Collab: Toward an Illustrated Manual of Protest

CRN 6800, PSAM 550 E
Wednesdays 3:00 – 5:40; 55 W13th St. Rm 805
Parsons School of Art, Media and Technology


Melanie Crean, skype wondermela
Office hours by apt: 2 W13th St. room 1110
Huong Ngo

Course Description

This course will focus on the current state of speech rights at home, abroad and on line and investigate what artists, activists and technologists are doing to intervene in communication systems and promote freedom of expression.

The course will interrogate several issues: How has our ability to speak increased with recent advances in technology and social networking?  How have those systems been put to the test in recent political events such as the Arab Spring, London riots and the recent San Francisco BART shutdown?  How have those same communication freedoms been used as vehicles of control?  How has the ability to speak and the right to information privacy changed in the past ten years, post 9/11 with the advent of anti-terrorism laws?


The course will begin by investigating What Is At Stake: the current climate for speech in the US, the potential for digital activism internationally, and the potential for civic media to advance democratic systems beyond communication to conversation, and thus create change.  The second part of the course will look at creative activism, based in performative actions, use of spectacle, and urban interventions.  We will discuss how use of the body, gesture and image constitutes expression and how activists are expanding this vocabulary to create new forms of speech and promote change.  The third part of the course will look at the power of networks, collective action and distributed protest, where technology meets performance.  We will look at the Zapatista movement in Mexico in the late 90’s, as an early model of virtual performance and protest, expanded upon years later in Estonia and currently by the group Anonymous.  We will also look at the physical realities of building networks in areas of conflict, and workarounds for facilitating communication in repressive environments.

Course Work

Students have a choice to work on three distinct projects, individually or collectively, or one extensive project throughout the semester. Whether working on three projects or one, the student should demonstrably tackle these three sections in their work throughout the semester:

  1. The implications of speech rights on personal freedoms at home, on line or abroad.
  2. Speech as performative action, cultural resistance, or interventionist strategy.
  3. Networks for communication that facilitate protest and collective action.

Student research into new ways that technology and performance are being used to facilitate speech will be described as image based instruction sets for an online data base called Building Better Speech.  For each project, each student will write up a performative or technical strategy associated with their work, described in visual narrative style with minimal text.  Style references include airplane safety cards or IKEA instruction manuals.  A style guide for the database will be provided, but students should consider, what have they learned about speech that would be valuable as a resource for others? How can this information be described clearly for an international audience, with maximum imagery and minimum text?


As most students will probably choose to work either alone or collectively on a single project over the semester, you should aim for the following bench marks on the critique dates below:

  1. 9.28: Project concept critique: outline what you will be doing over the course of the semester, who your audience is, and what you feel the successful impact of your project would be
  2. 11.2: Working Prototype critique: test a working prototype of the project, document the results to present in class
  3. 12.14: Final Project critique w/outside critics


  • Class participation: 25%
  • Blog writings: 25%
  • Class project & Better Speech Manual Submission: 50%

Leave a Reply