Category: cultural studies

Out now: The Video Vortex Reader

The Video Vortex Reader is a new collection of critical essays on online video, edited by Geert Lovink and Sabine Niederer published by the Institute of Network Cultures. It has just been launched, and it’s available for free download as a pdf!

The Video Vortex Reader is the first collection of critical texts to deal with the rapidly emerging world of online video – from its explosive rise in 2005 with YouTube, to its future as a significant form of personal media.

After years of talk about digital convergence and crossmedia platforms we now witness the merger of the Internet and television at a pace no-one predicted. These contributions from scholars, artists and curators evolved from the first two Video Vortex conferences in Brussels and Amsterdam in 2007 which focused on responses to YouTube, and address key issues around independent production and distribution of online video content. What does this new distribution platform mean for artists and activists? What are the alternatives?

Contributors: Tilman Baumgärtel, Jean Burgess, Dominick Chen, Sarah Cook, Sean Cubitt, Stefaan Decostere, Thomas Elsaesser, David Garcia, Alexandra Juhasz, Nelli Kambouri and Pavlos Hatzopoulos, Minke Kampman, Seth Keen, Sarah Késenne, Marsha Kinder, Patricia Lange, Elizabeth Losh, Geert Lovink, Andrew Lowenthal, Lev Manovich, Adrian Miles, Matthew Mitchem, Sabine Niederer, Ana Peraica, Birgit Richard, Keith Sanborn, Florian Schneider, Tom Sherman, Jan Simons, Thomas Thiel, Vera Tollmann, Andreas Treske, Peter Westenberg.

That’s a very good line-up of scholars and practitioners coming from a range of disciplinary perspectives, so check it out.

I have a chapter in it called ‘All Your Chocolate Rain Are Belong to Us? Viral Video, YouTube and the Dynamics of Participatory Culture.’ I used the creative activity that occurred around two of the most popular videos of 2007 – Chocolate Rain and Guitar – to reconsider the dynamics of popular culture in YouTube, according to a distributed and participatory framework rather than a ‘producerly’ one.

Sorry

Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will say sorry to Indigenous Australians, and especially to the members of the Stolen Generations, on behalf of the Parliament and successive Governments.

Shamefully, it comes more than a decade after the Bringing Them Home report.

It’s very significant, it’s about time, and it’s (only) a start.

The sense of occasion around it has produced spaces in the cultural public sphere for the thousands of stories that have been told and retold, but not necessarily heard; in a way the speech itself is an act of listening.

A couple of personal remarks:

Earlier I was curious about how much anticipation of the event was building on YouTube; and of what kind.

Can you guess what the top result for a search based on the keywords ‘sorry Australia’ is?

This is.

I couldn’t bear to actually embed the image, let alone the video. I will have to think long and hard about the implications for my stubborn optimism about participatory culture.

A couple of videos that date from around the time I (probably, far too complacently) assumed a government apology would happen any day.

This is Keating at Redfern in 1992, a moment which feels slightly bizarre and tuneless to me now, not least because it is so very long ago; and politically, so very distant from where we are now. Notice the one and only audible burst of applause, at about 01:42 – you can probably skip to there:

And Archie Roach – another remembered moment from the early 1990s, which probably did more to sear the need for an apology into the hearts and minds of non-Indigenous Australians than anything else at that time:

It all seemed so much closer way back then than it did just a few short months ago. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.

Mediating Cultural Politics: A Dialogue with Georgina Born

It feels as though my first blog entry after a long and mysterious absence should be witty, engaging, or revelatory in some way, making my rudely unexplained absence all worthwhile, and giving the impression that my author function is emerging butterfly-like from a cocoon of silence. Sadly, this is not that blog entry, but who knows what future insomniac moments might hold.

In the meantime, I’d like to draw your attention to an interview I did with Georgina Born way back last year, which has now been published as part of M/C’s new initiative M/C Dialogue.

The following dialogue is based on an interview conducted as part of Professor Born’s visit to Brisbane in 2006. In the first of three public seminars she gave at the University of Queensland (UQ) and Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Born argued that post-Habermasian theories of the public sphere and communicative action provide a means to rethink public service communications in conditions of pluralism and inequality, and discussed a range of current BBC initiatives in light of this normative model. In the second lecture, Born outlined the history of the BBC and discussed how the BBC will fare in the future, given the challenges thrown up by its commercial competitors and political antagonists, and the rising stakes for Britain’s pluralist democracy in an era of continuing media expansion. In her third lecture, ‘Musical mediation: ontology, technology and creativity’, Professor Born developed a theoretical analysis of music and mediation, comparing the concept of ‘the work’ across eras and genres – especially jazz and improvised electronic musics—and developing the three concepts of social, distributed and relayed creativity. While in Australia, Professor Born also taught a travelling masterclass on the uses of ethnography in cultural research for postgraduate and early career researchers, sponsored by the ARC Cultural Research Network.

The following dialogue provides a counterpoint to these events and to Born’s work as a whole, drawing together and extending key themes in the cultural politics of both public service broadcasting and new media technologies. It begins by discussing the possibilities of public sphere theory to provide useful models of institutional design. The discussion moves from there to SBS Television – an example of Public Service Broadcasting that provides an interesting contrast to the BBC, especially by virtue of SBS’s relationship with the politics of multiculturalism in Australia. The second half of the interview draws out the issues around cultural value, cultural power and the politics of technology in relation to new media, and concludes by focussing especially on the problems and potentialities of ‘user-generated content’.

I’m quite pleased with how it came out in the end, and I realised last week while writing something on Public Service Broadcasting how much I got out of Georgina’s visit here – I’m sure everyone who attended her masterclass on cultural research remembers it as a really productive experience, as I do.

off to london

I’m off to London tonight to attend Cultural Studies Now, where I’ll be giving this paper on a panel with Mel Gregg, Kiley Gaffney and Nadia Mizner:

Terms of Engagement: Doing Cultural Studies in the Enterprise University

Simon During recently argued that the structure of research funding in Australia and the rise of the ‘enterprise university’ have deprived ‘more abstract and theorised cultural studies’ of their ‘critical force’; conversely, Ien Ang has argued for the transition from ‘cultural studies’ to ‘cultural work’, carried out through strategic and pragmatic industry alliances. This paper contributes to these debates by reflecting on a recently completed doctoral study entitled Vernacular Creativity and New Media. The project was grounded in the history and politics of cultural studies’ engagement with ‘ordinary’ culture and ‘everyday’ creativity, and in addition to theory-building and historical work included participation as a facilitator in community-based creative practice, as part of other university research projects funded by government and industry sources. The paper examines the multiple opportunities for and constraints on ‘critical engagement’ that emerged throughout the course of this research.

I suggest that a critically engaged cultural studies that is practically articulated with ‘real world’ contexts affords productive alternatives to the extreme positions – both of them positions of ‘critique’ – that Jim McGuigan calls ‘uncritical populism’ and ‘radical subversion’ respectively. Instead, an engagement grounded in critical pragmatism actually works to reveal and open up, rather than close down or disavow complexity.

That’s the background and the set of issues I want to intervene in, and I’ll mainly be concentrating on the work I did as hybrid ethnographer-participant-trainer in various digital storytelling workshops. More importantly, I will be chasing down photo ops with Stuart Hall, Dick Hebdige and Judith Halberstam! I’m also really looking forward to this seminar on feminism and cultural theory at Goldsmiths.

Meanwhile, John Hartley has a new post over at Propagating Media (my ‘other’ blog) in response to an open letter we received the other day about the launch of the National Indigenous Television Network. John says:

It is a pity that no-one in government seems to be ‘joining the dots’ in relation to Aboriginal creativity. NITV, ICTV, NIRS – and other initiatives – need investment and strategic direction if they are to become what they claim to be – a ‘national’ resource with both economic and representational clout for an emergent Indigenous polity.

The full post is here.

to get better art we just need more love songs

I’ve been thinking again about relational aesthetics thanks to Kris Cohen who has been shooting me some of the discussions occurring around it and related matters in art theory, and generally hurting my brain, in a really good way. Being the intellectual dilettante I am, I’m just genuinely interested, but as before, I’m also trying to think through whether there’s any mileage in reworking art or literary theory concepts for popular culture and/or “vernacular creativity”. Not just whether I could do it, but whether I should bother.

Because maybe I’ve just got it back to front. Not for the first time, it’s crossed my mind that maybe cultural studies approaches to the active audience in relation to both television and music already has me where I need to go. I’m really just talking about identifying media that constitutes the relationship between the ‘producer’, the ‘text’, and the ‘audience’ in a particular way – a way that respects the audiences’ intelligence, demonstrates an understanding of the dynamics of engagement as social practice, and constitutes textuality as a vehicle for that engagement, and not the other way round. That is the juice that participatory popular culture runs on, and this beautiful video does just that, with grace, warmth and a sense of humility. It represents audienceing quite literally as the practice of folding music into individual but shared social experience.

And hey, it helps that it’s one of my favourite love songs.

Direct link for RSS readers.

Plus, it’s the best acting performance I’ve ever seen from Daniela Sea.

Meanwhile, I will persist with my book larnin’ about relational aesthetics and art theory.

complexity, pragmatism, cultural studies

The title of this post is a bit too ponderous for its content, which is going to be nothing more than some quick-and-dirty thinking out loud. It was prompted by a few things: Anne’s brief post mentioning mess and method, my participation next month in a CRN Masterclass with John Urry on ‘complexities and mobilities, and the YouTube project I’m designing for my postdoc that tries to link complex systems theory up with the history of ‘literacy’ (as a complex system itself). Most of all, I’ve been trying to work through the idea of a critical pragmatism as ‘engaged’ cultural studies practice, in thinking about my paper for Cultural Studies Now in July (part of a panel called ‘Labours of love: The work of creative intellectual practice’, with Mel Gregg, Kiley Gaffney and Nadia Mizner). And also reading Richard E. Lee’s The Life and Times of Cultural Studies with great interest.

I think part of what I want to argue is that pragmatic engagement actually opens up complexity, both because of the researcher-as-change-agent dynamic and because of getting a view from inside the machine. The way I’m thinking about it is kind of an inversion of the way cultural studies traditionally thinks about the role of critical theory (enlightening/transformative) as opposed to dirty ‘instrumentalist’ engagement with social or commercial enterprises (which must necessarily involve simplification or disavowal of the issues a critical researcher is supposed to be dealing with). I just don’t reckon that’s actually true, especially when I add another layer by thinking about the institutional formations (i.e. the different kinds of universities) which support each of those dominant modes of research practice. Don’t ask me too many questions just yet about what I mean by any of that – as I said, I’m thinking out loud.

So anyway, this is my abstract for Cultural Studies Now. It was written before I’d finished my PhD thesis so it uses that project as the departure point if not the destination:

Terms of Engagement: Doing Cultural Studies in the Enterprise University
Simon During (2005) recently argued that the structure of research funding in Australia and the rise of the ‘enterprise university’ have deprived ‘more abstract and theorised cultural studies’ of their ‘critical force’; conversely, Ien Ang has argued for the transition from ‘cultural studies’ to ‘cultural work’, carried out through strategic and pragmatic industry alliances (in Gibson & Rodan, 2005). This paper contributes to these debates by reflecting on a recently completed doctoral study entitled Vernacular Creativity and New Media. The project was grounded in the history and politics of cultural studies’ engagement with ‘ordinary’ culture and ‘everyday’ creativity, and in addition to theory-building and historical work included participation as a facilitator in community-based creative practice, as part of other university research projects funded by government and industry sources. The paper examines the multiple opportunities for and constraints on ‘critical engagement’ that emerged throughout the course of this research.

I suggest that a critically engaged cultural studies that is practically articulated with ‘real world’ contexts affords productive alternatives to the extreme positions – both of them positions of ‘critique’ – that Jim McGuigan (2005) calls ‘uncritical populism’ and ‘radical subversion’ respectively. Instead, an engagement grounded in critical pragmatism actually works to reveal and open up, rather than close down or disavow complexity.

Anyway, I’ll keep thinking. In the meantime I’m off to MIT on Thursday for a bunch of presentations and stuff, which I’ll blog about as I go.

Jürgen on YouTube

An interview with Jürgen Habermas on YouTube:

So, Habermas comes to the interweb. Or does he? There are those who say he still doesn’t quite get it, but I think there is much in his more recent work that–perhaps against his will–allows for a non-broadcast, networked model of the public sphere and a re-evaluation of the importance of ephemeral communication within it, if not the decentring of Reason as its connective tissue.

Case in point: I found this video via David Berry, via Twitter.

Cultural Studies: PhD Fellowship in India

via the email:

The Centre for the Study of Culture and Society (CSCS) offers a fellowship awarded by SEPHIS to a student from any country in the South to spend one academic year in Bangalore, India, beginning July 2007.

The main purpose of the fellowship programme is to help develop alternative frameworks for research and teaching as well as new theoretical paradigms that take into account the specific experiences of non-Western societies.

The student can either register with CSCS for the Ph.D. in Cultural Studies (validated by the Manipal University, Kuvempu University and Bangalore University) or register in his/her own country and do the CSCS coursework for two semesters.

Details and application instructions at the website.

more on the ‘get a mac’ ads and stereotypes

In response to a bit of discussion going on about the ads reinforcing stereotypes, mainly started by Jill, who kindly linked to my last post on the topic:

The Mac is one sort of instantly recognisable, vaguely urban, effortlessly cool white American guy, the PC is another, deeply unattractive, old economy nerd sort of (much whiter) American guy. Yes, because they’re stock characters, they’re ‘stereotypes’, and so is the supermodel in the ‘better’ results’ ad.

My issue was more basic than that, but also more problematic, if that makes sense. It’s simply that at this level of communication, when a human body is made to represent a global brand community via the process of standing in for the whole computer system associated with that brand (including its design and its ‘thingness’, its GUI, its applications, its users and its cultural meanings), that body has to be white and male.

Jill says:

If you were in any doubt that men are the default and women the aberration (or, on occasion, the creation or possession of men as in this ad), you might want to note how men’s naked bodies are “human anatomy” while women’s naked bodies are “female anatomy”

But in the specific context of the ‘get a mac ads’ it’s not just ‘by default’, it’s not really possible any other way, except in first year communication studies ‘commutation test‘ posters. That’s the first thing. The second thing is what kind of female and ‘non-white’ bodies can appear at all, and what kinds of technologies they get to be* when they do appear.

It’s all so obvious and completely expected and even making comments about it makes me feel like I’m writing a first-year communication studies essay, but that’s why I wondered if, instead of being just crap, it’s ‘really’ super-clever and an invitation to parody? Otherwise I’m just depressed.

*In fact the supermodel only gets to be ‘content‘ anyway, whereas at least the cute young Japanese woman got to be a fun little digital camera. We could say the counselor (sic) is a particular construction of ‘mediation’ where communication is disarticulated from ‘technology’ altogether, but that’s going way too far, even for an eager undergraduate essay.

See also how to dress like a mac.