Technique

adam muir, Daniel Hourigan

Abstract


For this issue of M/C Journal we were inspired to select the theme of ‘technique’ by the intersection of the critical discourses around technology and the praxis of everyday life that has been a preoccupation of late-20th and early-21st century cultural studies. We wanted to revisit, rupture, and reconstruct the foundational terms that give this journal its name—media and culture—by using the common nexus of technology. This special issue enlivens the idea of technique within the gamut of technology, media, science, culture, and creativity.

The idea of technique is itself an intriguing prompt for the authors in this issue. It has inspired their pursuit of ideas of processes and procedures, methods and makers, habits and hacks, routines and rituals, and knowledge and know-how. Sharing a common etymology with technology, technique builds upon the ancient Greek term techne that describes the arts and mechanical crafts. If we connect technique and technology to this genealogical inheritance, we are presented with an insistence upon understanding how we craft not only objects but also the world.

Throughout history we can find plenty of examples of tools and devices all increasing in technical complexity over time to meet the needs of human societies as they unfold across time—from axes and spears, drawing and writing implements, and clockwork mechanisms to telescopes, eye-glasses, and time-keeping and counting machines. As technical objects have become more complex, the cultures that produce them have produced increasingly specialised knowledge and fragmentary perceptions of the world in which they exist. Technology is thus the study of how to apply techne, craft; when people employ technology they are not just making use of a tool or device, they are also generating and employing techniques constitutive of a world view.

While this might seem high-minded, the above reflection is based on the recognition that humans make use of techniques every day. Marshall McLuhan famously described this everyday relation with technologies and their techniques as extensions of the human body, notably of the senses. For McLuhan (1964), media are the substance of these extensions, and these extensions include a range of things beyond the tired trio of newspapers, radio and television, such as those engaged with by our authors in this issue.

There is a long cross-cultural genealogy of ideas about technology and technique, which is far too large to discuss in sufficient detail here, it may suffice for us to summarise our focus by turning to the work of the influential British Cultural Studies scholar Raymond Williams. For Williams (1974), technology is used by people, and in this use people create meaningful exchanges of information structured by techniques and know-how. Used in this way, Williams argues, technology becomes a medium of communication that interacts with a social context. More strongly, Williams suggests that it is from a social necessity first and foremost that people develop techniques that make use of technology that is available in their milieu. The insight of Williams is that technology is frequently a (or the) material basis for late capitalist culture, and that techniques are a culmination of the knowledge of what technology is used for and, significantly, how to use it. Media are thus the applied use of technology as forms a social link, a mediation, between ourselves and the world.

As history has demonstrated however, there are always unintended consequences that come with each new medium. Sometimes it is as simple as unintended uses that go beyond anything the original creator dreamed of. People routinely test the limits and boundaries of a new medium by examining what is already possible. Creativity is key to these experiments. For instance, the classic definition of ‘a hacker’ has very little to do with computer crime. Instead, the word ‘hacker’ defines someone who is motivated to solve problems through playful creativity and, often, displays of wit—and, of course, proficiency with techniques. It just so happens that the techniques uncovered by computer hackers also have applications elsewhere in society, a trend that continues to this day with the increase in interest in a range of 'hacker-esque' activities.  Whether it's the political activist group Anonymous who directly employ techniques of subversion to further their varied agendas (Coleman 2014), or the more benign 'Maker' movement that champions a Do-It-Yourself approach to technology and hardware.

The articles included in this issue of the M/C Journal explore a variety of techniques as they manifest through a specific medium. Each article presents a case study that answers Katherine Hayles' (2004) call for more "media-specific analysis" in cultural and critical theory.

Liam Cole Young anchors this issue with his discussion of the relationship of technology to culture. Young charts the origins and history of a branch of German media studies that informs what we now call ‘cultural techniques’ or Kulturtechniken. Young invites his readers to reconsider the technology-culture relationship by rethinking Kulturtechniken so often misappropriated as techniques of audience and content analysis. Specifically, Young seeks to reposition the frame of institutional media studies, thus providing an alternative to the fetishisation of audiences and content in favour of a view that is sensitive to the intellectual history of ‘cultural techniques’, bringing them in dialogue with an understanding of the material specificity of media formats and the material realities of logistical media. 

Peng Liu draws our attention to the bodily techniques and responses of the artist structured by Chinese painting and the Confucian perspective. Liu argues that his memories and experiences of the Forgotten City and Chinese culture impress themselves upon his mapping of the aesthetic as he paints. Focusing on the interrelation and resistances of the body-as-artist and the conceptual structures that inform his sense of self, Liu imagines and reflects upon himself as a Chinese-artist.

César Albarrán Torres and Justine Humphry delve into the cultural politics and labour of ‘self-care’ and ‘self-control’ in relation to the expansion of gambling enabled by Internet-enabled mobile devices. Torres and Humphry suggest that recent policy decisions enacted by neo-liberal governance in Australia has resulted in attempts to regulate or interrupt gambling addiction. In so doing, they argue that these policies have reconfigured the self-discipline of the subject-state relation in the Australian context.

Nicole Pepperell and Duncan Law take us into the recent history of the faith in Internet technology as a progressive force of economic, legal, political and social emancipation. Examining the politics of the Internet’s divergent potentials, Pepperell and Law suggest that rhetorical, social and politics techniques have proven themselves decisive in the success or failure of realising the Internet’s emancipatory potential. They note that it is not without irony that recognising the limitations of politicised technologies may have a positive impact on the manifestation of private freedoms.

To close this special issue, Jamileh Kadivar turns her gaze to the case of techniques of surveillance and counter-surveillance in Iran during the non-violent protests of the Iranian Green Movement in 2009. Kadivar argues that the centrality of surveillance for a convergent media environment cannot be understated, and its operation and function served to target and repress protest and dissent in Iran during the northern hemisphere’s late autumn of 2009. Yet Kadivar notes the important role of visibility in the contestations of surveillance in Iran and other dissenting movements such as Occupy.

The editors of the 'technique' issue of M/C Journal wish to thank the M/C editorial team for the opportunity to gather articles under the theme. Thank you also to the scholars who provided constructive feedback during the peer-review process. And, most importantly, thank you to our authors without whom this issue would not be possible.

References

Coleman, Gabriella. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: the Story of Anonymous. United Kingdom: Verso Books, 2014.

Hayles, N.Katherine. “Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis.” Poetics Today 25.1 (2004): 67-90

McLuhan, H. Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Berkeley, Calif.: McGraw-Hill, 1964.

Williams, Raymond. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. London, UK: Collins, 1974.


Keywords


technique; technology; techne; media; culture; know-how;



Copyright (c) 2015 adam muir, Daniel Hourigan

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