May 6, 2020

Dylan Halpern on Mis/Dis/Malinformation

My thesis student, Dylan Halpern, defended his thesis in style today! I’ve copy-pasted the introduction I gave to Dylan’s work below…

It’s my distinct pleasure to introduce Dylan Halpern. Dylan holds a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design from Virginia Commonwealth University and was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of São Paolo; since joining us at MIT, he has worked for the Civic Data Design Lab and the Sensible City Lab. I first met Dylan when I was teaching a history and theory seminar. Dylan’s papers danced between all possible lines of inquiry. He filled his pages with strange digressions about, for example, Rahm Emmanuel’s missing middle finger - apparently lost in the course of a summer job at Arby’s. His writing was theoretically engaged, rigorous, and playful.

The pervasiveness of play in Dylan’s work makes it quite appropriate that, in designing his thesis, he found his way to working with high school students. His project, “Community Remedies for Civic Disorientation, De-mobilization, and Malinformation”, is a rich resource for planners confronting the following question: what happens to engagement and participation when our attention is commodified and our political positions are targeted? How do we build a more robust public sphere under such conditions?

He finds resources in feminist scholarship and media studies, information theory and critiques of the attention economy, putting forward what I see as two fundamental challenges to urban planners. The first is that the local democracies planners envision require more robust media ecologies. News must travel, and travel widely, but citizenship requires more: that we build community capacity to respond.

Dylan’s second proposition is the more radical challenge: that our most promising lines of defense may not be defensive at all, but reflexive. Dylan asks us to entertain the possibility that coping with malinformation is best done from somewhere; from a standpoint, from a position, and from within a community. A very plannerly proposition, and an enormous challenge. And I leave it to him to tell us all about it.

Thanks to his reader, Catherine D’Ignazio, and to everyone else who attended the defense!

Dylan defends his thesis on Zoom.

  • Eric Robsky Huntley
  • They/them/theirs.*

  • Eric Robsky Huntley is a Lecturer in Urban Science and Planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT and a Visiting Lecturer in Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

    Huntley is a GIScientist, geographer, and designer who builds mapping tools in collaboration with and …