Book Review: Privacy (A Short History)

Also forgot to post this:

Review by Nathanael Bassett, University of Illinois at Chicago

Privacy: A Short History

David Vincent
Malden, MA: Polity, 2016. 189. Book.


Communication is rarely secure and relationships are fraught with intrusions. Technology and privacy researchers are keen to the first point but overlook the second because of how we contextualize and define privacy in the present. Following the enduring claim of Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis that one has a “right to privacy,” namely, “to be let alone,” we conceive of surveillance with metaphors like Foucault’s panopticon and the security state, with its various devices for tracking and monitoring people. Because of this, we fail to recognize broader and more nuanced forms of privacy. We are observing the tail end of a phenomena for which David Vincent’s Privacy: A Short History provides a brief outline, the life and death of a mode of privacy. The significance of this book is not only a social history of privacy or the history of the idea itself, but the significance of artifacts and technology in creating a sense of privacy.  Environments afforded certain types of sociality lending to or detracting from this sense. This book provides both researchers and curious readers with an insight into the relationship of technology and privacy in a much broader context than what is typically discussed.

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Book Review: JDP’s Marvelous Clouds

I forgot to post this one:

Journal of Communication Media Studies (2018)

Book Review: John Durham Peters. The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. 410 pages.

Reviewed by Nathanael Bassett

University of Illinois at Chicago

John Durham Peters has already cemented his legacy in the field of communication with Speaking into the Air (1999). Written towards scholars focusing on effects and connectivity, the book discusses communication’s untapped potential for understanding affectivity and human relationships. The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (2015) has a similar promise to be a foundational and inspirational book for students and scholars of communication, media studies, and other disciplines, as well as an enjoyable (yet difficult) journey for general readers.

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Communication and Media Studies: La Forge’s VISOR and the Pictures in Our Heads

Nathanael Bassett

in Set Phasers to Teach! Springer (In Press)


The lineage of traditions that lead to the study of media makes defining a single coherent discipline difficult. But these studies involve more than just what we see on the screen. They focus on one of the inescapable aspects of human experience – mediation and technics. Phenomena are never the subject of direct encounters. Our experiences are always mediated through something which stands between us and the world. Communication and media studies researches both content and form, with an exceptional focus on the relationships between ourselves, the messages we receive via the medium, and the artifacts and systems through which we experience the world. Geordi La Forge’s VISOR is a prime example. It is both “the medium and the message,” in McLuhan’s (1994) terms. Despite his obvious prosthetic, La Forge is just one of the many humans in Starfleet who depend on complex socio-technical systems to mediate their experiences. The purpose of communication and media studies is to reveal the way these systems contribute to our lives and help to constitute our social world, by drawing from many different disciplines to investigate the means of communication we otherwise take for granted.

Turning the Gaze Upon Ourselves: Philosophy of the Slasher

Nathanael Bassett

in A Celebration of Slashers

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil 

It seems that philosophy has a lot to offer to the appreciation of horror and fantasy. A quick glance at a popular bookstore shelves reveals titles like True Detective and Philosophy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy, American Horror Story and Philosophy, The Walking Dead and Philosophy, and so on. Looking at popular culture through the lens of philosophy is nothing new. But the relationship between each is a two way street – certain types of horror have been an inspiration to philosophers in recent times, specifically those centered around iterations of “cosmic horror.” This relates to an unknowable Other or the horror of a cosmic void (often based in the work of H. P. Lovecraft). Recent work in speculative realism draws out the philosophical potential of those forms of entertainment (Thacker, 2015). The body horror of David Cronenberg also helps to produce original philosophy (Riches, 2012). Even the traditional ghost story has lent itself to works focused around ethereal media and so called “hauntologies” (Sconce, 2000). But the slasher has been neglected, and I intend to argue that while these forms of philosophy based on other horror look outward, a philosophy of the slasher has the potential to look inward and reveal a critique of the human more uncomfortable than any mess of flesh from beyond.   Continue reading

DePaul Pop Culture Conference: Slasher Philosophy

This weekend I will be presenting for the third year in a row at the annual DePaul Pop Culture Conference, which is A Celebration of Slashers29572.jpgThe challenge for me is that  personally, I have never been a huge fan of the slasher genre. I prefer my horror in the form of Cronenberg’s body horor, or the cosmic horror of Lovecraft. Each lends themselves to a certain aesthetic and type of thinking that is widely found in veins of speculative realism and philosophy like object oriented ontology, which turns to “the things themselves” and asks us to deanthropocize our phenomenology, particularly in the anthropocene (or cthuluscene, depending on who you read).

While this is all well and good, it is a bit impersonal. Take for instance, one of my favorite current comic series, Joe Golem. Joe Golem is literally a Golem. He’s not human, but he is desiring to become human, much like the aliens and androids of science fiction. But no monster really wants to be human – it’s inhumanity is what sets it apart. Slashers challenge this aspect of the horror genre because their antagonists largely are (or were) humans.  It is their fractured and wounded humanity that turns them into the monster, a predicament that shows how any of us is capable of terrible, awful violence. It is a relational mode of horror, in which we are searching for a villain to be unmasked, rather than waiting for the rubber monster to just come out of the floor.

My idea is that a philosophy derived from slasher fiction (rather than cosmic or body horror) can tell us more about ethics, gendered and interpersonal violence, than it can about the oddness or weirdness of a non-human phenomenology. I will post the essay here following the conference. If you are in Chicago, be sure to stop by!

Update(s): ABD, Adjunct Faculty at DePaul, and Comm +1

After working the better part of the year to prepare for my prelim exams and my dissertation proposal, I am happy to announce that I have completed and defended my exams and am now a PhD Candidate at UIC. I am close to proposing a dissertation centered around non-use and adoption of technology, and I’m grateful to my committee (including Steve Jones, Adrienne Massanari, Liam Cole Young and Richard Warner and especially my advisor (Andrew Rojecki) for all their time and patience through this process. I’m excited to get to focus now more on teaching and writing as I end my fellowship with the Electronic Security and Privacy NSF-IGERT program here at UIC.

I also am excited to announce I will be teaching two courses at DePaul University this coming winter quarter, starting in January. These courses are Media Ethics (MCS 343) and Introduction to Digital Communication (CMNS 570). This is my first time where I have been able to choose all the readings and the structure of the course for myself, and I’m grateful to DePaul University’s College of Communication (particularly Michael DeAngelis and Paul Booth) for this opportunity.

Lastly, I am co-editing a special issue of Communication +1 with Zachary McDowell this year centered around Media Archaeology, and I am planning on doing a “dialogues” piece for the issue, essentially a short, edited interview with a scholar on some of their current work and theoretical progress in media studies and communication. If you know of someone or would like to nominate yourself, please get in touch with me.


Edit: Now available here

by Nathanael Bassett

in STUDIA UBB. PHILOSOPHIA, Vol. 62 (2017), 2, pp. 1-21

ABSTRACT. This paper argues identity documents (ID) prefigure wearables as artefacts connected with archives. As participants with human practices, they constitute an apparatus that engenders sensibilities about the proper way to participate in society, through the use of socio‐technical systems. The use of these artefacts is necessary to make individuals legible to the state. Refusing them renders us insensible. Through a media archaeology of the history and use of IDs through modern Europe, an understanding emerges of the agential properties of artefacts and their essential role in establishing a social imaginary of the state.