In an earlier corner of my summer’s research was a stack of books whose topics, like my IML 500 class, digital media and tools, represented the convergence of my interests: community planning, digital media, and media arts. I have much to learn about the latter two topics, hence this class, this cascade of annotated bibliographies, and their informing stack of books. At the top of the stack was Manuel Castells’ The Informational City: Information Technology, Economic Restructuring, and the Urban Regional Process. Though he published it in 1989, it remains strikingly relevant today, and especially so in terms of the course. In it, Castells examines the technological revolution’s transformation of the relationships between and among production, society, and space. He proposes the term “informationalism” in lieu of “post-industrialism,” calling the latter a “negative” term, one inadequate to describe the genuine impetus for our economy. That driving force is information. Economic growth via the manufacture of product propelled the industrial age. Informationalism, by contrast, focuses on the accumulation of technological developments and innovative processes. As UCLA’s ‘s 2009 Mellon Seminar in Digital Humanities asserts in “The Digital Humanities Manifesto, 2.0,” “Process is the new god; not product.”
Castells is a sociologist and brings this training to his planning and communications expertise. His hypothesis here is that there are a set of historic transformations driving and likewise driven by informationalism, but we are ill-advised to conceive information technologies as developing in a vacuum. Social and historical conditions shape our use of information technologies. We apply these innovations to accord with our needs and uses, and those applications have spatial implications. That is, rather than simply atomizing into digital silos, we have in fact undergone a series of concrete hierarchical (and contradictory) spatial shifts. Where Silicon Valley is a “milieu of innovation,” comprising a highly educated and skilled labor force (Manovich’s great artists of our time ), is clearly dominant in the information technologies universe, its microprocessors are manufactured in far-flung locations by an unskilled, unprotected and increasingly marginalized labor force. Still, though, these workers have some connection to the network, essential as they are to its persistence (Castells, 1996). If their relationship concerns one for its tenuousness, Castells (1998) identifies a greater concern, the Fourth World. In his End of Millennium: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture, Volume III, Castells proposes there are pockets throughout the world characterized by inequality, polarization, and extreme poverty. The Fourth World can as easily — and does — exist in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley as countries in the “developed world.”
I delve into the Castells not just because I’ve been reading him, but because his work here intersects so well, I think, with our exploration of digital humanities, providing an even stronger justification for a scholarship of praxis. If information is the single most valuable thing, then we must present all of its forms in our research. Digital humanities’ iterative, neo-print model, as the Manifesto 2.0 asserts, is about making the humanities better, expanding the breadth and depth of the work, and improving our field’s communications practices. But as the Manifesto (2009) and Manovich (2003) remind us, digital media’s roots hint at a larger project. Emerging from the 60s utopian ethic, digital media provide the planning practice (a multidimensional process all its own) with equal parts utilitarian and artful tools for making our communities better places. In terms of planning, I see digital media as critical to social justice.
So for the second question, whether I can imagine a “new triangulation of arts practice, commentary/critique, and outreach, merging scholarly inquiry, pedagogy, publication and practice” within the context of my own scholarly efforts. Yes, I certainly can. In fact, I believe much current work in GIS is a genuine practice within the Manifesto’s Discipline of Cultural Mapping. And I am personally very fortunate to have been part of wildly ambitious acts of Situationist detournement on Los Angeles Metros buses. This has only to gain momentum.
I believe that this “new triangulation” will, per the first question, have an effect on planning academia, too. While the process might be slower — the academy still cleaves to the advisor/advisee model, and I, for one, am particularly grateful for my discipleship. But like informationalism, planning’s “product” is, in fact, process. The most productive environment is one of collaboration and open (source) communication, so the hierarchy will have to bend, possibly invert, eventually.