Towards a post-normative communication and media studies

Twitter has announced a call for research submissions that helps them “identify indicators of conversational health that are even more specific to Twitter and its impact.” I expressed my skepticism about this on Facebook and so I am writing up some notes here.

‘Conversations’ are one way to examine interactions on social media. We looked at conversations as the unit of analysis in our Turnbull paper due out in MIA I think in a few months (based on our ANZCA paper). A simple point to make is that the ‘public conversation’ is not the same thing as ‘conversations on Twitter’ or even ‘Twitter publics’. Sure, there are conversations that happen entirely on Twitter (say a Trump tweet and reaction and cross talk), but these are not very useful as the basis of assessing public conversations. How Twitter users produce openings on other spaces, so that the circulation of discourse is necessarily cross-platform. The philosophy behind Cortico’s general approach looks interesting, but Twitter and Cortico will need to partner with other platforms.

There are broadly two ways to map the circulation of discourse. The first is derived from Bourdieu and maps a ‘field’ based on the social interactions between actors and the analytical construction of what is valued in the field (doxa). I think this is inherently flawed because of the reliance on a notion of faith (as in good or bad faith). Bourdieu’s Manet lectures are clear on this. The second is derived from Foucault and maps the discursive regularities between statements and the analytical construction is regarding the conditions of possibility based on ‘authority’ and composition of power relations (dispositif). What Foucault broadly called ‘eventalization’ (only ever in interviews, so the method has to be reverse engineered across a range of works). Interestingly, network graphing techniques seem to be aligned with ‘eventalization’ until you realise that they mostly rely on the providence of digital objects and platform-based network relations between them. There have been few attempts to map networks of discourse in spite of the platforms as this multiplies the work exponentially.

Analysing discourse in terms of the ‘health’ of conversations assumes a normative dimension that I think smuggles in assumptions about the good faith of actors. There are two problems here. First, analytics are unlikely to indicate how a particular user is ‘blinkered’, and therefore has an extremely constrained degree of freedom (in the systems theory sense), what Guattari called a low co-efficient of transversality or Warner might talk about in terms of the character of reflexivity. They will instead show how such blinkered users belong to tribes, because of the discursive coherency and affective congruence of discourse. So what? Second, Twitter does not appear to want to operate upon the good or bad faith of actors, and therefore take obvious steps to reduce the weaponised use of the platform (such as reduced functionality for new accounts until thresholds of participation are passed, such as number of followers or interactions). Getting over the normative assumptions about the good faith of users is an important first step.

Valorising Research, Teaching and the Research Hole

My (recently) ex-colleague Jason Wilson has published an insightful piece on self-funded research. We’ve had a number of chats about this over the last year. The examples I raised of ‘self-funded’ research were of cultural studies scholars in the 1980s who did not receive ‘funds’ for research and even included those (for example, like Meaghan Morris) who worked on the fringes of academia as journalists and in the media industry.

Jason makes a number of key points. Firstly, you need to be relatively privileged so as to be able to afford to this in terms of time and money. Secondly, he did not plan for this to be self-funded and the circumstances emerged because the funding application did not work out. This has some implications that Jason notes and that I want to expand on below. Third, he notes it is incredibly mobile, or it is as mobile as Jason is, and the project goes wherever he does, so there is no need for complicated ‘handover’ processes. Lastly, he notes that this experience has made him realise that ‘funding’ and ‘research’ are separate and that receiving ‘funding’ does not necessarily valorise ‘research’ (even though we are encouraged to think in this way). I want to add two points.

First, I want to speculate on the valorising relationship between ‘funding’ and ‘research’. I’ve just finished Graeme Turner’s What’s Become of Cultural Studies (2012) and the below passage resonated with a weird exchange I had with a colleague from another university late last year at a conference. She told me she had never taught at university and I was dumb struck. My first thought was how the hell do you test your ideas from your research to see if they work? Another colleague with a research-focused career suggested that it was the ARC and the various mechanisms which judged the first colleague’s research as worthy. ‘Worthy’ in this context means that it aligns with the government-prescribed ‘national interest’. Maybe the first colleague would not think of themselves in cultural studies, the second colleague certainly would. Here is what Turner says about this phenomena:

I routinely find, when I present talks on research applications and professional development in general, that most of those who attend these seminars take the view that they are entitled to entertain ambitions of a fulltime research career. […] [It] is hard not to feel that it is important for them to recognize that a research-only career remains an unrealistic ambition for 90 per cent of the academics working in cultural studies in Australia. In my own case, for example, the past 10 years of research-only employment have only come after decades of fulltime teaching.

It is the pragmatics of the situation that worry me most, then. And I wonder how these ambitions are being fed. Just what kinds of expectations are being sold to completing doctoral students and to junior staff members by their supervisors or by their university’s research office? Successful ARC applications result in significant funding benefits to the university, and so it is in the interests of Australian universities to encourage their staff to apply; the fact that so few will succeed ultimately does not bother the university much. It should bother us. It raises the possibility that we are going to be filling our teaching programmes with disappointed researchers who regard a conventional teaching appointment as the consolation prize. And it increases the possibility that those who are currently teaching cultural studies in our universities do not believe that the satisfaction teaching generates will play a fundamental role in sustaining them, personally or professionally. (emphasis added, pp 74-75)

I was very happy last year when I finally got to teach an upper-undergraduate unit that aligned with my research interests. My greatest challenge in doing research is not in producing new knowledge or thinking new ideas but in communicating them in a way that is sensible and which non-specialists can understand. I am not sure how teaching fits with others.

Relatedly, over the last year or so I’ve been experimenting with ‘modules’ within units in preparation of an exciting new unit ‘Newsroom’ in the Journalism program here at UC. ‘Newsroom’ is entirely based on research I’ve carried out over the last year on teaching methods for preparing students for the current industry context for media and journalism. It is based on my experience working in the magazine industry and working to adapt (or at least try to adapt) to a post-print industry, but extended beyond this. At its core is working with students to develop the capacity for producing their own expertise in industry contexts that we can’t even imagine. This production of professional expertise derived from the experience of testing out new practices and being confident in engaging with the world actually has more in common with the development of cultural studies in the 1970s and 1980s then it does with the conservative forms of ‘journalism’ education from the 1980s through to the early 2000s. I am hoping those familiar with the so-called ‘media wars’ of the late 1990s and early 2000s can appreciate the irony of all this. Turner as well as Grossberg in his recent book on cultural studies both locate the capacity of one’s student to produce knowledge as a central aim of cultural studies and this has little to do with particular methodologies except in the most abstract (and concrete! Oh, Deleuzian puns). This is a modification of the Kuhnian science-based model of scholarship where instead of the research problems being created on the edge of the scholarly field, and scholarship in part being a performative power struggle between proponents of competing ideas, the edge of the scholarly field (at least in cultural studies) is reoriented so it coincides with the edge of our students’ understanding. ‘Student’ in this context does not necessarily mean undergraduate students at university as it includes anyone we are trying to educate with new forms of knowledge.

Lastly, I want to extend Jason’s point regarding the relationship between research and funding. There is a parallel to the transformation to what we regard as ‘news’ in the journalism industry. By transforming the structural conditions through which ‘research’ is produced, academics are compelled to produce funding applications year in and year out, regardless of whether or not they have a funding-worthy research project. Note ‘funding-worthy research project’ is not determined necessarily by the individual academic or even the institution where he or she is employed but by the constraints of the funding guidelines. Ironically, one of the major expenses for humanities scholars factored into research funding applications, besides for research-only positions, is teaching buyout, so another academic can be paid to cover their teaching. The character of ‘news’ was transformed in the early 20th century so instead of journalists finding news they produced news. News had to be produced because of the ‘news hole’ created by advertising schedules; something had to be put in the hole produced on the page between pre-sold advertising space. Similarly but not exactly the same, research has to be put in the hole produced by the current funding regime. Knowledge is not produced for its own sake, but as a consequence of the imperative to seek research funding. Separating the mechanisms by which research is valorised from the mechanisms by which funding is valorised will mean that knowledge production can be valorised for other reasons.

Here is useful test I might experiment with this year. Does my research help me with my teaching? Both ‘research’ and ‘teaching’ broadly understood.


A question to Fredric Jameson UoW 7 Dec

Jameson presented a public lecture as part of the “Telling Truths: Crime Fiction & National Allegory” conference. Below is an expanded version of the notes I wrote on my question I asked him during the question time:

Speaking as an enthusiast rather than an expert. FJ described terrorists and serial killers as boring villains. I asked a question in defence of the serial killer (this got a massive laugh!) as a defence of time (which pique everyone’s interest, audience went silent, due to FJ’s focus on questions of space) through the concept of ‘seriality’

1. FJ spoke of dual layer character of crime novel, past narrative of crime in context of ‘current narrative’ of detection. Using villain of serial killer there is actually a triple layer narrative: past crimes, present detection, plus the virtuality of future crimes. The first two narratives feed into the conditions of possibility of the third. This is expressed through content or articulated at a structural level through a certain tension and a sense of dread. It represents two sets of agency in competition for the ‘future’.
2. A second dimension of this tension, particularly evident in the generic constraints of contemporary procedural television shows. This is the level of the bureaucratic within policing, where the police case now has a temporal context, so the detective ensemble has to clear a certain number of cases within a given timeframe. The ‘case’ is not only determined by the force of will & intellect of the detective (ensemble), now it is constraint by a project-based mode of governance.
Do you think this can be thought of in terms of reclaiming a sense of the future? If so, how this does relate to your concern for space?
He agreed, and said “Yes, this is the way you’d do it.” He then related it to space. The essence of his reply was that temporality is always spatialised, and he gave the example of the ‘map’ and the way past crimes are mapped in terms of where murders/bodies are found in terms of a pattern. He ended with, “I wish I had thought it.”

CSAA Conference Final Plenary Panel

My ‘mobile phone’ notes on the final plenary panel session of the 2012 CSAA conference All panelists addressed the question: What matters for cultural studies?


Few would describe it as a discipline.

Training in a disciplinarity

Teaching downgraded.
Conduct in everyday life.
Don’t believe surrendering the space to solving problems of business.
Critical pedagogic in everyday life.
Creative industries, narcissism of small differences.
Thin notion of cultural value in creative industries.
Lack of an economics suitable to their circumstances
Neomarxist political economy needs updating
Cultural economics is languishing in FOR Codes
Core values?
Studied Bruno Latour’s recent book
“Idealism of materialism”
Matter understood in its particularism not its potential universalism.
Beyond nature culture divide. Ecologize rather than modernize.
Human is not a special mode of existence.
Materialism between reproduction & reference.
Myths & poetry exist in real worlds.
Core values should be concerned with truth & beauty.
The nature of its mattering has changed over time.
Cultural Studies loose association of interests in how cultural operates, with an intellectual commitment to change.
Teaching category and ARC funding category serve as conditions of possibility/existence.
In UK took form of an ideological politics, then in pedagogy, practical areas of engagement — these no longer linked to policy debates(?)
Does it matter? Yes it does. Meeting place for heterogeneous modes of engagement.
These different approaches are often incubated somewhere else, Cultural Studies now catching up.
Other kinds of challenges, rise of business & management studies.
Not focusing on intellectual content challenges, the context of these challenges more important.
1. Should be embracing in a serious ways, of deep cultural way, diversity. Broader question of the humanities? Cosmopolitan engagement missing, focus on materiality, means abandoning difference?
2. The bureaucracy of it all. Cultural studies an FOR code. ARC assessed based on this code.
What is relation to other disciplines, they’ve had ‘cultural turns’.
3. Being assessed as an FOR code? Danger of being assessed in conservative purely academic ways.
Perceptible shift at this conference, things that wouldnt normally be talked about. Plus all the elders of CS all appeared in one place.
Papers that move outward new topics (extensive), papers that move inward to discuss methodology (intensive).
CS discipline traditionally moved outwards (extensive), stepped into areas where it hasn’t been welcome.
Inherent parasitism has been a weakness.
What is the coherent, focused body of knowledge being shaped?
Marked by the radical character of pedagogy, students know as much about the topics as teachers.
Many things matter for CS.
CS mutated in new ways.
Focus on the present, history of the present, needs a sense of history.
CS pursues things that don’t quite fit.
1. Fracture. Two books on future of CS. Institutional shift towards practical education, ‘how to do’ rather than ‘what to know’.
2. ERA requires a CS readership previously imagined as a political orientation, but now think of as negotiating between different knowledges.
3. Ian Hunter academy of humanities, intellectual history, social epistemology
Exhilaration and energy required to do all these things, this is what matters in CS.
My goal is show people that are freer than they feel.
D&G’s notion of the diagonal (transversal) where they are not meant to be.
“The geezer’s panel.” In Maclaurin Room, all men on the walls.
Vivid reminder how much work has been done.
Exhilaration required to keep going.
Ross Chambers calls room to manoeuvre.
CS peculiar for being formed in an era almost wholly dominated by neoliberalism.
Beyond bitterness and critique?
My question: Graeme’s focus on the future, Tom’s point about epistemology, Meaghan’s point about energy, all in the context of the general point about pedagogy and a tension with the category of the economic: do we need to reclaim for our students a critical sense of the ‘aspirational’?
MM: Radiate back a positive sense of what is good in students’ work. They need to develop their own critical sense of the future. More interested in TOR “what to do”.
GT: Cultural Studies 101, set of hard readings, teacher performed exegesis, wrote essay. But CS originally about generating agency, aspirational comes from that.
JF: Re neoliberalism, CS takes a differentiated approach to the economy.

Sent from my iPhone

Walkleys Conference Notes — Google and New York Times presentations

From my iPhone, WordPress backend interface a bit tricky!

Google Australia Communications and Public Affairs Manager Johnny Luu presents Google 101 for Journalists, covering tips and tricks for using various Google tools, advanced search methods, finding and analysing trends, and creating data visualisations.

Search smarter tips & tricks


Results page

-Fact box, breakout
-Ads, like editorial & advertising
Advanced search functions
-search for time and date
-search for different forms of media
-search in other languages & google translate
-search within a particular site
-search with a particular domain
-search for a certain filetype:
-John Tedesco example damage claims
-Go to advanced search feature
Keeping your finger on the pulse
-hangover example, Saturday peaks
-Gillard vs Abbott search term popularity
-news headlines option match up with graph
-insulation scheme trends
-Australian university Indian searches drop off, violence and visa changes flu trends example
-YouTube advanced search
Data journalism and visualisations
-google fusion tables
-download trainer
-San Francisco bike accidents
The New York Times Interactive News Editor Aron Pilhofer discusses the latest methods of engaging readers by blending editorial content with social media, interactive data journalism and other digital innovations.
Break the template to fix it
-future lives outside the CMS
-just one more game
-Olympics example, river of news, bring in social media, bring the data/results
-photos page
-schoolbook example, local education featured education content, get people not through our homepage, incorporate comments elevated comments
Building for mobile
-work has tripled, 45-47% traffic came through mobile on election night
Readers have come expect interactivity
-dump the days paper online
-database interpretation of blog
-question and answer format
-reporters dedicated to answering q during debates
Social is a second homepage
-Oscar ballot, Oscar party in a box
-why replicate something exists in the world
-using Facebook as part of the platform
-sharing your contribution to the page, rather than sharing the ‘page’