Text as technology for care and understanding is an upcoming PhD course, asking what ‘text’ is, and how and when ‘text’ matters in practices of education, medicine, care, hybrid art, exhibitions and research. To explore these questions and their implications, we bring together interdisciplinary perspectives to problematize text as technology. The PhD course takes place August 16-18, 2021, on Zoom. Click here to read more and sign up for the course (deadline June 25).

The recent and ongoing transformations of information technologies give rise to renewed considerations of text as technology. In philosophy and in the social sciences, Derrida’s theoretical legacy is revisited (e.g. Latour’s concept of ‘inscription devices’ and Stiegler’s reconstruction of the ‘pharmakon’ of text), the conceptual distinction and overlap between poetics and knowledge is reformulated (Rancière), and alternative forms of academic writing and presentations are explored (Haraway, Neimanis). The reconsiderations of text as technology also unfold as empirical explorations of textuality – in general (e.g. Scriptopolis, click here), or more specifically in various fields of practice.

Textuality is related to governance by standardization of practices such as those of education, medicine, or care (Smith, Mol). In teaching, this governance interacts in complex ways with the traditional place of text in the education of literate and enlightened citizens. In practices of mental health care, text is also studied as performative and cultivated in for example ‘writing groups’ for psychiatric patients or users of drug counselling, and in the use of poetry in narrative therapy. Such practices experiment with various aspects of textuality, developing purposes and forms that move beyond institutional traditions of care. The relation between textuality and governance is part of the wider transformation ‘from cure to care’ that has popularized health and medicalized everyday life. Self-diagnosing through social media or internet biosocialities can, for example, be seen as a contemporary textual technology of healthcare – in addition to traditional medical records and journals. Changing publics, communities and genres of health derive from and give rise to changing purposes, and thus to questioning the multiple forms and functions of text in this field.

Similar problematizations arise from the aesthetic field along with the growth of hybrid arts, relational aesthetics, and the fusion of art with aesthetic theory (Groys, Rebentisch). Poets (like other artists) explore the implications of breaking down the distinction between the person and the position of the author, of inviting or sampling ‘outsider artists’, and of reshaping the texture of texts. These theoretical and practical problematizations connect to a growing field of studies, investigating how texts (or derivates, successors, etc. of text) are made, used, and have an impact when they are carried by new media such as emails, twitter, SoMe, TicToc etc. Such recontextualizations of ‘text’ prompt reconsiderations of how and when ‘texts’ are (un-/)healthy, (mis-/)informative, stultifying or edifying – and also of what constitutes ‘text’ as such.

To say that this research is “about textuality” has two meanings: 1. Research turns textuality into its object of study, and 2. Research reflects on itself as reading, producing and performing text. In some cases, both aspects are relevant, for example, in the methodological tradition of ‘Memory Work’ (Haug and others) where writing is seen to recreate the selves who are studied and further cultivated toward publishing, thus used as data and method. This reflexivity of text is connected to disturbing the conventional image of research as a linear progression: state-of-the-art ? problem ? method ? data ? analysis ? publication. In a similar vein, exhibitions are ”about textuality,” investigating a topic through exhibits, while reflecting on itself and its visitors through fund applications, informative texts on walls, catalogues, advertisements and exhibition events etc. Museum and research practice goes hand-in-hand at Medical Museion, a medical museum and research department at the University of Copenhagen. Besides being the location of the course, the exhibitions and practice of Medical Museion form part of the problematization of textuality, for example in public science communication about health.

The issue of text as technology opens questions about the demarcations between academic disciplines if we take up the reflections following Derrida. Text is no longer a (scientific or otherwise) representation, nor an inconsequential or perverting formalization, of a more true and authentic speech, practice, or everyday life. Research can thus no longer be “about” processes that are outside of text. Reflections on textuality in philosophy, science and technology studies (STS), anthropology etc. question the constitution of the objects of psychology as of any other science. Conversely, psychological, public health and other practical or scientific analyses and experiences are pertinent to philosophical reflections on the textual performance of thinking.

Graphical visualization of tweets containing #breastcancer – Wellcome Collection
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