Thursday, February 9, 2012

My Abstract for Theorizing the Web 2012

Photo by Nic McPhee
Recently, I've been very engaged in the discussion over concepts of augmented reality and digital dualism as debated and refined by the talented writers of the Cyborgology blog, in addition to other notable voices like Rob Horning on his blog Marginal Utility and Mike Bulajewski, a.k.a. Mr. Teacup.  One reason I'm fascinated with these topics is that I find in them an enormous potential to view interactions between Russian authorities and their subjects during the Imperial period in a new light.  One position I've started outlining and investigating is the idea that Russian history can be viewed through an augmented reality framework that utilized textual platforms and practices, instead of digital counterparts we rely on today, to achieve its augmented effects.  

My post examining the empirical roots of digital dualism pointed towards examples in which Russian peasants confronted textual dualist claims made by the Imperial state with augmented claims to reality informed, in part, by rumors or idealistic concepts found in folktales.  Beyond peasants, my post reviewing Eugene Martin's 'Jews and the Imperial State' demonstrated that Imperial authorities also used textual dualist  conceptions when trying to  document and identity the Jewish population in an individual context.

Now it looks like I'll have the opportunity to discuss these ideas, and more, at the Theorizing the Web 2012 conference (search #TtW12 on Twitter) being held at the University of Maryland campus in College Park on April 14th.  I found out a few days ago that the conference organizers accepted my abstract proposal, and I wanted to post that abstract here so as to give people an idea of what I want to talk about.  The title of my proposed talk will be 'Charting the Waves of Augmentation: Textual Dualism & Augmented Reality in the Russian Empire'.  The abstract is reproduced below:
While the current focus on how digital technology alters our conception of the self and its place in the broader perceived reality yields fascinating insight into modern issues, there is much to be gained by analyzing the presence of augmented reality in a pre-digital era.  In a period, not far removed from our present, where moveable type and increasingly individualized documentation fueled the textual wave of augmentation, it was largely governments- not corporations- that sought to harness the informative potential offered by these analog technologies.  Western European powers, like France, Britain and Prussia/Germany, fostered impressive civil bureaucracies that utilized growing literacy rates in order to create a disciplinary regime based on documentation, while another great power, Russia, struggled to achieve the same results with its meager supply of trained civil servants.  If Russian authorities wanted to build a foucauldian gaze of panoptic power through documentation, they had to make compromises in order to do so. 
One essential compromise of Russian documentary practice hinged on embracing a stable and conservative textual dualist conception of reality with regards to tracking populations or promulgating laws.  On the individual level, this meant that lived identity and the identity held by the 'gaze' of documentation consistently remained asynchronous when conflated for the purposes of military conscription, admission into university, acquiring a passport, etc… On the national governance level, textual dualism provided the absolutist regime a means to utilize aspects of the liberalistic program without ceding any measure of real power to representative bodies or embracing truly civic concepts of citizenship devoid of ethnic or religious qualifiers.  Again, the textual reality espoused by tsarist documentary practice did little more than provide a thin veneer to justify inequalities among the estates and could do almost nothing to mitigate the asynchronicity between the document (in all its various forms) and lived experience, which could include use of rumors, 'everyday resistance' or even outright revolt. 
The interplay between textual dualist conceptions of identity and the augmented reality those conceptions measured up against thus largely framed many social conflicts experienced by the Russian empire over the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Yet this interplay contained significant variance along the spectrum between dualist and augmented perspectives.  Sometimes peasants embraced textual dualism for the strategic benefit it could provide, but they were just as comfortable in arguing an augmented perspective to vex authorities when required.  Authorities often granted some space for augmented claims to exist, simply because efficiently enforcing a dualist conception through discipline proved beyond the capacity of the ruling regime.  The unique blending of documentary dedication on behalf of the state, a malnourished bureaucracy mostly incapable of enforcing disciplinary desires and a largely illiterate population canny enough to exploit the inconsistencies of both, give the Russian experience unusual depth in terms of an augmented analytical perspective.  Charting the wave of textual augmentation in Russian history helps explain the interplay between digital dualism and augmented reality, including the spectrum of strategic potential between both, in our present day.

It looks like the conference will be livestreamed and recorded, and when I find out more specific information regarding when I will be speaking (as well as the list of the other, no doubt, awesome presenters) an update will be posted here.

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