Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
John Durham Peters
An outgrowth of the recent “infrastructural turn” in the humanities, this dissertation explores ways in which emerging flushing infrastructures of the nineteenth century—specifically toilets, sewers, and wastewater treatment systems—rearranged the coordinates of human experience in the modern, developed world. The idea that flushing technologies and techniques contribute to a process of technogenesis—a process of technical exteriorization that is beyond human control but which nevertheless contributes to the evolution of human consciousness— offers a foundational perspective for this study. While flushing technologies and techniques have powerfully enhanced certain human capabilities, they have also affected humanity in a number of problematic ways. This project examines how an expansive flushing media complex emerged in the United States, and traces some of the cultural, environmental and psychical consequences of these developments. Central to this dissertation’s argument is the idea that specific technical circumstances have had the effect of diminishing people’s comfort with, and understanding of, waste processes. In the end, it argues that the ubiquitous flushing technologies that permeate the developed world have perpetuated a culture of forgetting.
In the broadest sense, this dissertation is a media-theoretical exploration of the concept of flushing, and it adopts a theoretical lens that has been developed through cultural techniques scholarship of the past few decades. This body of research works to break down and rebuild conventional understandings of media and culture, and seeks to better understand the ways in which medial technologies shape social and cognitive orders. At the theoretical level, this dissertation works to extend the reach of media studies. In addition to conventional media like books, newspapers, TV, radio, film, and the internet, this view of media encompasses any substance or process that effectively mediates—that is, functions as a medium. At the stylistic level, this project answers the call for alternative and experimental modes of dissertorial expression. Blending academic, essayistic, and journalistic strategies, this work walks a precarious line between creative writing and scholarly discourse. Such boundary pushing aims to encourage future stylistic innovation within the academy.
Cultural Techniques, Infrastructure, Media Studies
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