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Saturday, June 10 • 9:30am - 11:00am
Speculative Education: Pursuing Public Humanities in a Professionally Focused College

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In speculative design, the focus is on experimenting with different methods to understand possibilities outside of the probabilistic narratives afforded by the self-fulfilling prophecies of cultural production and consumption. The goal of this roundtable will be to overview and discuss the concept of speculative education, which we posit as an alternative to neo/liberal arts education that occupies the intellectual space between traditional humanities and entrepreneurial design-focused professional training. Speculative education can be viewed as a set of ideas that informs critical cultural and material production of public humanities in higher education through program development, and the curricular design of individual classes. The theoretical underpinning of speculative education is, we argue, posthumanism. Posthumanism is a collection of theories, concepts, and practices that challenges human exceptionalism, anthropocentrism, and binary/hierarchical thinking while offering practice-based, networked alternatives. It expands what the “public” has meant in public humanities by folding into the center of the narrative and educational focus the ephemeral, silenced, and excluded lifeforms and relations. Guided by the question of “What could have been?” speculative education embeds the heterogeneous relationships between past, present, and future in critical engaged pedagogy to not only seek for inclusion and belonging, but more profoundly, radical relationalities between marginalized ways of being and knowing.

We theorize and practice speculative education from our teaching and research experiences at Champlain College. Champlain focuses on applied, experiential pedagogies designed for students interested in pursuing professionally-focused programs of study like game development and digital forensics. We draw methods and teaching tools from urban and digital humanities and cyberfeminism to engage students in critical examinations of the human-technological and human-nonhuman interactions. By guiding students to analyze the social processes of making and, on that basis, to practice speculative design, our teaching raises awareness of capitalism’s intimate governance of everyday life. Between our classes, we highlight the inherent connections between disciplines, contexts, and perspectives with the goal to build a programmatic focus on Global Futures that interrogates racial, class, and gendered exploitations through the matter of fiction and lived experience.

The Core Division, where all three speakers teach, was created in 2007 through merging smaller liberal arts programs to deliver an interdisciplinary, scaffolded humanities-based general education curriculum mandatory at a college that marketed itself as professionally-focused. Both its structure and content were organized around the theme of “Self, Community, West, and World.” The Core curriculum is undergoing a large-scale revision called Core 2.0, which is our primary example of speculative education. Core 2.0 offers a speculative education through a shared curriculum across Year 1 to Year 3 that helps learners recognize methods, theories, and contexts that inform how knowledges are situated, how truths become truth, and how global futures are under construction rather than inherited absolutes. The revised Core curriculum now has two types of required courses: foundation and exploration courses. Foundation courses focus on ways of knowing, or epistemological foundations necessary to participate in the speculative design including a critical understanding of information, science, culture, historical context, place, and identity; Exploration courses teach methods and processes while leaving the content more open for instructors and students to translate what they learn in their programs of study into different contexts.

Katheryn Wright will present a first-year course called “First Year Inquiry: Making, Doing…” This is a general education course that positions critical making practices in the digital humanities as essential skills for all majors/programs of study across the college. Her particular section focuses on alternate reality games. The course introduces students to alternate reality games through a novel, examines its history and contexts, and then we (attempt to!) collaborate as a class to make an ARG at Champlain. Through the production stages, students also analyze the form of the ARG in relation to contemporary issues including the role of conspiracy theory in culture. The goal of the course isn’t to implement a successful game, really, but for students to connect theory and practice, to understand how making is a combination of theory and practice, and of critical and creative thinking.

Jonathan Banfill will present a second-year course that focuses on introducing students to theory. Jonathan’s specific section focused on theorizing the relationship between borders (political, economic, and social barriers that divide us) and common spaces (designed to overcome material and invisible borders and foster community). In the first half of the course, students investigated geopolitical border issues and created interactive spatial stories using digital mapping software. In the second half, students partnered with a senior-level creative design studio to produce a collaborative exhibition project that examined issues of wellness and community-building on campus and Burlington, as the world emerged from winter and pandemic learning. For a final exhibition, the two courses staged a series of contemplative spaces around the theme, utilizing ice blocks filled with flowers that slowly melted in the early spring sunlight, in outside locations and in the campus gallery, to create conversations that speculated on ways to build community.

Weiling Deng will present a third-year digital research method course titled “Bodies in the Surveillance State.” The course adopts a feminist/queer approach to understand and interrogate new forms of digital surveillance technologies that subject human bodies to the punitive state power worldwide. As a key part of the Digital Humanities debates about surveillance apparatusses and their complicity in human rights abuses, the feminist/queer focus on the body highlights the material, affective, labor-intensive, and situated characters of contacts with computation. The course will introduce forensic architecture and counter-narrative art projects that negotiate with the porous human-machine boundary. The final project takes two steps. First, students will conduct fieldwork and use GIS/Google Earth to make three surveillance maps of Burlington on the levels of law enforcement, cultural othering, and corporate CCTV. Then, on these maps, they will visualize and envision queer transgression of the policed boundaries and create an “Atlas of Undisciplined Bodies.”


Weiling Deng

Adjunct Professor, Champlain College

Jonathan Banfill

Assistant Professor, Champlain College

Katheryn Wright

Champlain College, United States of America

Saturday June 10, 2023 9:30am - 11:00am EDT
PS 405 (Design Center)