Dr Mulvin has published widely on the history of media, technology, and culture. His new book, Proxies: The Cultural Work of Standing In looks at the ways institutions enact and maintain their standards through human labor, embodied performance, and the materialization of abstract ideas in physical stuff. For designers of technology, some bits of the world end up standing in for other bits, standards with which they build and calibrate. These “proxies” carry specific values, even as they disappear from view. Dr Mulvin explores the ways technologies, standards, and infrastructures inescapably reflect the cultural milieus of their bureaucratic homes. Drawing on archival research, he investigates some of the basic building-blocks of our shared infrastructures. He tells the history of technology through the labor and communal practices of, among others, the people who clean kilograms to make the metric system run, the women who pose as test images, and the actors who embody disease and disability for medical students. Each case maps the ways standards and infrastructure rely on prototypical ideas of whiteness, able-bodiedness, and purity to control and contain the messiness of reality. Standards and infrastructures, Dr Mulvin argues, shape and distort the possibilities of representation, the meaning of difference, and the levers of change and social justice.
Dr Mulvin’s other recent publications include a history of “night modes” in mobile screens, a media-theoretical treatment of atomic timekeeping, and a history of American colour television standards. In his new research he has investigated the domestication of computing in the 1990s, particularly the ways computing, code, and infrastructure were explained to various publics. This includes a (recovered) history of the Y2K crisis, as well as collaborative projects on the intersection of HIV and computing (with Cait McKinney), funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He is currently at work on an investigation of media, culture, and emotion, told through the space of the “rage room.”