During 2013-2014, in a student-led initiative, the iSchool’s Coach House Institute (CHI) will host a series of lectures and discussions addressing cultural specificities in our understanding of information. The aim will not be to focus on culturally diverse uses of information, but instead to investigate the nature of information itself–and to ask whether, and if so how, fundamental theories of information incorporate, accommodate, or abstract away from the diverse epistemic and ontological commitments of varied communities.

Dominique Wolton October 24
Sandra Braman November 11-12
Sandy Pearlman February 10-11
Bernd Frohmann February 24-25
Pieter Adriaans March 24-25
Jenna Burrell April 28-29

Dominique Wolton

Information is not Communication

October 24, 2013 • 7:00-8:30 PM

Fisher Rare Book Library

Second lecture of the 2013 Coach House Institute Lecture series on Culture & Technology (C&TLS)

Keynote: Dominique Wolton (Directeur, Institut des sciences de la communication du CNRS, Directeur et fondateur, Hermès, CNRS éditions, Paris, France)

In conversation with: Guy Proulx (Psychology, Glendon College, York University, Former Director of the Cognitive and Behavioural Health Program at Baycrest); Hervé Saint-Louis (PhD, iSchool), Anthony Wensley (Professor and Director of the Institute of Communication, Culture & Information Technology, University of Toronto Mississauga)

Le directeur de l’Institut des sciences de la communication du Centre
national de la recherche scientifique en France (CNRS)
, Dominique Wolton, considéré comme l’un des plus éminents politologues et
sociologues français, sera à Toronto du 22 au 26 octobre à l’occasion
du cinquantenaire de l’ouverture du Centre McLuhan pour la culture et la technologie à l’université de Toronto. Fondateur et directeur de la
revue Hermès, il donnera plusieurs conférences et causeries en relation avec ses recherches sur l’analyse des rapports entre information et communication, et la société, la culture et la politique.

French sociologist and political scientist Dominique Wolton, director of the Research institute on communication of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) – and Director of the scientific publication Hermès, will be in Toronto from October 22 to 26 to participate to the 50th anniversary of the opening of the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. He will give a lecture and talks on information and communication, and their relationship to culture, society and politics.

Sandra Braman

Information as Agent: Power in a Post-Hegemonic World

November 11, 2013 • 7:00-8:30 PM

Fisher Rare Book Library

Third lecture of the 2013 Coach House Institute Lecture series on Culture & Technology (C&TLS)

Sandra Braman has been studying the macro-level effects of the use of new information technologies and their policy implications since the mid-1980s. Current work includes Change of State: Information, Policy, and Power (2006, MIT Press) and the edited volumes Communication Researchers and Policy-makers (2003, MIT Press), The Emergent Global Information Policy Regime (2004, Palgrave Macmillan) and Biotechnology and Communication: The Meta-technologies of Information (2004, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates).

With National Science Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Rockefeller Foundation support, Braman has been working on problems associated with the effort to bring the research and communication policy communities more closely together. She has published over four dozen scholarly journal articles, book chapters, and books; served as book review editor of the Journal of Communication; is former Chair of the Communication Law & Policy Division of the International Communication Association; and sits on the editorial boards of nine scholarly journals.

During 1997-1998 Braman designed and implemented the first graduate-level program in telecommunication and information policy on the African continent, for the University of South Africa. Currently Professor of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Braman earned her PhD from the University of Minnesota in 1988 and previously served as Reese Phifer Professor at the University of Alabama, Henry Rutgers Research Fellow at Rutgers University, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois-Urbana, and the Silha Fellow of Media Law and Ethics at the University of Minnesota.

Sandy Pearlman

As The Age of Saturation Encounters Asymptopia, Or, As You Like It

February 11, 2014 • 7:00 PM

Fisher Rare Book Library

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
~ Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


“Music is a hidden arithmetic exercise of the soul, which does not know that it is counting.”
~ Gottfried Leibniz

After all, It’s all a matter of perception…

“Fullness, Superabundance, Overload”: Saturation ~ Roget’s Thesaurus


“Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.” ~ Robert Fripp

“We can prove that some line – namely, an Asymptote, constantly approaches another by showing what will be the case if the progression is continued as far as one pleases… Even so there are Asymptote figures in geometry where an infinite length makes only a finite progress in breadth.” ~ Gottfried Leibniz


“So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time”, ~The Eagles

The invention and evolution of the analog photographic, motion picture and sound reproduction technologies, which characterized the media of most of the 20th century, and which remain, either, with us still or even counter-intuitively resurrected in our 21st century present, strikingly and synchronously coevolved with the development of the 19th century Romantic Symphony and its characteristically saturated sonorities. As if, in the case of sound recording, these technologies were embedded with optimization factors for the reproduction, amplification and glorification of those romantic sonorities, which became characteristic of not only the symphonic music of the 19th century, but, the film and popular music of most of the 20th century as well — including most spectacularly the technologically incarnated folk music known as heavy metal. This trend line persisted until the last twenty years of the 20th century when the decisive proliferation of newer digital media technologies created under the imperatives of the Nyquist/Shannon/Weaver information theoretics, which were (never forget!) originally developed to solve all the problems entailed in the long distance telephonic transmission of specifically speech changed absolutely everything. At that point, Saturation encounters Asymptopia and a new set of perceptual limits is imposed upon the new genus of Digital Media Objects. From that point on, everything gets really strange or really bad, depending upon your perspective… As for As You Like It, Rosalind was the grand mistress of perception after all. And perceptual theory is the key to the puzzle of this lecture. Never forget that Rosalind, “can do strange things”. As for the rest of the story see you at the lecture.

~Sandy Pearlman

Sandy Pearlman is currently Dean’s Visiting Professor for Interdisciplinary Innovation at the University of Toronto and Visiting Professor at McGill University. Over the years, Pearlman has taught and created provocative new courses at the Music, English, Religious Studies, Law and Management faculties. A relentless brainstormer on the future of media in general, and the ever-tightening embrace of Music by Technology and Technology by Music in particular. Producer, creator, songwriter, manager and theorist for some of the most important bands and musical trends of the last 30 years (among them Blue Oyster Cult, Clash, Black Sabbath, and Pavlov’s Dog), Pearlman is variously blamed and/or lauded for the launch of such cultural trends as Heavy Metal, Occult Rock, Goth, Punk, and New Wave. Described by the Billboard Producer’s Directory as “the Hunter Thompson of rock, a gonzo producer of searing intellect and vast vision,” Pearlman has embarked upon an all-encompassing project for the construction of a “Grand Unified Field Theory of the Future of Music,” a substantial component of which is the parallel emergence of the “Paradise of Infinite Storage” and new hybrid analog-digital codecs for music and media objects in general – perhaps the most disruptive game changer yet.

Bernd Frohmann

Document, Index, Trace, and Death: Briet’s Antelope Lessons

February 25, 2014 • 7:00-8:30 PM

Fisher Rare Book Library 120 St. George Street

The first third of this paper is about my concept of documentality, which I think avoids some dead ends in thinking about documentation in general. I take speech as my example of how the documentality of even such a seemingly ephemeral phenomenon can emerge and be strengthened, in this case through the modes of materialization of utterance provided by Aristotelian rhetoric, which, I also argue, are relevant to important contemporary verbal performances. The rest of the paper is about what I call “Briet’s antelope lessons”. I argue that from her brief discussion of the “vêture” of documents cascading from her now-famous antelope, we learn that its ambiguous connection to those documents poses a specific problem pertaining to the documentality of things. How is the fate of the primary document (the antelope) related to its secondary documents (its “vêture”)? And how are connections between documents and their referents established, maintained, and severed? Briet’s antelope lessons direct us to such questions. Four case studies are presented as illustrations of this problem: the gardens of Villandry, the glass flowers of Harvard’s Ware Collection, practices of telepresence, such as Second Life and webcam sexual activities, and the Visible Human Project.

Bernd Frohmann is Professor Emeritus and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information Studies at The University of Western Ontario. He is the author of “Deflating Information: From Science Studies to Documentation” (University of Toronto Press, 2004) and various articles and book chapters on information and documentation studies. His current research interests are in contemporary media studies.

Pieter Adriaans

Information, art and meaning: Painting as a post-saturation discipline

March 25, 2014 • 7:00-8:30 PM

Fisher Rare Book Library • 120 St. George Street

There is no doubt that the theories of information and computation are valuable tools for the analysis of objects of art and their production. They help us to model the cognitive processes involved in the understanding and appreciation of art that take place in our brain. They can even give us insight in the cultural and historical structures that govern the development of art over longer periods in time. In my lecture(s) I will discuss a number of these issues. It can be doubted, however, that theory of information can explain the phenomenon of meaning as it emerges in the individual human consciousness and the related emotions that works of art generate. At best information theoretical analysis seems to reveal correlations between meaning and the information content of data sets, but there seems to be no straight forward syntactical relationship.
In my talk I will, for the first time, discuss these issues in the context of my own work as an artist. Painting is an interesting form of art since, from an information theoretical point of view, its conceptual space appears to be saturated: everything has been done already, the amount of images we are confronted with every day is staggering. There are more saturated art forms (pop-music, classical music, the blues solo, photography, classical dance). Probably every form of art will reach such a stage in the future. Still it seems to be possible to make new paintings of extraordinary strength and meaning. There is a chasm between the conceptual analysis of art and its meaning. This creates a new space of possibilities and freedom for the artists working in such “post-saturation” disciplines.

“I still believe in the old Renaissance ideal of the universal man, not in the sense of knowing everything about everything but as the ambition to understand universal structures from different perspectives.”

Over the years Pieter Adriaans (1955) has built up an impressive unusually broad oeuvre that varies from paintings and sculptures to installations, books, papers and musical compositions. This achievement is remarkable given the fact that Adriaans also has a masters in philosophy, a PhD in theoretical computer science and has, together with his business partner Dolf Zantinge, founded a very successful computer company. He is part-time professor of learning and adaptive at the University of Amsterdam.

Adriaans got his first drawing lessons at the end of the sixties from the well-known painter Jacobus Koeman in Bergen aan Zee. In 1971, at the age of sixteen he was accepted as a student at the St. Joost School of Fine Art and Design, but, being disappointed by lack of interest in the technical aspects of drawing and painting at this institute he decided to combine the development of his talents with a thorough intellectual training. Ever since this time he has combined a scientific career with artistic activities. In the seventies he was member of Teekengenootschap Pictura, in Dordrecht. He got painting lessons from G.E. Meertens, and from J. Van Kesteren. He studied philosophy (and some mathematics) in Leiden from 1976 till 1983, the Netherlands, under Nuchelmans and van Peursen. Under guidance of Prof. Marcel Fresco he studied the philosophical works of the Dutch poet Johan Andreas Dér Mouw (1863-1919), who had a major impact on his ideas on art and science. In 1981 he discovered the work of the twelfth century sculptor known a the ‘Maître de Cabestany’ whose freedom of deforming the human body has been vital in the development of his style. In the eighties he started research into knowledge based systems and logic programming. This culminated in to the founding of the software company Syllogic in 1989. The success of this company allowed Adriaans to further explore the interplay between art and science. Eight years, later when Syllogic was a leading firm in data mining artificial intelligence and systems management with offices in Holland, Dublin, London and California, it was sold to Perot Systems Inc. This allowed Adriaans to take up one of his most ambitious projects up: Robosail, the building and exploitation of a self-learning racing yacht. This high profile project ran successfully from 1997 till 2007. In 1992 got his doctorate at the university of Amsterdam and in 1998 he was appointed professor of learning and adaptive systems at the same institute. Over the years his research interest has shifted towards complexity theory, philosophy of information and meaningful information. In the years 2000 and 2001 he visited the Vrije Academie in The Hague were he got lessons from Ed van der Kooy, Pien Hazenberg en Marijke Verhoef. Since then he has developed his own style of painting. Using multiple layers of acrylics paint he creates large radiant canvasses in his characteristic robust handwriting. These paintings are greatly appreciated by a growing group of admirers. Pieter and his wife Rini live in Kockengen in the Netherlands and part of the year on the island of Sao Jorge, one of the Azores.

Jenna Burrell

The Materiality of Rumor

April 29, 2014 • 7:00PM

Fisher Rare Book Library • 120 St. George Street

In this talk I will discuss rumors as a type of small media and as ‘secondhand accounts’ rather than ‘false tales.’ Over the years, I have encountered a number of rumors while doing ethnographic fieldwork in Ghana including one about Bill Gates – the illiterate dropout, rumors about young Ghanaians who got rich off the Internet, and a rumor about an impending earthquake (spread, in part, by mobile phone) that led people to flee into the streets one night in 2010. The study of rumor has served as a useful lens for thinking about how digital technologies are received by new populations of users. Among youth in Ghanaian Internet cafes, the accounting work done in rumors resolved issues of morality and efficacy related to Internet use. Rumors compel retelling and have a bodily existence through the people who spread them. The consequences of rumor are often overwhelmingly and undeniably material. The durability of rumor offers a way to rethink an overdrawn dichotomy between material and symbolic that often subtly (or not so subtly) informs the social study of digital technologies.

Jenna Burrell is an Associate Professor in the School of Information at UC Berkeley. Her first book Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafes of Urban Ghana (The MIT Press) came out in May 2012. She completed her PhD in 2007 in the department of Sociology at the London School of Economics. Before pursuing her PhD she was an Application Concept Developer in the People and Practices Research Group at Intel Corporation. Her interests span many research topics including theories of materiality, user agency, transnationalism, post-colonial relations, digital representation, and especially the appropriation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) by individuals and groups on the African continent.