Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Technology of Consent
The 1980s in the United States have come into focus as years of extensive ideological and socioeconomic fracture. A conservative movement arose to counter the progressive gains of previous decades, neoliberalism became the nation’s economic mantra, and détente was jettisoned in favour of military build-up. Such developments materialized out of a multitude of conflicts, a cultural crisis of ideas, perspectives, and words competing to maintain or rework the nation’s core structures. In this dissertation I argue that alongside these conflicts, a crisis over technology and its ramifications played a crucial role as well, with the American public grasping for ways to comprehend a nascent technoculture. Borrowing from Andrew Feenberg, I define three broad categories of popular conceptualization used to comprehend a decade of mass technical and social transformations: the instrumental view, construing technology as a range of efficient tools; the substantive view, insisting technology is an environment that determines its subjects; and a critical approach, which recognizes the capacity for technology to shape subjects, but also its potential to aid new social agendas. Using Feenberg’s categories as interpretive lenses, I foreground these epistemologies in three of the decade’s most popular formations of literary science fiction (sf), and describe the broader discourses they participated in: military sf is connected to military strategy and weapons development (instrumental), cyberpunk to postmodernism and posthumanism (substantive), and feminist sf to feminist theory and politics (critical). These were not just discursive trajectories, I claim, but vital contributors to the material construction of what Antonio Gramsci would call hegemonic and counterhegemonic formations. While the instrumental paradigm was part of the decade’s prevailing hegemonic make-up, substantive and critical discourses offered an alternative to the reality of cowboy militarism and unchecked technological expansion. By engaging with the decade’s texts—from There Will Be War to RoboCop to “A Cyborg Manifesto”—I hope to illuminate what I call the technology of consent, the significance of technological worldviews for modern technocultures, where such views are consented to by subaltern groups, and at the same time the existence of consent itself as a kind of complex social technology in the first place. Author Keywords: American History, Discourse, Hegemony, Science Fiction, Technoculture, Technology
On Tilt
On Tilt: The Inheritance and Inheritors of Digital Games accepts and extends Eric Zimmerman’s contention that literacies currently being developed during video-game play will be more broadly applicable (outside games) in the next hundred years as Western work, education, entertainment, and citizenship spaces become ever more shaped like video games. To the end of better understanding both video games and the players and literacies contiguous with them, this dissertation interrogates comparisons between video games and... non-digital games, film and other fictional texts and worlds, blogs, casinos’ games of chance, and the strategies employed by face-to-face criminals, always asking about the roles and responsibilities the human participants in these systems take; that is, this dissertation investigates what video games inherit from other forms of art, including non-digital games, and what the gamers and audience of today and tomorrow inherit through their contact with video games. The dissertation examines in detail works by Jodi Dean, Bernard Suits, Bruce Sterling, T. L. Taylor, Walter Benjamin, Gavin de Becker, N. Katherine Hayles and Nicholas Gessler, and Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, considering their work, the video game, and gamers, in terms of power gaming, genre, fiction and suspension of disbelief, audience, motivations, fungibility, the zombie vs. the robot, value vs. meaning, agency, slipstream, capitalism, and ontology. Ultimately, the dissertation suggests that there are two disparate strains of gamification building Zimmerman’s future, arguing first that the penetration of video games into culture is changing the way we behave and exist as audience and more generally, and, second, that what is at stake, in terms of the attitudes, labels, and gameplay that we accept in terms of games and gamification is significant to what it means to be human, especially within systems that are only partly human, in the next hundred years. Author Keywords: digital, gamification, genre, literacy, new media, videogame
Nineteenth-Century Aesthetics of Murder
This dissertation examines how sex crime and serial killing became a legitimate subject of aesthetic representation and mass consumption in the nineteenth century. It also probes into the ethical implications of deriving pleasure from consuming such graphic representations of violence. Taking off from Jack the Ripper and the iconic Whitechapel murders of 1888, it argues that a new cultural paradigm – the aesthetics of murder – was invented in England and France. To study the ‘aesthetics of murder’ as countless influential critics have done is not to question whether an act of murder itself possesses beautiful or sublime qualities. Rather, it is to determine precisely how a topic as evil and abject as murder is made beautiful in a work of art. It also questions what is at stake ethically for the reader or spectator who bears witness to such incommensurable violence. In three chapters, this dissertation delves into three important tropes – the murderer, corpse, and witness – through which this aesthetics of murder is analyzed. By examining a wide intersection of visual, literary, and cultural texts from the English and French tradition, it ultimately seeks to effect a rapprochement between nineteenth-century ethics and aesthetics. The primary artists and writers under investigation are Charles Baudelaire, Thomas De Quincey, Oscar Wilde, and Walter Sickert. In bringing together their distinctive styles and aesthetic philosophies, the dissertation opts for an interdisciplinary and comparative approach. It also aims to absolve these writers and artists from a longstanding charge of immorality and degeneracy, by firmly maintaining that the aesthetics of murder does not necessarily glorify or justify the act of murder. The third chapter on the ‘witness’ in fact, elucidates how writers like De Quincey and Wilde transferred the ethical imperative from the writer to the reader. The reader is appointed in the role of a murder witness who accidentally discovered the corpse on the crime scene. As a traumatized subject, the reader thus develops an ethical obligation for justice and censorship. Author Keywords: Censorship, Jack the Ripper, Murder, Trauma, Victorian, Wilde

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2011 - 2021
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