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Bernard Geoghegan, “Learning to Code: From Information Theory to French Theory”
Monday, April 10, 2023 @ 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm
How and why, in the latter half of the twentieth century, did informatic theories of “code” developed around cybernetics and information theory take root in research settings as varied as Palo Alto family therapy, Parisian semiotics, and new-fangled cultural theories ascendant at US liberal arts colleges? Drawing on his recently published book “Code: From Information Theory to French Theory,” and primary sources from the MIT archives, this talk explores how far-flung technocratic exercises in Asian colonies and MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) inspired these varied and diverse audiences in a common dream of “learning to code.” The result is a new history of the ambitions behind the rise of “theory” in the US humanities, and the obscure ties of that endeavor to Progressive Era technocracy, US foundations, and the growing prestige of technology and engineering in 20th century life.
Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan is a Reader in the History and Theory of Digital Media at King’s College London. An overarching theme of his research is how “cultural” and “humanistic” sciences shape—and are shaped by—digital media. His attention to cultural factors in technical systems also figured in his work as a curator, notably for the Anthropocene and Technosphere projects at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Duke University Press recently published his book Code: From Information Theory to French Theory (2023), based partly on archival research he undertook as a visiting PhD student at MIT around 2008.
Professor Bruno Perreau from MIT Literature will join as discussant.