositions have struck me in my own thinking which I’m trying to challenge while looking over Hayles (Conclusion: What does it mean to be posthuman? in How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics, 1999):

  • utopian/dystopian narrative
  • the responsibility lies either with the ‘human’ or the ‘machine’
  • the ‘human’ controls the ‘machine’, or vice versa

Hayles (1999) suggests a contrasting view with blurred boundaries, moving away from these more simplistic narratives. A few quotes in particular stuck out at me – I’m recording below while I contemplate and challenge my assumptions/thinking further…

‘In the posthuman view, by contrast, conscious agency has never been “in control”. In fact, the very illusion of control bespeaks a fundamental ignorance about the nature of the emergent processes through which consciousness, the organism, and the environment are constituted.’ (Hayles 1999: 288)

‘distributed cognition replaces autonomous will’ (Hayles 1999: 288)

‘Just as the posthuman need not be antihuman, so it also need not be apocalyptic’ (Hayles 1999: 288)