Les Comps

Ta-da. I’ve finally submitted the field definitions for my Comprehensive exams. Here they are. Comments welcome; it helps. I’m writing the Philosophy of Technology exam in October, and the Theorizing Participatory Media exams in December February 2010, during the Olympics.

1. A History of the Philosophy of Science and Technology

Western philosophical perspectives about technology have been constructed in various ways representing a number of historically contingent ontological orientations: utopianism and its opposite, instrumentalism and its heirs, Marxism, critical theory, social constructivism, poststructural approaches and actor network theory. The prevalence of one or another approach or orientation toward science and technology as a sociological or philosophical subject of inquiry is dialectically related to its historical and social context – that is, it is both produced by it and works to reproduce it. Further, our very demarcation of the distinctive territories of science and technology is an historical artefact warranting a thorough exploration, too. In this comprehensive examination I will explore the contours of this history of thinking about science and technology.

Philosophical thinking about science outgrew its origins in philosophy around several problems, which have heavily influenced its development, largely by preventing it from developing (Ihde 1993): the conventional bias toward “pure” thought in philosophy as against materialistic concerns, the view of modernity (and its technology) as superior to its predecessors, and the wide supposition that technology is a subset of or is a consequence of science.

Subsequent philosophical developments distorted and perturbed this original Enlightenment-era position of technology as related to science. While Marxism and its discontents provided much of the groundwork for 19th and 20th century technological utopianism, a Philosophy of Technology per se doesn’t emerge until later phenomenological studies approached the subject (from Husserl through Heidegger). In tandem with the development of technology with massive destructive potential (the Nazi regime, nuclear technology, biological engineering and so forth), the historical character of much early 20th century thinking about technology is fearful and dystopic (Ellul, Heidegger, Adorno). Alternative readings that come up later in the century are utopian and instrumental (Habermas), while yet other readings of this era bear both the hallmark of an activist tradition and the seeds of later constructivist approaches (Marcuse).

Science and Technology Studies grew into its own with the development of the sociology of scientific knowledge school (SSK, as exemplified in the works of Bloor and Kuhn) in the 1960s and 70s. This school emphasized philosophical attention to the historical contingency of science and knowledge. A few of this school’s leading thinkers (notably Bloor) worked at expanding the contingencies recognized by the SSK school into a broader critique – what is now referred to as the “Strong Programme” in the sociology of science. The primary contribution of the Strong Programme was perhaps the notion of symmetry, the use of which demonstrated a longstanding bias in historical studies of science that distinguished between proven and failed scientific knowledge. This critical turn legitimized the study of scientific practice as contingent on social organization and culture, paving the way for the wider critique provided by social constructivism.

The SCOT approach (Social Construction of Technology) was advanced by writers such as Bijker, Hughes and Pinch. Here the principles developed by the SSK school were systematically applied to empirical studies of technological innovation, with analyses of the social relations constituted in designs for bicycles (Pinch & Bijker 1984), electric cars (Callon 1987), and door grooms (Latour 1992). An important argument raised by this school of thought is that values and ideology are designed/embedded into technology, such as how bridges can be designed to racially discriminate and segregate (Winner). SCOT theorists expose how the design of objects and techniques that affect our lives – everything from viruses to airplanes to ship’s masts – is ideological.

Actor-Network theory emerges as a counterargument to SCOT. Advanced by Bruno Latour, John Law and others, ANT antagonizes the strong constructivist argument by constructing one in which artifacts and networks are equally constitutive of social relations as are humans. In this view, being in the world (and being technology in the world, specifically) is an emergent property of networked agents of all kinds. As a matter of course, facts and artifacts, according to Actor Network theorists, are indistinguishable. Moreover, networks and actors are perceived only relatively (via the technique of punctualisation). ANT is a richly-conceived methodological alternative to social constructivism in technology studies, which helps to de-center SCOT’s earlier decentering (of fact, and of value) further.

More recent approaches to the question of technology have attempted to balance social constructivism against human agency, such as Feenberg’s (1999, 2002) critical constructivism, as well as works by philosophers such as Radder (1996) that point out some of ANT’s unhelpful normative assumptions and other problems. Critical constructivism, in particular, draws from earlier sociological critiques to help re-center and politicize the analysis of technology into more of an actionable theory. Contemporary with yet divergent from this critical effort to recenter the politics of technology, posthumanist approaches provide an interesting departure. Posthumanism repositions the human subject as a strictly technical one (Stiegler), often via a rubric that describes us as inherently cybernetic beings (Haraway). Both of these theoretical approaches (critical constructivism and posthumanism) resonate back onto philosophical precedent, however – particularly to phenomenology and the idea of technology as a dialectical process.

The major philosophical debates within this field of inquiry (as I have described it) center around definitions of technology, the relative weight of agency and structure in technical ongoings, transcendence and immanence of artifacts and actors, the historical and ontological priority of science as against that of technology, the degree to which politics can be designed into technology, and, importantly, divergent overall definitions of the role of technology in society, which bring with them radically incompatible assumptions about human social behaviour, and the question of human identity as defined in relation to technology. This comprehensive exam aims to address each of these debates in turn.

Reading List

Pre-modern Roots: Instrumentalism and Enlightenment
Bacon, F. (1620) The New Organon or True Directions Concerning the Interpretation of Nature (Book I). In Anderson, F.H. (Ed.) The New Organon and Related Writings (1960). New York: The Liberal Arts Press, pp.33-120.

Foucault, Michel (1970). The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (Chapter 5: Classifying I: What the Historians Say, and Chapter 10: The Human Sciences I: The Three Faces of Knowledge). Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith. Ed. R.D. Laing. New York: Pantheon, pp. 124-145 & 344-387.

Dialectical Materialism and Technology: The Legacy of Marx
Marx, K (1887) Capital, Volume I: The Process of the Production of Captial. Trans. S. Moore & E. Aveling. Ed. F. Engels. Moscow: Progress Publshers. Online Version: Marx/Engels Internet Archive, 1999. (Chapter Fifteen: Machinery and Modern Industry). Retrieved on 9 November 2009 from http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch15.htm .
Lukacs, G. (1966). Technology and social relations. New Left Review 1(39): 27-34. Retrieved on 9 November 2009 from http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=873 .

Phenomenology (and post-)
Heidegger, M. (1977). The question concerning technology, and other essays (W. Lovitt, Trans. 1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row.
Ihde, Don (1990) Technology and the lifeworld: from garden to earth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Ihde, Don (1983). Existential Technics. New York: SUNY Press.
Verbeek, P.-P. (2005) What things do : Philosophical reflections on technology, agency, and design. Trans. Robert P. Crease. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Critical Theory: The Frankfurt School and After
Adorno, T. W. and Horkheimer, M. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002
Habermas, J. (1971). Technology and Science as “Ideology” (Trans. J. J. Shapiro). In J. Habermas (Ed.), Toward a Rational Society; Student Protest, Science, and Politics (pp. 81-122, 142 of 132): Beacon Press.
Marcuse, H.(1964) One Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon

Ellul, J (1967) The Technological Society. Trans. John Wilkinson. New York: Knopf/Vintage.
Leiss, W. (1990). Under technology’s thumb. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Philosophy of Science Turns Sociological
Borgmann, A. (1984) Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry. Chicago : University of Chicago Press
Fleck, L. (1979) The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. Eds. T.J. Trenn and R.K. Merton.Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hacking, I. (1999) The Social Construction of What? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kuhn, T.S. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Merton, R. (1968) Social Theory and Social Structure New York: Free Press.

Social Constructivism

Brey, P. (1997) Social Constructivism for Philosophers of Technology: A Shopper’s Guide. Society for Philosophy and Technology 2(3-4):56-79.
Callon, M. (1987). Society in the making: The study of technology as a tool for sociological analysis. In W.E. Bijker, T.P. Hughes, & T. Pinch, (Eds.) The social construction of technological systems. London; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Hughes, T.P. The evolution of large technological systems. In W.E. Bijker, T.P. Hughes, & T. Pinch, (Eds.) The social construction of technological systems. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.
Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1979). Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts. London and Beverly Hills: Sage.
Pinch, T. and Bijker, W.E. (1987). The social construction of facts and artifacts: Or how the sociology of science and the sociology of technology might benefit each other. In W.E. Bijker, T.P. Hughes, & T. Pinch, (Eds.) The social construction of technological systems. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.
Oudshoorn, N. a. Pinch., T., Eds. (2003) How users matter : the co-construction of users and technologies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Winner, L. (1993). Upon opening the black box and finding it empty: Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Technology. Science, Technology, & Human Values 18(3): 366-378.

Actor-Network Theory
Latour, B. (1987). Science in action : how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, Mass. :: Harvard University Press.
Latour, B. (1992). Where are the Missing Masses, Sociology of a Few Mundane Artefacts. In W. Bijker & J. E. Law (Eds.), Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change (pp. 225-259). Cambridge: MIT Press.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Law, J. E. (1986). Power, action and belief : a new sociology of knowledge? London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Law, J.E. and Hassard, J. (1999) Actor Network Theory and After. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Law, J.E. and Bijker, W. (Eds.) (1994) Shaping Technology / Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change (Inside Technology). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Critical Constructivism (and other critiques of ANT)

Feenberg, A. (1999). Questioning technology. London ; New York: Routledge.
Feenberg, A. (2002). Transforming technology : a critical theory revisited. Oxford ; New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.
Radder, H (1996) In and about the world: philosophical studies of science and technology. New York: SUNY Press.

Posthumanist Approaches
Haraway, D. (1991) A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York; Routledge, pp.149-181.
Hayles, K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: U. Chicago Press.
Simondon, G. (2007) “Technical Individualization,” in Joke Brouwer & Arjen Mulder (eds.), Interact or Die! Rotterdam: NAi.
Stiegler, B. (1998) Technics and Time. Trans. R. Beardsworth & G. Collins. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.


2. Theorizing Participatory Media, Culture and Art

This comprehensive will broadly engage critical theories of art in society, cultural/creative industries, theories of taste, reception, and cycles of production, and art and technology in an historical account of the theory of participation in the arts and media, political economy of art and culture, and theories of power and structure that create the conditions for and modalities of participation in art and cultural practice. Recognizing inevitable problematics embedded in the words of the title of this comprehensive area – “participatory” “media”, “culture” and “art” – this comprehensive constitutes a bridge between contemporary popular discourses about participatory media (as it is enframed in literature on digital media) with a number of disparate theories about art, political economy of media, and cultural studies. Contemporary conceptions of “participation”, and “media, culture and art” in an era of digital reproduction demand this historical and theoretical grounding.

I begin this history with Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1960), an imaginative recasting of art as transcendent and world-shaping. In developing his philosophy of Being (Dasein) around interpretation, perception, and remakings of the World (using ancient monumental art and painting as his examples), Heidegger invokes artistic activities to illustrate the phenomenological character of our experience of the World. Artmaking, through Heidegger’s lens, can be applied or generalized to the nature of being in the world more generally. Heidegger’s phenomenological vision of being-in-the-world (of which art is one vivid example) is a foundational orientation to contemporary Western conceptions of the special position of art as a mode of creating the world. And while it is true that the transcendent attribution to art pre-dates Heidegger by centuries, I contend that it is his situation of the importance of art in a phenomenological framework that has afforded the survivability of the notion of a privileged place for art-in-society, throughout poststructural and postmodernist paradigm shifts.

Theodor Adorno’s work on aesthetics (particularly, Aesthetic Theory, 1997) offers a comprehensive, dialectical, and materialist basis upon which to refute Heidegger’s phenomenologically-informed view. Adorno’s view – attached as it is to a more radical philosophical programme – also marks an historic break with prevailing aesthetic theories stemming from idealism (Hegel and Kant). While aesthetics is not the particular subject of this history, Adorno’s dialectic between autonomous and socially engaged art practices sets the stage for later Western art discourses as well as those of the sociology of art. It is also notable that Adorno’s writing on art utilizes very narrow definitions for art as compared to the work of other scholars in this area. Walter Benjamin (1986), by comparison, entertains a more inclusive definition of art practice, and in so doing opens the way to a reconsideration or inversion of Adorno’s dialectic. As with Adorno’s thesis, Benjamin’s vision of the dialectic between aura and democratic art persists in more recent discourses.
Many twentieth century sociological accounts of art practice and art communities, such as Becker’s Art Worlds (1982), take a more neutral stance about the role of aesthetics, foregrounding instead the structure of communities of practice and their audiences and the economic dimensions of creative work. This approach, which has influenced anthropologists and ethnomusicologists alike has broadly informed methodology in the study of communities of practice. At the same time, theorists such as Bourdieu (1984) have brought a similar orientation to the study of consumption and taste communities. In centering their analyses on the socioeconomic indicators of audience preferences, scholars in this school have (though not without justified criticism – see Zangwill 2002) reaffirmed the the value of relativistic approaches to art without appeal to aesthetic study per se. This body of sociology further reinforces an unresolved schism between aesthetics and the study of artists’ practice.

Cultural studies – particularly UK cultural studies – attempts to remedy this through its focus on meaning and symbolism in the circulation of art and cultural produce as texts. As evinced in the works of Hebdige (1979) and others, this thread of research, heavily informed by semiotics, extends and blends the study of aesthetic form with that of social behaviour, particularly as social performance embodies or enacts gestures of ethnic, gender and socioeconomic relevance.

The “cultural industries approach” to this field, an ongoing provocation by Miege (1989), Garnham (2000), and Hesmondhalgh (2006a, 2009), marks a turn in media studies to deliberately, and in many cases quantitatively answer questions about power and structure in the economics of culture while affording more agency to participants of creative spheres than past theorists were willing to do (e.g, Adorno). Something of an uneasy complement to Bourdieu’s analysis of taste, in this school of inquiry the focus shifts to forces of production and public policy in creative spheres. The cultural industries approach has been widely influential, drawing in attention from not only cultural economics (Throsby 1994), but also Marxian occupations studies (Menger 1999) and actor-network theory (Hennion 2007).

Much more recently, a resurgence of interest in the economics of creativity has occurred, one which has tried to unseat political economic assumptions about what counts as creative, and comes to very different conclusions about the role of creative occupations in the wider economic system. This “creative industries” critique describes creativity as a force of social action that percolates through a wide range of occupations not normally associated with arts and cultural activities (Potts & Cunningham 2008). Analyses of this species tend to view “creative professionals” as trailblazers that lead economic and social progress. The creative industries critique also provides counterpoint to the statism associated with policymaking inspired by the cultural industries approach (Hesmondhalgh 2009), promoting instead forms of self-organization among creative communities.

While the creative industries approach has met a resounding chorus of critics (Garnham 2005; Miller 2009, to name two), a related body of literature on digital media practice and creativity is also relevant for the present discussion. These authors work to decenter the locus of our notion of creativity in their examinations of the dynamics of fan communities and creative practice in digitally mediated spaces (Jenkins 2004). While these views would underpin the contested claims of the creative industries approach, they constitute yet useful hypotheses that draw attention to the legacy of cultural studies, bringing analysis of symbolism and the circulation of texts back into the debates. A further resonance with the history of criticism I have here outlined is the interest in “world-making” as described by some of this field’s proponents (Jenkins et al 2003), which revives Heidegger’s invocation of creating of the “world” (in terms of establishing world as an intermediary between sense and perception) as the objective of art. Some critics of these perspectives have attempted to critique the celebration of digital participatory media from a more emphatically critical cultural studies-influenced position. Bolter and Grusin (1999) do this by framing digital media as part of a double logic of remediation, bridging Douglas Kellner’s critical approach to media studies to the actor-network theory of Bruno Latour.

Consideration of this body of works also demands a critical look at one of the fundamental assumptions made about “participation” in art – the theorizing of “participatory” itself. There is a long history to the exploration of the question about what participatory art means, from Breton’s writings about Surrealism, through Artaud’s reversals of audience-performer dynamics, public Situationist happenings and other public forms of contemporary art. This history of thinking about participation in art is often ignored in contemporary discourses about digital media. Some argue, for instance, that digital media use can and should transform our very notions of aesthetics. Bourriaud’s (2002) relational aesthetics is one such theory. Here the value of works – the locus of their “aesthetic” analysis – inheres in their sociability, and neither in their formal or affective dimensions, nor in their content. The question turns from “what does the work express or embody?” to “what does the work do?”. While this is a provocative line of questioning, it betrays an ignorance of theoretical precedent, as recounted by Bishop (2006). Bishop goes on to call for more precise definitions to distinguish the authentically participatory from the merely interactive, making the claim that the former requires a degree of sociality. Still others (Beech 2008) claim that this reasoning does not go far enough – that mere participation is not enough, and that attention and political engagement are never assured (though are too often presupposed) in “participative” acts of art.

Reading List

Heidegger: Phenomenological Aesthetics
Heidegger, M. (1993) The Origin of the Work of Art. In Basic Writings. 2nd ed., ed. David Farrell Krell. New York: Harper Collins.

Frankfurt School and Critical Theory Perspectives
Adorno, T. W. (1981). Prisms (1st MIT Press ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Adorno, T. W. (1938), “On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening”, The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, Blackwell, pp. 280
Adorno, T. W. (1997) Aesthetic Theory. (Orig. published 1970, Eds. Adorno, G. & Tiedemann, R. Trans. Hullot-Kentor, R.). U Minn. Press: Minneapolis.
Attali, J. (1985). Noise : the political economy of music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Benjamin, W. (1986). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (H. Zohn, Trans.). In H. Arendt (Ed.), Illluminations. New York: Harcourt Brace.
Witkin, R. W. (2002) Adorno on Popular Culture. London: Routledge.

Highbrow/Lowbrow Critiques
DiMaggio, P. (1991) The extension of the high culture model to theater, the Opera, and the Dance, 1900-1940. In Lamont, M. and Fournier, M, (eds.) Cultivating Differences: Symbolic Boundaries and the Making of Inequalities. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, pp. 21-57.
Levine, L. W. (1988) Highbrow, Lowbrow. The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press.

Sociologies of Practice and Taste
Becker, H. S. (1982). Art Worlds. Berkley: University of California Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1993). The field of cultural production: essays on art and literature. Cambridge UK: Polity Press.
Hesmondhalgh, D. (2006b). Bourdieu, the media and cultural production. Media, Culture & Society 28(2): 211-231.
DeNora, T. (2003) After Adorno: Rethinking Music Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Zangwill, N. (2002) Against the Sociology of Art. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 32:206-218.
Zolberg, V. (1990) Constructing a Sociology of the Arts. London: Cambridge.

Cultural Studies
Grace, H. (2003). ‘What’s the use?’ cultural studies and the religion of the useful. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 17(4): 397-409.
Hartley, J. (2003). A Short History of Cultural Studies. London: Sage.
Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture : the meaning of style. London: Methuen.

The Cultural Industries Approach
Couldry, N. (2004). Actor Network Theory and Media: Do They Connect and on What Terms? In A. Hepp (Ed.), Cultures of Connectivity.
Garnham, N. (2000) Emancipation, the Media, and Modernity: Arguments about the Media and Social Theory. Oxford: Oxford U Press.
Hennion, A. (2007) Those Things That Hold Us Together: Taste and Sociology. Cultural Sociology 1: 97.
Hesmondhalgh, D. (2006a) The Cultural Industries, 2d ed. London: Sage.
Miege, B. (1989) The Capitalization of Cultural Production. New York: International General.
Menger, P. (1999) Artistic Labour Markets and Careers. Annual Review of Sociology 25: 541-74.
Throsby, D. (1994) The Production and Consumption of the Arts: A View of Cultural Economics. Journal of Economic Literature XXXII:1-29.
Towse, R. (2003). A handbook of cultural economics. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

The Creative Industries Model
Cunningham, S. (2004). The creative industries after cultural policy. International Journal of Cultural Studies 7(1):105-115.
Deuze, M. (2006). Collaboration, participation and the media. New Media & Society 8(4):691-698.
Garnham, N. (2005) From cultural to creative industries. International Journal of Cultural Policy 11(1): 15-29.
Hesmondhalgh, D. (2009). Cultural and Creative Industries. In The SAGE Handbook of Cultural Analysis. Eds Bennett, T and Frow, J. London: Sage.
Miller, T. (2009). From creative to cultural industires. Cultural Studies 23(1): 88-99.
Potts, J., & Cunningham, S. (2008). Four models of the creative industries. International Journal of Cultural Policy 14(3): 233-247.

Fan Communities, Creativity and Digital Culture
Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks : how social production transforms markets and freedom: Hartford:Yale U Pr.
Bolter, J. D. and Grusin, R. (1999) Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Jenkins, H. (2004). The cultural logic of media convergence. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 7(1), 33-43.
Jenkins, H., Seawell, B., & Thorburn, D. (2003). Democracy and new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Theorizing Participation
Beech, D. (2008) “Include me out! Dave Beech on participation in art”. Art Monthly 315:1-4.
Bishop, C. (2006) Participation. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Bourriaud, N. (2002). Relational Aesthetics. Paris: Presses du réel.

Sharkbook and Twitnets

I’m going to call it now – Facebook has officially jumped the shark.

This comes with apologies to those who thought FB died hours ago, when it made another attack-user-privacy-or-otherwise-degrade-user-happiness move. And gosh darnit, if this isn’t the type of action the FB population was just starting to get used to.

This comes without apologies to those of you who thought FB started to suck the moment the CIA conspiracy theory started circulating. You folks fell on your own sword there, as that rumour has long been debunked (FYI, awesome post, Brainsturbator – who knew Tetris was a CIA plot, too?), even though many news agencies and websites still repeat it, some as recently as this month.

With all of you mentioned above, I disagree and call FB’s failure now. In its move to beat twitter at its own game – by reorganizing its formerly compartmentalized and configurable information structure into the simple, much-maligned “What’s on your mind?” deluge – and best of all, forcing all users to adopt it – FB has copied its best competitor (twitter) in the worst possible way, and ceased being innovative. So they’re basically the new Myspace (when it sold out to News Corp), the new Friendster (when it started banning fakesters) – or, perhaps, depending on where you were in 2000 – the new makeoutclub.

Twitter might survive as a different animal altogether (of the let’s take the “site” out of “social networking site” variety), should it remain an “extensible” “application”. Or put another way, if the high tech venture capital economy really does tank, the twitterverse could still survive in the same manner as Usenet did – free, open, but with perhaps less reach than any present-day social network service. And perhaps the new twitterverse would also be as fragmented and shadowy as that channel-centred realm was.

Then again, perhaps the lure of venture capital is too compelling for Twitter? Might twitter transform, in baby steps of course, into a monolithic entity like FB, too tethered and walled to be revolutionary, too heavy for its own hype, and clinging, like many “web” “sites” to the mere shadow of the VC balloon of yesteryear?

I’m on the side of the Depression-era Twitnet (barring twitter ever becoming some sort of gamechanger that takes us all by surprise, completely transforming the way we use the Internets – don’t count on it!). Given twitter’s ability to cross devices and networks (e.g., to cross over to devices and networks accessible by more people with lesser means), I’m more inclined to see it as a potential class leveler than a class divider. In a depressed economy (that was already depressed for most human beings), where efficiency and thrift constitute the logic that will prevail for most of us, 140 characters beats 160. And SMS beats email.

And blogs.

(throws that in a blender with the critique of television transforming printed news and editorial into dumbed down, ad-driven sound bytes).

A Tale of Two Cities

In my role at MUSE3 I’m coordinating a couple of related mobile technology projects in Whistler and Vancouver’s Downtown East Side that lend themselves well to the “Tale of Two Cities” theme. While there are some interesting parallels between the Dickens novel of the same name and these two contemporary communities, my invocation of Dickens is not a wholehearted grafting of his story about class, revolution, and bureaucracy onto the present.

Rather, the title is a convenient placeholder for the following observations. There are many similar characteristics of Whistler and the DTES, despite their obvious differences in terms of relative affluence, their position in terms of the likely impact of the 2010 Olympics, and their wildly distinct public-facing reputations. What unites them reads roughly as follows (though I’m open to suggestions): the need to express a story about a place under rapid transformation, a place undergoing tremendous public attention, and a place that has not had an adequate opportunity as yet to proclaim its true identity properly to the world.

Both communities are ripe for the showcasing of how these communications goals might be achieved utilizing new media. And the transience of populations both homeless and under-housed (to varying degrees in both communities) resonates strongly with the fact that these new media are mobile.

Here’s my first satellite imagery mashup of the two communities:

Downtown East Whistler

While I’m not entirely happy with it (because Whistler occludes the poorest sections of the DTES, which the aesthetics of the two landscapes screamed for, even though in the end this simply will not do), I will be doing further Photoshop remixes of the two communities as we go along. Hopefully Nokia Maps will offer some really kludgy visual artifacts that I can screenshot and bring into the dialogue.

The Internet Is Filesharing :: On ISP Levies and Creators’ Rights to Remuneration in Canada

I was recently asked by the Songwriters’ Association of Canada (SAC) to submit a briefing on why file sharing is inevitable, and why a levy system for ISPs makes sense. (The SAC is in the process of submitting a proposal along these lines to the Canadian government, in light of the political deliberations over where our copyright law is headed).

Here‘s the draft of my briefing to them (PDF, 176K). The gist of it? The internet IS file sharing. Comment, suggest revisions, and correct me where I’m wrong, if you please.

Read the SAC’s Proposal and sign up to support it here.

The PhD – the comprehensive exams

So I’m diving straight into my comprehensives now. I’m building lists and checking them twice (and more). While building these reading lists is in many ways a very personal journey, I’ve decided to blog about the process so that I might get feedback from unexpected locales, harnessing the “wisdom of crowds” (while simultaneously, in both comp areas, critiquing how such “wisdom” is in fact problematic). I also hope that documenting the process can help others through it. I won’t be posting my full notes (who’d read them?), but I will share my definitional essays, my questions and answers, and an account of process along the way. I’ve written up preliminary préces of my two exam areas below.

Area 1. Science and Technology Studies. This will involve SCOT, ANT and other critical theories, but it will also dovetail through Philosophy of Technology (I’m thinking Heidegger through Marcuse and Feenberg, and also including Ellul and others, perhaps a few off the beaten track – we’ll see). I want to ask questions through this literature about the relationship of technology, power and social organization/social change. There are also some intriguing connections with Area 2 (below) via Hennion/Latour (their work on culture industries), and, according to one of my advisors, Habermas’ Public Sphere as well as Lazarsfeld.

Area 2. Culture Industries/Sociology of (The) Art(s). Starting with Hesmondhalgh’s (2002) synthesis of political economy of media studies with cultural studies and other approaches to the sociology of art, I plan to broaden this area out to include American and Continental approaches to the study of cultural/creative industries. This will likely include a range of approaches, including Bourdieu (various), Becker (various), and DeNora’s more recent work, but this area is still under development. There are important connections to literature on occupations (Balfe, Latouche) organizational studies (Throsby, Sacco, Menger), and of course The Frankfurts. Essentially, as I told one of my advisors this morning, I want to survey the body of work that theorizes culture industries, without limiting myself to a particular tradition (as approaches vary broadly). Keep in mind that I wish to keep this area current, as well, and as such I will need to make room for Eglash’s (and others’) work on appropriation, as well as Jenkins’ (and others’) work on fan culture. Sprawling enough? It makes sense to me.

My advisors, colleagues and friends (as well as the “social web” hoi polloi) can feel free to jump in any time. Like you have any time.


Clicknoise Logo (no text)I hope I haven’t used this Roxy Music song as a post title before…

While assembling my upcoming conference papers, I’ve been twiddling with this blog on the side in lieu of regular updates (well, alright, I’ve also been focused on the dupobs release schedule – you can listen to the newest tracks as they are released week-by-week here – among other things).

Today I dug out this logo (at right) I’d been working on a few months ago, but with which I was never completely satisfied. Upon reflection it seems more than appropriate for this blog: the somewhat smooth interweaving of issues around authorship and copyleft with the combination of concerns with wireless networking and music (sideways, the sound icons in OS X are almost identical to that operating system’s representation of wi-fi – a happy accident of usability design that lends itself well to my palette of concerns), and not to mention the freehand look of the uneven radiating lines, which lends some indie credibility to the whole thing, I think.

AOIR 8 Vancouver, 50 Parties, etc. (Oct. 2007)

Heya. I am presenting in a panel at AOIR this year (the title of my presentation/paper is “The Technical Micropolitics of the Online Music Industry, 1997-2007″, abstract here). For those of you who’ve followed my blog, you’ll know something of what to expect, except that I’ll be strictly framing up the narrative in terms of something called “technical micropolitics”, which, with any luck, I’ll have a competent grasp of by the time the conference rolls along. Theory, y’know? One minute you think you’ve got it, and the next minute, well, you sound like Daffy Duck.

Which brings me to another announcement of sorts – one more suited to quacking unintelligibly [& yes, readers coming in via The ORG should get that one]. I volunteered to organize (hopefully not all by my lonesome self!) the Vancouver instantiation of something Jimmy Wales started called “Heather and Jimmy’s 50 Party Club“. See the links I’ve provided for as detailed an explanation as you’re going to get (which admittedly ain’t much), but in a nutshell, you can expect a gathering of an international set of free culture/creative commons/open source nerds drinking together in the same physical space and engaging in as-yet-undetermined activities to keep each other vaguely entertained. Go to the wiki and pitch in! Your help is needed. Know of a potential sponsor (hint – local microbreweries or wineries love nerds because nerds drink lots!)? A venue? An entertainment source? A fax machine we can rig up to send loopfaxes to Larry Lessig for quitting the good fight? Or do you just wanna show up and make an arse of yourself? Get with our little planning wiki, whatever the case. Let’s have some fun.

Copyright/Creative Commons Lecture

I delivered a lecture today for my 200 level Communication class on “Copyright, Commerce, and the Creative Commons”. It might need work around its rougher edges still, but I’m kinda modestly proud to have gotten it into the shape it’s in now. The emphasis is on (1) the historicization of copyright law using a political economy of media approach, and (2), in the second half, confronting the current era of massively collaborative media and imagining alternative regimes of remuneration/distribution. The images are low resolution to enable quick downloads. If anyone wants high-resolution images, or links to the embedded URLs/movie clips, make some noise and I can provide that info.

Feedback is welcome, of course. I’m always looking to improve on this stuff.

Here’s the file: Copyright, Commerce, and the Creative Commons

Revisioning the Canon, for Kranks

Those who know me well know that with music, I’m a fussy eater. I can be extremely caustic (I recall trashing both Pat Metheny and Bob Dylan within the space of a single week some time ago on LJ, relishing every moment of silver-tongued venom I spat at their hapless defenders. Lost a few LJ conversants that week, did I…;) ). So naturally, when an article like this one comes out – in which a number of contemporary musicians get the opportunity to diss canonical rock records – I am both compelled and thrilled to read and vicariously enjoy their deep-seated scorn for things held precious by so many lifelong indie record store employees.

Perhaps the best and most deserved critique comes from Green Gartside (whose Scritti Politti comeback album last year would, in its half-assed aural blanduggery, ironically, be on my list of overrated records, former Scrit brilliance notwithstanding). He really tears them a new asshole. To wit:

Arcade Fire The Neon Bible
Nominated by Green Gartside of Scritti Politti

People who enjoy this album may think I’m cloth-eared and unperceptive, and I accept it’s the result of my personal shortcomings, but what I hear in Arcade Fire is an agglomeration of mannerisms, cliches and devices. I find it solidly unattractive, texturally nasty, a bit harmonically and melodically dull, bombastic and melodramatic, and the rhythms are pedestrian. It’s monotonous in its textures and in the old-fashioned, nasty, clunky 80s rhythms and eighth-note basslines. It isn’t, as people are suggesting, richly rewarding and inventive. The melodies stick too closely to the chord changes. Win Butler’s voice uses certain stylistic devices – it goes wobbly and shouty, then whispery – and I guess people like wobbly and shouty going to whispery, they think it signifies real feeling. It’s some people’s idea of unmediated emotion. I can imagine Jeremy Clarkson liking it; it’s for people in cars. It’s rather flat and unlovely. The album and the response to it represent a bunch of beliefs about expression and truth that I don’t share. The battle against unreconstructed rock music continues.

What a marvelous encapsulation of how taste can be so personal, so political, so fraught with fire and envious brimstone – “the album and response to it represent a bunch of beliefs about expression and truth that I don’t share”. I wholeheartedly agree, and toss it right back at ya, Green. Both the new Scritti and those Arcade kids (and, I might add, the most recent Scott Walker smegma about which so many armchair/laptop critics rave) utterly and completely clear the dance floor inside my head.

Of course, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such derision [which is the counterpuntal story (or punchline?) buried in this post, which I thought I might include to spice things up a bit]. Those who know me well may also recall the dispirited five-word dismissal my band got from Simon Reynolds, of all people. One year on, and he still hasn’t answered my email requesting clarification.

But taste can be so personal that we don’t talk to each other about it at all. This, I think, is one partial answer to a question Nancy posed on Online Fandom today (wondering aloud why last.fm friends – friends with whom we share only music preferences – are a different genus of friend than our other friends). I think that friends (and colleagues) who don’t share musical taste should talk about music more than we do, though. We should embrace and confront our differences. It’s a bit like a laboratory for exercising our critical skills with limited consequences (other than the hurt personal feelings of musicians, inherently self-aggrandizing and delicate about our works as we so often are). It’s a lot like scholarship. And… to throw in one more truncated tangent, it never ceases to surprise me how academics in the same school or in the same area of research have widely divergent tastes in music, even though they share the same taste in books. And we’re so quick to shut down dissensus over music when it invites itself into our conversations. How can that be? Shouldn’t we take up the same challenge of the debate on the subjects of Franz Ferdinand, or Morrissey, as we do when we grapple with the Frankfurts, or Marx?

Or is music just. too. personal?