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Designing Culture: The Technological Innovation at Work

By: Crystal Tubbs and Smitha Butt

Background Information
This book, like her first, started out as a research project in 1996. There was a 15-year span between the conception of the project and final publication of the book. The entire project encompasses the printed book, an interactive multimedia documentary on dvd, a museum exhibit, a set of cultural mappings and a set of short video primers. According to Balsamo's blog, the purpose of the book was "to express, record and disseminate the historical and theoretical analyses of those other projects. 

Brief Overview
Balsamo's claim is that "innovation has become the dominant 'zeitgeist' of the 21st Century," no matter what platform it takes (Balsamo, 13). She will "argue importance of taking culture seriously in the process of technological innovation and to illustrate how through references to specific projects how this might be done" (Balsamo, 14). Balsamo believes that too many people places emphasis on a economic payoff as its sole value. She emphasizes the value based on the changes to culture through the idea of invention. Invention, a novel idea or thing, brings about reorganization that will impact culture because it will change it. Balsamo explains this break in the link between technology and culture with the use of a perception coined by Jennifer Slack and Greg Wise.
This perception is that "culture and technology are separate domains of human l
ife" (Balsamo, 15). If people would acknowledge and place emphasis on the link between technology and culture, innovation would not be limited and there would be a greater imaginative process. 
Balsamo's thesis: Culture needs to be a main component in technological 
innovations. People 
creating technological 
innovations need to look 
past the 
monetary value and realize they are creating technocultures of 
She will evaluate her argument based on the designers and design process 
focusing on two key elements: Technological Imagination and cultural 
reproduction. She concludes that technological imagination is something 
that needs to be re-thought in terms of education curriculums, specifically in the humanities fields. She also hopes to bridge a gap in the different disciplines by encouraging collaboration between the sects. This collaboration will be more productive if all parties have "a shared understandings about the nature of technology, the logic of technological innovations, the dynamics of cultural reproduction and the notion of technocultre" (Balsamo, 18).

nne Balsamo
She is a professor of Interactive Media at USC Annenberg School of Cinematic Arts. Her work focuses on the relationship between the culture and technology. This relationship influences her work as a scholar, researcher, designer and entrepreneur. She also publishedTechnologies of the Gendered Body, which is based on a dissertation research project that began in 1986 while she was in a graduate program.

Chapter Reviews

Chapter 1 - Gendering the Technological Imagination 
This chapter is an extension of the discussion on the topic of gender from her previous work. Balsamo states that, “Technology was always gendered. We just didn’t recognize it as such.” This chapter draws heavily from many feminist theories. The chapter begins by explaining how "intrinsic aptitude" is known to be the cause for imbalance in high-level positions held by men and women in many sought after fields. It also draws out some technocultural factors that influence the imbalance in numbers. Towards the end of the chapter, Balsamo argues that the aim of femenist technocultural studies should be to theorize and critically analyze the situation of gendered subjects.  As a femenist, Balsamo herself intents to participate in the act of designing technoculture in ethically and socially responsible ways. 

Chapter 2 - The Performance of Innovation
In this Chapter Balsamo shares her experiences as a member of RED (Research on Experimental Documents). This was a collaborative research group at Xerox PARC. They were responsible for creating experimental reading devices and new media genres. Balsamo shares her experiences as a new media designer for the development of RED's interactive museum exhibit, XFR: Experiments in the Future of Reading.

Chapter 3 - Public Interactives and the Design of Technological Literacies
This chapter focuses on the literacy a designer must always take into consideration when designing interactive media. It also reflects how the interactives draw on existing literacies and require new ones for the future. It also looks to the ethics of designing public interactives. 

Chapter 4
 - Designing Learning - The University as a site of Technocultural Innovation

In this chapter Balsamo discusses Designing Learning, and examines the role played by the University. According to Balsamo, in the Digital age new contexts and new habits create new subjectivities. This chapter also lays focus on the field of digital humanities in the University, and its role in transformative research. In the final section, she discusses how the future is shaped, and spaces are created due to the innovative research. 

Key Terms
Technoculture: the interaction and politics of technology and culture. Similar to McLuhan's concept of a "global village."
Technological Imagination: A mindset that enables people to think with technology, to transform what is known to what is possible. 
Cultural Reproduction: the process of passing values, norms and rituals from generation to generation. More specifically, it is the mechanisms that allow for the continuity of cultural experiences across generations.
Intrinsic AptitudeLawrence Summers cited this as the reason for imbalance in numbers of men and women in high-level positions in science and math professions.
Innovation: technological innovation: Balsamo created 10 Lessons of Technological Innovation. These lessons help to get understanding of her definition of Innovation and its space in the discussion.
HermeneuticsA field of philosophy and linguistic theory that provides a systematic framework for interpreting meaning
ExploratoriumBalsamo talks about this museum in San Francisco, that houses many interactive exhibits.
TransmediaA project conceptualized in print form as well as in other digital forms. Balsamo's transmedia project is available in print, and also extends to a website format. Another added resources is an accompanying dvd that comes with her book which is titled, ‘Women of the world talk back: Gendering the technological imagination’. 

Designing and Key Concepts 

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The Buzz

"Its is so exciting to be reading Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work, by Anne Balsamo. This gorgeous, informative, provocative, take-no-prisoners book is a veritable manifesto for rethinking how technology works within, through, about, and in tandem with deeper cultural values and how we need to be aware of design principles in order to disrupt some of the most persistent and unquestioned assumptions of a culture," Cathy Davidson, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and English at Duke University, a HASTAC blog entry. "This is the book to buy, to teach, to discuss.  Gender is a serious topic throughout and so is literacy, crosscultural understanding, the institutionalized university as a site of technocultural innovation, interdisciplinarity, collaboration."

"Cultural theorist and media designer Anne Balsamo throws down the gauntlet in a manifesto for true interdisciplinarity. Treating 'technology' as a post-disciplinary topic, she makes a compelling case for the transformation of universities through an 'operational, technical and epistemological reboot'," Helen Keegan, senior lecturer in interactive media at the University of Salford, Times Higher Education. "This is an erudite yet accessible cross-disciplinary text that makes a substantial contribution to the field of cultural studies, and also serves as a welcome and timely call to arms not only for scholars and scientists in the humanities and technology, but also for those engaged in educational policy, institutional strategy and innovation."

"Designing Culture is a tour de force, offering a unique vision of the possibilities for a contemporary cultural studies. Refusing to separate research from pedagogy, technology from culture, or innovation from imagination, Anne Balsamo maps the concrete complexities of specific design processes, and opens up new ways of thinking about and teaching technocultures in relation to broader socio-political fields. Her book is required reading for anyone working with contemporary cultures," Lawrence Grossberg, scholar of cultural studies and popular culture, and author of Cultural Studies in Future Tens. 

Works Cited:
Balsamo, Anne. Designing Culture: The Technological Innovation at Work. Duke University Press, 2011. eBook.

Gane, Nicholas, and David Beer. New Media: Key Concepts. New York: Berg Publishers, 2008. Print.

Diigo List of cited works