Digital Bricolage

Posted by Jason Camlot

I know this isn’t all that original, but maybe that’s my point:

As I work on my my paper for the Click on Knowledge conference (“SpokenWeb 2.0: Imagining the Spoken Word Archive from Cylinder to SoundCloud”), it occurs to me that a good term for our prototyping approach thus far, is digital bricolage.  And I think there is something to be said for this as an ongoing approach to web development of this kind, in terms of feasibility, affordability, and sustainability.

In building our archive through the discovery of extant tools, and playing with their integration for our own specific purposes, we are tinkering in the workshop, and making something useful with what we find at hand.

Derrida, in his essay, “Structure, Sign and Play”:  “If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one’s concept from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur.”

We are certainly engaged in a deep process of repurposing in this project: repurposing live reading, via magnetic tape, to digitized WAV file on CD, to mp3 files uploaded to SoundCloud and migrated back to our WordPress site so it can appear as a floating waveform above the typed transcript of said live reading.  There is every reason, I think, for us to embrace this condition, which informs the status of our principal artifact (the sound file), as our ongoing development philosophy as well.

We have proceeded, thus far, by engaging in bricolage as a rather expected part of the ‘prototyping’ phase, with an implied ‘next phase’ in which we would, supposedly, evolve from bricoleur into developer.  I don’t think we should evolve in that way. It’s not just that we probably can’t afford to ($), but that the model of evolution from putterer to creator belies a modernist impulse (going back, at least, to Coleridge’s distinction between Fancy and The Imagination) that I think we should resist on philosophical principal.

Mark Deuze thinks of “bricolage in terms of the highly personalized, continuous, and more or less autonomous assembly, disassembly, and reassembly of mediated reality” (66, in his essay, “Participation, Remediation, Bricolage: Considering Principal Components of a Digital Culture” [The Information Society 22 (2006): 63-75], <>)

I think it makes sense for us to approach SpokenWeb as a structure of gimmicks and doohickey’s held together by paperclips, for the time being, until a better thingamajig comes along.

See Also:

Ciborra, Claudio (1992). “From Thinking to Tinkering: The Grassroots of Strategic Information Systems”, The Information Society 8, 297-309.

Daniel Chandler, “Personal Home Pages and the Construction of Identities on the Web” <>:

“The bricoleur’s strategies are constrained not only by pragmatic considerations such as suitability-to-purpose and readiness-to-hand but by the experience and competence of the individual in selecting and using ‘appropriate’ materials.”

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