Course syllabus


COMMS 305: Writing Technology and Digital Culture

SEMESTER 1, 2018


Class time and place: Thurs. 1.00-4.00pm

                                      260-057 (Owen Glenn Business building, rm 057)


Course people:

Stephen Turner (convenor):,

Rm 538, Social Sciences building,

Office hours: Thurs. 10-11


Mark Amsler:

Rm 517, Arts 2

Office hours: by appointment


Evija Trofimova:

Rm 305, bldg 804 (Fisher International, Waterloo Quadrant)

Office hours: by appointment


Course description:

Writing Technologies examines "writing" in new environments of communication, design and imaginative art. The course examines the proliferation of technologies for understanding, negotiating and fashioning self and world, work and play. Within the contexts of debates about the "invention" of alphabetic writing and its development from page to screen, the multifarious cultural and place-based forms that writing takes, the encoding of the built environment and intelligent architecture, and the advent of software life, or algorithmic culture, the course considers the role of writing in everyday contexts of communication. What do we do with writing technologies, and what are such tools making of "us"?

The course considers digital literacy to be a writerly capacity that enables us to both exercise and reflect upon computer functions. The premise of the course is that writing and reading and practices cannot be understood without attending to the technologies and history of those same practices, and that users both write with media and are written by them.

A three-hour interactive lecture and tutorial in one addresses technological modes, contexts and practices of writing, intermixing course readings, writing activities and in-class discussion. Readings include texts on the history, theory and practice of writing technologies by Roy Harris, N. Katherine HaylesAlison Jones and Te Kawehau Hoskins, Johanna Drucker, Bernard Stiegler and Benjamin Bratton, among others.


Learning aims:

  • The ability to reflect upon writing as an object of theory, analysis and practice
  • To understand the provenance of writing, and its relation to social practices
  • To be able to pose questions of writing technologies, and to construct critical and creative responses
  • To be able to address writing environments as an object of critical analysis, and to manipulate them as a matter of design
  • To understand the procedural "rhetoric" of digital writing and desktop orthography
  • To be able to understand and use the post-critical language of criteria and menu
  • To understand the role of software and aggregation of data in environments of work and play 


Recommended text:

Vilèm Flusser, Does Writing have a Future, trans. Nancy Ann Roth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).


Weekly topics, readings  and assignments:


Week 1 (March 1): Technogenesis

Katherine Hayles, ‘How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis’, How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2012), pp.1-18.

Gernot Böhme, 'Introduction', Invasive Technification: Critical Essays in the Philosophy of Technology, trans. Cameron Shingleton (London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2008), pp.1-20.

Madeleine Akrich and Bruno Latour, ‘A Summary of a Convenient Vocabulary for the Semiotics of Human and Nonhuman Assemblies’, Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change, ed. Wiebe E. Bijker and John law (Cambridge, Mass.; London, England: The MIT Press, 1992), pp.259-264.



Week 2 (March 8): Writing tools                                                         with Mark Amsler

Roy Harris, ‘From Folklore to Technology’. The Origin of Writing (London; Duckworth, 1986), chapt. 1. pp.1-28.

Vilem Flusser , ‘Inscriptions’, Does Writing have a Future, trans. Nancy Ann Roth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), pp.11-16. 

Vilem Flusser , ‘The Digital’, Does Writing have a Future, trans. Nancy Ann Roth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), pp.141-147. 




Week 3 (March 15): Writing system

Brian Rotman, ‘Lettered Selves and Beyond’, in Becoming Beside Ourselves: the Alphabet, Ghosts, and Distributed Human Being (Durham and London: Duke University press , 2008), pp.1-12. 

Vilèm Flusser, ‘Letters of the Alphabet’, Does Writing have a Future, trans. Nancy Ann Roth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), pp.23-35. 

Sandy Baldwin, 'Purple dotted underlines: Micosoft word and the end of writing. (Features)', Afterimage  30.1 (July-August 2002), pp.6+.

See Clement Valla, ‘The Universal Texture,’ Rhizome (July 31, 2012). Accessed 10 July, 2013



Week 4 (March 22): Writing and power


Alison Jones, and Te Kawehau Hoskins, ‘A Mark on Paper: The Matter of Indigenous-Settler History, Posthuman Research Practices in Education, eds. Carol A. Taylor and Christina Hughes (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), pp.75-92.

 Van Toorn, Penny. ‘Encountering the Alphabet’, in Writing Never Arrives Naked: Early Aboriginal Cultures of Writing in Australia (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2006), pp.8-23.


Assignment due (critical reading): Monday, 26 March, hand in to Arts Student centre by 3pm, worth 20%



 Week 5 (March 29): Writing and space                                        with Evija Trofimova


Freidrich Kittler, ’The City is a Medium’, The Truth of The Technological World: Essays on the Genealogy of Presence (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2014), pp.138-151.

Evija Trofimova and Stephen Turner, ‘The Weak rule of the Map’ [draft].

Paul Carter, ‘A Pattern Made of Holes: Creative Research and Local Invention,’ Material Thinking: The Theory and Practice of Creative Research (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004), pp.1-15.


MID-SEMESTER BREAK Friday, March 30 – April 14 



Week 6 (April 19): Page and form


Lisa Gitleman “Near Print and Beyond Paper: Knowing by *pdf”, in Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Duke University Press: Durham and London, 2014), pp.111-135.

Christine McLean and Keith Hoskin, ‘Organising Madness: Reflections on Forms of the Form’ Organisation 5.4 (1998): 519-541.



Week 7 (April 26): Interface


Johanna, Drucker, ‘Interface and Interpretation’. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press, 2014), pp.138-179.


Assignment due (creative assignment): Monday, 30 April, hand in to Arts Student centre by 3pm, worth 30%



Week 8 (May 3): Programme


Benjamin Bratton, ‘What Do We Mean by “Program”’: The Convergence of Architecture and interface Design’, Interactions (May/June, 2008): 20-26. Print.

Stephen Monteiro, ‘Woven memory’, The Fabric of Interface: Mobile Media, Design and Gender (Cambridge, Mass.; London, England: MIT Press, 2017), pp.23-58.

Dermott McMeel, Carol Brown and Alys Longley, ‘Design, digital gestures and the in[ter]fernce of meaning: Reframing technology’s role within design and place through performative gesture’, International Journal of Performance Art and Digital Media 7.1 (2011), Pub. online (January 2014): 5-22.



Week 9 (May 10): Currency


Ed Finn, ‘Counting Bitcoin’, What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age of Computing (Cam, Mass., and London, England: MIT Press, 2017), pp.151 -180.




Week 10 (May 17): Writing and work


Bernard Stiegler, ‘Pharmacology of the Proletariat’, For a New Critique of Political Economy, Trans. Daniel Ross (Cambridge, Mass.: Malden, MA.: Polity, 2009), pp.14-44.




Week 11 (May 24): Presentation of essay-in-progress


Assignment due (abstract of of essay-in-progress): Monday, 21 May (email direct to convenor by 12pm)

Presentation date: 24 May

Worth 10%



Week 12 (May 31): Afterthoughts 


Vilèm Flusser, ‘The Future of Writing’, Writings. Trans Andreas Ströhl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), pp. 63-69.                


Assignment due (research essay): Thursday, 7 June, hand in to Arts Student centre by 3pm, worth 40%




The coursework is worth 100%. There is no exam. It consists of a critical reading (20%), creative assignment (30%), presentation of a research essay with accompanying abstract (10%), and the essay itself (40%).


Because this course concerns writing as script, code and programme, we will discuss and develop relevant assessment criteria for each assignment in and through class discussion


NOTE: Assignments 1 and 3 (critical reading and research essay), but not assignment 2, (creative assignment) should be submitted to


Critical reading (max. 1000 words = 2 entries [2 x 500 words] on readings in two of first four weeks of course)             


Due date: Monday, 26 March, hand in to Arts Student centre by 3pm


Creative assignment (1000 words or equivalent labour)                                                      

30% in total (includes 10% exegesis of 500 words)

Due date: Monday, 30 April, hand in to Arts Student centre by 3pm


In-class presentation of essay-in-progress (Thursday, 24 May):                                                                       

10% (with 250 word abstract due Monday, 21 May, emailed direct to convenor) 



Research essay (2250 words)                                                                                            


Due date: Thursday, 7 June, hand in to Arts Student centre by 3pm



For automatic referencing in any format go to ‘Referencite’ at The more discursive ‘Chicago’ style is widely used in literary and cultural studies but other referencing styles for the humanities and social sciences are acceptable providing that your referencing is consistent (e.g. MLA, APA, MHRA).



Extensions must be personally negotiated with your instructor at least two days before the assignment is due. Extensions must be registered with the course convenor, preferably in person and confirmed by email.

Once you submit, you will need to place a note with your work, which specifies exactly the date the extension was granted, the new submission date and who granted the extension.




All cases of plagiarism will be brought before a Disciplinary Committee. Plagiarism is committed when you fail to indicate clearly your use of other people’s ideas, facts, research, information, etc.

Learning the conventions of citing source material is an important academic skill that enables you to use other people’s ideas to support your own argument, or use them as a base from which to pitch your own counter-argument.

By submitting your coursework electronically, you are effectively declaring that your work is not plagiarized. Plagiarism is a failure to properly and clearly acknowledge those words or ideas within your own work that are not your own. Plagiarism is regarded as a serious form of cheating and will result in a deduction of marks and possibly even a mark of zero for the assignment.

The work that a student submits for grading must be the student's own work, reflecting his or her learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced. This requirement also applies to sources on the world-wide web.

Note: Turnitin is the plagiarism software. It will not only pick up all cases of plagiarism in your paper, but it will also pick up sentences and paragraphs that you may have used in your own previous work. Please avoid repeating your arguments in the same words.


Aegrotat and compassionate consideration:

Information regarding the granting of aegrotat pass or compassionate consideration of grades is contained in the University Calendar under ‘Examination Regulations’. Applications are not usually granted unless the student has completed all pieces of coursework and passed them with a C+ or higher. You must contact the Examinations Office (not the FTVMS Department) if you need to apply for an aegrotat pass.


Academic support services:

UoA provides a range of resources to support students towards achieving their academic potential. These resources are not restricted to assisting students who are encountering difficulties in their studies. To access information about the range of academic and learning support services at the University, please visit: and-services/csacademic-and-learning-support

Student Learning Centre web site:
ELE (English Language Enrichment) website:

Course summary:

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