THE LAB BOOK: Situated Practices in Media Studies

Photograph of young women in the Home Economics Food Lab taken between 1914 and 1915.
Photograph of young women in the Home Economics Food Lab taken between 1914 and 1915. University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections – Faculty of Human Ecology fonds, Creative Commons CC BY-NC 3.0 license.

University of Minnesota Press, Spring 2021

Table of Contents
Introduction: Everything Is a Lab
            Case Study: The French Language Lab (Middlebury College, U.S.)

Chapter 1: Lab Space
            Case Study: Menlo Park Laboratory (Menlo Park, U.S.)
            Case Study: MIT Media Lab, Part 1 (MIT, U.S.)
            Case Study: Media Archaeological Fundus (Humboldt University, Germany)

Chapter 2: Lab Apparatus
            Case Study: The Signal Laboratory (Humboldt University, Germany)
            Case Study: The Media Archaeology Lab (University of Colorado Boulder, U.S.)

Chapter 3: Lab Infrastructure
            Case Study: Home Economics Labs and Extension on the Canadian Prairies (Winnipeg,
            Case Study: Black Laboratories and Agricultural Extension

Chapter 4: Lab People
            Case Study: MIT Media Lab, Part 2 (MIT, U.S.)
            Case Study: ActLab (University of Texas Austin, U.S.)

Chapter 5: Lab Imaginaries
            Case Study: Hybrid Spaces of Experimentation and Parapsychology
            Case Study: Bell Labs, A Factory for Ideas

Chapter 6: Lab Techniques


Media labs are liminal but increasingly powerful spaces in many contemporary settings. They appear in universities and colleges, wedged uneasily between traditional departments and faculties. They’re also in basements, warehouses, strip malls and squats. They are stable to varying degrees; many have long-term addresses and an itinerant roster of occupants. Some pop up in one location for a few days, then relocate to another. Sometimes they’re even in mobile trucks in the streets, bringing tools and expertise to children in schools and the general public. As clusters of tools and talent streamlined to produce economic value, labs sometime align with the most ruthless of venture capitalists; in other cases, they are free and open for all to use, disdainful of all commercial motivations. Despite their sudden visibility due to the burgeoning of the digital humanities, media labs have a surprisingly long history. As part of the historical avant-gardes, media arts labs were the sites where the new materials and aesthetics of technical modernity were developed. They often share a common ideology, tied not just to the neoliberal drive to privatize, innovate and disrupt, but to long-standing modernist ideas about creative destruction, quantification and the value of scientificity.

THE LAB BOOK, published by the University of Minnesota Press, thoroughly documents and explicates this significant cultural force. This project, authored by three established mid-career media and communications scholars working in three different countries, consists of two components: a print book and a companion website. The print portion of THE LAB BOOK presents a much-needed critical, historical and international examination of a major ongoing shift in contemporary ideas about higher education, the information technology sector and the public good. The book investigates the history of media and humanities labs as situated practices. The accompanying website delivers a synchronic overview of contemporary media labs through a series of interviews with their occupants.