ICA Montreal: Quick Wrap-Up

A couple of days ago I got back from the International Communication Association conference in Montreal. I loved the city instantly, and the week I spent there was very productive — although similarly to Jon Gray’s experience, the most productive and inspiring moments occurred in between everything else — chats in the foyers in between sessions, and even more so over lunches, dinners, and drinks with colleagues. It was the first ‘mega’ conference I’d ever been to — normally I tend to go to smaller, interdisciplinary ones, rather than huge multidisciplinary ones. I think I now understand the world of academia described so cynically by David Lodge, but my experience left me far from cynical.

I was there primarily to present with Josh on our empirical YouTube research — the content survey that forms the middle chapter of our book YouTube: Online Video and the Politics of Participatory Culture, which is forthcoming from Polity later in the year (bonus moment of excitement: seeing it in the Polity 2008 catalogue!). It was the first time we had presented our findings together in a really comprehensive way, and although we had ‘seen’ each other on video chat almost daily while writing the book, it was actually the first time we had been in the same country since we started the project. We’ll be presenting on the study again at the CCI Conference at the end of June, by the way.

Our panel was called Engaging With YouTube: Methodologies, Practices, Publics, and it was designed to bring together a group of people doing empirical work that deals with the problem of how to approach YouTube as a research object (or research problem), rather than as a convenient source of examples.

Our fellow presenters included Greg Elmer, Fenwick McKelvey and Brady Curlew, the dynamic team from the Infoscape Research Lab at Ryerson University, who were discussing their work on the uses of YouTube in relation to Canadian electoral politics, making use of a range of methodological approaches and tools, including hyperlink analysis and content analysis. Also, Ashlee Humphreys demonstrated some unconventional ways of thinking through the relations between ‘consumers’ and ‘celebrities’ in the YouTube attention economy, drawing on ethnographic (‘netnographic’, actually) data, and using the innovative models that she and Rob Kozinets have developed.

Finally, we were especially privileged to be presenting alongside Patricia Lange, whose 2 year ethnography with the YouTube community has produced a number of important insights into the ways in which YouTube operates as a social networking site for certain participants; and the rich mundanity of the communicative practices that take place there. Most importantly, her work insistently reminds us of the need to fully consider the lived experience and materiality of everyday cultural practice–which is very important, because discussions of the media in everyday life still tend to the weightless. I’m really looking forward to the book that will eventually come out of this work. In the meantime, check out the AnthroVlog!

Overall, the panel turned out to be a well-balanced and highly energetic event, despite the fact that few of us knew each other beforehand. And most pleasingly, the discussion flowed on seamlessly into a number of simultaneous and highly animated conversations among the panellists as well as with fellow YouTube researchers from the audience, continuing on all the way down the street to the pub for celebratory drinks. I take that as a good sign of things to come, and I’m looking forward to continuing the conversations into some collaboration. Based on the number of projects we heard about that are underway, it’s clear that there is going to be a proliferation of research-based articles on YouTube coming out in print in the next 12 months.

My conference highlight would have to be the excellent party generously thrown by Jonathan Sterne. I have no idea how that many people fit into one apartment, but it was a fantastic night and the site of some really stimulating arguments and discussions [and Jonathan, I didn’t break anything!]. I’m looking forward to Jonathan’s visit to Australia next month, where we will attempt to return his hospitality, as well as getting down to doing some much-needed work on the importance and materiality of sound and listening practices in contemporary culture as part of the Technologies of Listening Workshop.

At Jonathan’s party, I finally managed to connect up with Will Straw, but not until after putting a number of very accommodating Canadians to work on a Straw-hunting mission. It was a very crowded party! Will was one of the external examiners for my Masters thesis, but we had never met before, so I was excited that we got to have a bit of a chat.

Oh, and there was some pretty spectacular dancing done. Not by me, obviously.