Etymology is Everything

From Wikipedia:

culture: the capacity to classify and encode human experiences symbolically, and to communicate symbolically encoded experiences socially

This traditional definition of “culture” – not the only currently operative one, but one still prevalent in much discourse on practices in everyday life – is obviously problematic where the inclusion of nonhuman subjects (and human subjects incapable of sending messages or indicating their understanding of them) is presumed, or even merely contemplated. If one cannot signify, one might argue, one therefore cannot be included in culture. For some this seems to merit exclusion from human moral consideration as well (given that ethical systems cannot exist without culture existing first). This is can be dismissed easily as an unsustainable position on simple pragmatic grounds, because many human cultures recognize the intrinsic value of non-signifying human subjects (people who are in various stages of conscious awareness, for instance), and thus to exclude nonhuman subjects for this reason is nothing more than speciesism.

But the definition still captivates many, due to its symbolicocentric mystique. I think I found a way out of this constraining, inconsistent, and morally unsatisfying definition of culture, and it involves thinking about culture and communication as being necessarily bound up with dense, cohabitational spaces – communes, farms, and cities. To get there (as if by magic!), it helps to examine the etymology of the word “culture”. Culture, as students of communication, anthropology, and cultural studies know well, has many competing definitions in both everyday and academic discourse. These have a history – from Matthew Arnold, to Franz Boas, to Raymond Williams, to Clifford Geertz and beyond. Consider, from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

culture (n.) mid-15c., “the tilling of land,” from Middle French culture and directly from Latin cultura “a cultivating, agriculture,” figuratively “care, culture, an honoring,” from past participle stem of colere “tend, guard, cultivate, till” (see colony). The figurative sense of “cultivation through education” is first attested c.1500. Meaning “the intellectual side of civilization” is from 1805; that of “collective customs and achievements of a people” is from 1867.

Here’s how I interpret this complex term: with agri-culture comes sedentarism and a being-together-in-the-world and cooperation with strangers – the genesis of city life. A “cultivated” mind is essentially urban (or at least agricultural); modeling itself on the “care” of the land required to ensure survival, we came to understand how to care for our fellow urban residents – both human and nonhuman – whether or not we had a window into their inner mental lives. Contemporary urban life enables access to intellectual life, “worldliness”, and an ethic of care.

There are already tremendous discourses on the inclusion of Artificially Intelligent subjects in our moral community, and some of these are premised on the problem that we cannot know when robots are really sentient or autonomous. With nonhuman animals, however, we are already there in terms of knowing about their sentience.

Culture also includes these unwitting (some, like crows, are perhaps a bit more “witting” than unwitting) nonhuman participants (companion animals, animals used as resources, and urban wildlife, possibly conceived of as NPCs, or “non-player characters”, in RPG parlance – not that this is ideal). Urban systems are full of nonhuman participants. Any moral system we develop in this proximal, settled, grain-eating milieu must include them (animals).

To my mind, the challenge this presents for cultural studies, communication, and anthropology is this: how do we revise our working definition of “culture” so that non-signifying participants (otherwise sentient) are afforded ethical consideration and inclusion? I propose that if we revisit the history of the word “culture”, we might see a clear way forward. That is to say: culture=cultivation/(plant)agriculture/dense urban cohabitation/ethic of care.

Also, consider this: Cadmus decided where to build Thebes by following a cow until it lay down in exhaustion. Cadmus also (mythically, of course) was credited with introducing the portable alphabet to Greece. So cities, writing, and nonhuman animals share a place in very old thinking about language, communication, and settlement. It is the animal who writes the city, asks us to settle down, and implores us to find a way to keep consistent records.

Is this making sense yet?

Recruiting Android users for mobile app research, March 31-April 14

I’m looking for study participants (Metro Vancouver area only) for empirical research I’m doing about mobile apps and location awareness. And, you can win an iPod Touch if you participate.

What will participants do? They will beta test a sustainability challenge application for two weeks (March 31-April 14), comment about the experience, and complete two online surveys (one at the start, and one at the end). Some participants will use the Facebook version of the app, while some will use an Android version they will install to their Android smartphone. Android users will also agree to have their location tracked for the two week period (Android users’ personal location data are not exposed to Facebook nor made public. Location data are anonymized for the purposes of analysis and any future publication of the research). All data is stored on Canadian servers.

All participants must have a Facebook account (we use it to authenticate users in both versions of the app). None of your data in the app is shared with Facebook – you have the choice to have all of your participation in the app viewable by “Only Me”.

I need to recruit Facebook and Android users in roughly equal numbers. After 50 Facebook users have signed up, I will only be recruiting Android users, until their number also reaches 50. Then I will open the study up to more Facebook users.

Those who complete the full cycle of required app testing and complete two online surveys get entered into a draw for an iPod Touch. There will also be runner-up prizes of lesser value.

This study is part of the empirical research I’m doing for my PhD dissertation. It’s also part of a multi-university project called Greenest City Conversations.

If you are interested in participating, please email me (jeanhebert at sfu dot ca) with the following information:

(1) “Mobile GCCP app” should appear in the subject line;
(2) your name;
(3) the email address you use for Facebook; and
(4) whether you have an Android device (by indicating this you put yourself in the Android group).

Once you’ve indicated your interest, I’ll add you to my list of potential participants and send you more detailed information about what the study involves. Once I’ve reached a critical mass of potential participants (I expect sometime early next week), I’ll send you all a link to the informed consent and entrance survey (which must be completed by March 31st, and must be done before you can install the app).

Thanks for your attention!

ubitasking. Taylorism. The horror…

Visualization of over 16,000 Mechanical Turk workers in the United States. Click on the image for the original (much bigger).

I’m always trying to think of silly new buzzwords (“ubitasking”), and I’m also always trying to avoid the hackneyed ones (“crowdsourcing”). Mechanical Turk (ach! 41% of it is SPAM) -type platforms are brushing up against place-sensitive applications, and the results are intriguing, particularly in the coordination of humanitarian aid. In one case, Crowdflower participated in Haitian earthquake relief efforts, in conjunction with the well-known Ushahidi platform and a ‘Turk-like ‘form called Samasource. This is interesting (and relevant to my research) for two reasons:

Firstly, the work sourced through Samasource involved translation of text messages so that aid workers could read them and respond – which is an important general consideration when envisioning the localization of any ICTs to particular cities (and neighborhoods within cities). Vancouver is made up of a number of linguistic communities; reaching out broadly to ensure they are all included requires an awareness of such tactics and a readiness to deploy them in the rollout of any mobile application(s). So, for instance – should the design team prescribe something with a similar “task orientation” (like ubitasking notifications to the City about sick trees or potholes) – translation services can be similarly sourced and organized here. The elderly Korean woman who has a community garden plot next to ours (who is constantly giving us gardening advice, in Korean, as she speaks no English whatsoever) inspires me to demand a community babelfish…

Secondly, and troublingly, all this “task orientation” (should be “tsk. orientation…”) smacks of Taylorism writ even more granular than ever before. If you doubt me, just read Crowdflower’s FAQ page for things such as “By saving the correct answers to a small set of Units prior to running a job, we track the quality of a worker’s performance and reject a worker once his or her accuracy drops below a defined threshold. When no Gold Units are inserted, the quality of work plummets…”. Yep, that’s your name alright, Taylorism. Routinizing work; building human powered Difference Engines; monitoring space and time with cool algorithms. Not your Lefebvre‘s city. More like yr Le Corbusier‘s…

I’m not dis(mis)sing Crowdflower, though, as they clearly have a charitable and progressive ethos going on, by all accounts. Just picking on the FAQ language, noting the exacting character of software, and pointing out where I’ve seen it all before.

So yes, pluses and minuses so far in the prelims, as expected. I’m looking at a few more technical options, and I’m prescribing nothing.

Image credit: sethoscope ( (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Participatory Mobile Urban Experience Planning

… or, Streethacking with Ubiquitous Media, if you prefer. This is the thing toward which I’m now turning most of my academic affections and attention. Reading Henri Lefebvre, Matt Hern, Paul Dourish, and many others has led me to this increasingly (and appropriately) crowded (for instance, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for some rough coordinates…) space of inquiry. My research has been months in the planning phases, and has been a labour of love (among other things… a different story, for a different blog, with different privacy settings…). Now, however, begins the process of scheduling, recruiting, fine-tune budgeting, and nailing down the specific questions for the inquiry. There’s much to be queried about the topic. Oh, the topic?

I’m doing this research as part of something called the Greenest City Conversations Project, a collaborative effort of a number of researchers at UBC and SFU, based at UBC’s Centre for Sustainability. My research (on mobile and ubiquitous computing, the urban environment, and sustainability issues in Vancouver) involves a participatory design exercise, in which the team will be doing something of a ‘needs assessment’ and ‘visioning exercise’ for what the mobile/ubicomp sphere can do to improve or better facilitate public awareness, dialogue and participation in sustainability issues. Then, we’ll turn to designing an application (or a ‘connective tissue’ piece between existing platforms and/or applications) in conjunction with student interns and/or a local technology company. That’s the lightning pitch.

As the research proceeds, I will be providing regular updates on this, my longest-serving blogbot (since 2006 now! pat on the head there, little noseclicker, aw… we’ve been through so much!…). While much of my data will be sealed off from public scrutiny due to the exigencies of ethical codes safeguarding personal information of human research subjects, I will be posting what I can when I can, as a way of documenting my path toward completing it. Likely, this project will unfold over 6-8 months, culminating in a dissertation and public launch of … something … whatever the designers recommend, and whatever the developers can fashion.


This blog is going to get more frequent updating in short order – more time on my hands in the coming months. Expect some dissertation-related posts as I crystallize my proposal. It’s coming together. It’s mobiles. Cities. Ubi-comp. And, I think, postphenomenology.

and now on to something else

I just formally completed my comprehensive exams. The oral defense was held today, I passed, and now I’m officially ABD (all but dissertation). This is the other side I said I’d see you on.

I think the defining harrowing thing about comprehensive/qualifying exams is that they come to us (1) without precedent (most of us who do a dissertation have already done a Master’s thesis, and gone through the same process of defending it – but when in our education do we go through a 6 day writing blitz, on subject areas we largely define ourselves, with little in the way of explicit expectations?), and (2) with seemingly infinite expectation (the feeling that no matter what one writes it can never be good enough, thorough enough, broad enough, or deep enough).

So now, I’m on to things with more manageable processes and outcomes.

I believe a glass (bottle[cask]) of wine is in order.

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 .
Lukacs, G. (1966). Technology and social relations. New Left Review 1(39): 27-34. Retrieved on 9 November 2009 from .

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.

MUSE3 BCNET presentation

I had the opportunity last week to present my ongoing research into user-centered technology design (which is what is evolving out of my ethnographic research in the lives of mobile handset users) as part of a panel all about Mobile Muse (where I’m the Program Manager, for those who aren’t aware of this).

A webcast of the proceedings is available here. Here are slides for the full presentation, and here (more for my own concept archiving sanity than for anything else, really) are my slides extracted from that set.

Some of the same ideas from prior talks I’ve given about the mobile divide are revisited here, but in the context of a more proactive problem orientation. Here I’m asking: how is technology developed in ways that are directly informed and influenced by the communities of users most affected by them, and how is this tech disseminated in ways that are socially beneficial?.

MUSE3 is an excellent opportunity, I’m finding, for looking at the processes of intermediation that go on in the building of new things. At the intersection of network engineers, open source and other sorts of coders, mobile handset companies, government agencies, artist-run centres and a cavalcade of people and organizations with an interest in the potential of mobile technology, many complex interactions are going on that contribute, bit by bit, to whatever technological assemblage is going to emerge. Fascinating stuff, really. Here’s hoping my notes are as meticulous as they need to be…

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.