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February 04, 2015

Beginning 'The Mediated Self Project'

Balloons and stones in The Mediated Self Project

Yesterday Jo Garde-Hansen and I made the first steps on our IATL funded development of a new MA option module, The Mediated Self Project. The module – initially to be piloted to CCPS students in 2015-16 with the option of a wider audience in subsequent years – aims to combine critical and theoretical perspectives on the forms of knowledge produced and required by the digital economy with some practical reflection on the skills needed to manage the various selves which can inhabit that economy successfully. The module also aims to develop ways of teaching and assessment which take better account of these digital forms of literacy.

We began this process by taking over a session of The Global Audience module. In a sense it was a perfect place to start. That module had contained a session on the ‘creative audience’ which focussed on the narratives emerging from what used to be called Web 2.0 – about the interactive audience, participatory culture and the pro-sumer - and the relations between these stories and older stories about the apparently mass and inert media audience of the past. Both these sets of stories have taken on legendary, mythical aspects but there are some interesting affinities between them and emerging stories about the ways in which we are assumed to live in the digital age. One of the things we talk a lot about in the Centre is the relationship between theory and practice. This module is going to push the boundaries of this distinction, recognising that there is a level at which the theoretical and the practical question is the same. It is ‘how do we live’? What kinds of skills do we need to make sense of the symbolic and technological world around us? And what does it mean to be able to navigate its complexities successfully? The Mediated Self Project aims to provide some space to answer these questions.

The centre piece of our discussion was a presentation from Amber Thomas from the Academic Technology team in ITS. Amber sketched out a frame through which we might situate ourselves in the digital world, drawing on the distinction identified by David White between digital visitors and digital residents. Understanding what is at stake in moving between these states in our personal and professional lives seems likely to be important in shaping the module’s content and mode of delivery. We’re hoping to call more on the expertise of colleagues like Amber, from Warwick and beyond, within the field of academic technology, where these debates are well established and on-going.

After outlining our plans relating to the module content (including issues relating to The Quantified Self, the Reputational Economy, the Campaigning Self and the distinctions between Print and Digital forms of Literacy) we asked students to reflect on what they might want to learn from such a module in this area and indeed what they consider to be the pitfalls of teaching and learning in this field. Amongst the topics that emerged as of interest included privacy (relating to a general anxiety about managing past versions of the self online as students move into professional life.) and, happily for me, taste and how it is produced and performed algorithmically. Pitfalls included concerns about the balance between theoretical abstraction and practical instruction and one – admittedly from me – about how new forms of literacy can be assessed. So many of the established forms of assessment (the exam and certainly the written assignment) are based on a vision of print literacy based around a single authorial voice in a formal static text. Digital literacy involves multiple voices, sharing and collaboration and even the creative manipulation of images and sound. How can these forms be assessed in ways which preserve the standards of critique, rigour, evidence and argument required for serious academic study?

Our next step is to recruit student participants to help us think all these things through, and to invite experts from within and beyond the University to get together in the Spring and Summer to contribute to our discussions. We’ll keep the blog updated with our progress.


October 03, 2013

Global Media and Communication 2.0

William Merrin

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.


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