The Politics of Making 3D Models and the Construction of Publics


May 2023

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The field of 3D model sharing platforms is a recently discovered space of knowledge production that is equivalent to textual analysis (Sullivan et al., 301). An important attribute of this knowledge production is that it is formed by a complex interdisciplinary network of individuals from design, research, science, and history backgrounds. These networks, while built by the unique purpose of individuals, are often influenced by the platforms they are supported in meaning, 3D models are understood as the situated engagement of social, cultural, technical, and political decisions made in the practices of making. In the coming chapters, I present various examples and case studies to discuss ways that 3D model sharing platforms inform, shape, and reinforce ideological and cultural narratives by framing 3D models as a source of knowledge. In the first section of Chapter 2, with the case study of Smithsonian 3D, I argue ways of making and displaying 3D models shape the construction of culture and history of publics situated in the scientifically objectified and technologically sanitized modes of display and representation. In the second section of Chapter 2, with the case study of the online article Reconstructing the Neighborhood, I demonstrate a counter-cultural practice that de-prioritizes visuality and opens the field for speculative inventiveness when understanding the tracing of pasts in making historical reconstructions. In Chapter 3, with the case study of TurboSquid, I introduce commercially-driven 3D model sharing platforms as spaces of economic and cultural capital aiming to construct neoliberal professional publics by the authoritative and techno-centric features of standardizing the making process of 3D models. Lastly, in Chapter 4, with the case study of Tinkercad, I introduce distributed 3D model sharing platforms as spaces of “free labor,” that inform the construction of maker publics with democratizing platform features while posing issues of masculinity and fortification of boyhood. In this dissertation, I argue that one needs to become personally aware and socially conscious of the socio-technical and ideological inner workings of the platforms that construct, imply, and refine the construction of publics by their given expectations or standards of engagement over the acts of making and sharing 3D models. Some of the issues I will critique in the case studies are standardization of making, the precarity of free labor, creative entrepreneurship, and issues of hegemonic masculinity. As a methodology, I use media analysis and ideology critique to demonstrate, discuss, and claim the socio-technical aspects of platforms. In doing so, I aim to bring forth 3D model sharing practices as an emerging critical sight in digital humanities, new media studies, and critical media studies.



Education, Social Sciences