Books & Monographs

Cover of Technologies of the Gendered Body

My first book, Technologies of the Gendered Body (Duke UP, 1996) was based on a (dissertation) research project that began in 1986 while I was in the graduate program at the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. The print book was published by Duke University Press in 1996. In the decade between the beginning of the project and the publication of the book, I had the opportunity to witness and track the emergence of several new forms of bio-technologies, each of which served as focus of one of the book chapters.

One of the challenges in writing contemporary cultural criticism–as many scholars and journalists understand so well–is that cultures do not stand still. The dynamic nature of cultural change is the topic of profound theories as well as the bane of the cultural critic. No sooner is a work of cultural criticism published then the scene shifts and the critical insights seem dusty and worn. That was my experience soon after the first book was published; I watched how my insights were obscured by the cultural changes that continued to unfold. In 1986, for example, I was fascinated by the political implications of database design. By 1996, this topic was well discussed. In the early 1990s, I watched the efforts to engage girls in games, and I wondered aloud (in several talks) why we hadn’t seen Nancy Drew taken up as a game character. In 1997, HER Interactives, Inc. launched the company by developing a series of interactive computer games for girls starring none other than Nancy Drew!

The lag time between research/writing and the eventual print publication of a project was longer in the 1990s than it is now for several reasons. One of the consequences was that by the time the first print-bound book hit the shelves, the technocultural scenes I had researched had shifted dramatically. What started as a work of contemporary cultural criticism quietly morphed into a work of cultural history.

My most recent book, Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work (Duke UP, 2011), also started as a research project–in 1996. The manuscript was completed in 2008, the book was published in 2011. The 15-year span between the beginning of the project and the arrival of the book on a shelf must seem absolutely ridiculous in the era of just-in-time publishing.

But in fact from the beginning this print-book was part of an ambitious transmedia project that involved the production of several other works of digital scholarship. The print book and projects were literally authored/designed simultaneously. While the digital and exhibition projects launched in a more timely fashion, the print book took longer to complete. The purpose of the print book is to express, record, and disseminate the historical and theoretical analyses of those other projects–a process that, for me, takes its own time.

The dynamic is similar though as with the first book: the cultural activities and technologies discussed in each chapter continued to evolve and, in some cases, devolve literally into bits, 404 error messages, and a heap of waste materials. In this latter sense, when it finally shows up on Amazon.com the book will no longer be simply a work of cultural history, but rather the only archival record of creative biographies, moments of expression, as well as technological devices.

My most recent long-form publication,Virtual Environments for Learning, was completed in a short ten-month span, primarily with the assistance of Cara Wallis. This publication is a report on a summit sponsored by the National Science Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation on the design and use of virtual environments as teaching resources.

Ever the optimist, I have another transmedia book project in the works–an edited collection tentatively titled “Ways of the Hand: Tinkering in a Digital Age.” I hope that it appears before the singularity takes root.

Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work, Duke University Press, 2011.

Editor, Cultural Studies of Science and Technology, Special issue of Cultural Studies vol. 12, no. 3 (July, 1998).

Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women, Duke University Press, 1996. REPRINTED in Korean, 2013.

Anne Balsamo, with Cara Wallis. Virtual Environments for Learning: A Report on a Summit (November 2007). Report published on-line August 2008: www.designingculture.net/resources/VELsummitReport2008