Whatever the literary strengths of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the book has done much to harm both the mentally ill and their communities.
This May the Kule Institute is organizing a hybrid exhibit/symposium on the Institution of Knowledge. We are bringing together a group of artists and thinkers to raise and address questions about institutional structures and knowledge. One question that the small group I’m part of discussed this week as the question of deinstitutionalization and the view, best captured by Ken Kesey in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that asylums as institutions were sites that did more harm than good. Stephen Eide has a nice article about this, Ken Kesey and the Rush to Deinstitutionalization (Quilette, Nov. 14, 2022).
There are a number of aspects to the issue. The first thing to note is that the deinstitutionalization of people with serious mental health issues didn’t work as imagined. It was not the freeing of an oppressed constituency back to the community where the new drugs could help them integrate and get on with their lives. There wasn’t really a community that wanted them other than the street and many ended up in the very institutions asylums were meant to replace – prisons. Stephen Eide’s book Homelessness in America traces the effects of deinstitutionalization, changes in vagrancy laws, and the “cleaning” up of slums on homelessness leading to the problem as we see it today.
But what about the idea of deinstitutionalization? Important to this idea would be Foucault, changes in psychiatry and how the discipline conceives of the role of medicine (and its institutions), and changes in public policy and what jurisdictions try to do with institutions.
One aspect of the issues that we forget if we think of institutions as bureaucracy is the built presence of institutions. From Jefferson’s design of the campus of the University of Virginia to Olmstead’s asylum landscapes, architects have shaped our imagination and the literal structures of certain types of institutions. This raises the question of what new types of institutions might be in being designed?
This raises questions about where privacy starts and a right to look or know stops. Can I not walk down a street and look at the faces of houses? Why then should I not be able to look at the face on Street View and other similar technologies? What about the satellite view? Do people have the right to see into my back yard from above?
This is a similar issue, though less fraught, as face databases. What rights do I have to my face? How would those rights connect to laws about Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) (or rights of publicity) which became an issue recently in amateur sports in the US. As for Canada, Rights of Publicity are complex and vary from province to province, but there is generally a recognition that:
People should have the right “to control the commercial use of name, image, likeness and other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity (eg, the distinct sound of someone’s voice).” (See Lexology article)
At the same time there is recognition that NIL can be used to provide legitimate information to the public.
Returning to the blurring of your house facade in Street View; I’m guessing the main reason the companies provide this is for security for people in sensitive positions or people being stalked.
Michael Sinatra invited me to a “show and tell” workshop at the new Université de Montréal campus where they have a long data wall. Sinatra is the Director of CRIHN (Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur les humanitiés numériques) and kindly invited me to show what I am doing with Stéfan Sinclair and to see what others at CRIHN and in France are doing.
Operation Jane Walk appropriates the hallmarks of an action roleplaying game – Tom Clancy’s The Division (2016), set in a barren New York City after a smallpox pandemic – for an intricately rendered tour that digs into the city’s history through virtual visits to some notable landmarks. Bouncing from Stuyvesant Town to the United Nations Headquarters and down the sewers, a dry-witted tour guide makes plain how NYC was shaped by the Second World War, an evolving economy and the ideological jousting between urban theorists such as Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Between stops, the guide segues into musical interludes and poetic musings, but doesn’t let us forget the need to brandish a weapon for self-defence. The result is a highly imaginative film that interrogates the increasingly thin lines between real and digital worlds – but it’s also just a damn good time.
Anatomy of an AI System – The Amazon Echo as an anatomical map of human labor, data and planetary resources. By Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler (2018)
Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler have created a powerful infographic and web site, Anatomy of an AI System. The dark illustration and site are an essay that starts with the Amazon Echo and then sketches out the global anatomy of this apparently simple AI appliance. They do this by looking at where the materials come from, where the labour comes from (and goes), and the underlying infrastructure.
Put simply: each small moment of convenience – be it answering a question, turning on a light, or playing a song – requires a vast planetary network, fueled by the extraction of non-renewable materials, labor, and data.
The essay/visualization is a powerful example of how we can learn by critically examining the technologies around us.
Just as the Greek chimera was a mythological animal that was part lion, goat, snake and monster, the Echo user is simultaneously a consumer, a resource, a worker, and a product.
Queer places are, by definition, sites of accretion, where stories, memories, and experiences are gathered. Queer place, in particular, is reliant on ephemeral histories, personal moments and memories. GoQueer intends to integrate these personal archives with places for you to discover.
I recently downloaded and started playing the iOS version of GoQueer from the App Store. It is a locative game from my colleague Dr. Maureen Engel.
Engel reflected about this project in a talk on YouTube titled Go Queer: A Ludic, Locative Media Experiment. Engel nicely theorizes her game not once, but in a doubled set of reflections show how theorizing isn’t a step in project design, but continuous thinking-through.
Locals and Tourists is a fascinating series of maps that juxtapose who takes Flickr photos locals vs. tourists. The blue is the locals, red is tourists. Above you can see Toronto and how locals take pictures all along Bloor and Queen and up Yonge. Tourists stay downtown.