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June 21, 2016

Reflecting on The Mediated Self Project

An image by MSP student Lec Tang from his Mediated Self portfolio

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.


February 01, 2016

The Mediated Self Project Symposium

Our IATL supported Mediated Self Project module, that we’ve blogged about before here and here has begun in earnest this term, and SaturdayStudents & Speakers in our afternoon Round Table discussionsaw the first of our symposia. One rationale for the module is to provide a place to explore and reflect on the place of self-mediation in professional life, either in transforming how we work, especially in the cultural, creative and media industries, or producing new forms of work entirely. With this in mind we invited four people whose working lives we thought might exemplify these changes to reflect on their experiences with our students.

Our speakers were Callum Goodwilliam, a facilitator at Squared Onlineand Warwick graduate, Marie Haycocks of Certanovo, life-coach and image consultant, Jon Bounds a writer and Pete Ashton an artist. We asked students to prepare for the day by researching our speakers through their online presences, and asked speakers to respond to our themes in explaining their own career trajectories. We followed this with a roundtable discussion at which students were able to ask questions, both practical and general, in relation to their own work on producing a Mediated Self portfolio.

A number of interesting themes emerged from the day for me – but I thought I’d highlight three. Firstly the discussion confirmed, gladly given our premise, that working on or managing the self is an important component of contemporary working life. The very existence of a market for Marie’s services, and indeed the accompanying forms of accreditation and qualification which underpin her practice are a strong indication of this. Online and offline forms of self-management and representation, though, also reveal some interesting tensions, especially in relation to the development of the technologies of mediation. More than one of our speakers referred to their own changing perspectives on and experiences of self-mediation as their appreciation of the implications of the online context grew. Callum bravely shared early Facebook photos, and early attempts at blogging, both of which he suggested he might prefer to be no longer accessible. Jon by contrast, and in opposition to the story of an internet that never forgets, had some early published work – pioneering work in relation to the short history of blogging - that was no longer visible. Both stories were perhaps a timely reminder that these forms of self-mediation are often achieved on terms over which we have little control. It was a theme re-iterated by Pete’s rules of self-mediation, which included knowing what the platforms we use are getting from us as we use them. Awareness of this perhaps helps rebalance the power dynamics between our abilities to mediate ourselves through technology and the possibility of being mediated by that technology. We might assume that these skills are tacit, especially amongst young people, and as the infrastructure of the internet and social media become more embedded into everyday life we might think less about them, but they can and perhaps should be learned.

A second theme related to the notion of being ‘authentic’ or ‘true’ to oneself. While ‘being oneself’ is the assumed path to various forms of success in contemporary life, it seemed easier to say than do. Marie, whose progression to her current role was strongly informed by her family and personal history wrestled with having different selves in personal and professional contexts, at least inasmuch as these were represented in talking about her business. Her ‘brand values’ and her ‘personal values’ became blurred, in a context in which reflections on her own experiences fed directly into the service she provided. Jon, by contrast, described using a variety of online selves in his various professional roles –some personal, some political and some reflecting the playful subversive potentials of digital cultures. He was careful and disciplined in policing the boundaries between them, but this also led to some difficult decisions about the appropriate forum for some outputs of his creative work. The possibility of a diffuse and diverse identity emcompassing the complexity of human experience was one of the utopian ideals of the early internet cultures. The political ambiguities of the more contemporary drive towards a single, coherent self, exemplified by Mark Zuckerberg’s assertions about integrity and identity, perhaps puts even more importance on the decisions we make about how we represent ourselves online and through what platforms we choose to do that work.

Finally, Pete described the importance of being driven by our own interests and enthusiasms in making a distinctive mediated self, and also described his own trajectory towards a situation of ‘not caring’ what people thought of his work, beyond an aspiration that they thought it interesting and worthwhile in the chaotic world of the web and its reputation economy . His imperative for us to 'create our own metrics' for success, rather than be driven by ‘likes’ or ‘views’ or ‘shares’ might well become a motto for our module. All the speakers seem to espouse the need to 'be the/your message' in a way that moves us from McLuhan's the 'media is the message' to 'self mediation is the message'. We will be exploring these ideas with our students for the rest of the module and we hope to have challenged them into thinking about the mediated self as NOT simply self-branding or personal PR or self-marketing. It is far more than that and touches on a variety of value systems. Like the rest of day, it should, provide some food for thought and inspiration for our students as they explore their own forms of mediation.

Many thanks to the speakers and students for their contributions – and to the staff at the Teaching Grid for allowing us to use their space on a Saturday.


September 16, 2015

Please like this page

Today’s news that Facebook has begun the process of developing a ‘dislike’ button resonates with some of the issues I reflect on in my new book on Understanding Cultural Taste. The book is an exploration of the relations between taste and social and cultural life and it includes a chapter on Digitalizing Taste, in which I speculate on the particular significance of taste to online cultures, including those of social networks such as Facebook.Facebook

‘Liking’ and ‘disliking’ has become something of a taken-for-granted dimension of social networks, for both users and the networks themselves. They are central to the very creation of a profile – in which identifying and sharing the music, films, books or TV that we like, as much as our occupation, our education, or our relationship status, is tacitly understood as a kind of performance of the type of person we are or, perhaps, the type of person we would like to appear to be. The display of such tastes – and indeed the possibility of judgment of the tastes of others amongst our ‘friends’- becomes part of the pleasure of contemporary cultural consumption as we identify and connect with common communities of interest, or distance ourselves from others. There are also the pleasures of gaining likes for photos we’ve taken, or for links to interesting stories or videos which we’ve ‘shared’, or for more general bon mots, to get instantly reassuring and re-inforcing feedback from our networks that we are appropriately cool, witty, radical or affected by and engaged in current events. Equally there are the significant feelings of disquiet and insecurity when expected likes do not materialise. Such anxieties perhaps reflect the success of social networks in constructing themselves as microcosms of social life more generally.

What might be more uniquely contemporary is that, for the networks themselves, our ‘likes’ are not just descriptions of our characteristics and interests but are crucial to their business models. The spread of the ‘like button’ across the web (there’s one in the corner of this page. Please click it!) indicates the extent to which liking has become part of its very infrastructure. The lists of things we like and the clicks on pages and posts with which we interact through liking are not just positive feedback or commentary – they are also data which feed into the complex construction of individual and collective users as products to be sold on to advertisers. They also feed into the algorithmic construction of news feeds and searches, in which data about the kinds of things we have ‘liked’ in the past is used to probabilistically predict the kinds of things we might be interested in in the future.

It is this latter aspect – crucial to what Gerlitz and Helmond describe as ‘the like economy’ – which has been at the heart of the controversy over whether Facebook should have a dislike button at all. Facebook’s historical reluctance to include such a button, they argue, reveals the crudity of ‘liking’ as a tool to express the range of sentiments (agreement, enthusiasm, even sarcasm) which users might wish to share in social networks. It also reflects the construction of such networks as spaces where the default setting, as it were, is to ‘like, enjoy or recommend as opposed to discuss or critique’ (Gerlitz and Helmond, 2013: 1358). Dislikes are as important to the performance of taste in relation to identity, we might speculate, but harder to monetize.

It is interesting to hear the parameters which Mark Zuckerberg has placed around the proposed dislike button this morning – that the aim is to allow for the expression of empathy or solidarity even when ‘every moment isn’t good’. These seem laudable enough ambitions – but raise interesting questions about the ways in which data that will inevitably be gathered about dislikes can and should be put to use. What does Facebook get out of the effort to develop this innovation? As interesting for me is the extent to which this move fits with the ambition of organisations like Facebook to shape and alter social norms in the digital or machine age. As I suggest in my book, Facebook doesn’t really know what we like. Liking is a complex process involving, amongst other things, sensory, aesthetic and moral forms of judgment that emerge from a range of life experiences. Facebook knows what we click on. Its ambition might be to encourage or train its users such that the latter more frequently equates with the former but – thankfully in my view- it has a long way to go to achieve that.


July 10, 2015

What Has Cultural Policy Studies Got to Do with Supply Chain Strategy?

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Photography by Alex Kharlamov

In 2014 I was awarded funding by the Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning for an academic fellowship project. The Mediasmith Project was an experimental and particpatory series of workshops and events exploring transmedia and documentary making approaches to research. We borrowed from the expertise of filmmakers, producers, creative technologists and web developers to investigate how web-native and digital storytelling, digital media production, coding and other digital tools could inform the research process.

The final event, the Popathon x Mediasmith Project Storytelling Hack Jam took place in February 2015 but the learning has continued to inform new developments behind the scenes. Many of the methods we explored are about to be put to the test in a large-scale public research project about the public understanding of supply chains; MyChainReaction.

Professor Jan Godsell, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at WMG, was a keen participant in the Mediasmith Project workshops. During the first workshop one of the models of transmedia practice that I proposed was the creation and presentation of a film or digital asset as a seed or provocation for discussion and the creation of new narratives. By the time the third workshop had taken place (May 2014) Jan had already put a small production team together. They produced a short film about supply chains with the intention of provoking a wider public debate about them but why stop there?

Supply chains and public participation
Jan is intrigued that there is no shared definition of supply chains within academia, despite the fact that they are recognised as a discreet disciplinary field. She also suspects that awareness and understanding of supply chains amongst the wider public is relatively poor. "The issue of supply chains is of national importance. Supply chains are key in supporting economic growth, contributing to increasing both GDP and employment levels. Supply chains touch almost every aspect of our daily lives but many of us don’t know or realise this and we want to know why.” These considerations proved fertile ground for the development of a research impact project that could not only test these assumptions, but do so by inviting the public around the world to participate.

Interdisciplinary team
The research team consisting of Jan, Antony Karatzas, a research fellow at WMG, Rob Batterbee, IT Manager for Student Careers and Skills, and I submitted a proposal to the ESRC Impact Accelerator fund. The core of the project combines crowdsourcing, social networking and storytelling in a website designed to both generate research data and increase public engagement and understanding as more and more people take part. The site features an engaging example of a local supply chain, bringing to life the story of Stroud based ice cream maker Kate Lowe. Kate lives in a village where she is well known for producing delicious honeycomb ice cream. Her mother makes the honeycomb at home in Norfolk and posts it to Kate who then makes the ice cream in batches using other locally sourced ingredients. Kate’s ice cream is infamous at dinner parties and family gatherings but her ambitions are to develop a brand and sell her ice cream more widely. Website visitors are encouraged to reflect on their own participation in a supply chain and share their stories which are simultaneously pinned on the MyChainReaction map. In doing so they also answer a couple of simple questions about their knowledge of supply chains which will generate quantitative data for further research.

Transmedia integration
The website is, however, just one part of an integrated transmedia approach. We have also reserved funding for an artistic commission in which artists will be invited to respond to the themes of the project and the stories that emerge. Their work will be presented at the Global Supply Chain Debate, to be hosted at the International Digital Lab at the University of Warwick in November 2015.

Premature dissemination
Appealing for public participation adds a whole layer of marketing and communications activity usually reserved for the dissemination of research rather than the research process itself. We have debated the ethics of allowing research participants to see others' stories (but not responses to the research questions) at length, initially worrying that this may bias their participation. However, audience participation is an inherently social activity - participation depends on the motivation that stems from seeing what others have posted and the willingness to share. This decision making process impacted on the intrinsic design of the website. Should we prime the audience with a working example whilst restricting access to the crowd sourced stories to those who had registered and completed the research questions first? Or, should we make this content accessible to everyone in the hope that this will motivate others to take part? Creating such a ‘walled garden’ felt counter-intuitive and, given that the only criteria our research respondents need to satisfy are a) the possession of a valid email address and b) a story to tell, the risk of skewing the user generated content seemed to be outweighed by the social imperative to join others and take part.

'Infectious' research?
Supply chains are perhaps not the most accessible and people friendly subject so another challenge has been to find the right language by which to describe and pitch the project. Discussions of food security, provenance and sustainability have done much to highlight the importance of supply chains in relation to food and agriculture, hence our working example, but they remain less visible in other areas of public life. It’s also a question of semantics as we may well be referring to supply chains but in different terms or contexts which, we believe, have nothing to do with them e.g. the arts, education, medicine, etc. We also wanted to promote the cause and effect relationships that our interactions with supply chains produce so, after much head scratching, we arrived at the concept of a chain reaction. This gave us a unique hashtag and a call to action (with a little help from Diana Ross and RCA Records); ‘Get in the middle of a chain reaction.’ It has even inspired a spoof sing-a-along video, produced by students on the MA in Creative and Media Enterprises, designed to raise a smile and promote the project.

Ninety-five Not Out
We are acutely aware of the ambition and novelty of our approach. So far we have ninety-five stories and counting. If you are reading this why not add one more to the #MyChainReaction map?



April 21, 2015

Selfie Citizenship: Visibility, control and the mediated self

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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.


 


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.


September 11, 2012

This is my 4th favourite blog post

I’ve recently had a new book chapter published –‘ List-culture and literary taste in a time of endless choice’ in From Codex to Hypertext: Reading at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, edited by Anouk Lang of Strathclyde University. The book gathers contributions to a conference in 2008 – Beyond the Book – at which scholars from a range of disciplines, together with librarians and policy makers discussed the new reading practices that are emerging in the light of new technologies and changes to the broader literary landscape.

My chapter reflects on the ‘list’ – a perennial staple of cultural journalism as a mediating ‘technology’ in the judgment of authority and value – and not one that is just confined to the field of reading. A recent example of the kind of phenomenon I was considering is provided by the relegation of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane from its position as ‘the greatest film ever made’, according to the BFI’s decennial surveyof critics and its replacement with Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Vertigo was second in the list in 2002 but not even in the top 10 in the 1972 poll; Citizen Kane has been top since 1962 - but wasn’t even in the top 10 in 1952. Given that neither of these films have changed since their releases - 1941 for Kane and 1958 for Vertigo – how can one now be ‘better’ than the other, after being ‘worse’, sometimes significantly so, for so many years? The answer is of course that the films don’t change, but that cultural value is a dynamic thing. The criteria of judgment of, in this case, serious film critics aren't fixed. Lists of this kind act can, then, act as intriguing indicators of the shifting sands of cultural authority.

In the chapter I explore the relationships between different kinds of authority evident in the ‘great books’ lists of the turn of the twentieth century (produced by writers such as Arnold Bennett in 1909 and John Cowper Powys in 1916), the bestseller chart which rose to prominence with the consolidation of the cultural industries in the mid-twentieth century, the list as popular poll – exemplified by the BBC’s The Big Read initiative - and the most recent iteration of list-culture – the listmania feature of Amazon, through which readers post lists of their favourite books for the benefit of other browsers. These different types of lists share an overriding aim to navigate readers through the abundant choices that the ‘industrial’ production of literature provides them with. The early twentieth century lists were proposed as a kind of practical ‘canon’, guiding readers towards the kinds of books they ought to read and away from those which might be salacious or radical. By the late twentieth century this patrician element of list-culture was less evident, replaced with a more apparently democratic republic of taste in which the authority of ‘serious’ critics competed with the often subtle promotional tools of publishing industry (literary prizes, TV book clubs) in managing readers’ choices. And in the early twenty-first century, on-line lists, complemented by the algorithms of retailers like Amazon, mean that readers can find what they want through like-minded readers (‘customers who bought this also bought…’) without recourse to any obvious ‘authority’ at all.

There are some revealing tensions in this story. Critics of various kinds dismiss popular lists in particular as trivializing or commercializing culture – and there are elements of the list which can re-cast cultural judgment as a crude form of competition. What they also do, though, is open up the kinds of dialogue and debate which John Frow refers to as the ‘circulating energies of culture’ – the seemingly irrational pleasures of liking and disliking, and sharing your likes and dislikes with others, which are a fundamental part of the fun of cultural consumption. This is clearly a challenge to established forms of cultural authority – though one that is, in my view, broadly to be welcomed.

You can read a review of the book in the Columbia Journalism Review here, and follow my research on academia.edu.


May 16, 2012

Happenstance

We're currently working on Happenstance, a NESTA-funded experiment to find out what happens when creative technologists are 'embedded' in arts organisations. We're now half way through the project and starting to make some initial observations about some of the differences between arts organisations and technologists - differences in process (technologists being more process-oriented, arts organisations being more output driven), different attitudes to risk (arts organisations being more accountable than the freelance resident technologists). You can view a short video of Chris Bilton talking about the project, and find out more about the latest developments on the Happenstance blog.


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