So, What is "Speculative Civic Media"? | MIT Center for Civic Media

So, What is "Speculative Civic Media"?

This is my first post here, so hello. I’m Raafat, here at MIT for a couple of years of research at the Art, Culture and Technology program. I’m on this blog because I’m taking the "Intro to Civic Media" class this semester. Speaking from a Contemporary Art vantage point, it could be argued that defining an era by time/situation (Contemporary) rather than “formal” discourse (i.e. Modernism) is a label for a transition that has been kidnapped by an external, non-art-related factor. Art today, as a ubiquitous global product conforms more to a global market (kidnapper) than to art itself. This is not to say that art needs to be autonomous, but the expectations of it in “social impact” and “cultural influence” should be assessed based on the above-mentioned reality.

Comparisons could be drawn with contemporary revolutions that were kidnapped and/or derailed by forces that are more sustainable than “careful and slow" liberation. The Egyptian revolution was kidnapped first by the Muslim brotherhood and then by the military. The Syrian war is still oscillating between resisting a dictatorship and a fear of what might replace it given derailed temporary victories around it.

I am interested in understanding the dynamics of social movements, potentially invisible ones, that act silently on infrastructure rather than hype. My work in contemporary art borrows from the fluid discourse as a set of resources, but doesn’t comply to its systems. I am at a point where I am looking for different examples and methods of investigating cultural interventions outside the brackets of contemporary art. This is where my interest in Civic Media is rooted. What kind of conversations could spark out of intersecting media with the civic scale? What is the civic scale? Is the word public obsolete, and if so, what are shared projects and where do we exist?

I’m still brainstorming what to physically deliver as a project in “Intro to Civic Media,” but there are many points that are already shaping up within my constant transition between contemporary art and civic media conversations on a daily basis. For example, in opposition to the ubiquitous global product that contemporary art revolves around, I am interested in creating works that need translation — specific works that make perfect sense in some places, and whose values do not depend on cross-cultural shareability. On the other hand, what’s on the table is my attempts to define my work process (writing narrative fiction as proposals for non-fiction socially engaged applications) as “Speculative Civic Media,” a title proposed by Sasha after one of my presentations in class. So what is "Speculative Civic Media"?

I am yet to find out, but it’s already an exciting turn of events. Within this process, I’m looking at Transformative Media Organizing diagrams ( as references to develop similar systems of abstractions of what I used to consider an artistic process in my practice. To do so, I will be using the process of writing “The Perfumed Garden: An Autobiography of Another Arab World” as a case study, tracing the writing of fiction, reifying it through “public” engagement and studying formats and models for sustainability for writing (and in a broader sense: cultural production) as a social movement.