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Software and Dialogue Aesthetics in Post-Civil War Lebanon

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

Due to a legacy of colonialism, historical warfare, the civil war and ongoing conflicts, it is prohibitively difficult to have a conversation about the recent past in Lebanon. To fill this space, I have created a digital archive of memories and built an automatic montage machine to imagine what conversations would look like between people who would not talk to each other otherwise. In this research, I show that different opinions can co-exist in a digital environment without erasing each other. In designing software to examine impossible conversations between parties with irreconcilable perspectives on traumatic events of the past, listening becomes a crucial component for these artificially constructed dialogues.

The written component of the dissertation is comprised of three chapters. My first chapter, “Connecting: Software and Difference” makes the case for what I call impossible conversations about the past in Lebanon. I first offer some context about the inability to talk about Lebanon’s recent past. I suggest that one way to connect about the contested history is by paying attention to the infrastructure of connections, be it language or software. My second chapter, “Listening: Software and Participation” I bring together two previously unrelated fields: Narrative Intelligence (NI), the subfield of Artificial Intelligence in computer science that is concerned with generating narratives using planner systems, itself an outgrowth of semiotics and literary studies, and i-docs, the subfield of documentary and media studies that uses web-based interactive and participatory documentary as its mode of inquiry. Bringing these two fields together allows me to make the point that in order for participation in digital environments to be democratic, the interfaces, structures and software arguments must be designed to change. My final chapter, “Being Heard: Software and Democracy” examines digital dialogue projects intended for human rights organization in engaging with victims of violence.

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