This afternoon’s session was a knockout. Liesbet Van Zoonen‘s keynote, ‘From identity to fragmentation: fixating the fragmented self,’ was brought together a heap of information which I was at least vaguely familiar with into new configurations, making important connections between the commodification of identity on social networking sites, the policing of identity by the state, and the increased push from multiple directions towards singular, normative forms of identity. I highly recommend reading Axel Bruns’ summary, as well as reading the final version of the talk when it’s published in Media, Culture and Society early next year.
After the keynote, Daniel Miller used Oliver Sacks’ work as a frame to introduce his own, starting with the way in which Sacks’ stories often focus on the loss of something that we think of as being quintessentially human, and using this as a platform to talk about ‘biological technologies': our nervous system, brain functions, senses, and so on. This narrative allowed for a relatively smooth transition from a discussion of ‘internal technologies’ to one of ‘external technologies’, configuring our use of communicative technologies as part of what makes us human. Miller pointed out that even face to face communications are structured by social technologies: rules about what we say to whom, body language, and so on. Miller’s current ethnographical work focuses on social media use by people living in a hospice, which he argues allows a better understanding of the role communicative media will play in our lives than the current focus on young people’s use does.
The second plenary talk, from Zizi Papacharissi, was full of extra reading and analysis that I want to dig into more deeply. She spoke about recent research into ‘Affective news streams and networked publics’, referring to Twitter use in the Egypt uprising and Occupy Wall Street. There are plenty of connections here with the research I’m doing with Tim: the use of Twitter as an alternative information channel, a tactical communication tool, and a way to strengthen bonds within the movement. Papacharissi looked in detail at what characterised the use of Twitter in the context of the #egypt hashtag: instantaneity (which was also linked to the spreadability of tweets); the emergence of crowdsourced elites (especially activists on the ground and those elsewhere who were acting as effective curators of information); the importance of solidarity in the semantic mapping of #egypt; and ambience (a constant presence of the Twitter stream, and the repetition of retweeting). She argued that this combines the practices of oral storytelling with more traditional approaches to news reporting, and doesn’t “rob movements of the leaders”: leaders emerge through crowdsourced practices.
Terri Senft‘s performance was an amazing note to end on. She focused on the idea of oversharing online, of being “too much”, “shameless”, and the ways in which this is gendered, linking it to her work on cam girls. The content of Senft’s talk was excellent: like Van Zoonen, she talked about things you’ve probably heard of (Habermas! cam girls! Amanda Todd! abortion! feminism!) but made interesting new connections, perhaps the most useful of which is around the way shame is mobilised to shut down women’s involvement in public spheres (particularly online). You should check out more of her work. What was most inspiring about her talk, though, was her ability to speak poetically and personally, and to tie this to her analysis. The tweets (below) during and after her talk attest to the power of her presentation, and seem to have inspired quite a few people to think more about how they present their own work. It’s given me a little more encouragement to be brave, to leave in a few more of those sentences that I write and then read over and delete because they seem too personal.
So, @terrisenft starts speaking, and the #ir13 tweetstream blows up. That seems about right.