Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Overview

The nature of human identity - how we think of ourselves, how we perceive others - is a mutable concept, changing with the rise and fall of religious beliefs, social mores, philosophical theories. Today, we live in a world in which science and technology are among the most powerful forces reshaping our culture - and thus our definitions and perceptions of identity. In this seminar, we will examine the impact of science and technology on identity. The topics we will be discussing include:

  • The nature of identity: What makes an individual different than all others - how do we classify people? How are technologies changing the ways people define themselves and present themselves to others?
  • Mediated identity: How do we sense the identity of others in a mediated environment? How do people use media to create and project their identity? How are communication technologies changing cultural, national, religious and linguistic aspects of identity?
  • Sensing identity: How are advances in sensing technologies, biometrics, and genetics changing the way we define and recognize identity?
  • Privacy: What are the implications of the increasingly sophisticated technologies for identifying and tracking people? How are the vast amounts of data that are compiled about us gathered, protected, and divulged?
  • Post-human identity: Advances in artificial intelligence, robots, and medical augmentation raise questions about what does it mean to be human. Is there a continuum that runs between man and machine?
  • Portraying identity: How can new media technologies transform the tradition of the portrait - what are the new ways that some aspect or essence of the individual can be captured and displayed? How have artists responded to the questions above?


There will be weekly reading and writing assignments. Active participation in class discussions is required. There will also be a final term paper.

Please contact the instructor if you are interested in taking this class.


1 Introduction
2 Thinking About Identity: Categorization, Prototypes, Stereotypes
3 Cultural Identity Part 1: Language, Dialects and Email
4 Cultural Identity Part 2: Fashions in Clothing, Music and Links
5 The Face
6 Final Project Proposals
7 The not quite Human Other: Robots, Agents and Augmented Humans
8 Databanks and Privacy
9 Visualizations: Depicting the Abstract and Mediated Self
10 Measuring Identity: Tests and Sensors
11 Portraying Identity: Portraiture in the 21st Century
12 Final Presentations