Announcing the Spring 2020 Conference Grant Recipients

05 Mar, 2020

Announcing the Spring 2020 Conference Grant Recipients

The Berkeley Center for New Media is thrilled to provide small grants to our graduate students to help them share their innovative research at the premiere conferences in their field. We look forward to seeing the work of these students spread across the globe!

Sarah Sterman

The ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems | Honolulu, Hawaii

Interacting with Literary Style through Computational Tools​

Style is an important aspect of writing, shaping how audiences interpret and engage with literary works. However, for most people style is difficult to articulate precisely. While users frequently interact with computational word processing tools with well-defined metrics, such as spelling and grammar checkers, style is a significantly more nuanced concept. In this paper, we present a computational technique to help surface style in written text. We collect a dataset of crowdsourced human judgments of style, derive a model of style by training a neural net on this data, and present novel applications for visualizing and browsing style across broad bodies of literature, as well as an interactive text editor with real-time style feedback. We study these interactive style applications with users and discuss implications for enabling this novel approach to style.

Tina Piracci

NCECA the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts | Richmond, Virginia

Clay 3-D Printed Water Filtration Device

Background: Every year 1.7 million people, mainly children under the age of five, die from illness which is caused by drinking unsafe water. Currently, traditional terracotta water filters are being produced by Potters for Peace. The objective of this nonprofit’s water filter project is to make safe drinking water available by helping set up workshops that will produce ceramic water filters made from locally sourced materials, utilizing clays natural filtration properties. Produced at over 50 independent factories in over 30 countries, these colloidal silver-enhanced ceramic water purifiers are able to bring clean water to the masses, however, after discussing with the Director of Potters for Peace at the annual clay conference in 2019 (NCECA), I realized there is an opportunity to increase the efficiency of the filter, thus being able to provide more filters to those who do not have access to clean water. (For more info on these filters please visit )

Project: Due to their manufacturing techniques, they end up discarding 17% of their filters due to inadequacy. Currently, I am enrolled in an on-going directed study as a research affiliate at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab investigating the ways we propose these filters will improve. At the lab, I have the tools necessary to make a comparative analysis of my proposed filter and the pre-existing filter they are currently using. Using computational tool-path strategies, the infill within these filters is proposed to yield a more effective device. After several discussions with one of the directors for Potters for Peace, Robert Pillars, he too is confident that 3-D printing these filters could potentially increase the amount of clean water supplied to people in crisis situations by allowing more filters to be made efficiently and effectively while also creating a reductive in the production cost leading to more filters. Mr. Pillars has personally invited me to share my prototypes at their gallery during the NCECA 2020 conference. (For more info on NCECA, please visit )

William Morgan

Encountering the Social: Masquerades, Fluidities, and Becomings of Postcapitalism | Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India

‘What is (Machine) Philosophy?’: Machine Learning and the Digital Realization of Deleuze

Rather than a humorous quip or a remark about Deleuze’s intellectual legacy, what would it mean to change our understanding of Foucault’s oft-quoted remark, “perhaps one day this century will be remembered as Deleuzian” to a serious observation about the oncoming fulfillment of Deleuzian qualities in the future? That is, what if we were to think about the 20th century as the “coming true” of a Deleuzian ethos and think the 21st as its aftermath?

This paper argues that this “coming true” of Deleuze is in fact what we are witnessing today when we encounter the fluidities and becomings of postcapitalism. Digital technology has to a degree realized the spirit of Deleuzoguattarian process philosophy, succinctly conveyed in A Thousand Plateaus as “it doesn't matter what it means, it's still signifying.” With machine learning specifically the content of what a thing means matters very little compared to the fact or form of its carrying meaning, to begin with: training data.

This paper takes up the provocation of a digital realization of Deleuzian notions of process, becoming and difference in the context of machine learning to ask anew the question, ‘what is philosophy?’ What kind of philosophy is it (if it’s philosophy at all) that renders the human as dividual, code, or information? What is machine philosophy? If machine learning is a philosophy in the Deleuzian sense, what concepts does it create? Against the creep of a Heideggerian line shepherding one towards technodeterministic understanding of the digital, this paper argues for understanding the multiplicity of concepts and conceptual personae that animate the work of machine philosophy.

Focus on the philosophical activity of machine learning reveals that there is not just one digital and that even “control”, the seemingly now-omnipresent distinction of the late-career Deleuze is, like segmentary, statehood or striation before it, merely the epiphenomenal appearing of one of a multiplicity of ways of responding to the metaphysics of becoming.

Following digital theorist Luciana Parisi, this paper asks that we think with machines to understand the conjugations or connections their particular asymmetric syntheses of the sensible make possible. In the spirit of Deleuze, it is here argued that we know not yet what a machine body can do. In order to ask this question, we need to change our point of view similar to how Deleuze in Pure Immanence describes Nietzsche doing in relation to sickness and health. Thinking from machines’ point of view unveils an inhuman philosophy or set of concepts that were always with us, but which is only now with machine learning becoming visible. Importantly, machine concepts are neither homogenous nor synchronous, but often in conflict, competing for the right to render the world.
This paper concludes by attempting to take seriously the global political implications of machine learners’ renderings as philosophy. Taking inspiration from Benjamin Bratton’s “stack” and Yuk Hui’s “cosmotechnics”, the paper asks what opportunities or challenges await us as the new nomos of the Earth is not only increasingly digitized, but also manufactured not by humans, states or even the simple computers Deleuze prophesied about, but now by automatic machine learners, machines that this paper argues are characteristic of our society’s episteme.

Lashon Daley

American Literature Association | San Diego, CA

Breaking the Illustrated Color Line

By bridging dance studies and literary studies, “Breaking the Illustrated Color Line” explores how the black female dancing bodies of Misty Copeland, Michaela DePrince, Debbie Allen, and Janet Collins are not only rupturing the color line that has been long withstanding within the industry of children’s literature, but are also being used to propagate what dance scholar Thomas DeFrantz (2011, 58) terms as “collective subjectivities.” As evidence, I explore five children’s picture books, including Copeland’s Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird, DePrince’s Ballerina Dreams: A True Story, Allen’s Dancing in the Wings, Michelle Meadow’s Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins, and Kristy Dempsey’s A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream. By situating the black female dancing body in children’s picture books, “Breaking the Illustrated Color Line” emphasizes the importance and complexities surrounding children’s picture book production of black female dancing bodies in American literature. Thus, this paper hinges upon conversations about diversity in children’s literature and the value placed on the materiality produced by the black female dancing body. By formulating theories around why these biographic texts are a part of society’s desire to consume black bodies, “Breaking the Illustrated Color Line” highlights how these texts carry the burden that is often placed on black cultural expressions to educate the populace. In addition, this paper acknowledges that there is a kind of performativity that becomes enacted as images of these black female dancing bodies are converted to fixed children’s book illustrations. What children’s literary scholar Robin Bernstein (2011, 165) terms as “script” or “scripting” in order to understand the gap between literature and material culture, I, in turn, reveal in this paper, scripting as a method to apprehend the intersection of literature, material culture, and dance.

Rebecca Levitan

Mediterranean Studies Association | Gibraltar

Mutability in Roman Copies of Greek Sculpture

Panel: Replicas/Replication in/of the Ancient Mediterranean
Abstract: In this paper, I examine why the Hellenistic motif of the recovery of the fallen soldier appealed to later audiences. In doing so, I will argue that the monument’s inherent compositional mutability allowed the statue to serve as an effective catalyst for dialogue in both popular and elite Roman contexts, ranging from the very center of imperial Rome to provincial hubs. I will present a geospatial analysis of these patterns. An examination of the metamorphosis of one statue type through modern tools provides insights into Roman reception and the changing priorities of viewers of ancient monuments.

Nicholaus Gutierrez

Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Annual Conference |Denver, CO

The High Cost of Hyperreality: Economizing Immersive Experience in 90’s-Era Homebrew VR

The Virtual Reality Creations guidebook (1993) begins with a call to imagine the fantastical: "You're bicycling through a wooded area beside a lake. Off to one side, you hear birds chirping in the trees; to the other, you hear a dog barking as it splashes through the water...You bicycle up a steep hill...then go zipping down the other side. You travel along the road a little farther, picking up speed; when you're going fast enough, you suddenly leave the ground and begin cruising among the clouds, waving at your fellow 'cyclists.'" It's an image of a complex virtual world, with varied terrain, 3D audio, a physical input system (riding a bicycle), and physics that both mimic the natural world and exceed it. But this ideal program, which articulates the dream of total immersion common with early-90's VR but doesn’t actually exist, stands very much at odds with the practical realities of achieving simulations that could suspend users’ disbelief. In fact, this description is at odds with the VR software described in this guidebook, which excludes audio in order to focus on 3D graphics.

In this paper, I examine a series of 90’s-era VR “engines,” software suites designed to streamline the development of virtual worlds. From the “homebrew” community of VR enthusiasts using the REND386 virtual world interface to corporate software packages like Virtus VR, the VR engine became an imagined means of achieving the ideal experience of VR—total immersion, perfect simulation—even as so many its objects required technical compromise in the form of reduced frame rates, lower polygon counts, or the exclusion of haptics. By tracing the tension between what I call VR’s “virtual imaginary” and the technical constraints of these VR engines, I show that they represented a set of creative practices that was ultimately more about managing available resources to establish development techniques than achieving the purported dream of total simulation. From this perspective, the drive to make VR development widely accessible, and the necessary economizing of VR’s hardware and software elements, marked a shift from the naïve metaphysical fantasies of so much VR development during that era to possible forms of creative practice.

Bélgica del Río

Bodies as Archives Symposium | UC Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara, CA on Chumash Territory

The Performativities of Anishinaabe Water Songs in My Body

Honour Water is an Anishinaabe singing video-game that teaches songs to heal the water. I demonstrate how Honour Water creates Anishinaabe space within digital territories to allow Indigenous, de-Indigenized, or, non-Indigenous people to listen deeply to Anishinaabe voices and water songs. I position how I enter Anishinaabe space as a de-Indigenized person in order to share my gameplay experience with “Miigwech Nibi” (Thank you water), one of the three water songs gifted for the game. Using embodied descriptions, theory from my body, and a practice of 'atendiendo' (a responsibility of attending to and caring for each other as I have learned in my family), I highlight how the performativities of Anishinaabe water songs touch and heal my own body and ripple onto Ohlone waterways in Xučyun, the ancestral territory of the Ohlone People. In this context, performativities are the enactments created through the motion and resonance of embodied practices such as singing. Within Indigenous ways of being, I also understand performativities to be a way of attending to relationships between human and more-than-human beings, bodies, or worlds. I demonstrate how these performativities create connection and bodily grounding as a direct intervention in settler colonialism’s embodied structures. While I believe that Anishinaabe water songs within digital space heal relationships within and across Indigenous, de-Indigenized, and non-Indigenous bodies, I also trouble the settler colonial materialities that underpin the production of digital territories. This presentation offers an embodied approach to Indigenous new media that expands how Indigenous knowledge systems interact through and beyond digital media while also furthering a discourse of settler colonialism in its embodied, performed, and behaved structures.

Miyoko Conley

Association for Asian American Studies Annual Conference | Washington D.C.

Troubling Games: Putting Politics into Play (roundtable)

I will be presenting on a roundtable that takes up video games not as purveyors of hate, as they are often thought, but as an expressive and algorithmic medium that trouble attachments to one’s nation, belonging, race, and identity. In a forthcoming book, Amanda Philips uses the term “Gamer Trouble,” similar to Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble,” to understand how video games trouble us not because they promote violence, but because they trouble coherent categories of identity, as well as our fidelity to the imperial nation-state, to emerging technology, and to the discourses and academic forms that we choose to engage with (Asian American Studies included). How do games trouble coherent categories of race, nation, and political identity? How have games expressed new and radical ways of seeing difference as well as imperial power? My presentation will examine Chance Agency’s Neo Cab (2019), which is an emotional survival game about the last human contract driver (similar to Lyft or Uber) in the futuristic city of Los Ojos, where nearly every service is automated. I will show how Neo Cab critiques not only the technology and service industries, but also how the game binds race and gender to them through its core mechanic of managing the protagonist’s emotions against their "star rating" as they pick up a variety of passengers.

Juliana Friend

Society for Linguistic Anthropology Spring Conference 2020 | Boulder, CO

Sutura 2.0: Queer Biocommunicabilty and Communicative Inequality in Senegalese Digital Health Practice

The Wolof ethic of sutura (“discretion”) has, in historically contingent ways, conflated perceived communicative excess with bodily contagion and associated both with queer subjects. Media ideologies about digitally-networked communication as unruly and excessive amplify anxieties about queer bodies rooted in the history of sutura. For HIV/AIDS programs enmeshed with the Senegalese state, online dating among gay Senegalese men presents two risks to sutura: contagious sex and contagious discourse. In 2011, an eHealth initiative hired gay Senegalese men to send HIV/AIDS prevention messages through Facebook and online dating websites in order to contain HIV and, invoking sutura, contain queer communication and bodies. This state-NGO collaboration projects a heteronormative metapragmatic model of digital health communication, casting information as instrument of containment, and a unitary, de-eroticized digital self as informational messenger. I devise the term “queer biocommunicability” to describe how both legible gender identity and claims to health citizenship become predicated on one’s ability to implement (hetero)normative metapragmatic models of health communication. A form of queer biocommunicability, eHealth activists create erotically seductive digital personae incongruous with offline characteristics. Construed as communicative-bodily excess, digital seductions actually facilitate information exchange. Informational exchange in turn ensures fulfillment of the global health metrics on which aid funding depends. This instrumentalization of queer biocommunicability resonates with Wolof nobles' dependence on the communicative labor of géwél ("griot"), figures of queer contagion in the precolonial social order. My paper traces historical underpinnings and ethical-political implications of heteronormative biocommunicability’s dependence on queer transgression. Queer activists glean leverage from the necessity of their digital erotics to global health projects. They make claims on the state-NGO nexus, contesting communicative inequalities. I consider what queer theory –especially queer theory grounded in postcolonial history and regimes of care– can contribute to understandings of communicative inequality and global health.'

Renée Pastel

Society for Cinema and Media Studies | Denver, Colorado

Fact-Checking Fiction: Historical “Fake News,” Assumptions of Knowledge, and Second-Screen Viewing

Internet cultures increasingly facilitate a necessary task: fact-checking the things we see and hear. Accusations of ‘fake news’ and the circulation of partisan spun stories spur a significant mode of second-screen viewing of television that focuses on questions of authenticity and truth. While second-screen viewing broadly describes the act of using two screens while watching a program—one to watch and one to interact with social media—the fact-checking mode is notable for the questions it raises around viewers bringing real world expectations to their viewing, as audiences extend a similarly skeptical eye for truth to fictionalized historical dramas. While scholarly interest in the impact of historically set media often invokes concern about collective memory created by fictionalized recreation, when applying this stance to contemporary television, the viewers’ ability to ‘fact check’ while they watch has been undervalued. Yet second-screen viewers fact-check both to enrich their experience of period-set dramas to further historical knowledge and to enjoy catching slip-ups in the show’s production.

By exploring creators’ assumptions of viewers’ attention to detail and audience knowledge of the particularities of their shows’ historical settings, I interrogate how the practice of fact-checking carries over from world events to fiction television. I take three shows as case studies, each of which represents a different nuance of the fact-checking tendency— GLOW (2017-Present) is invested in reintroducing a history unknown to many viewers; Boardwalk Empire’s (2010-2014) DVD commentaries regularly avow semi-festishistic attention to historical fact; and Chernobyl (2019) has a dedicated companion podcast to explain where divergences from reality occurred. This paper carefully considers the tension between 1) concerns about younger viewers learning false histories from fictional representation and 2) creators’ worry about viewers with too much knowledge ruining the ability to build suspense within their storytelling. The latent expectations of faithfulness to history underlying many fans’ antagonistic fact-checking, I argue, arises from real-world conditioning that necessitates fact-checking across all media engagement. Thus, expectations of truth abound in fiction and affect creative license, for creators and audiences alike.