Critical technical practice

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Critical technical practice is critical theory based approach towards technological design proposed by Phil Agre where critical and cultural theories are brought to bear in the work of designers and engineers. One of the goals of critical technical practice is to increase awareness and critical reflection on the hidden assumptions, ideologies and values underlying technology design.

Pedagogy - Critical Technical Practice

A different fork of Critical Technical Practice from Agre’s root (Agre, 1997) was initiated at the former Centre for Cultural Studies between 2007-2017, Goldsmiths, University of London as a way to examine, the live techno-social aspects of contemporary digital culture. This stream of Critical Technical Practice(CTP) at its most broad use can be described as the formation of thought and action that incorporates art as a method of enquiry. This is a compacted intellectual form, that makes the space between the technical, theory and practice ambiguous. A typical digital culture class would make/explore things, attempting to explain the phenomena caught in the lens of a project or proposition.

An example of a class may clarify this approach. We might propose that the class create a simple (DOS) denial of service attack on a test remote server by learning to code computers for the first time. It is empowering for students to find out how quickly they can code. The class would learn how to do this from T.J. Connor’s book Violent Python. After the group had reached a self satisfied tingle of radicalism the group would be asked to look up the author and would find that Connor is a top grade US Military expert. The group would then look at the books distribution and market penetration and be encouraged to question the affective logics, politics and culture of the book, reflect on why the workshop had been constructed the way it was, and their own learning in different registers of technicality, politics of information and personal critic and empowerment was achieved.

Critical Technical Practice then is not necessarily a reduction of phenomena to literature or a system of logics, but can instead be thought of as knowledge incorporated into a thing that the class created, look at or pointed too, through revealing a certain type of gaze. A prerequisite of Critical Practice is that incorporates this form of gaze is thinking through the formation of oneself as a thinker, actor in the world. Enquiring into one's pre-existence, helps understand the structuring of potential that has informed what one has become, what one could easily recognise, and what one could easily achieve. This is not a summation of limit but an acknowledgement of the hard work needed to escape a pre-existence, as it may relate to the four pillars of repression, class, gender, sexuality and race. The situated knowledge of family and friends, their relation to making things, to popular culture, to oral histories, to struggles with money or law, reading, writing and speaking, all inform this process.

To this end CTP is partially related to a schizoanalysis of Foucault's question “What are we today?” (Foucault 1984: pp. 42ff.) The class is always encouraged to unfold what conditions, constrain, control, resist, govern, determine this moment and not another? What patterns of recognition are we privileging and why does it blind us to others? How does language restrict us at the very moment we are able to say something? How can this engagement be born anew at every instance?


People whose work contributes to the critical technical practice agenda include Phil Agre, Paul Dourish, Natalie Jeremijenko, Michael Mateas, Simon Penny, Warren Sack, Garnet Hertz, YoHa, (Matsuko Yokokoji, Graham Harwood) and Phoebe Sengers.

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