This editorial introduction featured in edition #7 of So Fi Zine. Read the full edition here.


Rob Shields, Nicholas Hardy, Erin Ratelle and Malcolm Stielow

This project is based on selected works from the seminar Material and Virtual Culture taught by Professor Rob Shields at the University of Alberta. Professor Shields welcomes students from across disciplines, which creates an interesting and collaborative space for students to learn from and with one another during the seminar.

Material and Virtual Culture is a critical interdisciplinary research workshop on theory-building about the materiality and intangibility, dynamics and performances, capacities and relations of bodies and objects, groups and institutions. It is directed at students interested in contemporary social and cross-cultural thought of the last century. The seminar encourages critical of a variety of subjects through an interplay with the categories of the real, the abstract, the ideal and the actual. The seminar’s focus is on material culture and social forms that are not ‘in our heads’ or simply ‘subjective’ but cannot be accounted in nominalist or positivist ontologies. This is of particular relevance to areas such as design, social institutions, values, culture and cross-cultural interaction, media, environmental quality and online experience. For example:

















Each student brought varying perspectives to the course theme. Malcolm, a trained jeweler and weaver, offered insights into material craft. Erin’s research on self-tracking practices explores sport in virtual spaces, while Nicholas’ research applies relational theories to examine expressive materiality in urban environments, in particular, the processes and experiences of creating street art.

This special edition originates in our belief that the vitality of material and virtual culture demands expression beyond mere text. The essays embrace a range of research approaches form digital ethnography, cultural theory, research-creation and craft work. Beyond the textual, what is the meaning of saying something with colour, lines, digital media, or craft? These articles are grounded in a range of topologies of contemporary experience.

  • On a road bicycle, a digital “accounting” and metering of paces and places via each revolution of the crank in the topology or energy-speed-time-space of Strava.
  • Rereading Deleuze and Serres produces a concept of the eddy as a topological and transformative figure of counterpower.
  • A craftsperson beats silver wire and finds in the sprung form of the safety pin connections between practice and ethnography, traditional craft and creative originality.
  • Angels, ghosts and zombies are featured as figures of transmission, translation and transgression as key phenomenal operators.

This collection covers flows and the dynamic motions of affective and relational lines. The articles included in this issue illustrate the alterity of forces and their materiality, in the vortex of the eddy, in the digital dimensions of the maps made by a fitness app, or in the coils of a safety pin.

Among the articles included in this proposal three common threads are the oscillation between the material and the virtual; differences in kinds of forces between hegemonic power and counterpower as they arise in social spaces; and the contemporary moment as seen from the anchoring cases above.

If, as contends Benasayag, ours is an era born of the failure of a heterogeneous tradition of emancipatory struggles, one is faced with the need to home in on the modalities of control and those of counterpower, however unusual or marginal. Our work demonstrates examples of creative gestures and thought experiments that elaborate an emergent meshwork of counter-models situated within both local and global spatialisations. Dividing lines, borders and grids are pitted against flickers ripples and eddies of counterpower, operating by concentration and liberation of surges of energy which question traditional forms of resistance.