Showing why a linear narrative of technological progression is not enough if we want to fully understand New Media, Jussi Parikka’s latest book promotes and outlines the compelling “Media Archaeological” approach which he is helping to advance and define (in the tradition of theorists such as Laurent Mannoni, Siegfried Zalinkski, Lev Manovich, and of course Michel Foucault, all of whom are discussed in the text). Parikka, Erkki Huhtamo, and others in this emerging field embrace an understanding of media predicated upon a recognition of the heterogeneous and historical conditions of technological development, usage, implication, and cultural assimilation.
A range of theories and disciplines are naturally relevant: Parikka uses source material from philosophy, cinema studies, art history and computing science to show that the imaginaries of the subconscious – as well as the social and political conditions which “maintain our subject-object relations” (p46) – are deeply relevant to theoretical and artistic “regimes of memory and creative practices in media culture” (p3). Layered patterns of desire and perception are as informative of meaning and use as are technical specifications. Many new technologies seem to demand fresh conceptualisations of the relationships between sense and reality (page 20); further, the traditional A&H tools of interpretation, understanding and critique may need to make way for use, perversion and modulation (p163).
This awareness of multiplicity and mutating contexts resonates within my own research, which draws on literature from several fields of study to examine how academics across and within disciplines perceive and use New Media. Beginning to analyse the results of my pilot data gathering work, I find that there is no simple way to interpret the data. Using bipolar numeric scales (Semantic Differentials), I asked 8 academics from 4 different fields to indicate where they would position their understanding of “New Media” in relation to adjective pairs connoting concepts derived from multiple discourses; hence some terms are political, others abstract, others related to function and so on. Comparing the numbers with the terms and ideas expressed in interviews and discussions, I find that the “results” can be viewed from many different angles. A few examples are below:1
Some academics feel that New Media is as open as it is closed, or that it is far less inclusive than exclusive. But where do these stated positions stem from? From an individual’s empirical “rationalist” mindset? From their observations? Or from their personal desire that New Media be one thing instead of another? This can be illuminated by digging into the revelations made during an interview/conversation. While subtle distinctions in attitude can, I think, be related to the field in which someone works (their training, their background, their vocabularies and their instincts), difference of attitude/approach are nevertheless more nuanced than a discipline-based arrangement might imply.
My dataset is only a small one, but in it I see some evidence of the bridging/constructive effects of New Media within the academy – even as tensions and problems around implementation, policy, or definition are brought to light. Certainly I don’t think it is contentious to argue that using New Media within their work is giving academics a chance to engage with a greater diversity of concepts and theories than would traditionally be associated with their specific field. A computer scientist is most likely aware of philosophical and political concerns about the medium, while artists become more au fait with web technologies and programming languages. New skills, techniques and methods are learned and developed at the same time as political and critical perspectives.
Jussi Parikka talks about the praxis of media archaeology and provides examples of computer/art assemblages which “beg the question: do we have to become engineers to say and do anything interesting and accurate about current media culture?” Happily, he concludes that “the ways to engage effectively and critically…are not that narrowly defined” (p155): however, both the writing about AND the instantiation of Media archaeology require more than text-centrism. Certainly, developing a set of theories, tools, and techniques for the analysis and teaching of Media/New Media studies is a key challenge not just within this emerging field, but within Information Science more generally.
1For presentational clarity, the first term in each pair is represented by -3 and the second by 3. The actual exercises did not include negative numbers.
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 🙂
Well, it’s time to start thinking properly again about the Research Proposal that brought me here. What better way than to kick some ideas around with my lovely new Supervisors? I met them this morning for a very productive exchange and a few cups of coffee. The building was strangely quiet since (swot that I am) I’m starting a little bit early. Well, quiet save for a procession of tidy-looking primary school children in blazers, who apparently were being shown around the campus!
The project that will (hopefully) 3 years from now secure me a shiny Doctorate is provisionally entitled ” New Media and Academic Researchers – Politics, Philosophies and Participation“. The idea here is that I will address the ways in which academics across disciplines perceive and make use of New/Social media within (and beyond) the research and possibly teaching lifecycles. This will be looked at in relation to theories of participation. Obviously ascertaining attitudes and perceptions is a delicate and tricky undertaking, so we are still thinking about what precise methodology will be most suitable. Repertory Grids are one strong contender, as is Sentiment Analysis. This is where my Supervisors, Frances and Jill, will be able to guide me through the territory. Whatever we decide it will be fascinating learning from them!
Key questions of the research are:
- How do the attitudes of academics in various disciplines, with regard to new media, compare?
- Can we use participatory theories (and a historical awareness of the role of scholar) to understand and analyse academic uses of/attitudes to new media?
- Is there a typology of users, attitudes and type of use, which can be identified?
- What are the implications for official and institutional policy, scholarly communication and the positioning of new media technologies?
There is going to be a lot of categorisation, classification, and data gathering involved in answering these questions. The end result should allow us to:
- Analyse and interpret the changing position and responsibilities of scholarship and scholarly discourse as a result of ‘disruptive’ new media technologies.
- Examine the extent of hierarchies, professional constraints or societal expectations of scholars on their relationship to new media.
- Construct a typology of users based on attitudes and as a predictor of behaviours analysed and interpreted under participatory theory (assuming that participatory theory proves to be a valid and useful lens for modelling).
As you can see it’s pretty ambitious! We will need to have more discussions (next Wednesday is Meet 2) on that. Whatever the nuances, it’s pretty much agreed that scholars and academics are vital to the public sphere – as they have been since the days of the Enlightenment. With the boundaries between the “public sphere” and the “private sphere” shifting, merging, and forming all sorts of intricate relationships in the online age, it’s more important than ever that we understand what exactly is at stake for academia within that picture.
Hope you will agree this is an interesting topic! Comments and thoughts appreciated.