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Contextualizing 3D Printing's and Photosculpture's Contributions to Techno-Creative Literacies

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Promoting Engineering and Technological Literacy

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

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Paper Authors


James W Malazita Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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James Malazita is a Lecturer in Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute whose work draws from Science and Technology Studies, Media Studies, Philosophy, and Literary Theory. Originally trained as a game designer, animator, and web developer, Dr. Malazita applies design thinking to the social sciences, using both cultural studies and artistic methodologies to explore the relationships among humans, animals, machines, the environment, and cultural objects and ideas.

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Dominic Francis Gelfuso


Dean Nieusma Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Orcid 16x16

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Dean Nieusma is Associate Professor in Science and Technology Studies and Director of the Programs in Design and Innovation at Rensselaer.

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The proliferation of in-home 3D printing has been framed as both an economically liberatory mass distribution of manufacturing power, and as a tool that affords an increase in public STEM literacies. 3D printing offers the ability for individual consumers to playfully experiment with engineering and manufacturing techniques. As such, consumer-level additive manufacturing equipment has been hailed as a key tool for the emerging “creative class” by artists, business leaders, politicians, and academics.

Historically, however, technologies that democratize previously centralized and elite means of mechanical and creative production have been met with scorn by political and intellectual elites. Photography was cast as a “mechanical cheapening” of painting and portraiture upon its mass debut in the 19th century. Contemporary “WYSIWYG” web authoring software has contributed to hand-wringing within web and graphic design shops. Famously, Walter Benjamin and John Berger each argued that the intrusion of technological apparatuses into creative practice rob art of its “aura” and inherent value.

Photosculpture, a 19th century precursor to 3D scanning and 3D printing, pioneered several fundamental characteristics of the 3D printing process, such as understanding a physical model by separating it into perspective “slices,” and the use of a mechanical roundtable to photographically capture a model’s topography. Like 3D printing, photosculpture was advertised as a method of democratizing an otherwise inaccessible practice (in this case, sculpture and bust-modeling) where a single session of information capture could be singularly or mass produced. Like the creative tools outlined above, photosculpture was also publicly characterized as de-skilling, and thereby denaturing, the creative process.

Contrary to this history, the promise of 3D printing as a “re-skilling” creative tool has been met with excitement by politicians, industry, academics, and consumers. This paper investigates the history of public understandings and cultural milieus that contextualize 3D printing as a positive contribution to individual creativity. In so doing, this paper will trace a comparative history of 3D printing and photosculpture. While this comparative history will address the technological similarities of 3D printing and photosculpture, the focus of the paper will be contextualizing the economic, social, political, and cultural systems in which these two technologies are embedded, and how those contexts shape the public’s understanding of the technological literacies each tool affords.

Malazita, J. W., & Gelfuso, D. F., & Nieusma, D. (2016, June), Contextualizing 3D Printing's and Photosculpture's Contributions to Techno-Creative Literacies Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26583

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