I haven’t been blogging regularly, so this is a news dump. I’ll preface it with a bit of commentary, though…

As a research fellow in an ARC-funded research centre I have had certain things drummed into me–not least by virtue of hanging out with actual ARC heavyweights from time to time. Especially in the lead-up to the now defunct Research Quality Framework, one of the things I had drummed into me was the difference between research outputs and research outcomes. Outputs, I have learned, are (merely) the things you make out of your research–products, publications, patents and processes. We all scramble to produce enough ‘outputs’, to the point that I am often at a loss to figure out where the time to process ‘inputs’ (like, reading books) is meant to come from.

But the productivity agenda is only half the story. Outcomes, apparently, only occur when the outputs get taken up and used for something in the ‘real world’–this is what the RQF framed as research ‘impact’. Despite the limits of ‘impact’ as a metaphor, which doesn’t really capture very well the slow and difficult to trace dynamics of diffusion that actually characterise the influence of humanities-based research, the pragmatist in me likes the idea that I might have some kind of direct usefulness, one day. Clearly, I have travelled a long way from the Oxbridge-esque imagined future in which I would be musing over great books by a cosy fire in Hobbiton, absorbing and transmitting knowledge via osmosis.

Anyway, in the last 6 months I’ve produced some ‘outputs’ that have now seen the light of day. Most exciting: some digital stories about biodiversity in Queensland backyards, and some more about the experiences of refugees who have settled in Queensland, both projects undertaken with the Queensland Museum, produced with a team run by my long-term collaborator Helen Klaebe, from QUT. I’m not sure if they’re outputs or outcomes, since they are clearly evidence that the digital storytelling idea is being taken up with a fair bit of enthusiasm around the place. There’s also some more digital stories about the history of the gold coast (during the course of which project i discovered the wonder of margarine sculptures, among other things), and some about the gay history of Brisbane, both of which I think will be launched in a few weeks.

Last: Joshua Green and I have sent the manuscript of our YouTube book off to the publisher, where it has now gone to readers. I hope to make a more celebratory announcement in the very near future. And we’ll be presenting on the major content survey that underpinned parts of the book at the ICA conference in Montreal next month–hope to catch up with some of you there!

Job vacancy in Digital Storytelling at QUT

There’s a job going in the Creative Industries Faculty for someone to help with the co-ordination and further development of our applied research strengths in the area of digital storytelling and other co-creative media.

If you know of anyone who might be good for this position, please forward this on to them, and please note it’s closing on the 25th Jan, which is very soon!

Brief info pasted below, for full details of the position, how to apply and how to make any further enquiries (not to me!), go to the QUT website.

A Project Officer is required by the Research Office of the Creative Industries Faculty to assist a Steering Committee in the coordination, development and maintenance of Digital Storytelling and co-creative initiatives at the nexus of research, teaching and engagement.

Closes: 25 January 2008

Salary: $45 907 to $51 777 pa (AUD)

Benefits available at QUT include 17% employer superannuation contributions, a generous study assistance scheme, salary packaging, extensive development and training programs and access to a range of state-of-the-art facilities.


Whilst the University welcomes applications from candidates outside the greater Brisbane area, candidates will be responsible for any travel and relocation expenses involved in interview/commencing appointment.


Purpose of Position

A newly formed Steering and Advisory group of senior and active researchers has been established to steer and manage the coordination, development and maintenance of Digital Storytelling and co-creative initiatives at the nexus of research, teaching and engagement. The Project Officer will assist the Creative Industries Faculty Research Office, under close supervision and direction from the Steering/Advisory Group, to develop applied commercial research opportunities by assisting in the building, coordination and facilitation of the Faculty’s capacity to lead innovation in Digital Storytelling and co-creative media. The Project Officer will assist in the development and maintenance of collaborative relationships within the Faculty, across the University, and with external clients such as the State Library Queensland; maintain and organise recordkeeping; arrange meetings; ensure communications are maintained amongst all parties; and assist in the organisation and delivery of training.

Two New Projects in Civic Media and Citizen Journalism

I’ve been meaning for a while to blog something about the YouDecide project and website, which is part of a major ARC Linkage project based here in the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT, in partnership with SBS, On Line Opinion, and the Brisbane Institute. In short, YouDecide2007 is a citizen journalism initiative, providing a forum for seat-by-seat coverage of the 2007 Australian federal election. From the website:

as much as this is an experiment with a new kind of political coverage, its also a chance for you to hold local representatives accountable and renew parliamentary democracy. Its also a chance for you to be creative, and provide us with the kind of news coverage you’d like to see. We’re accepting multimedia content, including text, video, audio and photos, so featured content could include:

– short, print-style reports
– longer opinion pieces.
– video or audio vox-pops in your local area.
– personal opinion pieces to webcam
– recorded interviews with candidates and opinion leaders
– slideshows combining photographs and audio
– photographic essays
– comment on other people’s articles

Already, the project has had an impact in the wider public sphere, partly because of an interview conducted by Jason Wilson with Peter Lindsay, in which he said that mortgage stress was partly caused by consumers’ ‘financial illiteracy’ and that in his day he had ‘sat on milk crates’ until he could afford furniture. This fantastic sound bite apparently prompted a question from Kevin 07 in parliament, sparking a debate on housing affordability and delivering YouDecide’s first ‘gate’: you guessed, they’re gleefully calling it ‘crate gate’. Fantastic stuff.

I gather there is still plenty of room for citizen journalists to sign up to cover the campaign and related issues in their local seat, so if you’re anywhere in Australia, do check it out.

Here’s Jason introducing the project:

In the citizen journalism session at the Australian Blogging Conference last week, we had some very interesting and robust discussion – focused around the YouDecide project – about citizen journalism, what counts as citizenship, and – my own particular interest – strategies for engaging citizens who are not ‘political junkies’ but who may be very actively engaged in local or interest-based issues.


The team over at MIT have launched a blog for their new Center for Future Civic Media:

Bridging two established programs at MIT—one known for inventing alternate technical futures, the other for identifying the cultural and social potential of media change—the Center for Future Civic Media is a joint effort between the MIT Media Lab and the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program. It has been made possible by a four-year grant from the Knight Foundation. The Center for Future Civic Media will work to create technical and social systems for sharing, prioritizing, organizing, and acting on information. These include developing new technologies that support and foster civic media and political action; serving as an international resource for the study and analysis of civic media; and coordinating community-based test beds both in the United States and internationally.


Henry Jenkins discusses what ‘civic media’ might mean as read through the priorities and activities of the Center, why it isn’t synonymous with citizen journalism, and the ways in which we might re-imagine everyday uses of social media as civic media in this entry. He also very kindly refers to some of my work on Flickr and cultural citizenship as part of that discussion. Looking forward to seeing what develops out of the Center as the work there goes forward.

Update: See also Chuck Tyron’s thoughtful article on YouTube and (US Federal) politics in the new issue of Flow.

Australian Blogging Conference this Friday

On Friday I’m going to be at the Australian Blogging Conference, which is being held here at the Creative Industries Precinct, QUT Kelvin Grove. A bit of the blurb:

BlogOzThe growth of the Australian blogging community has mirrored the expansion of the blogosphere elsewhere in the developed world. However, there have been only a few opportunities afforded to Australian bloggers to get together and discuss their common interest. This unconference, modelled on the successful BloggerCons in the United States, aims to redress this by providing a forum that will allow Australian bloggers to gather together and talk about blogging and the Australian blogosphere. It aims to be a user-focused conference for the Australian blogging community.

This will not be a conference in the traditional sense. It will be relatively informal. Instead of lengthy presentations, people will be invited lead discussions on various topics throughout the day – some practical, such as how to build a better blog, and some theoretical on the role, influence and future of blogs.

Melissa Gregg, Axel Bruns and I are leading the 10.30 am session ‘Researching Blogging and Blogging Research’. These are some of the questions we hope will provoke some really interesting and dynamic discussion:

* What’s there to research about blogging?
* What research methodologies can be used to research blogging?
* How do blogs support the research process?
* How do blogs contribute to disseminating research?

Looking forward to seeing some of you there, and for those who can’t attend I’m sure there will be video and/or blog entries galore on most of the sessions.

And the day before that, I’m graduating. Looking forward to finally wearing that floppy hat.

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.

‘an enhanced seriousness of mind’

The day after arriving back in Brisbane from MIT5 I hopped a plane to Adelaide for the CRN masterclass with John Urry on complexity theory and mobilities. As an ‘event’ it wasn’t exactly buzzing with dynamic engagement, but of course it improved once we got to dinner, and it was great to meet John in persona and discuss some of my ideas about complexity and cultural studies. If nothing else it forced me to dive into some of the theory I’m trying to get across for my postdoctoral research on YouTube and media change. Anyway, there was a significant pile of Urry readings we had to do in preparation – Glen has already blogged notes on them here and here while he was preparing for the Sydney masterclass, if anyone’s interested. I just wanted to share a little moment I had while doing these readings on the plane to Adelaide, feeling very much in between places and states of mind.

In Social Networks, Travel and Talk, Urry discusses the way that David Lodge’s novel Small World ‘reveals the complex, multi-layered and richly gossipy nature of conferences’ and especially the special qualities of what Urry calls ‘meetingness’ – where ‘meetingness’ is constituted by virtue of the need to travel to the conference, making it a somewhat extraordinary ‘occasion’.

Lodge describes the conference experience like this:

You journey to new and interesting places, meet new and interesting people, and form new and interesting relationships with them; exchange gossip and confidences…, eat, drink and make merry in their company every evening; and yet…return home with an enhanced seriousness of mind.

That’s always exactly how I feel, unless the conference was crap, but I’d never heard it put quite that well before. Of course, the irony of having this epiphany while being stuck in my seat on the plane with a sore back and a developing cold, burning human and mineral energy (not to mention cash) to engage in co-present talk on the topic of mobilities, co-presence, travel and talk didn’t escape me.

more on conferencing twittering

In the ‘questions and comments’ section of the final plenary at MIT5, David Silver made two comments about how the conference might be improved next time. He presented us with two problems:

1. The incongruity of the conference theme and the conference format. That is, should a conference that was investigating collaborative forms of cultural production and questioning the figures of the cultural ‘expert’ and the author be organised around the traditional ‘sage on the stage’ model of discourse, or should it become more like the thing it studies?

2. Taking advantage of the free wireless, the ‘audience’ was twittering, blogging and surfing too much during sessions and suffering from continuous partial attention, and maybe we needed to learn how to unplug.

Leaving aside the fact that being ‘plugged in’ and in a state of ‘continuous partial attention’ seems an entirely apt description of any good conference I’ve ever been to…

It seemed quite clear to me that the second ‘problem’ is an emergent and entirely rational response to the first one as well as an instantiation of precisely the kinds of ‘media transformation’ we were all busy discussing, describing and questioning. As far as I could see over people’s shoulders, and certainly in my own case, most of the time the twitterers were using their laptops and the internet to annotate, share, get background on, critique, and fact-check the papers they were listening to – and yes, they were also sometimes ‘playing around’ and socialising.

So as far as I’m concerned, on the one hand conferencing twittering, IM-ing, surfing and blogging is a user-led innovation that *amplifies* what is good about an academic conference – massive downloads of information, the collision of perspectives, and the intensive social engagement. On the other, such behaviour represents a material critique of what is not so great – the parallel sessions, the non-interactivity, and the dominance of particular top-down modes of engagement.

Of course, as with any emergent phenomenon, the ethics and most effective applications of these practices are still being worked out, but where they get worked out is in practice.

Why am I blogging this now instead of marching down to the microphone on the day? Well, I was twitching to say all of that at the time, but had an attack of girlish shyness. Which is funny, given that the next comment was from someone (didn’t catch the name) who thought the conference might have been a bit masculinist and that we needed to think about innovative ways of creating access to voice for those who didn’t necessarily have the bravado to engage in antagonistic modes of discourse.

So what I’ve done here is to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by alternative modes of communication to respond without having to stand at the microphone with my heart beating in terror, as she did.

Brief MIT5 update

you know you're at MIT when...

you know you’re at MIT when…

I’m enjoying the MIT5 conference immensely, although it is very distributed – both temporally, with something like 11 parallel sessions – and spatially, with rooms dotted around a few different buildings with no common meeting area (but that’s just the layout of MIT). So catching up with people really relies on micro-coordination using sms, email, IM and twitter, rather than relying on bumping into them at some big shared ‘event’.

John, Axel and I presented our panel this morning and we got some good dynamic discussion out of it. I really meant to blog much more comprehensively about the conference before now, but find I have medium-form writing fatigue after churning out so much stuff this week. But I’m interested in how much I’m communicating about the conference with people far and wide using other modes of communication.

For example, Twitter is being used by a few people at the conference, like Jill and Luca, for micro-annotation of each panel and paper. Although since my Twitter is ‘friends-only’ I tend to use it more for micro-annotating other, possibly less fascinating topics like what i’m eating, who i’m having lunch with, what software I’m mucking around with etc. So it’s interesting to encounter and contribute to all the conference-twittering while persisting with my usual use of the technology.

Collaboration 2.0: C3 symposium

After arriving in Boston very late on Thursday night, the first speaking engagement fellow cci postdoc John Banks and I had was the Convergence Culture Consortium one-day symposium at MIT. C3 is a research collaboration between Comparative Media Studies at MIT and a range of mostly media industry partners.

MIT hallway

The event was organised around the theme ‘Collaboration 2.0’, and it was certainly interesting to experience some of the many possible ways that academic-industry alliances could be negotiated, especially in such a different institutional (and national) context from our own. I came away more convinced than ever that the disjunctures and disagreements between and within both industry and academia were often just as productive of insights as were the shared assumptions – perhaps even more so – as long as they were mobilised in a spirit of mutual respect, and if genuinely shared objectives can be shaped in that context, then all the better. From my own perspective, given my work on Flickr I was especially pleased to make connections with the representatives from Yahoo!, and I’m looking forward to seeing where that might lead.

The sessions were a mix of invited academic presentations and snapshots from the industry partners. I spoke about the social value of vernacular creativity, and discussed Flickr as an example of best practice, while John explored the ways that user agency is being navigated in co-creative industry contexts, using his work with Brisbane game developer Auran as a case study.

Other highlights: Kevin Sandler’s presentation on Scooby Doo as a brand was one of the most entertaining academic presentations I’ve ever seen. As possibly the pre-eminent collector of Scooby Doo memorabilia, I think perhaps Kevin’s ulterior motive is to help Scooby re-take the world 😉 I also really enjoyed Rob Kozinet’s presentation about the cultural and economic distinctiveness of the Star Trek fan community. And it was good to get a look at the research being done by frighteningly hard-working CMS grad students Sam Ford (who writes most of the content on the C3 blog) and Ivan Askwith. And props to Josh for inviting us and organising everything…more to come.

MIT5 ahoy

Wonderful to see the tentative program for MIT5: creativity, ownership and collaboration in the digital age has now been posted – it looks jam-packed with very good stuff, actually. Our panel, Produsing Culture (not ‘producing’ as Axel was very, very quick to point out to the organisers!) has been scheduled for 9.00 Saturday morning…not usually my most scholarly time of the week but I’ll see what I can do. Early to bed, early to rise and all that. Which is not my usual conference behaviour, either…

Our original panel proposal had an abstract which won’t appear on the website, so I thought it might be useful to post it here:

Produsing Culture: Implications of User-Led Content Creation
The proposed panel draws on the work of the User-Led Research Group based at Queensland University of Technology, Australia. The panel explores the practices and politics of cultural production in a range of contemporary new media contexts that are structured by collaborative user-led content creation, dissemination and evaluation. The shared approach of the papers is one that rejects both dystopian or utopian discourses in favour of a critical, grounded exploration of the complex and emergent ways in which cultural and media power relations are being reshaped or reconfigured in specific contexts, and the broader social implications of these shifts for democracy, cultural work and cultural participation.

My abstract:

Vernacular Photography 2.0: Flickr, Aesthetics and the Relations of Cultural Production
The photo-sharing network Flickr is one of the better-known examples of the participatory turn in web business models commonly referred to as ‘Web 2.0.’ This paper demonstrates that Flickr can be viewed as the site of a vernacular ‘relational aesthetics,’ focused not on discrete art objects, but on the modes of social connection that are both made possible by and flow through images within the network. At the same time, those social connections are used to collaboratively construct, negotiate and learn visual aesthetics and techniques. Rather than representing a revolutionary takeover of photography by untrained amateurs, Flickr is a highly heterogeneous ‘architecture of participation’ where the social worlds, technologies and aesthetics of ‘professional’ photography, art and everyday life collide, compete and coexist to produce new forms of intensely social and playful cultural production.

The abstract definitely shows signs of being written 3 weeks before PhD submission (and what was I on, buzzword pills??), but luckily allows me to move forward into some of the stuff I’m actually doing now. Should be fun.