#eye #eye

We started the semester this way:

"We are past the point in time when we merely express ourselves though a range of media. Saturated as we are in media-rich environments, we also sense the world through media. In this course, you thus do more than compose with new media (although you will also do that); you explore how digital media technologies change how we feel and respond to the environments we inhabit. In this course, you experiment with how various digital media technologies make the world known to them in new, different ways. How can we use new (digital) media to not only write about the world but to also change how the world shows up for us—to change how we see, hear and touch the world?

"You will develop a research project built around the sensing capacities of a digital tool and directed toward a pressing social issue. How can one engage the mobility of GoPro cameras to research issues of accessibility? How can one deploy microphones to investigate gender inequality? How can one utilize arial videography (e.g., a drone) to map local environmental concerns? How can one use wearables (e.g., a Fitbit) to trace how individuals (or groups) evaluate the “health” of a body? You research project will culminate in a sophisticated and compelling report composed to persuasively address (and possibly redress) your chosen social issue."


We left for Spring Break with these individual research projects developed and underway. We left for Spring Break not knowing we wouldn't be coming back. Quarantined. We were distant from each other and from the locations and material resources we needed for our individual research projects (taking up such things as sexual harassment, racism, liminal spaces, food service workers, privacy). We needed something to do--something else to sense--and something we could do together while also separated. We landed on this:

[T]he point of [weak] theory now is not to judge the value of analytic objects or to somehow get their representation ‘right,’ but to wonder where they might go and what potential modes of knowing, relating, and attending are already somehow present in them as a potential or resonance.

—Kathleen Stewart, ”Weak Theory in an Unfinished World“


Our mission statement: We are living in sensitive times. Sensitive because we feel exposed and that exposure is seemingly a liability for ourselves and for others. (We learn also how differentially sensitive we are—some are more at risk than others.) We are sensitive in the way a wound or an injury is sensitive. And so we are also made sense-able in learning how truly vulnerable we are. Our shared openness to the communicable renders explicit fundamental connectivities. With this revised and collaborative research project, we will trace how we are being sensitized and with what possible effects/affects.


Our plan: We will collaboratively build a website that curates how the coronavirus is being sensed through various media and what the effects of those sensing practices are—personally, socially, politically. We will use the sensing practices we have so far discussed and begun enacting to make sense of how people are “making sense” of this virus: how is the virus rendered and to what (possible) ends? We will form teams organized around a particular constellation of media:

data visualization

The primary goal of the website will be to catalogue various sensing practices and to trace what other sensations these practices mediate, for instance:

sense of time
sense of self
sense of isolation
sense of fear
sense of solidarity

How are we sensing and what is that sensing doing to and for us? How does data visualization mediate our sense of connection to others—rendered as nodes or data points, do we feel more isolated? How does mapping the spread of the virus change our sense of place—are we more sensitive to regional differences or particular environmental features? How do videos of crowded beaches and pictures of empty store shelves shape our sense of fear? How does the pace of the news, modulated through social media, alter our sense of time? How does the silence of social distancing—of empty rooms—bolster or break our sense of self? These are the practices and effects/affects we will trace and articulate.

Just as this class turned to digital media technologies to augment (and so transform) how and what we are sensible to, this project has us engage how digital production tools augment how and what we are able to compose. Thus, one of the components of this project is learning and utilizing the capacities of a website as they emerge in the context of our shared research project, our goals, and our audience. Latour, helpful here, writes,

If we remember the etymological sense of an aesthetic as making sensitive, how does a specific medium render us sensitive to things as they come to us? Things can come to you, but if you don’t render yourself sensitive to them, you just don’t get it. 

We are looking to construct a website that creatively and professionally sensitizes, calibrates, or otherwise attunes audiences; to recall the language of Latour, we are looking to sensitize our audience. To do so requires of us the development of a new set of compositional sensibilities and skills.

The poesis of the ordinary draws attention and becomes habitual because things don’t just add up. Something throws itself together and then floats past or sticks for some reason.

—Kathleen Stewart, ”Weak Theory in an Unfinished World“


This website is an attempt to compose the ways we are sensing this virus. What is floating past and what is sticking. Linked but also cut-off from one another, we threw something together. This site's aesthetic--its way of both becoming and rendering sensitive--is informed by Ursula K. Le Guin, whom we read side-by-side with Stewart and Latour (and many others listed below as collaborators, distant but also proximate). Le Guin speaks against the novel in a way that "avoids the linear, progressive, Time's-(killing)-arrow mode of the Techno-Heroic." Instead she speak of the novel as a carrier bag:

I would go so far as to say that the natural, prope, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words. Words hold things. They bear meanings. A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to another and to us.

—Ursula K. Le Guin, ”The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction“

This website is our bundle collecting together sensations generated through media, which are themselves things that hold us to one another in powerful relations. This is our sense-making: our making ourselves sensible to. Our reaching out to sensitize you, too.

"It is a strange realism, but it is a strange reality [...] Still there are seeds to be gathered, and room in the bag of stars."



”Sensing Practices,“ Jennifer Gabrys and Helen Pritchard

”Sensitizing,“ Bruno Latour

”Towards an Ethics of Estrangement,“ Sara Hendren

”The Disposition of Drones,“ Hillary Mushkin

”Drone’s-Eye View,“ Michael Richardson

”Drones and Everything After,“ Benjamin Wallace-Wells

Drone, Adam Rothstein

”New Landscapes in the Drone Age,“ Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox

How to Do Things with Sensors, Jennifer Gabrys

”Principles for Sensory Ethnography“ and ”Preparing for Sensory Research,“ Sara Pink

”Aristotle Got it Wrong: We Have a Lot More Than Five Senses,“ Joe Humphreys

”Trajectories: Digital/Visual Data on the Move,“ Edgar Gómez Cruz

”Non-Representational Research Methodologies,“ Phillip Vannini

”Devices for Doing Atmospheric Things,“ Derek P. McCormack

”Multiple Mediations in Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men,“ Graciela Hernandez

”Having an Experience,“ John Dewey

”How to Talk About the Body?“ Bruno Latour

”Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,“ Ursula K. Le Guin

”No You’re Not,“ Keller Easterling

Course Designed & Taught by Nathaniel Rivers, Spring 2020