Technology, Arts and Media Program header

ATLS/INFO 4606/5606: Critical Technical Practice

Course Description

This course will draw from art, anthropology, and engineering to explore practice-based approaches for studying technology and culture. Through readings and projects we will investigate how approaching technology as a material within creative practice allows us to inquire about the structure of technology, explore values and biases inherent in the design of technology, and generate new ideas for future interactions between technology, culture, and the environment.

In 1997 Philip Agre coined the term “critical technical practice” to describe how the design and development of new technologies can be used a method to critique technology and its relationship to society. In the years since, a number of critical approaches to the design, such as critical design or critical making, have emerged to form a productive space for developing designs that blend engineering with fields like art and anthropology.

Through lectures, readings, and projects, this course will blend theory and design practice to explore the unique ways of knowing that emerge from doing—shifting attention from what we make to why we make and what making can tell us about our world. While the readings from the course will draw from a broad range of disciplines (including interaction design, contemporary art, anthropology) the projects will focus on using process-based research to foster new perceptions and understandings of human-technology relationships as well as generating alternative visions for technology in the future.

Students from a broad range of disciplines are welcome and encouraged to enroll in the course. Because of the focus on cultivating critical perspectives of technology, students are encouraged to have experience in computer programming and/or physical prototyping.

Course Objectives

Students who successfully complete this course will:

Critical Thinking & Theory / History:
  • Think critically about how their own material practices shapes the way they relate to and understand the world.
  • Be able to create a theoretically grounded argument for the insights that they glean through making.
  • Understand how their design functions as a tool for inquiry
  • Be able to critically examine the biases inherent in their own designs
  • Generate designs that critically examine some phenomena
  • Develop prototypes that explore alternative relationships for humans and technology

Credit Hours

  • 3 hours


  • None