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June 21, 2016
We’ve now completed the first run through of our new module The Mediated Self Project. This was an IATL-funded Strategic Project to develop a module for our Master’s programmes to critically engage students with the processes and consequences of personal and professional forms of self-mediation as enabled by media and digital technologies. You can see our previous entries about this here.
In developing the module we were interested to enhance skills needed to mediate the self, to give students the space to practice and play with these skills and to reflect on why they might be necessary in contemporary life and work, how they can be resisted, played with and adapted. Having set, assessed and fed-back on our students' work, and collected their evaluations, we’re in a position to consider what we’ve learned in the process.
Lesson 1: A Different Approach to Delivery
First, this was a module that tried to take a different approach to delivery and assessment. We avoided a simple seminar-topic-reading-assessment based model and instead constructed a framework, based around ‘themes’ and ‘skills’ and mixed up teaching to include two symposia, technical sessions on video, photography and writing for the web (delivered by Rob Batterbee from the Careers and Skills Academic Technology team) a documentary film and a discussion around a novel The Circle by Dave Eggers. It may have been that some students felt there was a lack of more formal ‘lecture’ delivery styles and a clear narrative through-line for the module but generally this made for a dynamic, riskier and potentially richer teaching and learning experience. We especially felt this at the very start of the module where we’d asked students to come to the first session having made, with very little instruction, a video introducing themselves. Walking into a teaching room with not much more, in terms of material to ‘deliver’, than the hope that students will do what you’ve asked over a vacation was a bit nerve-wracking. The time, effort and skill that had gone into the student videos reassured us that students had bought into what we were trying to do – even if they didn’t wholly understand why we wanted them to do it this way! Subsequent sessions similarly rewarded this trust in students.
Lesson 2: A Different Approach to Assessment
Second, the forms of assessment that we used – an online mediated portfolio based on a curated self-media product – and a critical reflection on the process of producing it – allowed us to push the boundaries between theory and practice in a way which is well worth refining. One of the original impetus’s for the module was an identified lack in the curriculum of a means to test and develop many of the skills that students already possess and are being pushed to take up in media and creative industries (as well as other areas of work and life) – which we might crudely define as reflecting forms of digital and social media literacy – and which aren’t easily translatable into ‘conventional’ modes of assessment, such as exams or written assignments. These conventional forms still have their value but are arguably constitutive of print forms of literacy and, for some students, feel useless or even irrelevant for their future lives.
Lesson 3: Nothing more Practical than a Good Theory
This module was practical and applied in its nature but it was also critically informed practice, and we wanted to change the way students think about media, online life and the ubiquity of digital technologies. The skills that we want our students to develop - of research, critical reflection or of weighing evidence in the construction of narrative arguments – might indeed be wedded to conventional assessment strategies more for the convenience of assessors than assessed, but we also want them to use this in the workplace and in daily life. There is certainly value in exploring new ways in which they can be captured. The quality of the work produced this year – which you can see examples of here – and the experience of working with students to produce it, should enable us to provide both excellent examples and clearer guidance to future students in approaching these tasks.
Lesson 4: We're all in this together (aren't we?)
Finally it has been interesting and gratifying to see the interest that the project has generated amongst colleagues in the Centre, in the University and beyond. We feel very fortunate to have had the luxury to develop a module in this way, thanks to IATL, our original team of student stakeholders and the various kinds of expertise, within and beyond the University, on which we’ve been able to draw. You can read our interim and final project reports here and we’ll be presenting on the first year of the module at a Window on Teaching session in the Autumn Term. Thanks most of all to the students for their hard work. They really did step up to be co-researchers in the development of the curriculum for the next cohort and then delivering insightful and unique windows on their mediated lives.
April 21, 2015
Our IATL-funded work on developing the Mediated Self Project module continues. Last Thursday this took me to Manchester to attend a workshop on the theme of Selfie Citizenship sponsored by Digital Innovation at MMU and the Visual Social Media Lab at Sheffield University. The event showcased the work being produced by a network of scholars, from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and interests, on the implications of the growth of the forms of visualisation and representation associated with ‘selfie’ cultures. Readily dismissed – like so many aspects of popular creative expression – as indicative of the frivolous fluff of contemporary life, selfie-culture emerged from the presentations and discussions here as a compelling and serious object for scholarly analysis. As well as paying attention to the explicit role of the selfie in expressions of dissent and resistance, the seminar also shed light on the selfie’s place in the broader power politics of digital and technological cultures.
For me there were two recurring themes from the day which can help us in framing our module on the mediated self. The first was the significance of the notion of visibility. Selfies can be interpreted, as Adi Kuntsman implied in discussing her research into the practices of serving Israeli soldiers, as declarations of witness to events, aimed at an audience beyond immediate locales and frontiers. Following Lauren Berlant, she suggested the social media circulation of selfies from actors at the heart of globally significant events can, for better or worse, reflect an affective announcement of a kind of immediate presence on this stage. This kind of visibility was evident in other presentations too. Crystal Abidin explored the ways in which a specific Singapore MP managed his visual image through regular selfies of his life away from his public role, drawing on the visual tropes and techniques of micro-celebrity learned from young Singapore women, rather than from the serious, patrician modes of visualisation that are more common in established Singaporean media political culture. In a context in which the stakes of public political critique remain high, this was a crafting of the political self as ‘just like us’, with all the potential ambiguities of that claim. Simon Faulkner explored the relations between selfie culture and the histories of visualisation evident in photo-journalism, using the examples of the blurring of the ‘professional’ and social media practices of a photographer working in Palestine. Here the ‘traditional’ role of the photograph as part of truth-telling witness is both ‘spreadable’ in ways which make connections with political struggles in other times and places, but also personalises these struggles in interesting ways.
The second, related theme was of control, and specifically about the hidden infrastructures through which our digital lives, including selfie-cultures - are managed and circulated. Farida Vis reflected on the hidden and proprietorial role of algorithms –specifically Facebook’s EdgeRank - in determining which images and items appear on, or disappear from, user newsfeeds. As such feeds – and their equivalents in other platforms - become more taken-for-granted and relied on as sources of information the control of the means of circulation becomes crucial. This makes what seem to be arcane technical changes to platforms potentially hugely significant in shaping our knowledge of the world. Sanjay Sharma’s research on ‘Black Twitter’ and the phenomenon of users and activists deliberately ‘gaming’ the system through deliberate and repeated sharing to inflate the prominence of trending hashtags reflecting African American issues in an ‘attention economy’ perhaps exemplifies this struggle for control. I’m pleased to say that Sanjay will be joining us and our student stakeholders for further discussion at our June workshop.
Jill Walker Rettberg’s presenation brought these themes of visibility and control together in drawing on and developing the insights from her book Seeing Ourselves through Technology, which is highly likely to find its way onto our reading list. It reminded us that the drive to represent and narrate the self has a long history. The particular technological conditions we find ourselves in allow both for the ready dispersion of the means to represent the self, but also the infrastructure to make those representations visible. They are shared with other people but also, through the rise of facial recognition software and the algorithmic sorting of data, visible to machines concerned with either commercial exploitation or surveillance of these selves. There is a dystopian aspect to this kind of narrative and some of Rettberg’s examples (of the life insurance company that offered discounts to fitbit users who met their targets, or the increasingly sophisticated modes of child monitoring that might normalise wearable surveillance technologies) certainly give pause for thought. As with the development of media technologies down the ages, though, paying attention to how people actually live with, negotiate and even subvert these technologies in their daily lives might temper overly pessimistic readings. As well as keeping an analytic and critical eye on the implications of these developments it seems as important to keep asking what it is about people’s lives which makes the forms of visibility and control afforded by these technologies valuable and attractive to them.
Thanks to the organisers and presenters for such an interesting and thought-provoking day.
August 28, 2014
Very pleased this week to receive a copy of a new edited collection to which I have contributed. The Cultural Intermediaries Reader, edited by Jennifer Smith Maguire and Julian Matthews provides a comprehensive and critical overview of an influential concept in theoretical and empirical research on the creative industries. Identified by Pierre Bourdieu as strategically significant figures in in the field of culture in the France of the 1960s, ‘cultural intermediaries’ were members of those then ‘new’ occupations – advertising, marketing, public relations etc. which were concerned with the supply of ‘symbolic goods and services’ and engaged in the processes of identifying, shaping and circulating tastes for new products and lifestlyes. In the fifty years since, such industries have become even more significant, both in their relative scale and in their apparent sophistication. Workers in them have also, through such assumed characteristics as their creativity, dynamism, and their blurring of distictions between work and leisure become models for workers in other industries. An accompanying valorisation of youth subcultures, new technologies and emerging forms of urban living has appeared to place these kinds of workers in the vanguard of social and cultural life – although some well-placed satire has also helped to prick the more grandiose claims made for their significance.
The essays in this collection provide a timely critique of the original concept and also point to some developments of the theoretical language, drawing from the now far more established field of cultural economy which has complicated the distance between cultural production and consumption which the figure of an intermediary depends on. Contributions from the editors, and from influential voices in the field including Liz Mcfall, Sean Nixon and Toby Miller unpick and critique the claims made for cultural intermediaries and for labour in the ‘creative economy’ more generally. These essays are complemented by case studies of empirical work in specific fields of mediation including from Liz Moor on Branding, Victoria Durrer and Dave O'Brien on Arts Promotion and from Warwick’s own Lynne Pettinger on fashion retail.
My own contribution is also in this latter camp and provided a welcome opportunity to revisit research originally undertaken as part of my PhD into workers in the retail book industry in the early noughties in the light of the developments in this field since. Most significant here is the increasing dominance of online forms of retail and the accompanying digital means of mediation. The rise of online retailing was arguably a continuation of a story that had begun much earlier in this particular field. In the UK and US large retail chains had, since the early 90s dominated the book retail landscape, taking advantage of the rational and logistical technologies of modern retailing to reconstruct a field with a long history of shaping literary tastes. Such chains placed smaller stores who were unable to benefit from economies of scale in their negotiations with publishers under particular pressure, and shifted the power relations in the book industry away from publishers and towards powerful retailers and supermarkets able to pile ‘em high and, following the end of price maintenance policies protecting books from the market in the early 90s, sell ‘em cheap. The rise of Amazon effectively beat these firms at their own game, combining the logistical power of computing technology with a mail order - and then through Kindle and e-books, a digital- mode of delivery which physical stores can't compete with in terms of either space or price.
One consequence of this story is the change in the role of the book shop worker. Once imagined as a ‘profession’ amongst service work, and even as a means of entry into the publishing industry, the re-organisation of book retail over the last thirty years has also arguably involved processes of deskilling of its workers. The booksellers of the past might have been intermediaries in the classic sense, taste- makers whose expertise and enthusiasm enabled them to provide guidance to their customers. Processes of rationalisation have undermined the power of that expertise - for better or worse - such that the bulk of the day-to-day work becomes passing a barcoded product, linked to a electronically organised centrally managed stock-database through a till on behalf of a consumer who knows what s/he wants. Workers and firms in my study were often able to negotiate the tensions in this process. Workers were able to insulate themselves from the low pay and insecurity of service work through the pleasures of working with things they loved. Firms were able to use worker enthusiasm as a resource in shaping the semiotic meaning of the shop space – so crucial, so the story goes, to the ‘experience economy’. This accommodation is threatened by the digital context in which the apparently rational calculative consumer meets the algorithmic means of recommendation of the digital retailer, rendering any form of face-to-face mediation at best marginal and at worse an expensive indulgence.
The on-going consequences for these changes for cultural workers and for processes of cultural consumption – in this and equivalent fields - are yet to be worked out. The essays in this book should give students and researchers some useful context to understand the processes at play and provide the theoretical and methodological tools to help think them through in the future.
June 25, 2014
Researching the concept of luxury in action
Our industry tutors Sara Lattey and Sandy Bradley are currently working with MA Global Media and Communications students on a specific luxury travel-related Applied Communication Project brief this Summer Term 2014 and this has given us all a great opportunity to study the concept of luxury as background research: what it is; the people who seek luxury and aspire to embrace luxury in their lives; and those for whom luxury is the norm. Below they reflect upon what they have discovered so far and their visit with some MA Global Media and Communications students to the Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire.
The study has involved comparisons of luxury brands, immersive research into how some of those brands position themselves and how they reach out to, and cater for the people who buy into them.
One of the several definitions of luxury is ‘A pleasure obtained only rarely’, whereas others include ‘An inessential, desirable item which is expensive or difficult to obtain’ or ‘A state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense’.
For us, this raised a number a questions.
If luxury is defined as a rare treat, then how do the uber-wealthy who live their lives in a state of permanent luxury define the word? What lengths do they go to in order to create a state of ‘beyond luxury’ where it is still a ‘pleasure obtained rarely’ but still way, way beyond the reach of most of us?
And how do luxury brands go the extra mile for those who seek them out?
Luxury brands are regarded as images in the minds of consumers that comprise associations about a high level of price, quality, aesthetics, rarity, extraordinariness and a high degree of non-functional associations. (Klaus Heine 2012)
A global luxury brand that particularly interested us was the Toronto-based hotel management group Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and a field trip was arranged to conduct observational research at Four Seasons Hampshire UK.
Four Seasons’ current brand mantra is Extraordinary Experiences, a promise that they keep in all their establishments, worldwide – offering authentic, local experiences for the wealthy traveller wherever they may be…..seeing how the locals live, but with the safety net and brand reassurance of Four Seasons. The sky is the limit (literally), with their latest offering being a round-the-world tour in a private jet stopping at Four Seasons hotels wherever they land – at a cost of £75,000 pp.
Four Seasons’ Hampshire did not disappoint and provided fascinating insight into their approach and how they interpret the Extraordinary Experiences brand ethic in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. In an idyllic location surrounded by small villages and thatched cottages, they have the perfect opportunity to offer the ‘typical English country house experience’ – with as many associated bells and whistles as their guests are prepared to pay for: an impressive state-of-the-art equestrian centre, huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ within the massive estate housing the original, now-extended Georgian residence, a canal boat on their own stretch of canal, their own ducks and chickens, sheep and goats, with a finger-on-the-button concierge service that can arrange just about anything a guest requires; from men’s final Wimbledon tickets to ‘hitherto full-house’ London West End theatre tickets. An extensive spa and fitness centre offers a mouth-watering array of treatments – including facials at £500. They even have their own perfectly-trained pet Labrador called Oliver….who roams freely in designated areas of the hotel…. to the delight of guests.
With suites costing between £1,000 and £3,000 per night (not including breakfast), their guests rarely have to worry about the cost of anything they need…..this is luxury.
Members of staff are rigorously trained in absolute discretion, but interestingly – not deference. Famous names are never revealed….but everyone is treated politely and in a friendly manner but with top quality service. They have a simple philosophy for interaction with guests: 'Treating guests as peers - neither subservient nor aloof'. It seems to work. Guests come here to relax – and retreat from the stresses that come from managing their wealth. They return time and time again….trust is paramount.
For our research visit (humble students from the University of Warwick!) they went to as much trouble as if we had been royalty. A guided tour, meeting key members of staff and seeing both ‘front of house’ and ‘heart of house’ ( their wonderful name for the service areas), we were served a fabulous array of cakes and pastries with coffee with a ‘hand-crafted from icing ‘ University of Warwick logo as the centrepiece….all produced by the pastry chef. ‘It’s simply what we do’ shrugged our guide as we gasped at the work involved.
The concept of luxury is not new. It is many centuries old. Wealthy people have always craved the unique, the special, the generally unattainable….and would delight in collecting the work of popular, skilled artisans of the day as a physical expression and demonstration of their wealth and status. (Indeed, as the new world opened and global trade developed, wealthy merchants would increasingly trade objects from distant lands.) Intricate carvings, precious gems and metals and the finest fabrics were all desirable to those who could afford such luxury.
Interestingly, it was the artisans themselves who created such exquisite work who subsequently rose to become a ‘nouveau riche’ in their own right as their popularity spread. Thus began a symbiotic relationship between the creators of original work and the purchasers….each pushing the other acquire to bigger, better and more unique possessions.
Was this the beginning of the luxury brand? The principles remain the same today.
The students’ study continues and some of them attended the Leverhulme Luxury Networkas part of their research.
October 15, 2013
The GMC course welcomed visiting researcher – Dr Tony D. Sampson, Reader in Digital Culture at the University of East London, co-editor with Jussi Parikka of The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies from the Dark Side of Digital Culture (2009) and author of a new book Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (2012). Our postgraduates got to grips with some new and challenging critical thinking around neuro-culture, attentional marketing, global protest and crowds, contagion on and offline, ‘pass on power’ and the vulnerabilities built into robust networks. Sampson was adept at drawing together a wide and inter-disciplinary range of theories and methodological thinking to create a new framework for tackling the ways in which the social is made and assembled in our increasingly attention-capturing economies. From Tarde, Bergson and Baran to Deleuze, Foucault and Stiegler, Sampson took us on a journey through difficult terrain to show us how propositions such as ‘nudge’ theory, geographies of mood, meme marketing and happenstance viralities emerge and gain ground both in terms of business strategies and political discourse. Our postgraduates come from 19 different countries and bring with them a wealth of experience of working and living in communications and media landscapes, ecologies and environments that are increasingly connected to each other. Sampson was able to explore succinctly the centralised, decentralised and distributed networks of communication (Baran) that afford (or not) connectivity, allowing us to reflect upon our local experiences.
Fundamentally, Sampson asked us to understand the social as never given but always being made and this allowed us to reflect upon our roles, agency and activities in that making of the social. At the same time, Sampson highlighted the different ways in which hierarchies of networks are produced: super clusters and super nodes of attention that produce aristocratic networks that may look more like a decentralized network than the distributed vision that cyberculture theory may have promised us in the 1990s. Oprah Winfrey was a good example of a super node! The GMC postgraduates come from a variety of different experiences of communications histories and practices that do not always follow these patterns of development, so it will be interesting to see what they find applicable in their own local contexts.
Sampson’s presentation of his new thinking allowed us the time to unpack his ideas on virality and digital contagion which was useful for engaging in the areas we are studying: spreadability of media, the politics of fear and anxiety around online culture, the attention economies many of our students have been, are, or will be employed within, and our own desire to tackle inequalities through new communication paradigms. Our students were interested in Sampson’s take on web analytics, how the arts and sciences can work together on these issues, and whether we should continue to fight for a distributed network. There were lots of references to Nigel Thrift’s work in the session and the students learned a good deal about the relationship between media, emotion, affect and the biological. We all went away wondering whether we were sleep-walking our way through the spreadability of media content or whether we were awake and alert to what Sampson defined as the ‘mechanisms of capture.’ For more on Dr Tony D. Sampson’s work then visit his blog.
October 03, 2013
The new term started for students on our GMC course with a talk from a visiting researcher - Dr. William Merrin, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and Cultural Studies at the University of Swansea. William’s talk on Media Studies 2.0 threw our newly arrived students into the deep end of debates they will be wrestling with over the coming weeks and months – about the profound social, political and cultural issues underpinning the ever-changing media and technological landscape and, as interestingly, about the role of Media Studies as an academic discipline which doesn’t just reflect on these issues, but has been, throughout its history, active – and even complicit- in shaping them.
William’s whizz through the history of the development of media technologies emphasised that the contemporary mediaworld had been shaped by the coalescing of two different stories of innovation – one focussed around technologies of broadcasting and one around computing. These developments were not just a consequence of brilliant inventors providing technological solutions to practical problems – they were also bound up with cultural processes and assumptions about the best ways to communicate and the best ways to manage information in complex societies. It is the convergence of these stories in the late 20th/early 21st century which marks the distinctiveness of this period, as the computing side of the story squeezes out the broadcasting side. Whilst TV, radio, film and print– the dominant media in Media Studies 1.0 might look and sound like they did before – to audiences (or users as William suggests they might better be called) and to academics in this field - they are now, almost exclusively, produced and circulated through digital code.
This accelerated convergence has a number of paradoxes within it. On the one hand it appears to bring enormous opportunities for more access to the technologies of media production, which escape the traditional relationships between communication, order and power (William showed us a YouTube video made by his 10 year old son, explicitly against his parental wishes). These are means of mental and symbolic production not available to the audiences of recent history. On the other hand, the audience of the past could be anonymous if it wished. The users of the present, by contrast, leave their digital traces for commercial and state interests to feed on –so that even in benign liberal democracies like the UK our Facebook likes become a commercial resource over which we or indeed our elected representatives have limited control and your Twitter feed might land you in jail.
The professional expertise of scholars in Media Studies has been bound up with texts, representation and audiences. In Media Studies 2.0 these might not be where the urgency of debates are, in comparison to knowledge about regulatory frameworks or access to the means to understand and re-work code (to hack, in other words). For those in the arts and humanities more generally, interested in the consequences of the digital, these are important challenges, which raise questions about our focus and priorities and about the kinds of skills students – and indeed teachers – might need to live and work in this emerging media infrastructure in ways which might help shape it for the future.
It was a provocative presentation, and William was good enough to share chapters from his forthcoming book with us. He also shows an enviable commitment to how Media Studies 2.0 might challenge traditional models of gatekeeping and authorial academic authority by blogging them here.
For us in CCPS this year also represents Global Media and Communication 2.0. Our founding director Jonathan Vickery is concentrating on developing a new MA program on Arts, Enterprise and Development and Joanne Garde-Hansen has taken over as our Course Director this year. I’ll record my thanks to Jonathan for his work in setting up and managing the programme for the last two years and look forward to working with Jo. I hope that, on GMC this year, as teachers and students, we can try and rise to William’s challenge.
April 25, 2013
Academics from all over the world gathered to discuss ‘media and passion’ at the University of Lund, Sweden on 21st March 2013. The keynote panels of Profs Stephen Coleman and John Corner, Leeds University, UK, and Prof Joke Hermes, Inholland University, Netherlands and Dr Gavan Titley, National University of Ireland, covered topics as diverse as emotions of voters, moral sentiments and politics, discourses of art and culture reviewing, and the new kinds of people who are saying what they think and feel about culture and news. My own paper was concerned with ‘Emotion Online: Theorizing Affect in Kony 2012’ and was drawn from the forthcoming co-authored book Emotion Online: Theorizing Affect on the Internet (Palgrave, 2013), written with Dr Kristyn Gorton, Department of Television Studies, University of York. Much of the conference revolved around dualisms (which were never fully effaced or escaped from): elite versus popular passions; goodness versus evil (of media, of culture, of politics, of criticism); apathy versus compassion; affect versus rational thought; old versus new media; passivity versus participation. In panels covering communities of passion; subjectivity and audiences; political culture; press and passion; popular culture; passion and the ‘political’; music and internet; and affective media, participants encountered the multitudinous possibilities for exploring the relationship between mass media, digital media, mobile media and emotion, affect, passion, sentiment, expression, fandom, love, compassion, care, regard and feeling. That the papers covered everything from blogging, to TV, to political journalism, to viral campaigns, from gaming to opera, and music to hobby websites, shows that the field of ‘emotion studies’ (if there is such a thing) is in a nascent state.
There are key theorists of emotion and these were sometimes mentioned but not always, and again this suggests that media and passion cannot yet call upon an agreed canon of literature to review. Sara Ahmed’s Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004); Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects (2007); Laurent Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (2011) were cited. These have offered erudite if sometimes frustrating readings of the emotionality of texts. For the empiricists among the conference crowd, the Internet, with its archiving power, has perhaps offered the best opportunity for researchers to ‘capture’ the representation and construction of emotion long enough for them to qualitatively and quantitatively research it. But this comes at a price. Not everything emotive online may be worth researching. As snapshots of cultural activity, re-snap-shotted by researchers as examples of something (not always sure what), emotion, passion and affect can become reiterated as without temporality and context. We are always unsure of how to geo-locate and tie down what we see online into everyday real world experience (policy or practice). So we stay on the surface of the textual (discourse, ideology, performance).
This lack of temporal and (to some extent) spatial approaches to studying emotion and passion as they circulate in personal, local, national and global economies (or commodity chains) can lead to a kind of cultural study of feeling that is dislocated from history, historiography, memory, and place. It may mean that media studies researchers need to be even more interdisciplinary than they think they are. In societies where public space and the public sphere are becoming defined by the repression of emotion or of too much commoditized emotion, the online sphere seems to provide a space where technologies offer creative opportunities for fandom, obsession, passion, excitement, happiness, silliness and nonsense. This has attracted researchers of culture, community, society, media and politics because the increasing public facing intimacy of people’s lives appears to broaden opportunities for ethnographic and netnographic research.
Here is the rub though? How to research emotion, passion and affect? What methodologies to use? Should we be empirical and scientific? How will the duration of emotion be researched? How can we understand the expression of passion diachronically on and offline? What opportunities for critically reflecting upon their passions are the observed users, audiences, fans and participants afforded within culture and by researchers? These questions were not really asked as the field of research is still in the phase of working out what to research. While some argued that not all forms of mediatized passion were of value, others believed that, as passion is popular, all forms of passion were worthy of academic attention. The final issue that (as far as I was able to ascertain) was not dealt with was the implication of the researcher’s passion with respect to the object of study. Slavoj Zizek (2012 [online]) has argued of the Occupy Movement, that the protesters may be in danger of falling in love with themselves. Likewise, as academics now feel much freer than ever (in the light of popular culture studies, fan studies and participatory media studies) to research the things we love and are in love with. To what extent should the researcher critically reflect upon their inability to separate themselves from their projects?
Teresa Brennan in The Transmission of Affect (2004) discusses at length the impossibility of separating the self from all kinds of atmospheres, surfaces, objects, screens, non-humans and humans who transmit affect. In all the papers, including my own, academics were trying to make visible passion, emotion and affect just long enough to analyse it. Yet, the ‘the transmission of affect does not sit well with an emphasis on individualism, on sight, and cognition’, that is ‘based on the notion that the objective is in some way free from affect’ (Brennan 2004, 19). So what of the researcher’s emotional capital as they seek to construct (subjective/objective) knowledge about all sorts of passions within a knowledge economy? For example, as Prof John Corner discussed the opening out of review culture to new kinds of voices (some rude, some appreciative) critiquing TV, film and the arts, it did occur to me that academic conferences never allow a range of voices to review their merits. It would be impossible to have a ‘rate my academic conference’ tab on a website that allowed anyone to post their comments regardless of whether they had actually attended the conference or not. Researchers step into popular passion projects at their peril.
In The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004) Sara Ahmed posits ‘affective economies’ as a useful way of discussing the emotional capital that underlies how we construct our understanding of the world. She argues that ‘affect does not reside positively in the sign or commodity, but is produced as an effect of its circulation’ (Ahmed 2004, 45-46). When, where and how affect circulates has become very interesting to marketers, global companies and media businesses. Affect, is also circulating more widely and freely in the academy. Those in ‘white coats’ (to coin an emotive phrase) may be the ones to whom media, culture, heritage and leisure industries go to for insights on passion and serendipity. As with ‘memory studies’ a decade ago, ‘emotion studies’ may need to think about staking some real territory. Yet, it became clear from the conference that we did not all feel the same way about the purpose of the research we were presented with. Just as emotions circulate within media economies, so too do the theories, paradigms and methodologies to research them circulate almost too freely and resist being pinned down. They do not necessarily move from one person/researcher to another in a straightforward manner. As Sara Ahmed explains: ‘even when we feel we have the same feeling, we don’t necessarily have the same relationship to the feeling’ (2004, 10).