PhD complete

Today, an eleven year journey as a PhD student comes to a hard-won, satisfying, successful end. My dissertation (entitled “The Critical Construction of Geolocational Life”) has been submitted to the SFU Library Thesis office, revisions completed and approved. I can breathe – and blog – again.

Why the HST is a Labour Issue

I don’t usually post about taxation or provincial politics (do I?). But being one of a sizeable community of technology workers (and workers in many other industries) who are required by law to charge 12% tax instead of 5% tax to customers/clients as of today, I felt that it was really important to correct the deceptive claims about “benefits to small business” (Intuit guesses at some of these benefits here) that are said to result from Harmonization. For readers not privy to this issue due to your far-flungness from it, I offer apologies (it is Canada Day, after all), the official primer, and the word from some of the HST’s opponents).

I’m also teaching a class (sorry, it’s a PDF) about the history of labour and technology this term, and part of the course deals with the growing sector of “contract” workers (workers who are not legally defined as employees of a company). A related issue (for those who work in high technology industries, and especially for those who work for multiple employers/clients) is the fact that since 2002 some workers in B.C. also come under the legal definition of a “high technology professional“, which excludes them from the benefits of overtime and holiday pay provided under British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act (contract workers, who are of more central concern WRT the HST, are obviously outside this legislation entirely, but it’s still important to understand the various shades of “employee” in B.C. to better appreciate the context and options for workers).

The rhetoric about HST in the mainstream media has thus far pivoted mainly around two stories: (1) impact of the tax on consumer household costs (mindless media tropes debunked here) and (2) the businesses who will enjoy reduced administrative costs (this blog post casts some doubt on that assertion, recounting how the B.C. government is going through some restructuring – which can be costly – partly to avoid the increase in HST). I’m not dealing with these issues here, as they are receiving plenty of discussion elsewhere.

The claims about “small business” benefits (mostly touted by the BC Liberals) from harmonization, however, are misleading.

If a small business sells goods and/or services that are already subject to PST, there may be a small benefit in that the HST can now be offset by claiming Input Tax Credits [ITCs]. Currently a business collecting PST for the government can only claim a nominal commission for that collection as against the tax, while with GST (and as will be the case with HST) they can claim all the GST/HST they spend for business purposes as against that tax. No question, this, on the face of it, offers some benefit for some small businesses.

But consider the context. When we think about “small business” we think about the coffee shop on the corner, the plumber, or the freelance software designer. There are many other sorts of contract workers who are legally categorized as “small businesses” – call centre employees, video game beta testers, stock pushers, and so on. These services were not subject to PST under the former tax system. For these workers to now comply with Canada’s tax laws, they will have to charge higher rates to clients or customers in cases where previously PST didn’t apply. For the on-contract call centre worker or game beta tester making just over $30K (net) (the minimum threshold for collecting mandatory GST/HST in most cases), this means that to be in compliance with Revenue Canada, he/she would have to invoice their “client” 12% HST instead of 5% GST. What do you think their “client” would say to that?.

Likely, clients/customers in many industries will be attracted by the lure of non-taxing contractors in the underground economy, as this article in the Winnipeg Free Press asserts.

It’s simply bad for small business. And the smaller the “business”, the worse it gets, it seems. Let’s hope this HST gets reversed.

But more importantly, let’s try not to not forget what the HST pinch is now throwing into sharp relief – the ongoing erosion of our identities as workers and the recasting of us as businesses. This process is wonderful for government revenues, and even better for the bottom line for large businesses. But it’s bad for us down here on the flexibilised assembly line.

Laboratory Life: Seeking input from YOU on course design

So I’m redesigning a course I’ve taught a few times now (CMNS 253, which I’m teaching right now, too) to transform it from a lecture/tutorial format that uses an all-in-one wiki/blog/CMS (Howard Rheingold’s Social Media Classroom build of Drupal) into, well, a lecture/lab course in writing for social, mobile and pervasive media (using Mediawiki, WordPress, Twitter, Digg, and a whole ecosystem of other open-platform mobile and social media tools).

The 2 hour lectures still follow the same format, tracing the history of analog and digital communications media as told by Wade Rowland in Spirit of the Web. However, what’s new is the lab component: 1 hour following the lecture every week is a workshop in social media literacies and tools, culminating in (1) an individually written research paper in the form of a crowdsource-mediated blog post and (2) a citizen journalism exercise/team multimedia project.

I’m interested in your input, so I’ve included a draft of the syllabus below. Please comment on this post if you have any ideas or criticism. Some of it is more-or-less complete, while stuff toward the end of the thirteen weeks is a bit hazier as of now.

In particular, I’m wondering if there is room in here for things I haven’t yet included – web metrics and analytics, for one, but there are probably others. And I’m also open to suggestion as to whether the lectures should match each lab somehow in terms of theme (though I don’t think this is really warranted, as Rowland’s history stands on its own, and dramatically underlines the watershed represented by the Internet and social media in communications history.


CMNS 253 (W) J1, Spring 2010 – Draft Syllabus

Week 1 (Jan 5) Information, technology, new media, social software.

  • Read: Rowland, Prologue, Chapters 1, 2, 3. See Week 1 for details.
  • LAB: Introduction to the computer lab
    • Overview of Lab Assignments
    • Start a Blog, Get on the Wiki
    • Post a brief blog post about yourself, then post a link to it on the wiki.


Week 2 (Jan 12) The Telegraph. Theories of technology.

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 4, 5, 6. Also, Kierkegaard’s The Present Age. See Week 2 for details.
  • LAB: Doing online research
    • Tools: Google Scholar, Google Books, EBSCO & library databases
    • Style: APA, blogging/linking conventions, attributing, Zotero, Endnote
    • How to identify and use a peer reviewed source
    • How and why to use non-peer reviewed sources
    • Choose a topic (you sill stay with this topic throughout the semester) from a list provided, OR choose one off-list by emailing me about it.
    • Exercise: find a scholarly article that is relevant to the topic you’ve chosen, post the APA-cited reference to it on your blog before next class (we will need you to read it before next class too, as you will be discussing it in next week’s lab).


Week 3 (Jan 19) The Telephone. Theories and critics of Information Society.

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 7, 8, 9. Also, Howard Rheingold’s Disinformocracy, Rheingold’s encounter with Habermas and Kellner on Habermas. See Week 3 for details.
  • LAB: Searching and Social Bookmarking
    • Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon introduced. (We vote on which to use)
    • Search techniques (both push -twitter, friendfeed, etc. , or pull -google,yahoo,wikipedia)
    • Topic search to find a news article, blog, or other timely (academic or non-academic) source of relevance to your topic
    • Find at least 2 people who are experts on your topic who you can follow for timely topical updates
    • Create a social bookmark for the article you found. Establish a routine search for topical items. Everyday, do a news/bookmark/digg search. Also read your feeds (people, experts)


Week 4 (Jan 26) Radio. The Tetrad Protocol as a method.

Read: Rowland, Chapters 10, 11, 12. See Week 4 for details.
LAB: Microblogging (twittering), bouncing ideas around about topics.

Start a twitter account (link to it on our designated wiki page for this)
Find the people (experts) on twitter that you identified last week. Follow them and create a twitter list for your topic.
Update this list regularly, and post a link to it on the appropriate wiki page.
Tweet about something related to your topic. use a hash tag. reply to two other tweets (I will configure a twitter list for the class. You can reply to someone else in the class, or to one of your tweeps you’ve identified as a ‘knowledge broker” in your topic).


Week 5 (Feb 2) Radio as an Industry.

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 13, 14, 15. See Week 5 for details.
  • LAB: Blogging.
    • Post a blog as a first draft for your Major Research paper, based on your research thus far. Include your two sources (at least one academic) found thus far. Be sure to cite in APA (including a references cited list) and link/attribute appropriately.
    • Comment constructively on 2 other students’ blog posts about social media.
  • Assignment: Major Research Paper draft


Week 6 (Feb 9) Television (and review of previous weeks).

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 16, 17, 18. See Week 6 for details.
  • LAB: Collaborating on a Wiki
    • team forming, idea clustering (based on topics chosen) (teams will also work together on the video assignment later)
    • discuss and differentiate your ideas. identify your unique contribution (we can’t all write about “Facebook and surveillance”, for example – if more than one person is writing about something – try to work together to differentiate your individual topics)
  • Due: Major Research Paper draft. Give it to a partner for formal peer review.


Week 7 (Feb 23) Midterm exam

No reading assigned this week. No lecture/lab this week. 2 hour in class exam. See Week 7 for details.

Week 8 (March 2) Pre-history and history of computers

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23. See Week 8 for details.
  • LAB: Exploring & Coordinating Online Syndication: RSS & APIs
  • Due: Major Research Paper draft – formal peer review – use form for review, communicate review privately to original writer (ccd to me).


Week 9 (March 9) Microchips, computers, and the Internet

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 24, 25, 26, 27, 28. See Week 9 for details.
  • LAB: Exploring multimedia sources
  • Due: Major Research Paper (final draft). Post as a document (Word, Open Office, something that permits me to comment and edit) to your blog. Revise based on peer feedback.


Week 10 (March 16) Search, Social Media and the Real-Time Web

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 29, 30, 31 and 32, and Jenkins’ “If it Doesn’t Spread It’s Dead” (part one). See Week 10 for details.
  • LAB: Mobilizing your social media
    • What’s in your phone/laptop?
    • Using SMS and MMS with social media
    • Using cameras, streaming media
    • Using location apps
    • Using the field: making use of free wi-fi, 3G, Bluetooth to communicate live (laptop or cel phone)
  • Assignment: for the final multimedia assignment, decide on a topic based on your teams’ individual research. Can you combine your topics or just use one (or two) of your individual studies to springboard into a multimedia project? Remember that you will decide on a local event (or create your own) that is useful to your research topic – a conference, barcamp, public event, political protest, or flashmob. Preferable to use one that’s already happening.


Week 11 (March 30) Copyright and its Digital Discontents

  • Read: Oswald’s “Plunderphonics”, Doctorow’s “The DRM Sausage Factory” and DeBeer’s “Respect and Reality are Keys to Reform” See Week 11 for details.
  • FIELD EXERCISE: Citizen Journalism and/or Flash Mob. We will cover a live event, or create one of our own and cover it, in teams we formed back in Week 6. we will decide on the location ahead of time, so the timing might not sync with lab time. in that case, we’ll cover the event (on a weekend or evening only that we decide as a team, or as a class if we all do the same thing, but regardless it will have to be something that happens in wek 10 or 11 in order to have enough time to edit footage down. I will compile an event calendar of things accessible via skytrain or bus that will be suitable), and instead use this time in the lab for editing/scripting as needed by the various teams of 5. post your footage to the wiki, blogs, and make it creative commons.
  • Assignment: In teams, and using the wiki, script/design your video or multimedia project. Remember that as we’re doing this around a live event, you need to decide what kinds of footage you’re likely to need:
    • interviews – with whom, and using what questions? script your interviews ahead of time, get model release forms and informed consent forms signed first, on location
    • b-roll – establishing shots, ambient footage. looks good behind voice-overs, can be used for montage, etc.
    • event footage. when we get closer to the event, spec out the setting for: lighting, probable noise, angles, probably sites where the action will be, where the audience will be, where signage is, etc.


Week 12 (April 6) The Mobile Web and Pervasive Computing

  • Read: Castells et al, The Mobile Communication Society (Chapters 6 and 7). See Week 12 for details.
  • LAB: editing, remixing, mashing
  • Assignment: Edit your video or multimedia project.


Week 13 (April 13) Student Video Presentation Day

  • No assigned readings. See Week 13 for details.
  • Hand in video/multimedia project via this wiki the night before (April 12), and bring a hard copy to class as a backup.
  • Screening of student multimedia projects in Lecture.

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

Dystopianism
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.

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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.

Copyright Town Hall Sham-bolics

It appears that by design or chance, the big Town Hall meeting on Copyright law in Toronto yesterday was dominated by one side of the debate – that side representing the (mostly foreign-based) commercial music industry, that side seething epithets about “lawbreakers” and “pirates”, that side representing a tiny minority interest, that narrow slice of Canadian society that weakly resorts to costly litigation to solve its problems when the going gets tough. Blame your customers, eh? Blame the citizenry?

So this is just my short post echoing the growing protest over this entire process, noting the added outrage over Industry Canada apparently modifying copyright consultation submissions. Seems we have a problem – our Federal government is clearly, given its history on this subject, ensnared by the RIAA/MPAA lobbyists, and this purported open-mindedness about policy reform is nothing but political theatre, as could be anticipated.

What to do? Write to your MP, or host your own Copyright Town Hall meeting. Also, you might want to join the Pirate Party of Canada. I did.

“& as is typical of Conservatives, pointlessly drab and sleep-inducingly obvious political theatre”, the moral-aesthetic conscience chimes in…

Making Money in Music: a Poll and a Crowdstorm

I’ve created a twitter poll (something I should be doing more regularly) asking a question of central importance to this blog, to my life, my creative pursuits, and something that’s been on everybody’s mind since the dawn of music (when wazzat?): how should musicians get paid? If I haven’t given all the possible discrete answers, then please tweet me (@jeanh) or comment here if you have other ideas that don’t fit the framework imposed by my limited imagination on such matters.

I’m hoping to use this small gesture as a way to springboard into a wider and more comprehensive crowdstorm (cloudstorm? tweetup? weathercamp? huh?) about music and money. To come, to come, but here’s what I’m thinking. I’d like to hear practical ideas for musicians of all styles and instruments (or vocalists) to earn money so that you can continue making music, and possibly even make a sustainable living wage from it. This includes old (e.g., session work) and new (e.g., ad revenue sharing sites) methods.

Keep in mind that I am totally uninterested in hearing about fake Youtube (or whatever “viral” nonsense) campaigns (which I’ve denounced more than once on this blog) for mediocre bands that want to be successful in very limited, old-fashioned ways.  Cokeheads dreaming of a “Pitchfork 10” or a short-lived career in “reality programming” needn’t apply. Let’s put our heads together and figure this out.

Friday Zeitgeist: GeoChat, Twitter filters, Street Hacks, Youtube FAIL

Youtube CSS FAILI might start trying to do a “weekly zeitgeist” digest every Friday (or at worst, just paste together some cool links I’ve found). I’d like to include the sorts of links that contain answers (even partial, or even just plain wrong) to all of our questions, before many of us even formulate those questions. That, and funny shit. Here goes…

GeoChat is inviting participants. I’m joining, and so should you! Open source, network-traversing GPS/messaging? For disaster scenarios? A no brainer.

Russel Beattie reads my mind (and raman amplifiermany others), and he’s working on some code to separate the tweets from the twits (snarkiness mine). Let’s see if he gets there before some round-cornered logo accompanies some social media hipster-whoreapp that does the same thing but makes us feel icky because of the fast-talking jerk who made it. Snarkiness. Mine. Srsly though, where would we be without fast-talking jerks?

Too much coffee, man. Or, It’s Friday, I’m in Love.

An excellent read (so far), ccd so you can download (tipped off by @janchip, who’s also bringing the skinny on street hacks to MIT next week).

And finally, a major CSS FAIL at Youtube hit some student work at SFU (pictured above). Thankfully I had Grab ready and reproduced one of the borked pages (for the full comedic effect of the upside down youtube page, go to the full size jpeg on my Flickr account and read what it says in the blue box on the right).

Have a great weekend, folks.

Vancouver Digital Week, Cossette Convergence 09, and the Future of Mobile

Vancouver Digital Week is coming up soon (May 11-14), and it’s a must-attend for anyone in the New/Social/Mobile Media scenes in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, it’s an international must-attend event (even GDC is part of it this year, so it’s going to be huge in 2009!). So all you folks outside of Vaneattleland should be coming here too!

Kicking off the week on May 11th is the ever-engrossing Cossette Convergence conference, at which I will be presenting (as part of a panel called “Mobile Marketing: Are we at the tipping point?“). The program description is as follows:

Mobile marketing and applications are not new, but many marketers have been sitting on the sidelines watching savvy wireless wizards forge new relationships on emerging platforms.  Has mobile marketing finally reached the tipping point in 2009?  Learn the latest developments in mobile and leave this session appreciating the role mobile will have in the coming year and how you can best integrate mobile or build an entire campaign around this burgeoning technology.

I’ll also be demonstrating the Mobile Muse platform for the audience. Looks like so much fun!

Did I mention the keynote at Cossette this year is none other than David Plouffe, chief campaign manager for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign?

You excited now? I said “Obama” – that should’ve done it.

recent MIT mososos

MIT students are developing some really interesting mobile apps, on various platforms. I especially like Mobile Trader (no link?) – there’s much potential for enabling microeconomies using its “craigslist/1.5 mile diet” mashup for Symbian. However, CashTrack seems designed for cheap people, though. C’mon? Do we really need to track who owes whom what based on serial unevenly-paid dinners? Maybe if you’re Kenny Bania – where the question of whether the soup counts matters – this logic makes sense. Also at odds with the Android (for which it’s written) ethos?

Just saying.

Room Enough For Everyone :: Canada On the Web

The Tyee is carrying Michael Geist’s succinct report about the upcoming hearings at the CRTC over the future of Internet regulation in Canada. Most of these proposals don’t make any sense – imposing Canadian content requirements on commercial Canadian websites is dubious at best – how would web content hosts respond to such a scheme? Move south? Sign up with godaddy instead of geohost? We would merely, in some roughshod form or other, reproduce the old Can-U.S. media order, with cross-border broadcasters, Canadian-edition web sites and services (the model of ebay.ca/amazon.ca would extend into domains like flickr.ca, or worse, twitter.ca. yuck), and we’d unnecessarily introduce barriers to communication in what is a global, low-barrier-to-entry medium.

About a year ago I was asked to give an opinion to SOCAN to help inform their proposal. I argued that the Internet is highly resistant to regulation by its technical design (summed up in my persistent “the internet is filesharing” slogan above). I actually agree with SOCAN somewhat – I do support an ISP tax to reward content creators – a levy collected and monitored in ways like SOCAN already does for radio, television, and live performance. Such a proposal would meet little resistance from the public (who cares about an additional 5 bucks on your 70 dollar a month broadband bill? especially if it permits one to download anything with impunity), and would install a theoretically fair (if fairly monitored and redistributed) royalty system by which artists (and the companies they sign their lives away to) get paid.

But this idea needs to be isolated from the wider proposals to reproduce Canadian content regulations which worked (albeit in a broken fashion) during one media epoch, but won’t work within our present media ecology. The Internet is not a scarce medium like broadcast, and so there is room enough for everyone.

But underscoring this point, carriers should not be free to dictate how users access the Internet, which has attained something of the status of a public utility in common understanding. If we want to make room enough for everyone, we need to build networks that are accessible by all, using whatever hardware or software, on an equal footing. This means a nationwide broadband and wireless strategy; this also means Net Neutrality. It also means government support for community wireless initiatives.

The battle for an open Internet that gets along with content creators’ desire for remuneration needn’t be that difficult here. It’s much worse in mobile (where there is a scarcity), as I’ve been saying all along.