IR13 Sunday highlights: mobile ecologies, Instagram, disruptive spaces, teaching on Facebook…and a bit more activism
October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
The day began with ‘Mobile ecologies: mobile phones and young people’s online participation in public access venues in Cape Town’ from Marion Walton and Jonathan Donner. Walton started by saying that mobile Internet in South Africa doesn’t, for the most part, mean smart phones, the Web, or Twitter: it means “feature phones”, and probably platforms like Mxit. Southern ecologies of use for mobile phones are also very different from Northern contexts: most public schools don’t have the resources to provide training in technology, and the overlap between mobile use and the spheres of tertiary education and the workplace is limited (since many people don’t have the opportunity to study further and unemployment is high). Those who are poorest pay the highest costs for data, as prepaid data access is far more expensive than broadband access. Putting this together allows a better understanding of mobile Internet use beyond well-off users in the North: as Internet handsets become more accessible, they amplify some people’s participation more than others, interacting with existing inequalities in diverse ways.
Later in the session, Magdalena Olszanowski looked at Instagram’s spaces of flow. This is one of those talks where I knew absolutely nothing coming in (I don’t use Instagram, let alone study it) , but there were some useful links with the reading I’ve been doing lately on space/place that I want to explore later. It was also lovely seeing the slides, which (as you might expect) were illustrated with beautiful photos.
The next session was a tough choice between ethnographies of online and mobile media and a session on social movements. I ended up going to the latter, but I’ll have to chase down the papers on ethnographies later (and this talk on the ethnography of microblogging and this book and, now that I look again at the program, also the work on social media: technologies of control). There were a couple of good papers in the social movements session on the use of new media in Egypt and Tunisia, questioning the dominant narratives of social media use as key to organising on the ground. Simon Lindgren‘s work on disruptive spaces also looks useful, including the recommendation to look at the edges of networks as well as the cores in research.
There were also a few papers I missed (or other links that turned up in the tweet stream): Agency, Resistance, and Orders of Dissent, Farida Vis‘ Social Media, Social Change, Johnny Unger’s work on Occupy, and an open access special issue on socially mediated publicness,
Tim and I presented in the following panel (slides to come), on politics and civic engagement, so my note-taking was limited. Tim’s paper on ‘#auspol, #qldpol, and #wapol: Twitter and the new Australian political commentariat’ will probably be of interest to some readers (so keep an eye on his site for updates), Sharon Strover and Sujin Choi’s ‘YouTube and civic engagement’ was notable for its examination of reply networks on YouTube, and Sheetal Agarwal et al’s paper (also out of SoMe Lab) provides a good model for understanding OWS as a networked organisation (or a series of interconnected networked organisations).
The day (and the conference) ended with a lively discussion from my colleagues Mike Kent, Tama Leaver, and Kate Raynes-Goldie on the use of Facebook in tertiary education, with Clare Lloyd‘s research presented in absentia. Mike presented the most positive perspective, arguing that while boundaries need to be set, Facebook provides a familiar environment for student engagement that stimulates discussion effectively. Tama’s position was a cautious but still predominantly positive, and focused specifically on Facebook, student engagement, and the ‘Uni Coffee Shop’ group. Clare Lloyd and Kate Raynes-Goldie argued for the need to be careful about context collapses when using Facebook and to avoid getting stuck in a false choice between Facebook and Blackboard. All in all, the panel and following discussion was in favour of using Facebook in a carefully-informed and well-managed way.
IR13 Saturday highlights: Jedward, Peppa Pig, Occupy, Occupy, more Occupy, Twitter, Twitter, and more Twitter
October 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
On Saturday there were four sessions, each of which had up to four papers in them. Even though I skipped the third session to drink coffee and debrief, it was a lot to digest. Happily there was a good mix of papers relevant to my research and papers not-at-all-relevant but interesting enough to help me push through the exhaustion. (My apologies to any presenters who were unnerved by my glazed appearance in your session. It’s not you, it’s jetlag!)
There were quite a few papers looking at various aspects of Occupy, many of them doing large-scale Twitter analysis. Zizi Papacharissi elaborated on her plenary, talking about the rhythms of Occupy: broadcasting and listening practices on #ows. She spoke briefly about the affect of the Twitter stream, which is an idea that makes sense to me on an intuitive level: if I understand it correctly, this is the idea that the stream itself (rather than individual tweets or accounts) has a certain texture and rhythm. This is something I’ve had a sense of when following or participating in high-volume Twitter streams; analysing it seems tricky, but focusing on the emergence of tagging networks and other emerging structures seems to yield some useful results. For example, the Occupy movement’s openness seems to mean that #ows tags are often associated with those of more right-wing movements, particularly the Tea Party.
There were also quite a few papers on Occupy from the Washington University Social Media Lab (and, having a quick look around their site, it looks like they’re doing a heap of stuff I want to look into further). A couple of papers used Gnip Powertrack and Radian6 to analyse content from Twitter and/or YouTube, showing that much of the content shared around Occupy is from professional sources (although there’s more movement-produced material than for other movements, like the campaign around Proposition 8 in California). The presenters emphasises the importance of the surrounding environment in shaping media use: the context shaping Prop 8 (in 2008) is very different from that around Occupy. (A number of the talks at IR13 made this point, which I think is an important one: protest ecologies matter.) There was also some useful discussion of the ways in which protesters use hashtags to sort through the vast volume of material associated with #ows.
The final session for the day included another WU SoMe Occupy paper: Kevin Driscoll‘s work on how activists understand and make choices around different platforms. Some of his findings were quite different from what we’ve found (which is not surprising given the diversity of the Occupy movement) so I’m looking forward to looking into this more. And just in case that isn’t enough Occupy, I’m hoping to find some of the Occupy papers that I ended up missing because of clashes, including #Occupy the City (another paper out of the UW SoMe Lab) and The Occupy Movement Online: Same Label, Different Projects, from Tomi Oladepo and Dennis Nguyen. The latter is one of the few papers that looked at the Occupy movement beyond the West.
The next session I went to looked at ‘fans and Twitter’. While it’s great seeing what other researchers who are in my area (more or less) are doing, I like interspersing these with talks where I’m learning something entirely new, or making new connections. I particularly enjoyed Rachel Magee et al’s paper on fans’ Twitter use around The Hunger Games, and #Eurovision: Twitter as a Technology of Fandom, from Axel Bruns, Stephen Harrington, and my colleague Tim Highfield.
There are some useful parallels between studying fan cultures and social movements which I’m beginning to consider. In both cases, there’s a significant difference in the framework of the research between those working inside communities and those looking in from the outside. I’m curious to see whether there’s much writing looking more directly at this connection and the ways in which fan studies and social movement research might interact. There are also issues of ethics and representation: Rachel Magee anonymised all data as part of the university ethics requirement, which meant that she was not able to quote any tweets directly or even mention the characters which participants were acting as on Twitter, which is in sharp contrast to the approach I’ve taken.
The final session included a couple of papers that relate to my work on the digital liberties movement: Mauger‘s on the Pirate Bay in Denmark and Burcu Bakioglu‘s on Anonymous’s war on the anti-piracy campaigners. Tama Leaver also gave a talk on global media distribution and the tyranny of digital distance which expanded on his pre-conference presentation. I learned less about Peppa Pig than I was hoping to, but the argument was interesting enough to overcome this gap in the literature.
One of the benefits/downsides of the very lively #IR13 Twitter backchannel is that the already-difficult choice between sessions is made harder by people tweeting about excellent talks happening at the same time as the excellent talk you’re attending. Among the many other gems that I’m sure future browsing through the program will turn, I missed Joseph Reagle’s Infocide in Open Content Communities, what seems to have been an important roundtable on the politics of algorithms, Holly Kruse’s paper on pneumatic tubes (there seems to be more about this here), and Helen Keegan‘s This is Not a Module: Learning Through an Alternative Reality Game, Running the game seems to have been a nerve-wracking experience (since it involved elaborate pranking), but ultimately awesome. I can only hope to give students such an interesting experience.
October 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
There have been more talks here on activism than it’s been physically possible for me to attend without splitting into two. Friday afternoon’s session on protest and online activism began with a look at ‘Protest and Internet humour memes in UK universities’ from Gordon Fletcher, which was pleasantly LOL-heavy (even if I was missing the appropriate background for many of them). Fletcher argues that while this is politics of a sort (“politics, but not as we know it”), it’s not necessarily particularly effective politics: it’s not going to start any revolutions.
Next Dan Mercea (co-authoring with Paul Nixon) looked at the use of Twitter and Facebook in attempts to recruit participants to the Occupy movement in the Netherlands. Whereas most participants in our research on Occupy Oakland saw Twitter as the primary online platform for communicating about the movement (even if this was often problematic), participants in Netherlands Occupy sites relied far more on Facebook. Mercea and Nixon also found that both Facebook and Twitter played a role in helping participants to initially learn about the Occupy movement, but wasn’t actively used to try to recruit participants. Participants’ use of both Facebook and Twitter also tended to taper off over time, and lost importance as a source of information or engagement with Occupy.
The talks which followed were a little less relevant to my own research (and, sadly, my note-taking seems to drop off significantly towards the end of the day, especially at conferences that involve international travel): Constance Elizabeth Kampf looked at ‘The past, present and future of online activism towards business’, drawing on some great case studies. I particularly liked the Google Will Eat Itself project, which claims it will use revenue generated from Google ads to buy Google shares, and eventually turn Google into a public trust. (GWEI currently owns 819 shares, totalling USD 405.413,19, meaning it will be 202.345.117 years until GWEI fully owns Google.) Zeena Feldman‘s ‘Beyond freedom and oppression’ looked at practices of resistance to the commodification of the Couchsurfing website, as users tried to continue their engagement without fully capitulating to the site’s shift to for-profit status.
October 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
October 19, 2012 § 1 Comment
It was refreshing to begin the conference with plenary speakers bringing excellent feminist and queer analysis to bear on Internet Studies. Mary Gray, Larissa Hjorth, and Susanna Paasonen all posed challenges to the dominant focuses of Internet Studies. Gray questioned technology- (and particularly device-) centred approaches, and the accompanying focus on ‘big data’. (I’ve also been having some useful discussions around this latter focus as gendered: this push towards a ‘scientific’ and quantitative approach has important implications when women are still discouraged-both subtly and unsubtly-from engagement in STEM fields and the statistical training required for big data projects.)
Gray also critiqued the ongoing focus on normative users in research, looking instead at ‘boundary publics’ – in this case queer rural youth. Hjorth, similarly, implicitly challenged the common focus on (young, well-off) men and technology use by looking at the ways in which mobile use is affecting the space of ‘the domestic’, and the relationship between mothering, smartphones, and labour.
Finally, Susanna Paasonen provided a useful counter to the assumption (perhaps more common in popular narratives than academic discourse) that digital content is disembodied. This is often tied either to a narrative of loss (of authenticity, of tactility), or a narrative of freedom (from physical limitations). Paasonen argues, in contrast, that the materiality of consuming digital content matters: digital content is always mediated through particular devices, which have different affordances and encourage particular kinds of uses. Paasonen also got quite a few scandalised/delighted titters from the audience by showing a short clip from a porn film (which, she notes, she inherited in Super 8 form from her parents). While this added some (more) humour to the talk, I think it’s also important politically. The politics of pornography have always played a large role in discussions of the Internet. We need to be able to talk productively about pornography not only in order to understand the Internet, but also because it plays such a large role in the construction of sexuality and desire in many societies.
I’m looking forward to reading more work by all of these speakers, especially as my still-slighly-jetlagged self is having some trouble processing the more theoretically dense aspects of the talks in aural form. Corrections, comments, and reading suggestions are welcome!