Tag Archive | Communicative purpose

New Media and Academia: Altered Attributes

Getting back to work on my thesis, I thought it might be time to be brave and
share some of my more academic musings with you. I am currently combining preparations for initial data gathering with exploration of the literature and an elucidation of my framework. I’ll not post anything on the data gathering for now. Clearly this brief extract is part of a work in progress; which makes comments especially welcome!1 🙂

To state that there is no such thing as New Media is not the avoidance of an answer: rather, it is a rejoinder which meets the question of definition head-on. It is to suggest (with the hint of a challenge) that if we are to address the subject of “New Media” in significant depth we may first have to place aside our assumptions about what is actual and what is perceived; as well as the place of metaphor. These are the very assumptions around which much of “New Media” revolves, and with which it and its practitioners play. Contrarily, the very fluidity and liminality of these types of digital media, which may be referred to as “new”, “social”, “interactive”, “mobile” or “virtual”, suggests that there are particular thresholds or boundaries within which they exist, hence typical characteristics which might be identified. Nevertheless, it is important to make clear that seizing upon or fixing some particular conception or definition of New Media would in many ways run contrary to the purpose of my thesis. What it is necessary and rather simple to accept is the relative, historically situated, and (in terms of reception and acceptance) contingent character of anything labelled “new” – which partly explains why New Media defies easy classification. Another reason why an in-transition sketch is often the best that can be offered is that “New Media” can be seen differently depending on where, how, why, and by whom, it is being considered. It refers to something constantly being updated and refreshed; continually shifting; and which frequently but unpredictably accommodates ideas, features, and perspectives not previously included. Yet it also builds on tradition and what was prior. For the academic subject or “discourse communities“, whose attitudes towards New Media are the focus of this research, this is also the case – as well as, increasingly, for the disciplines and institutions to which they belong. There, as Nowotny et al observe, “near absolute demarcation criteria have failed”.

“The notion of ‘boundary work’ implies not only that boundaries are not fixed and permanent but that they need to be actively maintained. Moreover, their definition, mapping, and maintenance, often serve a social function. Social contingency and professional expediency influence the choice of ‘stories’ about Science [including Social Sciences]. Defining the sciences, mapping their territory in public space, making and reshaping them in the image tailored for the specific time and the occasion are all part of ‘boundary work’. And scientists, as ‘boundary workers’, are actively engaged in such activities as an integral part of their scientific endeavours” [page 57]. We must first understand the “socio-epistemological meaning of context” before we are able to address and understand the political and institutional characteristics of Science. Both types of context affect knowledge structures within academic disciplines. The current shifts occurring in the “conceptualisation and enactment of Science” are part of a move toward a “Mode II” society where contextualised knowledge moves “into the context of implication” [page 201] – i.e. wider society beyond the University proper, a “social space of transformation” or, what the authors, in a re-imagining of ancient Greece’s public sphere, call “the agora”. This space is typified by, among other things, “socially distributed expertise”, and “changing rules of engagement” whereby social relationships become vertical rather than horizontal and where institutional structures and traditional modes of interaction are “aided” and altered by “the pervasive role of information and communication technologies” [page 105]. Just as time and space have been reconceptualised into the “more capacious category of space-time, so science and society “co-evolve” as an aspect of coalescence [page 49]; the distinction between academics and those who would previously have been deemed “incompetent outsiders” is no longer as meaningful an analytical tool.

Some critics point out that this was always the case; not just for Science, but also for the Arts & Humanities, and that such a perspective or vision of scholarship might be seen to date as far back as Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis. A utopian novel published in 1697, New Atlantis greatly influenced Enlightenment concepts of Scientific rationalism, even depicting participation in the academy by certain select members of the public (although in Bacon’s narrative, this is tightly-controlled, hierarchical, and revolves around the acceptance of particular customs). Others propose that it was Universities and institutions which parted Science from its original multi-varied and accommodating form. In either case, we may assume that the modern University can be broadly characterised in these terms, in particular the dominance of ICTs. Altered power structures and novel “visibility” regimes are also created by and reflected in new forms of media and communications technology. Divisions between producer/consumer, author/reader, expert/layperson are challenged and blurred; politicised discourses often position it in terms of access to knowledge, power, and a re-structured public sphere. Traditions and novelty converge and collide. Clearly then, there are strong thematic links and properties which typify both “New Media” and Academia in the 21st century. These require much further exploration.

Endnotes:
1 I have removed some inline references in support of various arguments to make this entry more blog friendly. For the most part, hyperlinks are provided instead.

Advertisements

Arts and Humanities Incorporated?

Organised by “artsmethods@manchester” – a newly formed group for academics and practitioners in the Arts and Humanities – tonight’s event for this emerging network took place in the modest but historic “Engine House” of Chorlton Mill which is now the home of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation.

Café Arts

(Why) do the Arts matter to society?

This was the provocative question posed by the “Arts Ambassadors” who set up artsmethods. Their intention is to bring together an informal cross-institution and (potentially) cross-sector community of academics and others interested in the future and value of A&H research and practise. Value means the kind made tangible both inside and – perhaps more importantly – outside the walls of Manchester’s Universities. Staff and researchers at the event came from Manchester Metropolitan University, the Royal Northern College of Music, the University of Manchester, and Salford University. At least one part-time documentary maker was in attendance, as well as the manager of a local radio station optimistic that she would find more exciting programming ideas here than the ubiquitous “antiques and cookery shows”.

Arts & Humanities have always had “impact”.

After everyone introduced themselves, the discussion centred mostly on modes of public “engagement”, communication, and what might be called “community outreach”. One woman pointed out that this really shouldn’t be construed as a one-way process. At the same time as thinking about how academia and scholarship “impact upon” the public, we should listen to what the public have to say to us: establishing a dialogue or a conversation with them and allowing for a flow of ideas which isn’t in thrall to outmoded boundaries and hierarchies. In other words: equality of access and participation.

It’s strange – perplexing even – that we should have to worry about what exactly Arts, Histories, Languages, Linguistics, Humanities, and Cultural Studies bring to society that is valuable enough to justify their continued funding. Would even the most “rational” minded and stereotypical “hard” Scientist ask if the Arts have relevance? My best guess is a resounding no! In many ways these disciplinary lines are increasingly showing themselves to be somewhat artificial. An idea which Professor Sharon Ruston, who I met at the event, could tell us something about in relation to literature and medicine. The trouble is, of course, that many people in a position to influence government policy don’t want to acknowledge this right now. Arts are considered an easy target – they can be sidelined then revived in happier times. A cactus, in the desert, that will always flower, proudly. Maybe this tells us about a (rightly) perceived resistance and durability – and one of the true strengths of the Arts and Humanities within society and culture? A positive property becomes, sadly, the justification for deprivation.

Visual anthropologist and filmmaker Dr Amanda Ravetz pointed out that it can be hard to articulate exactly how A&H makes a contribution to the greater good when so much of these subjects’ understandings are based on legacy, intuition, and a tacit (but no less real) knowledge, rather than on simple demonstrable facts. Regardless of whatever new goals, targets, and systems of assessment are put in place, A&H has always and will always make an “impact” on and enrich society. But how do we measure that? Can we? Is the right response to these pressures to demonstrate the value of the academic an identification of and reliance on memorable “personalities” popular with mainstream broadcast and print media? Is there a risk that complex arguments and theories not suitable for a general audience will become “invisible” – or will be repackaged, simplified, and categorised under some basic label like “grand ideas”? A&H may need to reach a “wider audience” but it shouldn’t have to compromise its values or its methods. Isn’t knowledge any longer an end in itself?

Helen and Clare at the Arts Café

Across the board there is a tension between the uninspired presentation of “dry” facts in opposition to the glamour, subliminality, and inter-textuality of other (perhaps digital) forms of communication. There were some very interesting (though not uncontroversial) presentations about how to address that. As well as continuing to explore how learning, technology, entertainment, and play can combine, is there a way to take A&H research out onto the streets? To locate it in engaging ways within public spaces? Maintaining visibility is easier (in theory) for those whose subjects have a place on the floors, walls and screens of the cultural heritage sector. What about philosophers, or linguists? Is there some way they can position their work within the wider environment to say “Look! This is why we’re relevant! Come and take part” ? Somebody pointed out that a certain amount of opportunism might be involved in doing that – as well as clever and timely strategising – but it could also encourage A&H scholars to explore innovative and engaging approaches.

Art, creativity, metaphor, imagination and expression – these will survive regardless of conditions of government. The reason for CafĂ© Arts posing its questions right now may in part be a backdrop of worry, frustration and fear; still, people with a passion for ideas and the exploration of truth are generally galvanised by a challenge. Something I was reminded of on my way to the IABF “Water Closet” – before which sits a modest little display case housing a collection of Anthony Burgess’s old typewriters.

Feels like Summer

Suddenly it feels like summer – and not a UK one – here this weekend. Temperatures are up to 26°C and beyond although it’s not, as the Huffington Post are keen to point out, an “Indian Summer”. It certainly seemed like one this afternoon. Gorgeous sunshine and everybody wearing the light colourful clothes they thought would be getting packed away for another year. So why am I now suffering from a cold? The girl behind the counter at Waterstone’s told me everyone is down with one at the moment. Including her flatmate who (believe it or not) is a was last year’s student rep for MMU PhD Students. Hmm. Who says cities are anonymous? Everyone is so friendly around here. It does feel a little like a “University village” at times.

While in Waterstone’s I finally bought a copy of Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad” which I started to tear through straight away as I ate homemade tomato soup in the lovely bookshop cafĂ©. I have read quite a few rave reviews of the book but they do seem to be justified rather than being just hype. I couldn’t resist taking a sneaky look ahead at what may be the deepest (and conversely, the most amusing) use of PowerPoint slides that I have come across. Believe me, I have seen (and put together) a fair few PowerPoint shows over the last four years! So it’s wonderful to see some of the familiar “SmartArt Graphics” being used by Egan to convey intricate relationships, family connections, and heartaches. Interesting too to realise that PowerPoint’s designers have influenced this particular artistic usage by providing graphics that, after all, were always intended to aid compact and illustrative data representations. Yet while Iggy Pop and (Edinburgh-born) Ricky Gardiner are credited for the use of lyrics in the book’s front pages, I can’t see any mention of Microsoft. Well, maybe they thought it was worth it!

Thursday was the last day of MMU induction activities and, after too much free wine, I found myself talking (briefly) to an installation artist associated with the Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design about New Media. MIRIAD research students were also involved in the week’s induction activities although they are far more concerned with practise and “studio time” than us “library time” HLSS folks. Although he uses digital objects, sounds, and YouTube videos within his work – as well as making use of Open Source technologies – this guy said quite matter-of-factly (and almost as though he has heard too much hyperbole on the topic): “New Media. The way I see it, it’s just another medium, isn’t it?” He may incorporate or make use of it if it seems appropriate, or if it lends something to what he wishes to represent. However, New Media are primarily like any other possible means by which to convey: tools that join the “old media” kit of paints, clay, analogue recordings, and so on. I suppose it makes sense that an artist would have a particularly interesting slant on NM (and indeed, participation).

The modest little CD by Rory Charles. I'm not sure if it has a title...

Speaking of which. The reason I am blogging (well, apart from the fact I am hiding away with my Lemsips in a bid to protect my flatmates from this bug) is that I want to tell you about a wonderful busker I heard performing at St. Anne’s Square. A guy called Rory Charles, who stopped me – and a crowd of others – in our tracks this afternoon. Impressive vocals and a delicate but strong guitar style. I won’t attempt a review except to say that if you like Neil Young or Damien Rice you will probably like him. Here are some of the “sounds” he has made available on the SoundCloud site. Also: a picture of the album that I bought from his assistant. Sorry if it looks a little like an eBay listing photo. I sadly didn’t have my camera with me earlier on. Hope you will appreciate the link!

Play and Work

Many of my posts so far have been non-academic (i.e. not about the PhD research which this blog intends to document). What can I say? It’s not that I’m unsure about my “communicative purpose”. The blog is intended to offer a representative mixture of the different pieces that currently make up my life: all of which relate back to arriving at MMU to start my studies. Work hasn’t been too intensive so far. It might be interesting to observe over time how the categories and tags I use on the blog become narrower and more focused.  Hopefully it will be a fairly reliable mirror of what has been keeping me busy.

Yesterday was the first day of official faculty induction activities. There was only a small group of us: two M.A. Film Studies students and four of us starting PhDs (two in English Literature, one in Philosophy, and myself, in InfoComms). Dick Hartley, Director of the Institute, asked us all to introduce ourselves and our work. Every topic sounded great. Being in the same department as the Literature, Language, Media, and Philosophy students feels like exactly the right fit. The complementary range of subjects, students, and approaches that can be found in the Information & Communications Department and more widely in the HLSS faculty is for me, ideal. My project will of course take me to other areas (including Science) to keep my work inclusive and to allow us to study and map cultural and other differences. Anyway, it was encouraging that my topic seemed to interest people!

Yesterday was also a chance to go along to one of the weekly “Trauma” film group screenings. This time it was the cult classic “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” by Russ Meyer (which doesn’t in fact have much to do with Jacqueline Susann’s always popular “Valley of the Dolls“). Not my usual sort of film, but that’s part of what made it interesting to go along: the Trauma group’s idea was obviously to attract attention and create a bit of a buzz. I doubt that the film (a silly comedy at heart) is meant to be taken seriously, although its tongue in cheek “critique” or deconstruction of the clichĂ©s and stereotypes of swinging Hollywood has probably been written about well by those who know the genre better than me. After the screening, it was time to go to the Sandbar to discuss what we thought of the film – and drink too much beer for a Monday night. The programme for the next few months’ screenings is eclectic and broad; so going again could be fun.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Maybe you’re wondering why I’ve not yet reviewed The Yang Sing restaurant, where I went last weekend with my Mum? Here goes. The room, the lighting, the staff, and the food, were wonderful. To be honest though, I’m not sure I made the best selections from their menu! It would be good to have an advisor on how real Cantonese cuisine differs from what we might be able to get in supermarkets. The Chinese greens were delicious but the oyster sauce they arrived in didn’t bear much relation to what I expected. That’s my own fault I guess: but it was far too heavy and jelly-like, detracting from the vegetables rather than adding to them. Anyway, the desert I ordered made me smile. I’m guessing they really only expect kids to bother with something sweet after the meal…(see the picture above).

Other highlights of the weekend included a trip to the Manchester Art Gallery to see “Ford Madox Brown: pre-Raphaelite Pioneer” where we got to take a close-up look at “The Last of England“, “Head of a Girl”, “Work”, “Take your Son, Sir”, and various other pieces, many on loan from the Tate. The audio guide by Julian Treuherz (formerly Keeper of Art Galleries at National Museums Liverpool), which included some original poetry by Angela Thirlwell, shed contextual and creative light on the exhibits.

After many rejections, Madox Brown finally won a commission in 1879 to create murals for Manchester Town Hall, narrating through his images the history of commerce and in particular textiles and weaving, in the city. Maybe it was appropriate then that we also wandered down in the rain towards Salford and visited The People’s History Museum. For me, it was a bigger and brighter version of Glasgow’s “People’s Palace” – a place to learn about the social and political struggles of the “ordinary” people of Manchester throughout the past few centuries. What stood out most was the temporary exhibition of protest banners designed and made by Ed Hall. I’ve included a few pictures here. Powerful, provocative, sometimes serious and at times, with a touch of humour. Banners like these must definitely be a dying art: a shame since clearly they are quite a bit more memorable than a hastily thrown together cardboard-wood-and-marker pen placard. Anyone who wants a banner like one of Hall’s at their march must be serious about their cause.