Friday, 4 March 2011

"Culture" in the Artificial Culture Project

Can the Artificial Culture Project "teach" anything about culture to those working in "cultural studies"?

This seems to me to raise a series of questions about the basic role of the concept of "culture" in our project.

The first of these is the extent to which "culture" is functioning as an "empty signifier" in the project at the moment; & whether, in fact, the ultimate issue for our research is not culture per se, but rather the process by means of which embodied variations are transmitted through a "community" of embodied agents.

Whilst this question is of some interest to cultural theorists, I don't think it would represent a central area of concern for research in this field. So what sorts of questions, & what sorts of research issues, might cultural theorists who came to our project find interesting?

My hunch is that many cultural theorists would be most interested in three aspects of our work:
(1) the actual activities of the robots themselves, & the meme/gene co-evolution element of our work
(2) the way that the concept of "memes" has functioned in our research (this being a very contested notion in cultural theory)
(3) the evolution of our behaviour as researchers, relative to, & based on our interactions with, the robots.

This third aspect would sit within the ethnographic dimension of our work. It's the kind of thing that someone like Bruno Latour, as a representative of the area of cultural theory known as Science & Technology Studies, would be interested in. And, I think, it's a fine example of what Andy Pickering, in his work in STS, calls the "mangle of practice".

I think it would be interesting to parallel the reflection on "machinic" creativity within the robot society; creativity within within the hermeneutic dimension of the project (creativity in interpreting the results); & the creativity of the "culture" of the Artificial Culture research project, or research team.

One further way in which this last might be of interest is as a case study in creative, trans-disciplinary, research working.


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