Media @ McGill

3rd annual Summer Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory, Ca, United States.

Submitted by Susana on

Neal Thomas


I attended the SECT two-week seminar this year through mid-to-late August, and it was an incredible experience. Past SECT seminars took different themes, such as globalization and critical theories of race and gender. This year the theme was ‘the future of the digital humanities’; it fit very well with my developing research agenda. The two weeks were very tightly orchestrated, and the pace was somewhat exhausting! We worked from 10 am until at least 6 pm, with lectures and performances offered into the evening. There were some 50 attendees in all, whose backgrounds ranged considerably – though they were predominantly PhD students.


The seminar framed information and communication technologies mostly in terms of their intersection with the deep critical concepts driving inquiry in the humanities overall: questions of power, gender, race, culture, memory, and knowledge dominated the discussion. Luminaries from each of these theoretical positions were out in force; notable attendees for me included critical theorist and nettime founder Geert Lovink; English professor and creator of Voice of the Shuttle, Alan Liu; globalization theorist Saskia Sassen, and electronic-literature scholar Kate Hayles. Each presenter laid out their field of interest and the questions that drove their research over a half-hour presentation, and then breakout groups formulated questions that drove discussion for 45 minutes thereafter. Seeing some of the up and coming scholars in this milieu was very, very heartening and not a little intimidating as well. The central question that persists from my encounter with these ideas is this: how are our embodied interactions and institutions shaped by the coded algorithms of ICTs?


How are the questions of critical theory posed anew in a digitally networked world? How can the humanities re-assert their philosophical position in the often uncanny environment of ICTs? How will institutions and disciplines change to accommodate their ascendance, and how can rethinking pedagogy grant new affordances to students as ICTs penetrate deeper into our lives? These were all on the table, and the SECT seminar was a wonderfully intimate and challenging space to debate what is at stake for the future.