Grammars of Process: Agency, Collective Becoming, and the Organization of Software
Despite years of theorization, a concise definition of what constitutes a medium remains elusive. Theorists have variously described media as extensions of human senses (Marshall McLuhan), as agents of reform ruled by a double-logic of remediation (Jay David Bolter and Robert Grusin), as aggregates of material specificity (N. Katherine Hayles), and as evolutionarily selected forms defined by their effects (Lev Manovich). While all of these theorists use examples of and from specific media, none of them explicitly address the specificities of media themselves. This thesis proposes viewing media through an analytics of becoming in an attempt to address this slipperiness that has resulted from unclear definitions of the concept—a slipperiness that only intensifies within the context of the computer metamedium. Media are seen as reflexive sites in which humans create grammars that organize and distribute processe. As reflexive sites, they both change and are changed by human beings. The reflexiveness of the computer metamedium, defined as it is by its programmability, inspires an investigation into the dynamic and co-evolving relationship between the human and the digital. The practice of generative design is selected as an evocative instance of this relationship, and a reflexive engagement with the practice is undertaken as the thesis becomes a site of generative typesetting. Undergoing this practice-based approach leads to complications with existing theorizations of media and also allows for the articulation of free, libre, and open source software as a reflexive site of agency for collective change. The concept of process utilized here is organized according to Gilbert Simondon’s theory of ontogenesis, a framework that questions ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’ and in so doing provides a mechanism for explaining collective change.
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