University of Texas at Austin
In this doctoral seminar we will explore the role that physical objects play in human understanding and how that role may be usurped or transformed as physical objects undergo processes of abstraction inherent in models and representations. Specifically, we seek to learn what happens as digitization permits the increasing virtualization of physical objects. We will consider research and ideas from various disciplines and realms of human interaction. Our focus, however, will be on objects, models, and representations in the realm of work. Scientists and engineers have long used models and representations to study phenomena whose size (e.g., too small, as in molecules, or too big, as in buildings) do not lend themselves to ready physical examination or whose complexity (e.g., too many interdependencies, as in factory production) do not facilitate easy manipulation. Today, with modern computer technologies, a broad range of physical objects is susceptible to such processes of abstraction. Consequently, people in many occupations find themselves working increasingly with models or representations of physical objects rather than with the objects themselves, calling into question the continued importance of materiality in everyday work. Our intent is to understand the changes that may accompany this transition from the physical or material to the digital or virtual.
de Chadarevian, S., Hopwood, N. 2004. Models: The Third Dimension of Science.
Kevles, B. 1997. Naked to the Bone: Medical Imaging in the Twentieth Century.