Archive for the 'Social Media' Category

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TECH3022 Lecture Summary Number Two

This is a short video that gives an overview of the topic covered in the second lecture for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production.

TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production Intro Number One

This video gives an introduction to the first lecture and workshop of TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production.

TECH1002-17 Lecture Overview Number One

This is my latest video introduction for TECH1002-17 Lecture Number One.

TECH1002 Social Media Reflexive Vlogs

Over the last couple of days I’ve been watching vlogs made by learners on TECH1002 Social Media Technology. The aim was to talk for about three minutes about what each student has learnt over the year. This has been a great way for me to get direct and uninterrupted feedback from each of the learners, as they let their thoughts unfold about their experience of social media.

There’s a real openness and honesty to the videos that I really like, even in their most basic form vlogging is a great way to explore ideas and to explain how our thinking shifted and changed over time and as we dealt with the different challenges that had been set. It’s my favorite assignment to mark.

Here’s the YouTube playlist with a sample of the videos.


TECH3022 – Sweet Truth Campaign

I’ve finished marking the coursework blogs for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production. The assignment focused on developing a social media campaign that engaged a group of participants in the debate about sugar and it’s role in the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

The idea was to develop a campaign that used social media to raise awareness of the role of sugar that the way that messages about processed food are embedded in our food culture. The impact that sugar and refined and processed foods have on people has become more prominent in recent years, with a lot of attention being paid to the issues in the press, and the government announcing plans for a Sugar Tax in the last budget.

Sweet Truth Logo

Sweet Truth Logo

The campaign that was developed by the learners on TECH3022 is described and explained in their collaborative wiki post on the DMU Commons Wiki. It gives a good overview of the shift in attitudes by the learners from thinking about media as something that is predominantly industrial and focused on mass entertainment, to something that is participative and based on DIY principles.

Given the seemingly unending increase in rates of obesity and diabetes in the UK, it’s essential that we use all forms of media to form communities that are equipped and empowered to make changes in their lives, to go back to the simple skills of family cooking, and to avoid the crap that is promoted by the major food manufacturers.

While this project is limited in its scale, we’ve identified some important lessons that will help to develop projects that are better equipped and funded. After all, prevention is always better than cure.

TECH1002 – Social Media Assignment

Over the Easter break I’ve been marking coursework assignment from the learners on TECH1002 Social Media and Technology. The assignment was to work collaboratively to create and develop a learning package that would help people to get together and to take part in a social activity. This meant getting together and forming a group and undertaking regular tasks that help people to learn new practical skills, interact and work collaboratively through social media to do things in the real world.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 13.19.15Examples included making bread, going for afternoon tea, using craft skills to make memes, extreme ironing, watching Friends, playing stand-along electronic games, and so on. The idea was to do something in the real world that can’t really be done in the online world. So groups were formed around playing cards and make-up, vintage clothes and car-meets.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 13.17.11As a first-year assignment, the approach is fairly straightforward, whatever could be written about the experience in the form of a blog would provide the evidence of what each person had been able to accomplish. I know my students usually hate coursework, so this meant I was able to mark each of them independently. It did mean that that I had to read over one hundred blog portfolios, which took quite a log time. I made this easier, though, by having learners post links to their relevant blogs on the DMU Commons wiki profile page. Easy to update and easy to read.

The blogs get shared via the DIY-DMU blog site that I set up on the DMU Commons. It’s fed by RSS feeds taken from the learner’s individual blog, and allows everyone to read each others posts and get a sense of what is being made by other learners. Being able to share content makes a big difference to the sense of accomplishments that’s needed for social media, making contributions visible makes a big difference.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 13.17.52The submissions scored highly when each of the groups provided plenty of information about each of the projects, so that someone who doesn’t know about it would be able to have their questions asked, and know what would be involved if they tried to join.

They also scored well if they where clearly using their media production skills by sharing photos, videos, graphics and so on. These didn’t have to be anything sophisticated, just sharing media from phone is enough these days. We had some great examples – Extreme Ironing, Make-Up and Snooker all shared videos that had that social media style we wanted.

Overall, I enjoyed working on this assignment because it was creative and extended the idea of social media as a DIY platform, rather than simply relying on corporate media styles and conventions.


Lowering the Bar of Expectation – Social Media Group Projects

I’ve never set a piece of coursework like the project that my first year social media students are presently working on. Learners have been asked to set-up a social group that meets to do something as a shared social activity. Something that they can’t do online. Like playing cards, making bread, designing button badges, using Go-Pro cameras, and so on.

20160226_155705337_iOSThe aim is to use social media to bring a wider group together who have a hobby or who are interested in doing something they enjoy. In the process they teach other people who might want to join the group what it is about. Social media is used to share interest in things like makeup, cars, sport, and to show examples of what the group gets up to. So there’s lots of using Instagram and Twitter, lots of YouTube videos, and plenty of Snapchatting.

20160202_153500000_iOSThe reaction has been great, with loads of spontaneous meetings, lots of images and social media posts being shared, and blogs being written. We have developed an expression when working out how to explain the use of social media. We are ‘lowering the bar of expectation!’ This is because we’ve learnt that social media has to be accessible, playful and inclusive. The daftest and cheesiest images seem to be the ones that get shared and reposted the most.

The amazing thing is that this doesn’t feel like hard work, it’s just something that each of the groups get on with. They connect with one another, and the ideas and exchanges seem to flow. Each group has to put together a wiki page on the DMU Commons Wiki, that they work on collaboratively, and which acts as a central point for information about the group and the activities that they undertake.

Learners are demonstrating a wide range of media production skills in the process, such as the Extreme Ironing group’s video. The Snooker Club’s video, The Friends group and the blog promoted by the Sweet Style blogs. It’s the best piece of coursework I’ve set in ages. I’m looking forward to marking the blogs that are being written about the experience over Easter. If you want to read more head over to DIY-DMU.

Using DMU Commons

For TECH1002 Social Media Technology and TECH1502 Introduction to Community Media we’ve been actively using the DMU Commons Wiki and Blogs. So far we’ve made good progress in creating blogs and adding multimedia content. Each blog been set with a unique URL and learners are adding and embedding original content that they are writing and producing. Many of the learners are adapting and changing the themes by designing their own banners, backgrounds and adding feeds to their side-bar widgets.

001-DSCF0111I’ve set-up a blog DIY-DMU that will pull-in an RSS feed from each of the individual blogs, should they wish to share their posts. I need to add all the learners to the syndication feed and to update the visuals and the Twitter feed so that it better reflects the ethos of DIY media that I’ve been discussing in lectures and labs.

Each learner has a profile on the DMU Commons Wiki that they are adding to as they go along. They are using this profile to list their blog submissions for me to mark for their coursework assignment.

I have been encouraging learners to take an active look at each others blogs and wiki profiles so that they get a sense of what other learners are achieving.

001-DSCF0112There are a couple of features that we’d like to see added to the next update to the systems, so we’ve started a snags and suggestions page on the Wiki. The main feedback so far indicates that some learners want a wider range of themes, particularly themes that they can adapt and develop more by editing CSS.




Social Learning – Why Playing Cards Matters

I have a nagging sense of anxiety that someone is going to tap me on the shoulder and ask me why, when my students are paying £9k fees, that I should be asking them to play cards at the beginning of their workshop sessions for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology?

So this week when we were playing a quick hand at the start of the workshop session, I spent some time chatting and asking what learners thought about starting the workshop sessions with game of Rummy, or Chase the Ace?

I got some useful feedback, and while a small number of students would rather just get stuck in to the tasks specified for the workshop session, most told me that they are happy to have the option to keep playing for the following reasons.

Most told me that they feel that by playing cards they have spoken with a wider range of people than they would have if they had just come in to the computer lab to work. The normal practice is to sit at a computer, stare at the screen and follow the instructions that are dictated and explained by the tutor.

By allocating the students into random groups they told me that they have been able to chat with people that they would never have spoken with before, and that they have a wider sense of who is on their course because they have been able to introduce themselves informally as they learn and play different games.

There’s also a belief that the twenty minutes or so that we play cards, gives learners time to wake-up and adjust to the attention requirements of the workshop.

Some learners come straight from an intense lecture or workshop session for another module, so this short break allows them to readjust their mind and ease into the style of thinking that we are exploring as part of this module. After all, it is social media!

I suggested that cards are a great way to do this because playing a card game doesn’t require our full attention, only part of it, while we chat and discuss issues that are relevant, or even just catch up.

I try to give a subject of conversation each week, such as who their favorite artists might be, or how they share their music. It seems like these conversations are becoming more focused and the learners make adjustments to their awareness of the ideas that are being presented to them in the lectures.

The other useful thing about playing cards is that while some learners have played cards a lot in the past, with their friends and family on a regular basis, many have not. So it’s been a process of collaborative learning, as new games are explored and the rules to different games are shared.

It looks like I’ll have to buy some new card sets because the ones that we have been using are getting worn out.

Overall I’m glad I introduced this technique this year, because for me it feels less of a battle of wills to achieve a sense of focus and engagement with the subjects the module is covering.

It also seems that attendance is holding up as well, as the loosening of the task-orientation that I’ve employed previously, has given learners a greater sense of social identity that is more agreeable to them than just expecting them to get on with their work.

Obviously they are getting on with their work, and the greater sense of trust between the learners and myself is helping to make this a process one that is self-motivated rather than directed with a heavy hand by me.

So, while I’m still anxious, I’m more confident I can explain why this has been a positive learning experience for both the learners and myself.

This Year’s Teaching So Far…

I’ve escaped from Leicester for a couple of days to take a break over the weekend and recharge my batteries. Rather like Superman when he stands in the suns glare, I will head towards the River Mersey and stand at the Pier Head and take in the spray of salt water, the cold wind whipping off the Irish Sea, and contemplate the slate grey sky that forms the backdrop to the Liverpool seafront.

I’ve been enjoying running my modules this year, and have settled into the themes with more confidence, as I’ve been able to develop them and add content that is more to my liking and my tastes. It’s a challenge to run three modules simultaneously, and to refresh the content as I go along. ‘It’s doing the working and the thinking that tires a fellow out!’ Now where did I hear that?

One of the things I’ve introduced to my first year social media module is getting the students to play cards for the first twenty minutes. It’s been useful for a couple of reasons. Firstly it means that the learners are able to sit and chat and get to know one another more easily, as the groups vary each week, and they often teach each other different games. Some students have played cards with their families and friends for years, while others are new to them. What I hope they are gaining from having a couple of short hands of either Pontoon, Rummy, Blackjack or Bullshit, is a sense of sociability and a sense of collaboration while engaging in something that is playful and distracting.

I always introduce a topic of suggested conversation related to the lectures I’ve delivered, and as we’ve been finding our way into thinking about media and the process of mediation through bands like The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Roxy Music and The Art of Noise, then we’ve been discussing how art has often been closely associated with pop culture. So we’ve mentioned Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton, and Italian Futurists – anything that connects the world of popular music with the world of ideas, alternative ways of viewing the world. I’m hoping that by looking back on some music movements of the past, these students might be inspired to create something for themselves. I wonder if any of them will form a band, or write a manifesto?

Likewise, I’m developing an introductory module to Community Media, which is something that has emerged from the ongoing PhD work. It’s a bit like building the railway line as the train is moving down the tracks. There’s a lot of trying things out and looking for live wires that can be used as a contrasting example between mainstream media, and community media’s more DIY and alternative approach. The students have hit on the idea quite quickly that community media is about giving a platform and a space for people who would otherwise not have a voice to speak and be heard.

We are experimenting with a story about people cycling on the pavement, and looking at how mainstream media in Leicester have covered it, and how alternative and independent media might look at this as a story. We’ll write blogs about it, perhaps put a news article together based on what we find out, and record a podcast based on the ideas and responses that can be collected and found when we talk with our friends and neighbours.

I’ve also been developing the final year social media module, that has taken the excessive use of sugar in our diets as a campaign issue, and is looking at ways that social media might be used to change peoples attitudes to the processed foods that we over-consume as a society. Our efforts where given a good kick this week when Keith Vaz MP told Coca Cola that their Christmas lorry wasn’t welcome in Leicester. This is a story that has stirred up a lot of controversy and has generated loads of comments on social media, and is a great example of how embedded attitudes to a consumer product and brand can be difficult to shift and change.

We are only at the end of week five, and there is some considerable way to go with these modules, with lots of marking and assignments to come in. So I’m going to use the week six reading week as an opportunity to get some reading done myself, start some marking, and maybe get ahead in preparing some classes, while also seeing if I can work through some of my PhD chapters that need writing. So no rest then, but at least I’m not on the hamster wheel for a couple of days.

DIY Music for Misfits

Occasionally a television programme comes along that frames a discussion I’ve had going on in my head and allows me to give my students a wider view of the ideas I’m trying to convey. So when I say Music For Misfits – The Story of Indie on BBC Four, I nearly fell off my chair.

It’s difficult to convey a sense of connection and correspondence about a social and cultural movement when it is happening, so being able to look back at different periods of popular culture and make sense of them both retrospectively and from a broader viewpoint is incredibly useful.

Music For Misfits covers the story of independent music and the DIY approach to promoting media by people who are outside of the mainstream music industry. Bands like The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, Big in Japan and Orange Juice are all given a good airing. What’s fascinating is the way that these forms of media are all pre-digital, pre-Photoshop and pre-ProTools.

Bill Drummond Explaining Zoo Records

Bill Drummond Explaining Zoo Records

This was a form of media that was discovered rather than planned. There where no conferences about how to succeed in the music and media industries in the late seventies and early eighties. You couldn’t go and sign up for a course in digital photography, or live performance management combined with digital composition. This was a period when the rules and the conventions where created by a small group of chancers who tried something that felt good to them, but which wasn’t expected to make them into multi-millionaires.

I’m hoping that the students on TECH1002 Social Media & Technology gain a sense that the media tools and distribution systems that we have now put them in a privileged position whereby they can express themselves and make media so easily and consistently. Looking back at the pioneers, allowing for some distance and breadth of view may hopefully inspire some to push their own ideas, their own concepts more, rather than simply thinking that they are on an escalator into the creative industries – because it doesn’t work like that.

Card Games, Sociability & Learning

As a way of developing a greater sense of sociability, I’ve been starting my workshop sessions for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology by getting my students to play cards. It’s been an interesting experience each week as the term has progressed, as students sit in small groups and share their knowledge of different types of games, such as Rummy, Pontoon, Bullshit and other games.

There’s an interesting dynamic as different groups take on different kinds of approaches. There is the serious group who look like they are sitting in a late-night poker session psyching each other out, then there is the fun group who want to play Irish Snap, with it’s loud interventions and calls. What’s certain though, is that each of the groups get talking and discussing the games, learning from each other and helping each other out to improve the games.

Based on the lecture that takes place in the middle of the week, I’ve been asking my students to discuss an idea while they play cards. This week, after talking about how ZTT Records based their notion of pop culture on the Futurist Manifesto, I wanted to know what they would include in their own manifesto of intent that they would use to guide how they produce media for themselves.

When we get back after the enhancement week, I’m going to ask if we should continue to play cards at the beginning of each session, and in what ways we can develop the use of cards as a quick way to relax and think about the topics we are covering in the module.

Updated Profile on the DMU Commons Wiki

I’ve been updating my profile on the DMU Commons Wiki. I usually detest doing these things, writing in the third-person about myself, but somehow putting my professional information into a wiki is a lot easier and looks a lot smarter than I thought it would look. Although I’ve only just started to add information and links, it made me realise just how much work I’ve been doing over the last couple of years, and what an interesting and innovative academic base it stems from. As I write more and give more examples of the work I’ve done, I’ll keep posting them on the wiki.

Selfie Madness

Last week’s teaching was about getting to know my students. As we are learning about social media I thought it would be a good idea to put some into practice by taking some selfies. Good job I have a selfie-stick!









































Ending Email Tyranny?

I caused some consternation earlier this year when I told my students that I did not want them to email me unless it was an emergency. At the start of the academic year I made an announcement in one of my lectures and labs that I would not answer any emails unless the senders arms or legs where falling off – yeah, a genuine emergency.

This caused something of a rumpus, because it seems students are expecting, or have grown used to the idea, that a lot of their contact with their tutors will be done by email. When they have a question or need to solve a problem, often the first thing that students expect is to be able to email their tutor.

This seems reasonable on the face of things, but as Cary Cooper points out in an excellent article in The Guardian, we are in danger of allowing email to become an “unending electronic overload” that damages our work-life balance, and therefore our mental health.

I explained to my students that I would not be sitting at home checking my emails while I watch Strictly Come Dancing (not that I do). Nor would I be issuing guidance and instructions for the completion of assignments as I sit in bed with my novel before I go to sleep.

Instead, I suggested that we do what every other generation of scholars have done, and that any questions anyone might have gets written into a notebook, and then the questions are asked in our workshop sessions, either as part of our group discussion or in an individual basis. Or, if that wasn’t felt to be appropriate, students could come and see me at one of my three office-hour sessions I had available each week.

I can’t blame my students for their reaction, because like most workplaces and universities, email has become the default form of communication. The problem is that it has reached the level of absurdity, with thousands of emails being sent, complex instructions being issued, and a general lack of face-to-face contact as a result. As Gary Cooper makes clear

“Email and social media have served a very important purpose in the workplace, and have been an enabler in communications and virtual work relationships. The downsides, however, now outweigh the benefits, and these include: unmanageable workloads (when faced with an excessive email inbox), the loss of face-to-face relationships with colleagues; and the misuse of emails to avoid having face-to-face discussions about difficult work-related issues. As Einstein once wrote: ‘I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction, the world will then have a generation of idiots.’”

In ditching email as a primary form of contact with my learners, however, I’ve been able to focus on the direct, face-to-face interaction. This works so much better. Being able to speak directly with one another, being able to look in each other’s eyes, questioning and double-checking what’s being said, rather than assuming that we have understood each other in the flurry of electronic messages.

There is a very important lesson for us all in recognising that remote-control learning and email management doesn’t work, and so I will be pursuing this approach in the scholarship experiences that I design for next year’s learners. Lets get people talking directly to one another, then our learning will be less overloading and we can, most importantly, directly acknowledge our personal successes.

TECH1002 Reflective Vlogs Playlist

Here’s the playlist of videos blogs from learners on TECH1002 Social Media & Technology. There’s some really good examples of creative and critical thinking emerging here, and the use of video, graphics and animation in some is really good.

Social & Community Media Learning – My Years Review

The past year has been one of curriculum development, in which I have primarily focused on the leadership and delivery of the modules TECH1002 and TECH3022, supervising project students, and supervising the delivery of TECH3026. This involved:

  • TECH1002 Social Media & Technology – this year I have further developed lectures, workshops and assessment activities to support learners understanding of digital mediation, network culture, digital identity and collaborative media. This year I introduced the DMU Commons Wiki as part of the module activities in order to promote and test collaborative learning practices and skills. I have further developed the use of blogs as part of the role of a social media practitioner that learners are modelling. I have strengthened the approach to the examination and the expected requirements for associated reading.
  • TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production – this year I have introduced and developed a focus on digital capabilities, digital activism, digital literacies, and digital sociology (netnogtaphy). Engagement with social media has centred on a campaign to raise awareness about processed food, sugar and carbohydrate rich diets. Learners participated in a social media project to support a campaign directed through the site. Learners worked collaboratively using the DMU Commons Wiki and other social media tools.
  • TECH3026 Creative Media Entrepreneurship – while I failed to win support for the continuation of Seed Creativity Ltd running this module, I am satisfied that the operation and standard of delivery of this module will produce satisfactory learner engagement and progression.
  • TECH3010 Project Supervision – there has been a low turn-out from learners at the regular supervision sessions I held.

In addition to the above teaching duties I have contributed to the validation of the BA Communication Arts course, by writing three templates for modules based on Community Media. I have continued to build my external academic profile, both in terms of research, teaching & learning and support for external community media. I am an active blogger and social media user. I am an external examiner at Liverpool John Mores University. I am a council member of the Community Media Association. I have asked for an extension to my PhD registration so I can continue to collate and write material. My submission deadline is now expected to be the end of September 2015. Following advice from the (now former) Deputy Dean I have continued to refraining from engaging in administrative initiatives and management activities in order to focus on academic work and the completion of my PhD, and to maintain a satisfactory and work-life balance.

Three priorities have emerged that I wish to take forward in both my learning and teaching activities, and in the support I can offer to colleagues in the Leicester Media School. All are associated with the idea of Social Learning.

Firstly, I wish to reinforce the practice of verbal instruction and note taking with undergraduate learners. There is a low sense of expectation demonstrated by new learners on TECH1002 that they are required to take notes in lectures and workshops. Many learners seem to have only a limited sense that they are expected to attend lectures and workshop sessions, and that when they do they are required to make notes. Subsequently, learners who do not attend, and who do not make note, are often the ones who struggle to perform at the required level, and often find it difficult to complete assignments independently. While this can be expected as part of the process of orientation and enculturation to different learning styles at Level Four, the speed at which learners make this change can be uneven, and for some, problematic. I will therefore trial the Social Learning approach, and test through the use of small-group discussions and ‘talk-aoke’ sessions, if learners can be encouraged to engage with informal discussion of the reading material associated with the weekly taught sessions. I will be looking for them to use appropriate academic language and concepts in these discussions, and to exhibit some fluency for the concepts that are considered. Learners will be given clear expectations that evidence of reading and discussion ought to be reflected in their blog and wiki posts. In addition, and as a fundamental principle of delivery, I will primarily engage in face-to-face interaction with learners. This face-to-face interaction will be clearly signposted as an alternative to email, Blackboard and other forms of electronic communication, and will stress the benefits of learning how to interact with tutors directly. The lab arrangements for the delivery of the social media modules are at present far from satisfactory, with no regular activity-base to work from that is dedicated to the development of a social-learning approach (i.e. café style seating, comfortable sofas, round table displays). It is a common occurrence for many learners from other courses to use the same rooms (often being the only place that the can access bespoke software), which puts additional stress on the learning sessions being developed here, and provides an inappropriate justification for a significant number of learners to consider being absent – i.e., that the room is full and they won’t be missed.

My second priority is to support colleagues in the Leicester Media School to develop the capability and use of social learning tools, and collaborative development/production tools. Often the general approach to communication within the Faculty of Technology is to cascade emails. This is a failing approach that doesn’t build knowledge communities based on collegiality, mutual engagement or transparency. Email and hierarchical management practices don’t allow for the shared and de-centred approach to learning, curriculum development and professional practice. By identifying and testing different models of social collaboration, learning and peer-based project work, it should be possible to iron-out many of the communication issues that are prevalent in a large organisation such as the LMS. With the aim to reduce operational log-jams, improve two-way communication, facilitate longer-term planning, allow for a more inclusive set of decision-making practices, and to build an identity around the core practices of the community of learners that make up the LMS. These peer-based learning and professional practice approaches are difficult to integrate within standard daily routines, but when established they will help to foster a ‘community of practice’ type approach and support a shared and collective intelligence ethos among colleagues that might otherwise go unrecognised, unreported and unsupported.

The third priority I wish to continue to support, is the work I have started in TECH3022, looking at social media as an advocacy tool for digital activists, ethnographic researchers and campaigners. Working with issues associated with the Obesity and Diabetes epidemic gives learners an opportunity to develop social media skills related to a platform of action and awareness raising that satisfies a clear social need; questions established social values, and, allows learners to practice creative forms of social media production. By questioning the prevailing culture of processed food and carbohydrate-rich food-like-substances, and by advocating the Low Carb ethos, learners have to demonstrate their ability to research, comprehend and situate a complex and controversial set of issues. Learners also have to be able to reflect on their own experience of food consumption, and generate insights that are relevant to the wider social discussion about obesity and diabetes, particularly as issues of weight carry a significant social stigma. As well as practicing creative approaches to producing engaging content that resonates with an audience of engaged participants, the social learning approach adopted here also allows for the clear demonstration of the impact of practical literacies, skills and know how (in this case food but with a reference to digital media), and how media/digital literacies might similarly be adopted and sustained on a grassroots and participant-led basis. There is considerable scope to develop a research platform within this topic area and subject, that can be linked with credible public services and advocacy bodies, as well as the LMS being seen to take a lead on a debate of significant public interest. [Prof Richard Hall has cited this as an example of good practice on his blog posted on The DMU Centre for Pedagogic Research]

I am aiming to submit my PhD thesis for September 2015, and hope to continue to be associated with the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility afterwards. I will be submitting a separate IRP outlining this. Upon completion of my PhD I want to aim for Readership so that I can develop my research and publication paper output in issues around collaborative and community media. This will involve developing research projects that support community-based organisations who seek to build and sustain capabilities, skills, resources and awareness in the use of digital tools for social media production, social learning and social network development, either as communities of interest, identity, practice or locality. I aim to do this within the CCSR’s remit as a learning community that accounts for the use and deployment of computer mediated communication practices and their ethical and social consequences. I believe that this will support the aims of the Media, Design & Production Subject Group, as a community of practice itself, and the wider Leicester Media School, by fostering collaboration and engagement with partners in other academic communities.

Face-to-Face Feedback

You might think that as I teach about using social media that I would want to interact with my students using Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, in order to give them feedback about their work. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, and the more that I teach about social media, the more I am reminded of the value of face-to-face discussions.

It’s become all too easy to suggest to learners on my modules that they can catch-up with the notes from each of the lecture sessions by reading the PDF documents that I post on my website. In a way this get me off a massive hook. I can assume that my teaching responsibilities have been exercised because I have sent out an email pointing learners in the direction of the notes.

Likewise I can safely assume that everything that is written in the notes is understandable and legible, and that any reasonable person – in my mind at least – would be able to figure them out.

But this isn’t really the case, and the more that I interact with learners on my modules, the more I have a growing sense that all of the digital forms of communication we have available to us are actually leading to lower levels of understanding.

When I sit with a learner, and we discuss the issues that have been covered in the lectures, or that crop-up in the reading, I can only really get a good sense of what is being understood by reading their face, looking at their eyes, and giving them time to think through the ideas that we are contemplating.

The stress of modern learning delivery is all focussed on delivery by technology and what’s being squashed is the one-on-one learning, in which a student sits with a tutor and they ask each other questions about the tasks or the issues to be discussed. I can’t do this very well with social media. Yes, it’s possible to give feedback using Skype or other visual and audio forms of social media, but this doesn’t get anywhere close to sitting and chatting.

One thing I would like to develop in my modules, then, are more sessions where we sit and chat with each other about the topics and the ideas we are covering. A café-style room would be ideal. Small tables that three of four learners can sit around and participate in discussions. I’d even suggest that we order tea or coffee every now and again, and really settle in to a vibrant discussion.

Those learners who are able to sit with me, I hope are well adjusted to the extended process of learning at university, rather than just being people who process information and regurgitate so-called knowledge.

Down With Selfie Sticks?

Are people who want to use selfie sticks getting unfairly treated in public spaces? It looks like the latest social media technology that has spread among users of camera-phones, are getting it in the neck for wanting to enhance their photographs when they go visiting public places and galleries. According to the BBC “The National Gallery in London has banned selfie sticks. The gallery says it has placed them in the same category as tripods, which are banned ‘in order to protect paintings, individual privacy and the overall visitor experience’”

It seems that users of selfie sticks have broken some kind of taboo? A taboo that says that we shouldn’t be so obvious when we take our self-images using our phones? But what are we expected to do, I’m not so sure? For such a simple piece of equipment, the radical change that the selfie stick affords is quite dramatic. Selfie sticks allow users to situate themselves within the place that they are visiting. In a way the selfie stick breaks the rules that means that people should be dutiful and respectful of the environment they are in, and that they should act with a high-degree of public decorum.

According to the Guardian, “a spokeswoman for the National Gallery said staff had been told to help enforce the ban. She said: ‘Photography is allowed for personal, non-commercial purposes in the National Gallery – however, there are a few exceptions in order to protect paintings, copyright of loans, individual privacy and the overall visitor experience. Therefore the use of flash and tripods is not permitted’”

Instead, the selfie stick allows an individual or a small group of friends to take control of the photo-moment for themselves in a completely inclusive way. Rather than one person being behind the camera to take an image, the selfie stick is inclusive and participatory, and allows the entire group to be included in the photo. No more missing mums or dads, taking turns to capture a picture of the family that they are a part of, but otherwise forced to be behind the camera.

“Selfie sticks are the wildly popular extending rods that can be fitted with a smartphone for a different angle self-portrait.” Time Magazine suggests that “they’ve been banned at a number of museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Washington D.C.’s National Gallery. The Centre Pompidou and the Louvre are considering bans”

The taker’s of these selfies become much more active participants in the environment that they are visiting. No longer determined by the dynamic of just snapping what’s in front of the visitors, we can now include ourselves in the vista and the setting. The wide-angle lens affords a wider view of the scene, and we can respond to one another in a more natural manner, rather than posing for a formal image in the traditional portrait manner.

USNEWS suggests that “’Selfie sticks’ have now been banned at a French palace and a British museum, joining a growing list of global tourist attractions to take such measures. The devices are used to improve snapshots, but critics say they are obnoxious and potentially dangerous. Officials at Palace of Versailles outside Paris, and Britain’s National Gallery in London, announced the bans Wednesday, saying they need to protect artworks and other visitors”

So before anyone wants to ban the use of selfie sticks in other public places, just consider for moment what you would be trashing. The active participation of people as a social group who have strong social ties, and that are embedded in a location or a venue. How can anyone complain about that?

Zotero – Web Reference Management Tool

One of the best tools I’ve used online in recent years is Zotero, the web reference management tool that allows me to capture links and web pages for use later in my lectures, research and blogs.

The good thing with Zotero is it’s free and can sync to different PCs that I have. This means I can keep all my tags coordinated across all my devices and update them wherever I am.

Zotero is designed as a reference management tool, so I can create bibliographies automatically in different formats. I tend to use Harvard, so it’s a good tool for an exptended list of online articles I can share with my students.

It’s not difficult to get into the habit of using, and when I’m reading articles online each morning, I make a point of saving them in the different folders I’ve categorised in Zotero, so I know where I’m looking for stuff.

Zotero is no completely integrated into my daily routine, and I can band out a reference list at the touch of a button.

Social Learning & Face-to-Face Contact

While the modules I’ve been running this year have been based on the way that we use media to socialise our experience through social networks, I’ve come to realise just how much I value the face-to-face contact that comes from interacting with students in the workshops.

It’s one thing to circulate and share ideas on social media platforms, but its so much better to be able to talk with people directly on a one-to-one basis in a workshop session. Rather than assuming that learners are going to immediately understand the concepts that we are using in the module, it’s important instead, to read people’s faces and their eyes to see what’s going on inside their heads as they process the ideas we are using.

This face-to-face interaction tells me so much more about what learners are actually able to process and make sense of than any electronic survey or report could ever do. Those who have completed a tasks and feel that they have learnt something show the pleasure and joy on their faces. Those who think they have dodged a bullet find it harder to obfuscate and divert my attention when they clearly haven’t done the work that was expected of them.

There’s a danger that we instrumentalise the learning experience in our modules by including too many electronic check-boxes, too many feedback and survey points, and too many remote systems for monitoring learners access with the online information that we post.

I’ve come to value, once again, the traditional interaction of sitting and talking with learners. With playing with ideas in a conversation, and taking our time to think about things that at first don’t make sense to us, but which change in our minds as we process them through chat.

If there is an underlying approach to the scholarship in my teaching, it is the socialisation of learning has to be diverted away from the banking model of learning, in which privatised consumers of knowledge store-up their expertise, skills and capabilities in order to complete a future assessment. Instead, I’m much more interested in the socialisation of learning and using our learning as it happens in a flow of reciprocal interaction that challenges the assumptions that we hold about phenomenon in the social media world.

Social TV – DMU Commons Wiki Entry

For this week’s lab for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology, I’ve set the task of looking at, researching and writing about Social Television for the DMU Commons Wiki. The aim of the session is to gather information and comment about the emerging phenomenon of social television; what it is and what is being said about it. This can include the technology that drives it, the way that it is being promoted by media companies; the way that advertising and marketing is driving the development of metrics-driven media, and the way that individuals use and make sense of television content and services now that they are part of a networked culture?

The first step is to look at some websites that talk about Social Television and to look for some interesting articles and discussion pieces. It’s worth looking at the scholarly articles and journals that a Google search brings up, and Google Books is an excellent way of finding quotes about television consumption and research from the Media Studies tradition.

Building the article is going to be a process of discussion and collaboration, exchanging ideas and examples. So the discussion page of the Social Television wiki article is the essential place to look to see what other users of the Wiki have been adding and recommending. Posing questions that contributors think will help other contributors to figure out what else they might research or write for the article will be particularly useful.

The embedded signatures in the wiki page are incredibly useful as they help to get a sense of who has suggested what [the four ~~~~]. In addition I’m encouraging contributors to note the links and the references to any published items by using the Harvard citation style, as it has been adapted for Wikipedia. This should help us to build-up a substantial and wide-ranging set of source resources that we can share and use as a group.

Experimenting with DMU Commons Wiki Collaboration

Using the DMU Commons Wiki for coursework activity for TECH1002 Introduction to Social Media & Technology has been a very interesting experience. This week I wanted to start and develop a page about Instant Messaging. Well, I’d planned to do a load of research and present a mini-presentation about it, but then I thought better and realised that this might be something that I can put out to the ‘crowd’ and see what we can build and assemble collectively.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 13.16.53So I created a page on the wiki ‘Instant Messaging’ and I added a couple of questions to the talk page behind it to start the process off. So far so good. I was interested in finding out how the learners on my module had used Instant Messaging in the past, and what information they could find on the web about it. So the task was to search for some information, note and summarise it on the wiki talk page, and then pass this information on to the next group, who could take it on and build it up.

Wiki Talk Page

Wiki Talk Page

The only problem has been the lack of attendance at my sessions. Apparently there is a media production deadline today, and it seems that all other work stops when first years are putting their audio and video pieces together! But not to worry, this is the web, and this is a social media module. There’s always another way to get this done.

So, I’ve decided that I’m going to virtualise this little project and to use social media to encourage the learners on the module to contribute to this page on the wiki by using other means. We have blogs, wikis, Twitter streams, Facebook groups, and so on, all accessed and used by learners. There’s no particular reason why this must be done in a lab sessions, other than this is the one place that I’m available for questions and advice.

One of the learners pointed out that we have not been using the talk page correctly, and that each point that is made on the talk page should be given a signature. On Media Wiki this is very simple. It just involves the use of a simple piece of syntax ‘~~~~’. This then bring up the users name and a date stamp with the information of when the discussion point was raised.

The actual discussion page is very similar to the main page in the way that it is edited, except that it isn’t for public consumption and can therefore be revised more freely. It’s an excellent way of testing out the wording of an entry and getting people to agree the content before it is copied or moved into the required page.

The next thing I want to look at is tags and categories, as I’ve fallen behind in how to use them. By the end of next week I’d like for us to have a comprehensive page of information about Instant Messaging that can be spread to other people as an example of how to collaborate on a document like this.

Experiments in Open Web Communities – DMU Commons Wiki

One of the innovations I’ve made in my teaching this year has been the introduction of the DMU Commons Wiki system to my first and final year social media modules. In the past we’d used the inbuilt wiki in Blackboard, but I was never satisfied that this was not outward facing or industry standard. It’s difficult to encourage learners to take on a social media system sometimes, when it is behind an enclosure or garden wall. The system that is built into Blackboard only uses the propriatorial system that they provide, and I was keen to get learners to use something that is more widely recognised in the real world – which doesn’t come much better than MediaWiki, the system that Wikipedia uses.

So I’ve introduced regular wiki posts into the coursework for TECH1002 Introduction to Social Media & Technology and TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production as a way of providing a space for learners to experience posting to an open wiki system, where they are in charge of the process of submission and can see the posts that are created by other learners. Indeed, the aim is to encourage learners to collaborate on posts and to encourage other people to contribute to them.

The DMU Commons comprises as set of blogs and the Wiki. The skills needed for each are fairly straightforward and give immediate access. There is no coding or complex set-up. WikiMedia is a simple ‘syntax’ based system that can automatically generate a set of standard formatting functions in a page just by adding some simple punctuation/syntax. For example MediaWiki creates a contents box based on the use of headers in the text, which are simply identified by adding a couple of ‘=’ wrapped around the text that forms the title. My estimate is that you can learn to post a page with some basic information in about twenty minutes.

DMU-Commons-Wiki-001Once the basic skills in creating a page and mastering how to format some simple content are established the main issues is how to name the page so that it can be found by other people on the wiki. There are two main ways to navigate around a wiki, either by following a hypertext link or by searching for a key word. This is a rhizomatic approach to information management, with no centralised or ‘tree-like’ information structure. All points are available to all other points in the system at all times. Indeed, planning wiki entries requires a shift in our thinking that eschews structure and instead works on tags, key words and links. You don’t have to worry about what comes first, or what follows. Each page is posted discretely and stands alone. So it has to be named in such way that it can be found without it being linked to any other pages.

The great advantage in this form of publishing is that there is no central control exerted over the production process, and it can be revised and updated at any time. There’s no need for an editorial board or a publishing schedule. Users can post content when they want, and if it needs to be published in an initial form that is incomplete, then it can be revised and updated later, by any of the other contributors. It’s a perfect development tool for collaborative teams as they work on documents that form a centralised information point. The information can be shared easily and updated as networks of developers go along. Behind each page is the tracking system that maintains a record of what changes were made and by who.

I’ve encouraged my learners to create a profile page for themselves, so that they can add information about what they have been producing, what their biographical information is, and examples and links of work that they have developed. Another advantage of a wiki is its relative anonymity. So users only get identified by the P:Number (DMU ID), and nothing on a page is publicly credited. The most experienced users can sit alongside the newbies and develop content that is of equal worth in the wiki. There’s less opportunity in a wiki to exercise your ego, and as a result those of us who are more introvert and retiring get the chance to make our mark while the loud-mouths have their sense of entitlement to recognition toned down. The blogs that the learners write can be as egotistical as they like, but the wiki entries have to be written to a general standard that isn’t based on who you are, but is instead about what you have to add.

I thought it was important to encourage contributions by asking learners to post content that they are interested in, so there’s a selection of fan pages, sports pages and gaming pages, all in different stages of development. There’s a lot of interest in TV programmes such as Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Firefly; and then there’s pages about DC and Marvel Comics and Films. The games pages are interesting, because there are a lot of students who game at DMU, with a good deal of expertise and knowledge about different game worlds and systems. As a platform for grass-roots interest, a wiki is a pretty good way of allowing contributors to express their own interests. Interests that are representative of the diversity of interests that exist at DMU. With a wiki, no one page can be flouted as being above any other page in terms of its value or appreciation except that it is of interest to the users and contributors of the wiki. All content is equal on a wiki.

The advantage of a wiki goes beyond simply sharing information, but also allows users to develop collaborative plans when working on projects. Rather than sending around different versions of a document, a wiki page is a living document that can be updated in real time. Changes can be made easily and with clear agreements from the contributors. There are other collaborative document systems, such as Microsoft SharePoint, but for what MediaWiki costs to host, and the level to which it enables collaboration, I don’t think I’d use anything else for project planning in the future. My final year students are about to write a project development plan using the wiki for a social media project they are undertaking, so I’ll be able to share how this goes later on.

So, what’s likely to be of use on the DMU Commons Wiki in the future? One thing that I think has loads of potential is the development of How-to-Guides. Already there are a couple of pages dedicated to media production techniques, such as photography, audio recording and video production. The sharing of hands-on information by learners, technical staff and academics alike, heralds a good opportunity to pass on information to a wider audience, a community of practitioners. With expertise often split over different departments and buildings at DMU, the DMU Commons Wiki could be a cost effective way of bringing practitioners together, regardless of their chosen discipline, to share and collaborate in how to get the best from the media technologies that they are working with. Indeed, why stop at media technology, this wiki is open to all technologies, disciplines and subjects, across the whole of the university.

So I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges from the DMU Commons Wiki, what kind of communities of interest emerge, how they share and collaborate knowledge, and how they enhance communication so that people who wouldn’t normally get to collaborate and share are able to with minimum fuss.

Challenging Representational Conventions

Here’s a fascinating article from i-D Magazine about photographer Matt Lambert’s work. According to i-D “Matt Lambert is a filmmaker and photographer whose purpose is to oppose the conventions surrounding present representations of individuals in the media.”

TECH3022_15 Lecture Week Eleven – Netnography Ethical Questions

This week we are discussing the role of the ethnographer as an ethical researcher and how we can assess if our research activities are likely to result in harm to the volunteers and participants who are helping us. To start it’s worth refreshing our memory about what ethnographic and netnographic study is about. As Christine Hine points out: “The Internet has frequently been understood by social scientists as providing a new space for social interaction and for the development of social formations, and innovation in research methods is needed to address these new spaces. However, this does not mean that the traditional sites of research into everyday life become irrelevant” (Hine, 2005, p. 109). Therefore, and as Robert Kozinets suggests, “Data collection in netnography means communicating with members of a culture or community. That involvement, engagement, contact, interaction, communion, relation, collaboration and connection with community members – not with a website, server, or a keyboard, but with the people on the other end”(Kozinets 2010).

Kozinets goes on to suggest, “Netnography is a specialised type of ethnography. It uses and incorporates different methods in a single approach focused on the study of communities and cultures in the Internet age. Qualitative online research such as netnography is ‘essential in shaping our understanding of the Internet, its impact on culture, and culture’s impacts on the Internet”(Kozinets 2010).

In developing our research plans, then, we have to consider how the activities that we undertake and the roles that we play as investigators, will affect the lives of the people that we are studying. As researchers we have a duty to ensure that harm is minimised and that any situation that might negatively impact on the wellbeing or reputation of the research subjects we are working with is minimised. Boellestorff et al have identified “eight fundamental areas in which ethnographers should consider the ethics of the impacts of their research on informants. These areas – informed consent, mitigation of institutional risk, anonymity, deception, sex and intimacy, compensation, taking leave, and accurate portrayal” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 130). To which I would like to add some comments about the following: Entering the Field, Negotiating with Gatekeepers, Confidentiality and Harm, Protecting the Under-Eighteens.

When we start our investigation, and have identified the general area of social and community life that we would like to examine, we have to think about how we might gain access to that area. This is commonly called ‘entering the field’, and requires ethnographic researchers to make a careful evaluation of the type of social interactions we are likely to find and encounter in these communities. As Robert Prus reminds us, while researchers “needn’t accept the viability of the viewpoints of those they encounter as reference points for all matters of personal activity, ethnographers are faced with the task of acquiring perspectives, or at least attaining a good working familiarity with the world views of those they purport to study” (Prus 1996). Therefore any activity that we undertake as part of our research has to be mindful that the role that we play as researchers isn’t straightforward or simple. As Prus explains, “Like others who venture into particular arenas and attempt to deal with the people (often strangers) they encounter there, ethnographers may find themselves dealing with considerable ambiguity, uncertainty, and stage fright. Not only do they attempt to learn about and define the parameters of the field, but they must also tentatively envision their own lines of action and contemplate ways of approaching and relating to these in the field” (Prus 1996).

Therefore, according to Prus, “Given the complex, ambiguous and emergent nature of human relations, there is no definitive set of instructions that can provide to insure success in the field” (Prus 1996). Prus suggests that instead of worrying about the specifics of research protocols and management plans, it is more important that researchers are attuned to the people with whom they will be interacting within the defined ‘life-worlds’ that people operate. And rather than putting the researcher on a pedestal and regarding them as an independent and objective entity, the whole enterprise of ethnography is founded on the ability of the researcher to develop a familiarity and intimacy with the researcher subjects. As Prus describes “There my be times when people in the settings expect researchers to protect auras of significance, but for the most part I’ve found that people very much appreciate contract with someone who is genuinely interested in learning about, as opposed to trying to impress them. In this regard, I’ve become more attentive to the importance of explaining things to people, telling them of my own limited knowledge in the area, and asking them if they would like to help me with the project at hand” (Prus 1996).

 Prus is clearly not naive about this process of engagement, and suggests that the initial efforts of the researcher to “establish intersubjectivity [are] complicated by the fact that while participants may be open, sincere, and cooperative, they may also resist and deceive researchers by both concealing and selectively revealing information. As well, participants may unintentionally forget, become confused, and otherwise inadvertently mislead researchers” (Prus 1996). Which means that researchers must accept that the interactions, discussions and actions of the research subjects are human and therefore multi-faceted, complex and ambiguous. We each live our lives subject to emotional and symbolic forces that our not in our control, being attuned to how we make sense of these contradictions is the role of the ethnographer in the field. As Prus adds, “this means that researchers are faced not only with the task of selecting and organising material that depict in central manners the lived experiences of the other, but also with selecting ways of conveying and contextualising these to prospective readers so that they find these experiences (transcontextually) meaningful and comprehensible” (Prus 1996). Therefore, as Boellstorff et al remind us, “Ethnography cannot be done on the side, nor is it an enterprise to undertake lightly” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 76).

 When we enter into a social situation as a researcher we have to make an assessment about the social structure and the possible lines of action that are available to us. In many circumstances this means that we have to establish a rapport with the ‘gatekeepers’ who have acquired status and a controlling influence within the community. As Boellstorff et al point out “Negotiating entrée via group gatekeepers is something that often has to be done when working with more formal organisations or groups that keep tighter boundaries around themselves” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 77). This process of negotiation is important at all levels of participation, as “Ethnographers cannot simply observe because, by definition, [but] must participate in the fieldsite” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 142). Therefore being clear, honest and trustworthy about our intentions when we are conducting our research is a priority.

 Key to our access to social situations that we want to study is the way in which we are able to negotiate and maintain as sense of familiarity and conviviality with the participants in the life world that we wish to engage with. As Robert Prus identifies, “Given their goal of achieving intimate familiarity with the life-worlds of the other in a more comprehensive sense, researchers may wish to be mindful of the sorts of affiliations that they develop with particular others in the setting. These may significantly affect researchers’ abilities to access other people in the setting as well as their opportunities to learn more fully about the life-worlds at hand” (Prus 1996).

 This involves not only working with information or recording observations of fact and action, but also being attuned to the emotional states of the participants in the life worlds we study. As Robert Prus explains, “In addition to the challenges entailed in learning about the life-worlds of the other in more direct sense, ethnographers face the task of managing their own emotional states (as private experiences) as well as the ways in which they express any emotional themes to others” (Prus 1996). And therefore, “In working with people, it is also important that researchers try to adopt and sustain a congenial disposition throughout their contract with the field”(Prus 1996).

There are no fixed rules about how we sustain this sense of congeniality, because each situation and each group of people that we interact with will require a different set of operations and performance criteria that we are attuned to. Even assessing this form of congeniality as a form of role playing is problematic, as sincerity and genuine affection is not something that can be performed. To limit and manage the expectations that arise from our contact researchers might want to consider how their disposition is managed, for as Robert Prus states, “Maintaining composure is somewhat related to the matter of congeniality, but draws attention to the importance of researchers developing a more, trustworthy image or reputation in the setting. Composure should not be taken as synonymous with a lack of interest, but rather denotes an element of balanced control over oneself in the field situation” (Prus 1996). Indeed, as Prus goes on, “Researchers may inadvertently and innocently become embroiled in matters beyond their control, but it is more unfortunate when they are the source of their own undoing” (Prus 1996).

 Our hope as ethnographers is that we have established a sense of confidence and trust to such an extent that there is clear benefits in “encouraging open conversations,” reassuring them that there is no right answer, and providing positive feedback will all help to build the special report to crucial to a successful interview” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 95). As Boellstorff et al point out “One of our goals as interviewers should be to help people feel authorised to speak freely, to honour their expertise and encourage them to convey their insights to us” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 99). If we get this right, and we have settled on a level and form of congeniality that is welcoming and trust worth, then the benefit is one where “Informants will… remember us, the ethnographers. They will recall our gifts of listening, the deep interest displayed in small details of their lives, and the way we took care to discern and follow the complexities and enigmas of their everyday pursuits and dreams” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 150).

Perhaps the most important issue in any form of research that involves interaction with participants is that of informed consent. Robert Kozinetts explains that “Inherent in the nature of ethnography and netnography, the researcher must constantly maintain a tension, taking back and community and culture, and the more abstract and distanced worlds of theory, words, generality, and research focus”(Kozinets 2010). And therefore, according to Kozinets, “The foundation of an ethical netnography is honesty between the researcher and online community members”(Kozinets 2010).

According to Robert Kozinets “From the beginning of the research through to its end, good netnographic research ethics dictates that the researcher: (1) openly and accurately identifies her or himself, avoiding all deception, (2) openly and accurately describes their research purpose for interacting with community members, and (3) provides an accessible, relevant, and accurate description of their research focus and interests. Finally, it is highly recommended that the netnographer set up a research web-page providing positive identification as well as a more detailed explanation of the research and its purpose, and perhaps should eventually share the initial, interim, and final research findings with online community members”(Kozinets 2010).

We can list some useful questions that might help us to identify the ongoing ethical issues associated with our research:

  • Will informed consent be required from participants?
  • If so, what procedures to obtain consent will be followed? (E.g., print or digital signatures, virtual consent tokens, click boxes or waiver of documented consent).
  • Will consent be obtained just from individuals or from communities and online system administrators?
  • In situations whereby consent is desired but written informed consent is impossible (or in regulatory criteria, impracticable) or potentially harmful, will procedures or requirements be modified?
  • What harm might result from asking for consent, or through the process of asking for consent?
  • What ethical concerns might arise if informed consent is not obtained?
  • If an ethics board deems no consent is required, will the researcher still seek subjects’/participants’ consent in a non-regulatory manner?
  • If informed consent is warranted, how will the researcher ensure that participants are truly informed?

Risk in the research situation is not confined to that which might potentially affect the participant, but also the role of the researcher and the organisation that they are part of. Because the form of research that is being undertaken in an ethnographic study is participant based, it would not be appropriate for the researcher to adopt a tone of oversight or advantage with their respondents. As Boellstorff et al points out “When not placed on a pedestal above participant observations and other qualitative approaches, quantitative methods can play a valuable role in some ethnographic research projects” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 128). This does not imply, however, that the controls and the checks that most institutions place on the research enterprise are any less necessary. Questions that are raised by organisational involvement include:

  • Does our research adequately protect the researcher and their organisation, as well as the community/author/participant?
  • What are potential benefits associated with this study?
  • Who benefits from the study – do the potential participants? If not, what greater benefit justifies the potential risks?
  • Is the research aiming at a good or desirable goal and how does this fit in with the goals of the supporting organisation?
  • Can we be sure the data collected from online sites, fora, communities, is “legitimate” and “valuable” and what procedures and process of monitoring and approval must it go through to be supported by the organisation?
  • How are we recognizing the autonomy of others and acknowledging that they are of equal worth to ourselves and should be treated so?

Significant commitment is given to the protection of participants identity in an ethnographic study, as even the ‘piecing together’ of seemingly unrelated facts can be problematic for individuals, particularly if what they are sharing with the researcher is of an intimate and personal nature. As Boellstorff et al points out “In ethnographic research, identifying a person potentially identifies their social network” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 141). In netnography this can be a more demanding issue than at first anticipated, as “In many cases, a blog, Facebook page, or Twitter feed for our research project might provide a way to show we care about our informants while keeping our private lives, and the private lives of informants, reasonably separate” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 146). What should remain foremost in the mind of the researcher then, is working in such as way that we minimise any potential harm or damage that might be experienced or perceived by the respondents. As Boellstorff et al point out, generally “Ethnography results in neither bodily harm nor psychological distress”, though it might be thought of as typically carrying “what is termed ‘informational risk’, the risk that private information could be made public” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 133).

Confidentiality therefore forms a major focus of the research management process. Ensuring that respondents who wish to remain anonymous and the protection of the personal information of general respondents is crucial. As Boellstorff et al points out, “If we have acquired privileged information in interviews or conversations, it should not be discussed as the conflict unfolds, or even in its aftermath, unless we are certain it will cause no harm” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 137). Therefore, “Upholding the confidentiality and anonymity of our participants is central. Keeping in mind the unanticipated consequences if people’s identities and activities were revealed should promote reflectivity on our part when deciding what is important to include in the written work” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 138).

Under no circumstances should research be attempted that plans to deceive or deploy engagement strategies that are founded on deception. Kozinets states this categorically. “Netnographers should never, under any circumstances, engage in identity deception”(Kozinets 2010). Likewise Boellstorff et al are clear about the consequences of any such attempt to deceive: “The very basis of the data gathering activity of ethnography is compromised, if not destroyed, through deception” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 143). Therefore, “Deceiving informants remains firmly outside the bounds of ethical ethnographic research” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 142).

In some circumstances we will be dealing with information that is of a sensitive nature, that individual participants would not normally share or discuss with other people, let alone something that might go into a research study. In these circumstances, as Boellstorf et al point out, “We must use our best judgement, operating from the core principle of care, as to not only what is public versus private from an etic* perspective, but also what the people we study empirically perceive as public or private. Such notions will vary from one culture to the next” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 135). As such “Ethnographers strive to avoid negative outcomes by playing special attention to the potential consequences and risks of what we see and hear, and remembering that not everything is grist for the data mill, no matter how interesting it may be” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 137).

[*Emic and etic, in anthropology, folkloristics, and the social and behavioral sciences, refer to two kinds of field research done and viewpoints obtained; from within the social group (from the perspective of the subject) and from outside (from the perspective of the observer).]

Not everyone that we engage with in a study is able to give researchers their informed consent, either because they lack the personal capability to understand the process, or because they do not have the legal independence to give consent. In circumstances in which research wishes to engage with people who are under the eighteen years old we should consider the following issues:

  • What particular issues might arise around the issue of minors or vulnerable persons?
  • Are minors being excluded from the study because of the difficulties of getting ethical permission to study them?
  • In situations where identity, age, and ability of the participant is unknown or hidden, and harm cannot be determined as an a priori category based on known vulnerability of participant, how will harm be considered as an ethical concern and operationalized in the study?
  • How are minors identified as ‘minors’ in contexts where demographic information is not required?
  • What harm might result from asking (or not asking) for participants to reveal their age?
  • How will parental or guardian consent be obtained in addition to assent where required by research regulations? What risks might arise in this particular consent process? (for any or all parties, including the minor, the parents, and the researcher)?

Our assessment and explanations of the benefits of ethnographic research are often crucial to the way that we win people over to the idea of participating in a study. But there are a series of questions that we should explain that allow us to tell the story of the research and give participants the confidence that participating in the study has compensations and advantages – either direct or indirect. So researchers should be able to explain:

  • How are findings presented?
  • What immediate or future risk might occur by using exact-quoted material in published reports? (For example, while a participant might not think his or her information is sensitive now, this might change in five years. What protections might be put in place to anticipate changing perceptions?)
  • Are individuals adequately protected in pre-publication reports, such as workshops, conferences, or informal meetings?
  • Could materials be restricted because of copyright? (For example, many countries have strong restrictions on using screenshots or images taken from the web without permission.
  • Certain sites have restrictions in their terms of service. Whereas there may be allowances for the scholarly use of copyrighted materials without permission, such as the U.S. doctrine of fair use, this is not a guarantee of protection against copyright infringement.)
  • How are texts/persons/data being studied?
  • Does one’s method of analysis require exact quoting and if so, what might be the ethical consequence of this in the immediate or long term? (For example, would quoting directly from a blog cause harm to the blogger and if so, could another method of representation be less risky?) What are the ethical expectations of the research community associated with a particular approach (e.g, ethnographic, survey, linguistic analysis)?
  • Do one’s disciplinary requirements for collecting, analysing, or representing information clash with the specific needs of the context? If so, what are the potential ethical consequences?

Despite our efforts to maintain a sense of coherence through our research, there are occasions when the participants in the study wish to withdraw and exclude any data that has been collected. Participants are entitled to withdraw from a study at any point, and to have any data that clearly relates to their participation reviewed or withheld. Sometimes this can be managed by making the pool of data, though if specifically pressed researchers have to be able to assure participants that data can be destroyed. So, how participants take leave from a study is an essential part of the information exchange at the start. Can participants in the research study ask to leave the study at any time, and what will happen to the data that has been accumulated so far?

At some point as we make progress with the note taking, journaling and writing up our notes, based on the conversations and activities that we have been privileged to witness, we have to make a decision about how these events and issues will be depicted. According to Boellstorff et al “a basic principle of ethnographic research is that we should take our lead from our informants, following them to wherever they engage irrelevant activity” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 118). Keeping in mind that the process of observation and writing is not an equal exchange, but involves some privilege on the part of the researcher that they may be considered by the participants in a study to be in a position of power and authority. Boellstoff et al described this as an ‘asymmetrical relationship’, and ast that we consider that as “a key consequence of this asymmetry is the imperative that the ethnographer ‘take good care’ of information. This notion goes beyond simply doing no harm; it means ensuring, to the greatest extent possible, that informants gain some reward from participating in research” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 129). Which means that “we must commit, ethically, to whatever it takes to experience the activities where the data we require are generated” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 150).

Because we are witness to a wide range of issues and activities in the lives and the life-worlds of the people and communities that a study may focus on, it does not follow that we have to record everything that takes place. Some things will clearly be outside of the remit of the area of study, other things might be counterproductive for the people involved in the study to have written about them and recorded. As Boellstorff et al suggest, “the point is not that everything that we write should be readable by the communities studied, or by all academic communities; it is that we should write in the clearest manner possible that is appropriate for a particular genre” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 150), while also respecting the needs of the individuals who have given us privileged access. As Boellstorff et al go on to point out “Overall, then, the ethnographic enterprise hinges on engaging others in ethical conversation and preparing careful, accurate accounts that do not compromise informants” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 150).

This brings us to the central idea at the heart of the ethical evaluations that we are considering. That of harm and the potential that what are undertaking as ethnographic researchers might have the potential to cause harm to the participants in our study, and those who might be associated with the study. As Kozinets points out “the very act of participating in a community changes the nature of later data analysis. This is what makes ethnography and netnography so thoroughly different from techniques such as content analysis or social network analysis. A content analyst would scan the archives of online communities, but she or he would not be reading them deeply for their cultural information, pondering them and seeking to learn from them how to live in this community and to identify as a community member. This is the task of the netnographer” (Kozinets 2010).

In these circumstances, because we are seeking to make sense of the interactions of actual agents acting in their respective life worlds, the ethnographer is faced with the challenge of respecting and accounting for the impact of their actions. While content analysis has a limited set of potential impacts on people, participant observation is replete with many possibilities for harm. As Robert Kozinets suggests, “ethnographers, netnographers, and other qualitative researchers have no […] clear and measurable standards of evaluation”(Kozinets 2010), and therefore must consider their actions and the results of those actions from a wider frame of reference. As Boellstorff et al point out “Care is a core value to be internalised and acted on through the vigilance and commitment of the researcher. Any sets of research ethics guidelines and dicta will be ineffective if researchers do not have embedded into their practice strong values establishing ethical behaviour built on the principle of care” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 129).

But as Boellstorff et al go on to explain “the principle of care arises in part from asymmetrical power relations and imbalance of benefit between investigator and investigated” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 129), and so, “if we cannot know in advance if harm will occur because determination of harm is ‘an empirical question’, then acceptability is ‘unknown’. How can informed content be informed when the nature of the potential harm is not assessed until after the fact” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 132).

Some routine questions that ethnographic researchers should consider include:

  • What are the potential harms or risks associated with this study.
  • What is the potential harm or risk for individuals, for online communities, for researchers, for research?
  • Are risks being assessed throughout the study as well as in advance of the study? (Harm is only certain after it occurs. Thus, a priori assessments of risk might be useful but inadequate).
  • How are the concepts of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘harm’ being defined and operationalized in the study? How are risks to the community/author/participant being assessed?
  • How is vulnerability determined in contexts where this categorization may not be apparent?
  • Would a mismatch between researcher and community/participant/author definitions of ‘harm’ or ‘vulnerability’ create an ethical dilemma? If so, how would this be addressed?
  • What harms–to life, to career, to reputation–may occur from the research? (e.g., would the research “out” an LGBTQ individual who is not publicly out and perhaps cause them to lose their jobs? Would the research cause someone to face criminal or civil penalties?)
  • What possible privacy-related harms may occur? For example, might online groups disband or individuals cease to use an online support group or withdraw from blogging activities because of the presence of researchers; Might individuals be upset that their perceived privacy has been violated; might individuals object to having their writing or speech anonymised, preferring to remain known and public in any published results?
  • Who or what else could cause harm to the author/participant beyond the researcher? Are we acting in ways that minimizes risk?

As we narrow the issues associated with our research we can focus on two primary areas of consideration that have to be articulated for the benefit of those who are involved in the study, and for the benefit of those who are supporting the study. That is:

  • What is the primary object of study?
  • How will these objectives be stated?

Here is an example of a research management statement that we might consider using to explain the rational and the data collection processes that will be used:

“The data collection methods that are required for this study will take the form of recorded interviews, questionnaires, surveys, interviews, online discussion boards, observations of online activity and discussion forums, practical observation, and recording of workshops. The research project involves gathering information from voluntary participants, community volunteers and community organisations representatives working in volunteer-based community media organisations. The research will be gathered by undertaking recorded semi-structured interviews. These data collection methods will be used to identify to what extent, and in what way, the volunteers of different community media groups use social media as a practical tool for the development of content, as a social tool for the development of relationships, and as a method of facilitating communication. The initial pilot study will trail and assess the potential methods that might be used in the extended study period. The initial aim of the pilot study is to identify and note a broad range of issues, following from which further focus on more convergent research imperatives can be defined. The research will be based on the observations of human behaviour as volunteers participate in the development of content and associated services.”

Statements of this kind are designed to give some context to the wider range of questions that are raised in any research study. We might list and ask further questions:

How is the context defined and conceptualized?

Does the research definition of the context match the way owners, users, or members might define it? (Parameters such as ‘culture,’ ‘person,’ ‘data set,’ and ‘public text’ each carry different ethical expectations for researchers).

Are there distinctions between local contextual norms for how a venue is conceptualized and jurisdictional frameworks (e.g., Terms of Service, other regulations)? For example, if the TOS defines the space as off limits for researchers but the individuals want to participate in public research of this space, what risk might exist for either the researcher or individuals involved?

  • What are the ethical expectations users attach to the venue in which they are interacting, particularly around issues of privacy? Both for individual participants as well as the community as a whole?
  • How is the context (venue/participants/data) being accessed?
  • How are participants/authors situated in the context?
  • How are participants/authors approached by the researcher?
  • How is the researcher situated in the context?
  • If access to an online context is publicly available, do members/participants/authors perceive the context to be public?
  • What considerations might be necessary to accommodate ‘perceived privacy’ or the notion that individuals might care more about the appropriate flow of information as defining it as public or private?
  • Who is involved in the study?
  • What are the ethical expectations of the community/participants/authors?
  • What is the ethical stance of the researcher? (For example, a mismatch between the ethical stance of the researcher and the community/participant/author may create ethical complications).
  • What are the ethical traditions of researchers’ and/or author/participants’ cultures or countries?

On collecting the data that we are accumulating through our research we are then faced with issues about how we might manage that data. Expressed as a routine set of questions we might want to consider how:

  • If research data is housed in a repository for reuse, how might individuals or communities be affected later? For example, data collected for one purpose might be reused later for a different purpose but the researcher’s relationship with the community from which the data came no longer exists.
  • What possible risk or harm might result from reuse and publication of this information?
  • What are the ethical expectations commonly associated with these types of data? (For example, working with aggregated, de-identified data carries different ethical expectations than working with interview data.)
  • Does the object of analysis include persons or texts beyond the immediate parameters outlined by the study? What are the potential ethical consequences and how might these be addressed? (For example, collecting data from a blog often includes comments; collecting data from one social media stream reveals links to people or data outside the specific scope of the study.)
  • If information collected in the course of a study can be linked back to an individual by means of internet search or other technology, what process will the researcher use to determine how that information will be treated? (For example, many challenges surround the responsible use of images and video).
  • To what extent might data be considered by participants to be personal and private, or public and freely available for analysis and republication?
  • What other questions might arise as a result of the particular context from which this data was collected?
  • How are data being managed, stored, and represented?
  • What method is being used to secure and manage potentially sensitive data?
  • What unanticipated breaches might occur during or after the collection and storage of data or the production of reports? (For example, if an audience member recorded and posted sensitive material presented during an in-house research presentation, what harms might result?
  • If the researcher is required to deposit research data into a repository for future use by other researchers (or wishes to do so), what potential risks might arise? What steps should be taken to ensure adequate anonymity of data or to unlink this data from individuals?
  • What are the potential ethical consequences of stripping data of personally identifiable information?
  • How might removal of selected information from a dataset distort it such that it no longer represents what it was intended to represent?
  • If future technologies (such as automated textual analysis or facial recognition software) make it impossible to strip personally identifiable information from data sets in repositories, what potential risks might arise for individuals?
  • Can this be addressed by the original researcher? If so, how? How will this impact subsequent researchers and their data management?

At this stage, we can now put some flesh onto the bones of the study that we are planning to undertake for this module. Our research management statement can be listed as follows:

  • By using ethnographic research techniques this study will attempt to identify and validate the processes that are emerging through social media participation.
  • These processes are largely meaning driven, and depend on a specific and contingent social context to make sense.
  • Information will be collected and organised reflexively, with the experience of the researcher playing as important a role as the participants who are being represented.
  • This information will be drawn from experiences taking place in the field, through specific activities taking place in the main location of production and online.
  • This information will be represented using descriptive techniques.
  • Theory and abstraction will only be built-up once sufficient descriptive examples have been accumulated.

As such, this study will ask:

  • How concepts of social media are used by participants engaged in different communities?
  • How the experience of social media networks are made sense of by participants in different social media groups associated with food, diet and health?
  • How the structure of different food, diet and health communities are informed by the practices of agents acting with a social media mind-set?
  • How participants involved in different food, diet and health communities behave, act and communicate when using or producing content using social media techniques?
  • What kind of interpersonal dynamics occur between agents using and producing social media content in different food, diet and health communities?
  • What topics are discussed, and what information, opinions and beliefs are exchanged among the participants in different food, diet and health in relation to social media?

A range of ethical issues are expected to impact on these studies as data will be collected using a mixed methodological approach that might include participant observation, digital ethnography and forms of action research. However the mechanism of specific research practices has not yet been identified, and therefore the impact on ethical assessment cannot yet be made in detail.

All that remains now is to list the actions that researchers will engage in as the study is put into practice. Likely issues to be dealt with by the researcher therefore include:

  • Close and open communication among the volunteers involved.
  • Ensuring that any relevant persons, committees and authorities have been consulted, and that the principles guiding the work are accepted in advance by all.
  • Deciding if participants are allowed to influence the work, and respecting the wishes of those who do not wish to participate.
  • Developing the work in a visible and open form that respects the principles of social collaboration but maintains data integrity and confidentiality.
  • Obtaining appropriate permissions before making observations or examining documents produced for other purposes.
  • Negotiating and gaining consensus on the description of the work of others and acknowledging any concerns prior to publication.
  • Accepting responsibility for maintaining confidentiality.
  • Ensuring a balance is struck between decisions made about the direction of the projects and the probable outcome of the research as an academically publishable document.
  • The researchers is explicit about the nature of the research process from the beginning, including all personal biases and interests.
  • There is appropriate access to information generated by the process for all participants.

The researcher and the initial design team must create a process that maximizes the opportunities for involvement of all participants, therefore, the researcher will identify the following:

  • Matrix of key issues for on-going monitoring.
  • Timeline and milestone plan setting out key objectives.
  • Prioritisation matrix mapping risk factors associated with any proposed activities.
  • Review and monitoring of data management systems and audit of actions and responsibilities resulting from changes to the data and its use. [Adapted from]

Finally, we must state and list the sources of information that we have made reference to in putting together our the ethics review we have produced. For example, a full ethics and data integrity review proposal would usually be submitted to the Faculty of Technology Research Ethics Committee before any pilot or preparatory studies are undertaken. The researcher will make reference to the recommended faculty codes of practice, but will further develop this as part of the methodology planning and review based on other sets of ethical guidelines.

Boellstorff, T., Nardi, B., Pearce, C., & Taylor, T. (2012). Ethnography and Virstual Worlds. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Hine, C. (2005). Virtual Methods – Issues in Social Research on the Internet. Oxford: Berg.
Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Netnography – Doing Ethnographic Research Online. London, Sage.
Prus, R. (1996). Symbolic Interactionism and Ethnographic Research. New York, State University of New York Press.

TECH3022_15 Lecture Week Ten: Frameworks of Understanding – Symbolic Interaction

Intersubjectivity: This week’s lecture moves forward our thinking about qualitative research by looking at some specific case studies and discussing how examples of social media interaction can be understood as a series of regular sub-processes. Our starting point is to remind ourselves of the objective of ethnographic style research, in which, according to Kathy Charmaz we seek to “enter our research participants’ worlds to understand their thoughts, feelings, and actions. But we do so as genuine participants ourselves, not as distanced, unbiased observers who dispassionately record the doings of others?” (Kathy Charmaz in Prus, 1996, p. xii). As Charmaz goes on “to understand what people intend and why they act as they do we must enter into their experience. We must share it” (Kathy Charmaz in Prus, 1996, p. xiv).

TECH3022_15-Lecture-010-Symbolic-Interaction-001h-2014-11-26According to Robert Prus “at the heart of the sociological enterprise is the idea that human behaviour is the product of community life; that people’s behaviour cannot be reduced to individual properties. A major task facing sociologists (and social scientists more generally), therefore, revolves around the study of the accomplishment of intersubjectivity; that is, indicating how people become social entities and how they attend to one another and the products of human endeavour in the course of day-to-day life”(Prus, 1996, p. 2).

In examining these day-to-day interactions we should note, according to Prus, that “all constructions of reality, all notions of definition, identifications, and explanations, all matters of education, enterprise, entertainment, interpersonal relations, organisational practices, cultic involvements, collective behaviour, and political struggles of all sorts are rooted in the human accomplishment of intersubjectivity” (Prus, 1996, p. 2). In this pragmatic form of ethnography that Prus champions, then, it is the ‘intersubjective’ meanings, actions and routines that we establish as a community that enables people to work out on what basis they do things. As Prus comments, “the interpretivists observe that the study of human behaviour is the study of human lived experience and that human experience is rooted in people’s meanings, interpretations, activities, and interactions. These notions, they posit are the essential substance of a social science” (Prus, 1996, p. 9). And it is these interpretivists notions that we will use to determine the methodology for data collection and research in our study.

As Robert Prus explains: “Symbolic interaction may be envisioned as the study of the ways in which people make sense of their life-situations and the ways in which they go about their activities, in conjunction with others, on a day-to-day basis. It is very much a ‘down to earth’ approach, which insists upon rigorously grounding its notions of the ways in which human group life is accomplished in the day-to-day practices and experiences of the people whose lives one purports to study” (Prus, 1996, p. 10).

TECH3022_15-Lecture-010-Symbolic-Interaction-001a-2014-11-26Prus argues that “it is in the course of developing familiarity with the language of a community that people are able to approximate rudimentary understandings of, or perspectives on, human life-worlds. Only once people develop some fundamental conceptualisations of ‘the world’ may they begin to exhibit some sort of reflectivity and meaningful human agency. Only with the acquisition of a language-based set of understandings or perspective are people able to take themselves into account in developing and pursing particular lines of action. As Mead (1934) observes, it is the attainment of language that makes the possession of a ‘self’ possible” (Prus, 1996, p. 11).

TECH3022_15-Lecture-010-Symbolic-Interaction-001b-2014-11-26We are working, according to Prus “with stocks of knowledge (and conceptual schemes) gleaned through interaction with others, but now applying these in particular or situated contexts, in familiar and in different ways, people formulate thoughts, achieve unique experiences, experience novelty, and pursue creativity. Indeed, given the limitations of their existing (linguistic) stocks of knowledge on a collective basis as well as individual variants within, people’s experiences may well outstrip their abilities to retain and formulate more precise or lasting images of these events” (Prus, 1996, p. 12).

TECH3022_15-Lecture-010-Symbolic-Interaction-001c-2014-11-26As such, according to Prus “human activity does not simply involve someone invoking behaviour of some sort, but more accurately entails several sub-processes. Most notably, these include: defining the situation at hand, considering and anticipating both particular lines of action and potential outcomes, implementing behaviour, monitoring oneself along the way, assessing situations both in process and in retrospect, and adjusting or modifying one’s behaviour both during immediate events and following earlier episodes” (Prus, 1996, p. 14).

TECH3022_15-Lecture-010-Symbolic-Interaction-001d-2014-11-26We can identify some key principles when we enter into any social situations, based on the knowledge that

“Human group life is intersubjective…
Human group life is (multi) perspectival…
Human group life is reflective…
Human group life is activity-based…
Human group life is negotiable…
Human group life is relational…
Human group life is processual” (Prus, 1996, pp. 15-17)

Prus points out that “ethnographers generally rely on three sources of data (observation, participant-observation, and interviews) in their attempts to achieve intimate familiarity with the life-worlds of those they study” (Prus, 1996, p. 19). And that “observation encompasses not only those things that one witnesses through one’s visual and audio senses, but also includes any documents, diaries, records, frequency counts, maps, and the like that one may be able to obtain in particular settings” (Prus, 1996, p. 19).

“Participation-observation” accorsing to Prus, “adds an entirely different and vital dimension to the notion of observation. Although the practice of describing and analysing one’s own experiences has often been dismissed as ‘biased’ or ‘subjective’ by those who think that researchers should distance themselves from their subject matters, the participant-observer role allows the researcher to get infinitely closer to the lived experiences of the participants than does straight observation” (Prus, 1996, p. 19).

“Like those doing straight observation,” Prus explains “researchers engaged in participant-observation normally try to remain fairly unobtrusive or nondisruptive in the setting being studied. However, participant-observation entails a more active (and interactive) and ambiguous role as researchers attempt to fit into the (dynamics) settings at hand. Insofar as more sustained participant-observation typically allows researchers to experience on a first-hand basis many aspects of the life-worlds of the other, it offers a rather unique and instructive form of data to those able and willing to assume the role of the other in a more comprehensive sense” (Prus, 1996, p. 20).

As such “interviews represent the third major method of gathering ethnographic data, and under some circumstances may provide the primary source of data for field researchers. By inquiring extensively into the experiences of others, interviews may learn a great deal about the life worlds of the other” (Prus, 1996, p. 20).

Workshop Activity:
Nvivo-Low-Carb-001In our lab activity this week we will use Nvivo to analyse a set of articles that contain forums and discussion boards in which readers relate their thoughts about the articles that are published.

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In analysing the interactions that are being made in these discussions we can work out what regular sets of processes are being followed. The generic social process and sub-processes of routine interaction. As Prus argues, as researchers we should attune ourselves to the processes that people follow, and not just the “significant key elements of people’s involvements in situations,” for these process also define the essence of community life.” According to Prus, “these processes are interdependent and need to be viewed holistically if we are to develop a fuller appreciation of each. Nevertheless, each process encompasses several (sub)processes within, and on these levels each is amenable to empirical inquiry” (Prus, 1996, p. 149).


So, as researchers we are attuning ourselves to the way that people, agents acting in the following:

TECH3022_15-Lecture-010-Symbolic-Interaction-001f-2014-11-26“1. Acquiring Persepctives

  1. Achieving Identity
  2. Being Involved

Getting Started
Sustaining and intensifying involvements
Becoming disinvolved
Becoming reinvolved

  1. Doing Activity

Performing activities
Influencing others
Making commitments

  1. Experiencing Relationships
  2. Forming and Coordinating Relationships

Establishing associations
Objectifying associations
Encountering outsiders” (Prus, 1996, p. 149).

The way that people make sense of their interactions is a process of external interactions and the reflections that go into building a persons sense of identity. According to Rober Prus, this “’Identity work’ is contingent on people’s capacity for ‘self-reflectivity;’ it requires that one begin to take oneself into account in developing lines of action or that one became ‘an object unto oneself.’ Reflecting the perspectives one has on the world, people’s identities or self-other definitions are not only situated within those realities, but also are influenced by the ongoing shifts in perspectives that people normally undergo over time and across situations” (Prus, 1996, p. 152).

Identity work is series of processes in which people define their role and their position within community life through a set of generic social proceses. Therefore we are attuned to consider how people make sense of the interactions when:

  • “Encountering perspectives (definitions of reality) from others
  • Assessing (new, incoming) perspectives and resisting unwanted viewpoints
  • Developing images of objects (including images of other people and oneself)
  • Learning (cultural patterns of objects (e.g. rules of thumb, norms, fashion)
  • Defining situations (i.e., applying perspectives to the ‘cases at hand’)
  • Dealing with ambiguity (lapses and limitations in existing explanations)
  • Resolving contradictions (dilemmas within and across paradigms)
  • Extending or improvising on existing perspectives
  • Promoting (and defending) perspectives to others
  • Rejecting formerly held viewpoints
  • Adopting new viewpoints (Prus, 1996, p. 152).

“Like other (symbolic) interactions, emotional interchanges may be viewed best in process terms” (Prus, 1996, p. 179).

TECH3022_15-Lecture-010-Symbolic-Interaction-001g-2014-11-26“Many emotional interchanges (and themes) seem apt to dissipate when the interactants fail to endorse or acknowledge one another’s expressed interests or affections” (Prus, 1996, p. 184).

As Prus describes, “the focus is on people (a) developing generalised images and understandings of emotional states as these are viewed in the community at large, (b) learning cultural recipes or ‘rules of thumb’ (how to tell when) to define situations as emotional ones, and (c) applying those cultural understandings and recipes to specific ‘cases at hand’. This in no way denies the abilities of others to offer, suggest, or attempt to impose their understandings, rules of thumb, or definitions of the situation on the focal actor, but draws attention to the points at which people define themselves as being in emotional states or situations” (Prus, 1996, p. 177).

Therefore, according to Prus, “’human interaction is a positive shaping process in its own right. The participants have to build up their respective lines of conduct by constant interpretation of each other’s ongoing lines of action… Factors of psychological equipment and social organisation are not substitutes for the interpretive process; they are admissible only in terms of how they are handled in the interpretive process’ (Blumer 1966: 538)” (Prus, 1996, p. 69).

Prus quotes Blumer when he argues that “’the essence of society lies in an ongoing process of action – not in the posited structure of relations. Without action, any structure of relations between people is meaningless. To understand, a society must be seen and grasped in terms of the action that comprises it’ (Blumer 1966: 541)” (Prus, 1996, p. 70). And so, therefore, “Given the complex, ambiguous and emergent nature of human relations, there is no definitive set of instructions that can provide to insure success in the field” (Prus, 1996, p. 192). Being attuned to the many possibilities of action, interaction and meaningful interplay is a priority for the researcher, putting aside our own prejudices and onions so that we can engage as fully as we might in the social processes we are attempting to observe.

Prus, R. (1996). Symbolic Interactionism and Ethnographic Research. New York: State University of New York Press.

TECH3022_15 Lecture Week Nine: Research Management Plan

This week’s lecture gives us an opportunity to review some of the central issues that we have been looking at during the previous eight weeks, and to start to build a plan so that we can research into the life-worlds of our intended communities. During the last week there has been considerable press interest in the issue of obesity and diabetes, what some newspapers are calling the ‘fat plague,’ and others describe as an ‘epidemic’. According to the BBC a report published by the McKinsey Global Institute said worldwide obesity will “cost £1.3tn, or 2.8% of annual economic activity” and the “UK £47bn.” According to the report obesity is now reaching “crisis proportions.”

Recently published government statistics note that between 1993 and 2012 the proportion of adults in the UK who are overweight (not just obese) increased from 57.6% to 66.6% for men, and 48.6% to 57.2% for women.

BBC-Obesity-002As The Guardian explained, according to the McKinsey report “Obesity is a greater burden on the UK’s economy than armed violence, war and terrorism, costing the country nearly £47bn a year.” The chief executive of NHS England has warned that “obesity will bankrupt the health service unless Britain gets serious about tackling the problem.” Reported in the Guardian, Simon Stevens told public health officials at a conference in Coventry that “Obesity is the new smoking, and it represents a slow-motion car crash in terms of avoidable illness and rising health care costs.” During the same week the Mail Online reported that NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence has approved the widespread use of gastric bands as a treatment for diabetes. According to the Mail Online “up to two million obese Britons will be eligible for weight-loss surgery on the NHS under new guidelines.” And that “NICE is telling doctors to suggest the operations to all patients above a given weight with type 2 diabetes.” Is this going to be the primary medical response to the growing number of people who are overweight or obese in the UK? According to the Mail Online, “more people are dying in Britain due to being overweight or obese than anywhere else in Europe.” “Around one in every 11 deaths in the UK is now linked to carrying excess fat – 50 per cent more than the rate in France.” With so much interest in this issue emerging into the mainstream media, it would be useful, therefore, to review some of the ideas that we have explored in the lectures to date.

TECH3022_15-Lecture-009-Research-Management-Plan-001a-2014-11-23Western Diets The diet that has been adopted in the West, (i.e. the industrialised countries), is designed to secure a cheap supply of calorie rich and carbohydrate-loaded food. And because there is an excessive level of production of these foods, with the subsidies that are given to the food producer, it means that corn, wheat and other commodity foods are often sold for less than the cost of production. The ever onward drive towards producing seemingly new and  diversified consumer food products is based on the premise that corn, wheat and sugar are in plentiful supply. In turn this is supported by the ‘low-fat’ public health campaigns that suggest that foods that are low in fat are better for heart health and other metabolic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes. The processed food industry has been able to market technically engineered food-like substances in massive quantities to consumers with the promise that they are healthy. However, the problem is that the Western Diet is nutritionally deficient and lacks the essential nutritional qualities to be a sustainable part of people’s healthy lives. The incidence of heart disease is not dropping, despite better medical treatments and interventions that we now have to correct the chronic problems that people end up with. There is now increasing evidence that suggests that saturated fat does not cause heart disease by increasing cholesterol levels as has been claimed for the last forty years. The lipid-hypothesis is looking shaky.

Mail-Obesity-001Big Food The food manufacturers have invested millions of pounds over the last forty years into standardising and industrialising the food economy. This has led to a breakdown in the social infrastructure that supports tacit and community food engagement. Local traditions, passed from generation to generation, within families and local communities, are being lost at an ever-greater rate as food is designed for processing as a packaged product rather than as something that is created from basic core ingredients. By undercutting decent labour practices, squeezing suppliers to adopt mass production and farming methods, the processed food industry has generated thousands of meaningless and nutritionally deficient food-like-substances that are branded to suggest that they are healthy. Take orange juice for example. It’s effect on blood-sugar levels are virtually the same as cola, but most parents insist they are supporting the nutritional health of their children by packing a carton of juice in a lunchbox, or giving their kids a glass of orange juice with their breakfast for their. The food industry is content to leave parents in a state of ignorant bliss, not knowing the effect that sugar is having on their children, from in whatever food it is packaged up in. The big food manufacturers control the advertising of consumer products, they lobby for government policies that benefit them at the expense of consumer rights, and they attempt to control the information that is given to consumers by obfuscating the food labels that are produced with their packaged goods. The use of high levels of carbohydrates in processed foods increases the shelf-life of the products, it reduces the amount of fat in the products, and it bulks out the products so that they appear to be better value for money. But what is most important, is that this process massively increase the profits of the manufacturers who are turning out these good on an industrial scale.

insulin-01Hormonal Correction So, why is thinking about carbohydrates so important, and can’t people just eat less and exercise more if they want to stay slim? The central fallacy, often repeated by experts, doctors and nutritionists, is that all calories that go into the body are equal. As Gary Taubes points out, the common belief is that a calorie eaten must be burnt in physical activity. The problem with this hypothesis is that it is wrong. If we take different elements of food, such as protein, fat, fibre and carbohydrates, we see them acting on the body in very different ways. Eating generous portions of protein and fat will not result in weight gain under normal circumstances, and may even result in weight loss. Eating fibre is generally good for us because of the impact it has on our health as green vegetables and low-sugar fruits are loaded with micronutrients. The real culprit, it seems, are the carbohydrates that we consume. The sugars and carbohydrates that are associated with processed food are killing us. Processed food is carb-loaded and has a detrimental effect on our body’s ability to deal with high blood sugar levels. To get to grips with this problem we have to shift our thinking that weight gain is the product of greed, gluttony or sedentary lifestyles. Rather the problem is founded on the cycle of hormonal imbalances that are centred on how the body uses insulin to control fat deposits. Insulin is the key hormone for signalling to the body that it should deposit excess blood sugars as fat. In the process insulin clobbers glucogon and leptin on the head and stops them from doing their jobs. Their job is to convert fat to usable energy reserves, and to tell us to stop eating because we are full. As our insulin levels are being thrashed almost continuously because our diets are excessively loaded with carbohydrates, we enter a cycle of increasing weight gain, food addiction and a loss of energy. If we get our comprehension of this process right, therefore, then much else follows that allows us to correct the dietary imbalances and health problems that Western society is plagued with. Weight gain is not a moral issue. It is a hormonal and an environmental product.

(Here’s a useful article that explains the process)

Food Literacies The call for an alternative approach, then, is based on some simple and uncomplicated thinking. Local food production and distribution that puts the emphasis onto the supplier to clearly differentiate the good food from the bad. So much of the food that is sold in our supermarkets screams health claims at us, and yet they are dubious at best, and harmful at worst. So dealing with food packaging and advertising is essential. But what is lacking most are the skills and capabilities that people need to act confidently when they are cooking their own foods. Food literacies. Keeping away from processed food sounds great, but it has to be seen in the context of the busy and demanding modern lives that people lead, and the access that they have to good quality, yet affordable food resources. The lack of local grocers store in the UK is a major problem. People are forced to keep food for longer periods in their homes, so the food requires a longer shelf-life. The food production cycle since the 1950s has been one that drives down the quality and nutritional value of foods so that they last longer in the home, and yet still have a sense of satisfaction that is associated with non-processed foods. Perhaps we should look at taxing food flavourings so that processed food that is reliant on artificial chemical stimulants start to become unattractive to producers. After all has been part of the success story of eliminating smoking. Processed foods are stuffed with salt and sugar. The fat is removed to extend the shelf-life, so as to make the food seem more healthy, and to ensure that it can be transported easily. The problem is that it isn’t worth eating, it is making us sick.

Premise: Insulin Management

Key Advocates
If you want to read more about these debates and find resources, then it is worth looking at the key advocates associated with the campaign to change our food thinking:

Gary Taubes

Robert Lustig

Michael Pollan

John Yudkin

Booth & Bilton

Low-Carb-PyramidFood Pyramid What is now becoming evident is that the recommendations of the health and diet industry, that we consume a diet that is heavy in grains, cereal and pasta is no longer tenable. It is the overconsumption of these foods that has caused the problem. We therefore should be looking to adopt a different model of food distribution, such as the low-carb food pyramid. Sticking to the main groups of food that we have evolved with, such as green vegetables, fruits, fish, moderate amounts of meat, moderate amounts of dairy, plenty of unprocessed oils and fats and only occasional or few grains. Not only is this more likely to satisfy our nutritional requirements, it is also likely to leave us feeling fuller and more satisfied for longer.

This Study Will So to look that the way we will develop this study, there are a couple of methodological points to note. This study will:

  • Be based on Netnographic/Qualitative Research principles.
  • Use mixed modes of constructivist qualitative data collection and interpretation such as participant observation.
  • Use reflexive critical methods to contextualise the situatedness of the re-searcher.
  • Use case studies to contrast contextual environments.

Food-Literacies-Research-Plan-001-2014-11-24Research Plan The documentation and discussion of the research plan will be undertaken on the module wiki page, and will be used to provide a framework for the investigation, the protocols and the ideas development that we need to be effective researchers.

Questions that we are going to raise include:

The Role of the Researcher:

  • What is the role of the researcher in the design?
  • How will the researcher relate and describe their own personal involvement in the research study, and what is the ongoing relationship between the researcher and the informants?
  • How will the researcher account for their involvement and how will this affect the research?
  • How will the researcher manage potential conflicts between the research role and the professional/personal roles?

As Robert Kozinets asks “is the ethnographer studying some phenomenon directly related to online communities and online culture? Or is the ethnographer interested in studying a general social phenomenon that has some related Internet group aspect? How important, or not, is the physical component that is always attached to human social behaviour?”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 63).

There are a series of questions we can think about that will help us to enter the field, such as:

  • How will the researcher gain entry to the situation being studied?
  • What are the parameters for the data collection?
  • What is the setting?
  • Who are the actors?
  • What are the events?
  • What is the process being followed?
  • What and who are being excluded from the study?

As Guimaraes Jr notes… “As Cohen points out: ‘the reality of community lies in its members’ perceptions of the vitality of its culture. People construct community symbolically, making it a resource and a repository of meaning, and a referent of their identity’” (Guimaraes Jr, 2005, p. 146). So we have to ask:

  • Why was the site chosen for study?
  • In what way does the researcher have direct access to the field they are studying?
  • How full will the researchers involvement be with the activities in the field?
  • Will the researchers professional and personal interests in the outcomes of the research direct any relationship they have with respondents?

“In order to conceptualise both the place of this group and its boundaries, I employed the idea of social environment, a symbolic space created in cyberspace through programs which allow communication between two or more users” (Guimaraes Jr, 2005, p. 148).

  • What will be done at the site during the research study?
  • How will the researcher observe, interact and collect data from informants?
  • What type of data collection will the researcher deploy?
  • Will it be disruptive?
  • How will this data collection be conducted unobtrusively and without disruption?
  • How will the researcher collect data ethically?

In undertaking our study we will be collecting data from many and multiple sources:

  • What form will any observations take? [Mixed-media recordings of discussions?]
  • What form will any interviews take? [Structured or unstructured? Recorded and annotated?]
  • What documents will be referred to? [Online media, email communications, Twitter Feeds, Facebook groups, station planning material, participant journals?]
  • What audiovisual materials will be referred to?
  • How will these activities be conducted simultaneously? [Collecting a range of data at the same time is going to be essential, how will the integrity and continuity of this data be ensured?]
  • What is to be recorded?
  • How is it going to be recorded?
  • In what way will the process of qualitative evaluation be based on data ‘reduction’ and ‘interpretation’?
  • How will the results be reported?

As John Creswell points out, “In a qualitative researcher works inductively, such as when he or she develops categories from informants rather than specifying them in advance of the research” (Creswell 1998 p.77).

Book CoverFood Literacies We are starting, therefore with a loose series of questions that we will be able to narrow and make more specific as we progress with the evidence gathering and the data collection. So our questions will take the form of the following:

  • What are the concepts of food and nutritional literacy held by agents in different [online] communities?
  • What characteristics of food and nutritional literacy are relevant to participation and experience in different types of [online] communities?
  • What are the experiences of food and nutritional literacy of agents in different types of [online] community?
  • How are the concepts of food and nutritional literacy understood by agents in different types of [online] community?
  • How do concepts of food and nutritional literacy relate phenomologically to different agents forming a [online] community?
  • What relevance do agents acting in an [online] community ascribe to their own concepts of food and nutritional literacy?
  • What can be derived from the conceptual debates between theories of food and nutritional literacy and [online] community engagement?
  • Can inferences, hypothesise and models be derived from an evaluation of participation and experience in [online] communities as a phenomenon in food and nutritional literacy?
  • To what extent, then, can the discourse of food and nutritional literacy be tested and validated, both in principle and in experience in [online] communities?

It’s important to keep in mind that the ethnographic process is founded on the study of people’s lived experiences, and the practical realities that they interact through, the ideas and actions that they seek to make sense of.

ecogastronomyeducation_1322260980_76Nothing, however, is unique or novel in this sense, most things usually have precedent characteristics and associated challenges that they share, coming together in our present sense-making activities and stories. For example, the whole issues of taking control of our food supply chain has happened before, it is nothing new that we talking here about attempting to do this. During World War Two there was a general mobilisation for food in the UK. The aim was that we would be a nation that was self-sufficient in food. This meant doing without things such as sugar, large amounts of imported flour, and other none essential basic foods. Food rationing shaped the food choices and memories of a generation, so perhaps looking at this period again would be productive for today’s generation?

If I was to sum up, therefore, the research question that we are aiming to answer at this point, it would take this form:

  • What do people do with food and nutritional literacy?
  • What do they say that they get from discussing food and nutrition, and
  • How does the use of social media change the things that they discuss and practice?

Bauman, Z. (2007). Liquid Times – Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking Sociologically (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Bilton, R., & Booth, L. (2013). Know What to Eat. Formby: Supercritical.
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media. New York: New York University Press.
Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.
Pollan, M. (2009). In Defence of Food. London: Penguin Books.
Schlosser, E. (2002). Fast Food Nation – What the All-American Meal is Doing to the World. London: Penguin.
Yudkin, J. (2012). Pure White and Deadly: Penguin.

TECH1002 Lecture Week Seven: Creativity

This week our discussion looked at creativity and how ideas about creativity can be shaped to our advantage as working media producers and social media facilitators. Our starting point was to think about how knowledge and creativity has traditionally been conceptualised. One way of thinking about creativity is that it is the prevue of a small group of exceptional people who are inspired by some deep force within them to generate ideas and take leaps of the imagination that normal people would not be able to do in the general routines of their daily lives. We call these people artists or auteurs.

In the past, as pragmatist philosopher John Dewey notes “Certain men or classes of men come to be the accepted guardians and transmitters – instructors – of established doctrines. To question the beliefs is to question their authority; to accept the beliefs is evidence of loyalty to the powers that be, a proof of good citizenship” (Dewey, 1910, p. 149). In the traditional model of creativity and knowledge development students are expected to sit at the feet of a great teach and somehow absorb knowledge merely by listening and contemplating the great thoughts that are being articulated. We sit at the feet of the gods and the gods pour knowledge into our empty, vessel like heads.

Gnothi_seautonBut there are other traditions that call into effect a different approach to the development of knowledge and the management of the creative impulse. It is said that on the wall of the temple of Apollo at Delpi was the maxim ‘Know Thyself’. As one of the Delphic maxims and it was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek periegetic (travelogue) writer Pausanias.

So in the rediscovery of forms of classical humanism based on the writing of the classical Greek writers, that took place in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that we know as the Renaissance, this ancient Greek aphorism to “know thyself” was taken on board as one of the founding principles of Western liberal idealism. ‘Know thyself’. What does this mean? Don’t let other people do the knowing for you, perhaps? Establish the knowledge for yourself, perhaps? Contemplate your own role in the knowledge and wisdom accumulation process, perhaps? Whatever the variation of the idea, there are plenty of way that we can think about how we come to understand the knowledge and awareness that we have of the world around us, our role in it and the ideas that seem to float around between people. Deferral to other people, as Dewey notes, merely because they are in an authoritative position isn’t to be encouraged.

Read more about the Delphic Maxims:

So the aim of this lecture was to establish and explore the idea that creative thinking is just one form of thinking, and that we should be encourage to consider the skills and capacities that each type of thinking calls on and for which we may be better suited than others to practice. Not everyone thinks in the same way, and recognising cognitive diversity is a key part of a rich and fulfilling life experience, especially as we are members of a diverse learning and thinking community who want to apply the fruits of their thinking to many different things.

ideationCritical Thinking – what it is and why it counts
We can get under way by contrasting creative thinking with some alternative types of enquiry and mind-set. I always struggled with gaining a working sense of ‘critical thinking’ is. It’s a term that was always bandied about by my tutors and we we’re expected to be able to connect with what was meant by its use somehow automatically. But being somewhat obtuse and stubborn in my approach to received wisdom, I could never just go with the comments that my work needed to be more ‘critical’. In what sense more critical? To what degree more critical? How would I recognise that I was being critical enough or not? When would I know that I have been critical enough? Now when I reflect back I understand that these where critical observations about being critical. At the time, this wasn’t very helpful in assisting me to pass my assignments. Perhaps I should have just accepted the words of the guardians of knowledge that I was close to and just get on with it?

Now it’s a lot easier to find out what it means to be more critical, because we can Google the term. So, here’s a definition that comes from an excellent document by Peter A. Facione about critical thinking I found on the web. According to Facione being critical is to be

Confident in Reasoning

mindpower1Now if only I’ve been able to get this list when I was an undergraduate, things would have been a little simpler, because I would find it easier to think about each of these in turn and explore the specific skills that are related to each function or set of actions. Facione points out that the cognitive skills listed here are “what the experts include as being at the very core of critical thinking: interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation”. So lets look at these in more detail as outlined by Faicone:

Interpretation is “to comprehend and express the meaning or significance of a wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, beliefs, rules, procedures, or criteria.”

“Analysis is “to identify the intended and actual inferential relationships among statements, questions, concepts, descriptions, or other forms of representation intended to express belief, judgment, experiences, reasons, information, or opinions.”

Evaluation as meaning “to assess the credibility of statements or other representations which are accounts or descriptions of a person’s perception, experience, situation, judgment, belief, or opinion; and to assess the logical strength of the actual or intended inferential relationships among statements, descriptions, questions or other forms of representation.”

Inference means “to identify and secure elements needed to draw reasonable conclusions; to form conjectures and hypotheses; to consider relevant information and to educe the consequences flowing from data, statements, principles, evidence, judgments, beliefs, opinions, concepts, descriptions, questions, or other forms of representation.”

Explanation as being able to present in a cogent and coherent way the results of one’s reasoning. This means to be able to give someone a full look at the big picture: both “to state and to justify that reasoning in terms of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, and contextual considerations upon which one’s results were based; and to present one’s reasoning in the form of cogent arguments.”

Self-regulation to mean “self-consciously to monitor one’s cognitive activities, the elements used in those activities, and the results educed, particularly by applying skills in analysis, and evaluation to one’s own inferential judgments with a view toward questioning, confirming, validating, or correcting either one’s reasoning or one’s results.”

According to Facione critical thinking is primarily concerned with judging the truth-value of statements and seeking errors, in which the credibility of the evidence is assessed against the development of an argument, dilemmas are resolved and the reasoning emerges in a critical form.

o-mind-uploadingIn contrast to the critical thinking model we might consider some alternatives, such as lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is more concerned with the movement value of statements and ideas. A person would use lateral thinking when they want to move from one known idea to creating new ideas, and to take advantage of a more divergent thinking approach.

If we look at some of the colloquial definitions of creativity that are typically used to describe the types of activity that results in different outcomes, we can list them in the following way:

  • Producing or bringing about something partly or wholly new.
  • Investing an existing object with new properties or characteristics.
  • Imagining new possibilities that were not conceived of before.
  • Seeing or performing something in a manner different from what was thought possible or normal previously.

Many creative ideas are generated when somebody discards preconceived assumptions and decides on a new approach or method that might seem to others unthinkable. This can take the form of different processes:

  • Chance – randomly seeing what happens.
  • Culling – producing lots of ideas and discarding many.
  • Destruction – breaking assumptions.

So what does creative thinking compare to? Can we map out the different types of thinking and compare them? This is a short list, which is by no means exclusive:

Factual Thinking: Journalism and the Five W’s – Who? What? Where? When? How?

Systems Thinking: Events are separated by distance and time, catalytic events can cause changes in complex systems; changes in one area have a knock-on effect in another area; systems thinking can be used to study any kind of system – natural, scientific, engineered, human, conceptual.

Dialecticism: Exchange of argument and counter-argument. Thesis – proposition. Antitheses – counter-proposition. Refutation-Synthesis.

Vertical Thinking: Chance; essential elements are derived one at a time; elements come together in one thinker at a special time.

Different organisations call on different thinking patterns in order for people working in those organisations to fit in and thrive. Organisations tend to structure people around the dominant model of thinking styles determined as the functional approach to get things done. We can see the contrast of different thinking styles, though, if we look at different examples:

Systems Based Organisation: Hierarchy, professionalism, rules & standards, remunerated, accountable, defined income, status [i.e. traditional radio station].

Network Based Organisation: Flat, community, collaboration, voluntary, responsible, mixed income, esteem [i.e. Web 2.0 media].

One way to make an assessment of the effectiveness of the creative thinking in a project or an organisation is to use the ‘Torrence Test of Creative Thinking’. Building on J.P. Guilford’s work and created by Ellis Paul Torrance, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), is a test of creativity that originally involved simple tests of divergent thinking and other problem-solving skills, which were scored on four scales:

  • Fluency: The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.
  • Flexibility: The number of different categories of relevant responses.
  • Originality: The statistical rarity of the responses.
  • Elaboration: The amount of detail in the responses.

When we look at creative thinking skills we can start to ask some broader questions, such as can creative thinking be learnt and practiced? Should we limit our creative thinking impulses by revering inherited authoritarian ways of doing things? Can the old restrictions be swept away and will this lead to a stronger set of creative outcomes? If we adopt a more humanistic or liberal tone in accounting for creative thinking, where to we put alternative thinking processes, and in what way are they supported? Do different social situations, however, call for different thinking skills?

Running-001One thing I find is that repetitive activities are good for my thinking processes, and there’s some evidence that activities like running: are actually an aid to the creative process? To what extent can we take hold of these supporting processes and channel them into improving our creative thinking processes?

Thinking skills are wide and varied, however, sometimes we can become so sure of our thinking style that we cease to consider that other ways of thinking might be more appropriate or better suited to achieving effective and sustainable outcomes. For example, it can be said that many highly intelligent minds are liable to become trapped in poor ideas because they can defend them so well. Or, that being critical and destructive can be a more appealing use of intelligence rather than standing back from the process and making a contribution to the overall well-being of the people involved in the process. To a large extent the trap of critical thinking is made worse by the absurd Western belief that ‘critical thinking’ is enough on its own.

Ultimately then, we can boil down the idea of creative thinking into two choices:

  • Is thinking a matter of intelligence?
  • Is thinking a skill that can be improved by training?

Edward de Bono famously makes the point that knowledge in its own is not enough. If we are to be truly effective and innovative thinkers then we need to workout ways that draw on the creative and constructive sides of our cognitive ability, that incorporate both design and operating aspects of thinking with the elements of knowledge management that often regarded as being of primary importance. Just knowing something is not enough Being able to apply that knowledge operationally is essential. For De Bono “intelligence is a potential, ” and “thinking is an operational skill.” This means that we can take steps to improve our cognitive routines, practices and abilities. Some things we will be naturally more capable of than others, but we can compensate by adopting mnemonic routines that channel and external process rather than thinking that out thinking has to go on exclusively inside our heads.

If you don’t think this matters, where a quote from a report in the Guardian about a report made to the then Secretart of State for Education, Michael Gove:

“Education in England is no better than mediocre, and billions of pounds have been wasted on pointless university courses and Sure Start schemes for young children, Michael Gove’s special adviser has said in an outspoken private thesis written a few weeks before he is due to step down from his post.

Dominic Cummings, the most influential adviser to the education secretary in the past five years, also argues in a revealing 250-page paper that “real talent” is rare among the nation’s teachers – and, eye-catchingly, says educationists need to better understand the impact of genetics on children. The adviser, known for making fierce demands of civil servants, writes that the endgame for the Department for Education should be to reduce its role to acting as accountants and inspectors, employing hundreds and not thousands of civil servants – and creating an environment in which private and state education would be indistinguishable.”

What Stops us Thinking Creatively?
So what often stops us from thinking creatively? Alcohol? Coffee? Sleep? Other People? Time wasting? Sex? There are many reasons that we feel that we aren’t being creative, and they can emerge at any time. The trick when this happens, however, is to look to some routines and techniques that can help us transition through those moments. Here are some techniques that we can use in our general practice or as a way for use to overcome blocks?

Association: An association is your ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated ideas, concepts, questions or problems from different fields or subject areas. In fact, the foundation of creativity is built upon the framework of connecting things in a new and original way. When it comes to creativity, we often may not know how all the pieces will connect, however we have faith that eventually as we connect more pieces together — by finding unique associations — that in time the idea puzzle will evolve.

Imagination: “The brain is just an endless knot of connections. And a creative thought is simply … a network that’s connecting itself in a new way. Sometimes it’s triggered by a misreading of an old novel. Sometimes it’s triggered by a random thought walking down the street, or bumping into someone in the bathroom of the studio. There are all sorts of ways seemingly old ideas can get reassembled in a new way.”

Decision Tree: “You start a Decision Tree with a decision that you need to make. Draw a small square to represent this towards the left of a large piece of paper. From this box draw out lines towards the right for each possible solution, and write that solution along the line. Keep the lines apart as far as possible so that you can expand your thoughts. At the end of each line, consider the results. If the result of taking that decision is uncertain, draw a small circle. If the result is another decision that you need to make, draw another square. Squares represent decisions, and circles represent uncertain outcomes. Write the decision or factor above the square or circle. If you have completed the solution at the end of the line, just leave it blank. Starting from the new decision squares on your diagram, draw out lines representing the options that you could select. From the circles draw lines representing possible outcomes. Again make a brief note on the line saying what it means. Keep on doing this until you have drawn out as many of the possible outcomes and decisions as you can see leading on from the original decisions”

Ideas Bank: “An ideas bank is a widely available shared resource (usually a website) where people post, exchange, discuss, and polish new ideas. Some ideas banks are used for the purpose of developing new inventions or technologies. Many corporations have installed internal ideas banks to gather the input from their employees and improve their ideation process. Some ideas banks employ a voting system to estimate an idea’s value. In some cases, ideas banks can be more humor-oriented than their serious counterparts. The underlying theory of an ideas bank is that if a large group of people collaborate on a project or the development of an idea that eventually said project or idea will reach perfection in the eyes of those who worked on it.”

Metaphor: “The English language is littered with metaphors, and this is testimony to the their power. So metaphors can be used to improve communications: They can add impact or can help you explain a difficult concept by association with a more familiar one. Metaphorical thinking can also be used to help solve problems: Use and extend metaphors to generate new ideas for solutions.”

“People often describe creative thinking in the form of metaphors. We talk about “thinking outside the box,” “putting two and two together,” and “seeing both sides of the problem.” But what if we could boost our creativity by taking these metaphors literally? We know our minds interact in all sorts of interesting ways with our bodies — what if we enacted these metaphors physically?”

Brainstorming: “Brainstorming combines a relaxed, informal approach to problem solving with lateral thinking. It encourages people to come up with thoughts and ideas that can, at first, seem a bit crazy. Some of these ideas can be crafted into original, creative solutions to a problem, while others can spark even more ideas. This helps to get people unstuck by “jolting” them out of their normal ways of thinking. Therefore, during brainstorming sessions, people should avoid criticizing or rewarding ideas. You’re trying to open up possibilities and break down incorrect assumptions about the problem’s limits. Judgment and analysis at this stage stunts idea generation and limit creativity. Evaluate ideas at the end of the brainstorming session – this is the time to explore solutions further, using conventional approaches.”

Lateral Thinking: “A way of thinking that seeks a solution to an intractable problem through unorthodox methods or elements that would normally be ignored by logical thinking. Edward de Bono divides thinking into two methods. He calls one ‘vertical thinking’ that is, using the processes of logic, the traditional-historical method. He calls the other ‘lateral thinking’, which involves disrupting an apparent sequence and arriving at the solution from another angle.”

Gardner-YouTube-001So, it is useful to identify different techniques that we might employ to help and facilitate the effectiveness of our thinking. What are the thinking tools that we think are better suited to our own style of thinking or the organisation that we work for? Can we overcome blockages by using different techniques at different times? Can we flip our language use to help us look at the world afresh? In juxtaposing ideas what can we identify that is as useful as our search for correspondence and conformity?

Howard Gardner’s book Five Minds for the Future looks at different thinking styles that he believes we will need to adopt in order to thrive in the future. There’s a good video of Howard that is worth watching in which he explains the ideas he’s worked on and has shared.

We can list the different mind-sets as Gardner describes them:

The Disciplined Mind:
“The absence of disciplinary thinking matters. Shorn of these sophisticated ways of thinking, individuals remain essentially unschooled” (Gardner, 2008, p. 36).

“Scholarly disciplines allow you to participate knowledgeably in the world; professional disciplines allow you to thrive in the workplace” (Gardner, 2008, p. 37).

“The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking – a distinctive mode of cognition that characterises a specific scholarly discipline, craft, or profession” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Synthesising Mind:
“The synthesising mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesiser and also to other persons” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Creating Mind:
“The creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Respectful Mind:
“The respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these ‘others,’ and seeks to work effectively with them” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Ethical Mind:
“The Ethical mind ponders the nature of one’s work and the needs and desired of the society in which one lives. This mind conceptualises how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

Overall then, thinking about the role and the purpose of creative thinking varies, and the language that is associated with creative thinking is quite often contradictory, but there seems to be a settled message. Peter Arvai who is the founder and CEO of Prezi the online presentation tool, suggests that “Creativity is not a skill—it is a mindset.” Arvai believes that anyone can be creative, but that we “shouldn’t think of creativity as something you either have or you don’t. There is a required mindset that enables creativity.”

However, as Zygmunt Bauman notes, “it is one thing to have the ability to change or modify our skills and quite another to reach the goals we seek” (Bauman & May, 2001). Therefore we have to think carefully before we rush into a particular course of action or development. As John Dewey suggests “Playfulness is a more important consideration than play. The former is an attitude of mind; the latter is a passing outward manifestation of this attitude. When things are treated simply as vehicles of suggestion, what is suggested overrides the thing. Hence the playful attitude is one of freedom” (Dewey, 1910, p. 162).

Creative thinking is ultimately one that is free to play with ideas, test them, take them apart, rebuild them and reconfigure them for different purposes. Here’s to play and innovation!

Critical Questions:
What are the range of thinking skills that we will need in the information age?
What are the practical information management skills that we need?
How will we need to act, behave and interrelate in the information age?

Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking Sociologically (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Dewey, J. (1910). How We Think. New York: D.C. Heath.
Gardner, H. (2008). Five Minds for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business Press.
De Bono, E. (1982) Thinking Course, BBC Active, London.

Selfie Help

I think I need some help to learn how to take selfies. I’m rubbish. My glasses are wonky, the light is reflecting in them, I can’t smile naturally, and getting the angle right is a pain. Who would have thought that taking selfies requires so much skill in self-presentation, camera work and photo-editing? Perhaps I can sign-up for a course?

TECH3022 Lecture Week Seven: Research Tools & Techniques – Data Collection

According to Uwe Flick, “the essential features of qualitative research are the correct choice of appropriate methods and theories; the recognition and analysis of different perspectives; the researchers’ reflections on their research as part of the process of knowledge production; and the variety of approaches” (Flick 2009 p.14). In addition John Creswell notes that “unquestionably, the backbone of qualitative research is extensive collection of data, typically from multiple sources of information” (Creswell 1998 p.19).

In this weeks lecture we spent time thinking about how ethnographic research seeks to build pictures of different social situations and groupings that are holistic in the way that they portray the everyday experiences of the groups and situations we have chosen to study. The emphasis, according to Creswell should be on “portraying the everyday experiences of individuals by observing and interviewing them and relevant others.” And so in doing this, according to Creswell, ethnographic studies should include “in-depth interviewing and continual ongoing participant observation of a situation,” which will attempt to “capture the whole picture” and reveal “how people describe and structure their world” (Creswell 1994 p.163). More broadly, and as noted by Judith Bell, this means that “ethnographic researchers attempt to develop an understanding of how a culture works” (Bell 2005 p.17).

Slide04Our focus, then, is on learning about how people interact in both the physical world and also in the virtual world of electronic mediated communications, such as the Internet. According to Christine Hine, “online activities leave a myriad of traces, providing a valuable resource for researchers interested in experiencing emergent social structures and connections” (Hine, 2005, p. 112). As such, these situations and sites of interaction should be thought of as no less ‘real’ than those that we encounter in our physical social settings. They are ‘natural settings’ and we enter in to them in order to examine what they offer as an empirically grounded model from which we can draw insight that is just as useful as those that we might encounter in off-line settings. As Uwe Flick notes, “fields of study are not artificial situations in the laboratory but the practices and interactions of the subjects in everyday life” (Flick 2009 p.15). Therefore, as Flick explains “qualitative research’s central criteria depend on whether findings are grounded in empirical material or whether the methods are appropriately selected and applied, as well as the relevance of findings and the reflexivity of proceedings” (Flick 2009 p.15).

Slide07According to John Creswell:

  • “Qualitative research occurs in natural settings, where human behaviour and events occur.
  • Qualitative research is based on assumptions that are very different from quantitative designs. Theory or hypotheses are not established a priori.
  • The researcher is the primary instrument in data collection rather than some inanimate mechanism.
  • The data that emerge from a qualitative study are descriptive. That is, data are reported in words [primarily the participants words] or pictures, rather than in numbers.”

Therefore, “a researcher begins a qualitative study with general questions and refines them as they study proceeds. In addition, the process of qualitative research includes a discussion of the context of the subject or case being studied. Nowhere is the context more apparent that in a qualitative case study, where one describes the setting for the case from the more general description to the specific description” (Creswell 1998 p.78).

The focus of qualitative research, therefore, is on participants’ perceptions and experiences, and the way they make sense of their lives. The attempt is to understand not one, but multiple realities. Qualitative research focuses on the process that is occurring as well as the product or outcome, and as such researchers are particularly interested in understanding how things occur. As Gale Miller argues “a major task of qualitative research… involves observing and specifying the unique and shared features of these socially organised settings, as well as analysing the implications of institutional structures and processes for people’s lives and/or social issues” (Gale Miller in Miller and Dingwall 1997 p.4).

“In a qualitative study,” according to Creswell, “one does not begin with a theory to test or verify. Instead, consistent with the inductive model of thinking, a theory may emerge during the data collection and analysis phase of the research or be used relatively late in the research process as a basis for comparison with other theories” (Creswell 1994 p.95). Idiographic interpretation is therefore utilised as a way of paying attention to the particulars of the social situations, the relationships and the symbolic interactions, with any data that is collected being interpreted in regards to the particulars of a case rather than any wider generalisations. Ethnographic research is not about mapping ‘historical’ or ‘ideological’ flows, but is instead a pragmatic and emergent design process that seeks contingently agreed outcomes. Meanings and interpretations are negotiated within the frameworks of human data sources because it’s the subjects’ realities that the researcher attempts to reconstruct.

Slide09The research tradition, of pragmatic, qualitative, social construction, therefore relies on the utilisation of tacit knowledge (intuitive and felt knowledge) because otherwise the nuances of the multiple realities cannot be appreciated. Data that is often thought to be un-quantifiable in the traditional sense of the word becomes accessible and describable. As Creswell notes, “objectivity and truthfulness are critical to both research traditions. However, the criteria for judging a qualitative study differ from quantitative research. First and foremost, the researcher seeks believability based on coherence, insight and instrumental utility and trustworthiness through a process of verification rather than through traditional validity and reliability measures” (Creswell 1994 p.163).

As Flick points out, “the first premise” therefore “is that human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings that the things have for them… The second premise is that the meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with one’s fellows. The third premise is that these meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretive process used by the person in dealing with the things he encounters” Blumer, 1967 quoted in (Flick 2009 p.58). And while “most field researchers use such data as questionnaires, interviews, observations and diaries” to “attempt ‘to get inside the black box’ of social institutions” this should be thought of, as David Silverman argues, an attempt to “gain access to their interior processes and practices” of the research subject, the agent acting in the social setting being described (David Silverman in Miller and Dingwall 1997 p.15).

Ethnographic field work therefore priorities attempts to gather notes by conducting observations as a participant. According to Flick the researcher should be attentive to the meanings, practices, episodes, encounters, roles, relationships, groups, organisations and lifestyles that are encountered (Flick 2009 p.102). And as Creswell points out, “given these phases in the design, one uses, either explicitly or implicitly, a set of philosophical assumption [to] guide the study. These assumptions speak to our understanding of knowledge: Knowledge is within the meanings people make of it; knowledge is gained through people talking about their meanings; knowledge is laced with personal biases and values; knowledge is written in a personal, up-close way; and knowledge evolves, emerges, and is inextricably tied to the context in which it is studied” (Creswell 1998 p.19).

Slide12“In a qualitative study,” therefore, “the investigator admits the value-laden nature of the study and actively reports his or her values and biases as well as the value-laden nature of information gathered from the field” (Creswell 1998 p.76). As such, according to Martyn Denscombe, “participant observation enables researchers, as far as is possible, to share the same experiences as the subjects, to understand better why they act in the way they do and ‘to see things as those involved see things’ (Denscombe 1998: 69)” (Bell 2005 p.17). In this particular form of ethnographic study, often referred to as social constructionism, “experiences are structured and understood through concepts and contexts, which are constructed by this subject. Whether the picture that is formed in this way is true or correct cannot be determined. But its quality may be assessed through its viability; that is, the extent to which the picture or model permits the subject to find its way and to act in the world” (Flick 2009 p.71). “In ethnographic research,” therefore, “prolonged time in the field for the investigator minimises the distance as the investigator’s observational role shifts from that of an ‘outsider’ to that of an ‘insider’ during his or her stay in the field” (Creswell 1998 p.76).

The reason that ethnographers undertake interviews in an unstructured and open-ended way is because, as Uwe Flick notes, “knowledge is constructed in processes of social interchange; it is based on the role of language in such relationships; and, above all, it has social functions. The eventualities of the social process involved have an influence on what will survive as a valid or useful explanation” (Flick 2009 p.71). It is necessary, therefore, for the researcher to be attentive to the way that these social interchanges progress and develop, letting the interviewee feel free to follow the thought processes that best articulate the reality they are trying to understand. As Creswell argues, “for the qualitative researcher, the only reality is that constructed by the individuals involved in the research situation” (Creswell 1994 p.4) and therefore, “the qualitative researcher needs to report faithfully these realities and to rely on voices and interpretations of informants” (Creswell 1994 p.6).

Slide17Creswell outlines a set of protocols that are pertinent to undertaking interviews. According to Creswell, “this protocol would include the following components: (a) a heading, (b) instructions to the interviewer (opening statements), (c) the key research questions to be asked, (d) probes to follow key questions, (e) transition messages for the interviewer, (f) space for recording the interviewer’s comments, and (g) space in which the researcher records reflective notes” (Creswell 1994 p.152). According to Creswell “we ask open-ended research questions, wanting to listen to the participants we are studying and shaping the questions after we ‘explore’, and we refrain from assuming the role of the expert researcher with the ‘best’ questions. Our questions change during the process of research to reflect an in-creased understanding of the problem” (Creswell 1998 p.19).

On an individual basis, therefore, the research interview is a valuable tool, but when we are working with groups of people we need to find additional techniques that will allow us to facilitate discussion and interchange between a wider number of people simultaneously. Robert Kozinets suggests using focus groups, because “in a netnography, focus groups of existing community participants might be valuable for two main reasons. First, online community and culture members can be group interviewed – just as individuals can be interviewed singly. They can be used to learn about norms, conventions, histories, and roles of online community members as they interact online”(Kozinets 2010).

Kozinets also points out that when we are conducting an interview through our computer, it will be essential to keep in mind that these “communications are going to be shaped by the medium you use.” According to Kozinets, “studies seeking to understand the subjective impact of Internet connectivity can also collect documents from research participants.” And therefore help us to ground the study in empirical assessments. Kozinets suggests that “these documents often take the form of diaries or journals in which participants record day-to-day or even hour-by-hour events, reflections, or impressions of experiences”(Kozinets 2010).

At the heart of the principle of ethnographic study is the process by which the researcher understands and accounts of their role in the research process. As Flick points out, “the subjectivity of the researcher and of those being studied becomes part of the research process. Researcher’s reflections on their actions and observations in the field, their impressions, irritations, feelings, and so on, become data in their own right, forming part of the interpretation, and are documented in research diaries or context protocols” (Flick 2009 p.16). As Flick continues, “qualitative research therefore becomes – or is linked still more strongly with – a specific attitude based on the researcher’s openness and reflexivity” (Flick 2009 p.20).

So it is common practice to ask the informant keep a journal during the research study. According to Kozinets a “‘pure’ ethnography would be conducted using data generated via face-to-face interactions and their transcription in field notes, with no data from online interactions.” However, as Kozinets continues, a “‘blended’ ethnography/netnography would be a combination of approaches, including data gathered in face-to-face as well as online interaction. Blended ethnographies/netnographies could take many forms, using many particular methods and favour different rations of online to face-to-face interaction, data, and analysis”(Kozinets 2010). In this mixed-mode of study “cultural participants expound and explore, “ according to Kozinets. “They share their personal histories, spread rumours, and relate anecdotes. Collecting and decoding these free-form, free-wheeling conversations is a way of using archival data sources for netnography.” Though, as Kozinets adds, the “online interview is a more proactive venture” (Kozinets 2010).

Therefore, “in this combined process of acculturation and data collection, the keeping of fieldnotes can serve the critical function of recording and reflecting the all-important changes that occur outside the realm of the online text” (Kozinets 2010). According to Kozinets “in reflective fieldnotes, netnographers record their own observations regarding subtexts, pretexts, contingencies, conditions and personal emotions occurring during their time online, and relating to their online experiences. Through these written reflections, the netnographer records her journey from outsider to insider, her learning of languages, rituals, and practices, as well as her involvement in a social web of meanings and personalities. These fieldnotes often provide key insights into what the online culture is and what it does”(Kozinets 2010).

So, as Creswell states “writers agree that one undertakes qualitative research in a natural setting where the researcher is an instrument of data collection who gathers word or pictures, analyses them inductively, focuses on the meaning of participants, and describes a process that is expressive and persuasive in language” (Creswell 1998 p.14). Creswell lists the elements of additional media that can be collected by the informant and viewed by the researcher, that aid and promote the process of sense-making. Creswell suggests that we:

  • Collect personal letters from informants.
  • Analyse public documents (e.g. official memos, minutes, archival material).
  • Examine autobiographies and biographies.
  • Examine physical trace evidence (e.g., footprints in the snow).
  • Videotape a social situation or and individual/group.
  • Have informants take photographs or videotapes.
  • Collect sounds (e.g., musical sounds, a child’s laughter, car horns honking).” (Creswell 1994 p.149)

In addition, and as Mackay suggests, “using the Internet is a process of writing and reading texts and the task of the ethnographer is to understand these principles. Understanding the meaning of texts, however, is far from straightforward. It is difficult to isolate, in any simple sense, a single text for analysis, because of the inter-discursive nature of textual meaning. Every media text is mediated by others, so no text is bounded. The text does not occupy a fixed position, but is always mobilised, placed or articulated with other texts in different ways” (Mackay, 2005, p. 131).

This point fits well with how Flick sees the ethnographic research process when he suggests that “reading and understanding texts become active processes of producing reality, which involve not only the author of (in our case social science) texts, but also those for whom they are written and who read them.” When this is “transferred to qualitative research,” according to Flick, “this means that in the production of texts (on a certain subject, an interaction, or an event) the person who reads and interprets the written text is involved in the construction of reality as the person who writes the text”(Flick 2009 p.79). “Online interaction,” therefore, “forces the learning of additional codes and norms, abbreviations, emoticons, sets of keystrokes and other technical skills in order to transfer the emotional information vital to social relations”(Kozinets 2010). And “whether we are talking about a blog’s audience, a social network, or a computer constructed ‘race’ in a virtual world, the participants in these groups often self-segment by arranging themselves into online groupings sorted by interests, tastes, or pre-existing communities”(Kozinets 2010). Though according to Shani Orgad “to maintain the interaction with informants and encourage them to collaborate and share their experience” with the researcher, therefore, it is “necessary to build a certain degree of trust,” is the “real challenge in building rapport online” (Orgad, 2005, p. 55).

We can now, therefore, start to think about the design of the research questions that we are going to use to guide us through this investigative process. At this stage it is not possible or desirable to tie-down the research question to a specific form, as would be done in a hypothesis-testing model. Instead, we will use a set of broad outline questions to guide the process of engagement, participation and observation to collect data in the social situations we are choosing to encounter and engage with. Therefore the following questions are relevant:

  • What is the typical unit of analysis used in the design? [Interview, Survey, Journal, participant observation, document tracking, etc. Or, does this mean what is the theoretical model that is used – i.e. interpretive, grounded, conversation, discourse analysis?]
  • Are there any alternative types of problems often studied by using the design? [Survey journals focussing on cultural practice, e-learning and social media, include Digital Ethnography]
  • What are the various data collection processes? [Outline data collection mechanism, the relationship between online material and reported material, how they correspond or interact between informants and change over time. How will I physically record data and track this information? Will I use video recordings, audio recordings, field notes, etc.?]
  • What are the various data analysis processes? [Outline modelling process, how different elements interact or correspond, and how they change over time. Will this include any specific models worked out via other studies, for example, organisation management, behavioural studies, conversational analysis?]
  • What are the typical formats for reporting the information? [Tabulated, narrative, relationship mapping, etc?]
  • Are there any other special characteristics of the design? [Does digital ethnography pose any specific problems? What are the contingencies between what people say and what they are observed to do? Are the observations of the researcher verifiable?]

To conclude, and as John Creswell notes, the ethnographic research process suggests the following data collection steps: “(a) setting the boundaries for the study, (b) collecting information through observations, interviews, documents and visual materials, and (c) establishing the protocol for recording information” (Creswell 1994 p.148). As Kozinets notes, “It can be useful to start with one set of research questions that evolve during the process of the investigation,” because, “by the time the final research project is complete, that original set of research questions may be changed quite dramatically, with new ones emerging in the process of investigation and analysis”(Kozinets 2010). We can be certain however, that as Kozinets suggests, “online communities are widespread phenomena, and their norms and rituals are shaped by the practices of cyberculture and those of the general cultural groups using them”(Kozinets 2010). How we attend to the symbolic interactions in these communities and cultures is as valid as it would be in the physical realm.

Therefore, this study will:

  • Be based on Netnographic/Qualitative Research principles.
  • Use mixed modes of constructivist qualitative data collection and interpretation such as participant observation.
  • Use reflexive critical methods to contextualise the situatedness of the researcher.
  • Use case studies to contrast contextual environments.

Themes will include:

  • What are the concepts of food and nutritional literacy held by agents in different [online] communities
  • What characteristics of food and nutritional literacy are relevant to participation and experience in different types of [online] communities?
  • What are the experiences of food and nutritional literacy of agents in different types of [online] community?
  • How are the concepts of food and nutritional literacy understood by agents in different types of
  • How do concepts of food and nutritional literacy relate phenomologically to different agents forming a [online] community?
  • What relevance do agents acting in an [online] community ascribe to their own concepts of food and nutritional literacy?
  • What can be derived from the conceptual debates between theories of food and nutritional literacy and [online] community engagement?
  • Can inferences, hypothesise and models be derived from an evaluation of participation and experience in [online] communities as a phenomenon in food and nutritional literacy?
  • To what extent can the discourse of food and nutritional literacy be tested and validated, both in principle and in experience in [online] communities?
  • In other words, what do people do with food and nutritional literacy? What do they say that they get from discussing food and nutrition, and how does the use of social media change the things that they discuss and practice?

Bell, J. (2005). Doing Your Research Project. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Creswell, J. W. (1994). Research Design: Qualitative and Quantative Approaches. London, Sage.
Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design – Choosing Among Five Traditions. London, Sage.
Flick, U. (2009). An Introduction to Qualitative Research Design. London, Sage.
Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Netnography – Doing Ethnographic Research Online. London, Sage.
Miller, G. and R. Dingwall, Eds. (1997). Context & Method in Qualitative Research. London, Sage.

Liverpool COOL Creative Community Radio

I’ve come up to Liverpool to see my mum, and get a bit of culture – with or without the capital ‘C’. Every time I come back to Liverpool I encounter something that is invigorating and engaging. It’s far from a perfect place, but it’s got a lot more interesting in the last few years. We had lunch in the Everyman Bistro on Saturday, which was very nice, and I’m not surprised the design of the rebuilt Everyman has won awards. The café and the bistro feel very intimate and the food was simple, elegant and flavoursome. A simple menu that is done well rather than the over-extended trendy mixture of fusion foods that are done to death elsewhere.

001-DSCF4268On Saturday evening we spent a couple of hours in Sefton Park watching the Lantern Parade and the fireworks. It was great to see how enthusiastically these events are received in Liverpool, and the sense of involvement and participation that people give over to them. I’d heard that last years parade was engaging, so had high hopes for this year. Perhaps the timekeeping and the stewarding could be looked at, because there was a lot of people eager to see the performance, and it took a long time to get all the parade participants into the central arena, by which point many of the families with small kids had given up. A bit of narration would have helped as well. The PA was more than adequate, but encouraging people to spread around the arena would have taken some of the pressure off. But who doesn’t like fire and fireworks in the dark?

On a Sunday morning my mum always listens to BBC Radio Merseyside, which I detest, as Maurine Walsh presents her show like she is the Queen. However, we sat and chatted about why people like her? What she brings to the station and who she thinks she is talking to? And this got me thinking about the extent to which radio stations in Liverpool reflect the COOL agenda that is being developed in the city. COOL stands for Creative Organisations of Liverpool, and is group that brings together many of the established and the emerging creative projects, organisations and people across the city.

And so it struck me that with such as strong focus on creativity and performance in Liverpool, with music, literature, poetry, theatre, visual arts, film making, design and architecture, I don’t think Liverpool has any radio stations that do what ResonanceFM does in London, which is provide an independent and DIY focus for creative outlets and the arts using radio, with a continual discussion of arts, music, culture and performance for the generation of peoples who aren’t stereotyped by a reliance on nostalgia (BBC), football (Radio City) or double glazing sales (JuiceFM).

Walker Gallery

Walker Gallery

I know very little about Liverpool’s community radio stations so I’m probably wrong in thinking that the arts aren’t discussed on the radio in Liverpool, but it’s just that there isn’t a station that is dedicated to it. There may well be people using radio as a creative medium itself, rather than thinking it is just a stepping stone to other things, or a way to provide a warm bath of nostalgia and self-affirmation, so I need pointing in the right direction if anyone has any examples they are happy to share

I’d be very interested in starting a discussion about how community radio can be developed around this idea of talking a leading cultural role, rather than just providing an echo-chamber for a fixed community. I would wonder if talking to the organisations that lead with COOL, the Arts Council, the city council, the other universities and colleges, the music promoters, and so on, might expand the purpose of radio from the very narrow model that we have in the UK?

I interviewed Ed Baxter at ResonanceFM the other year, and he’s much more interesting than the usual suspects in the commercial or BBC radio sector. He hates the whole corporate and consumerist culture that UK radio is locked in. I have two favourite stations at the moment. Campus Radio Montpellier and L’Echo in Montpellier. Find them both on Tune-In Radio to see how different a student/community stations can be from the UK variety. This is radio that is allowed space to breath and lets the listener come to it, rather than being shouted at by a bunch of ego-maniacs who want to tell you how wonderful they are. They are my favourite stations at the moment – even though I don’t understand a word of French!

I’m always struck when each time I return to Liverpool now how much the atmosphere has changed since I left in the late 1980s, and how much more open people are to creative arts, storytelling, musical diversity and so on. With a great tradition of writing, poetry, performance, acting, musical innovation, and all the rest. Community radio with a purpose to foster diversity, creativity and participation in DIY aural/music cultures would get me excited. No charts, no formulas, no fixed schedules, no corporate missions-plans…. (haha, I’d get eaten alive…).

TECH1002 Lecture Week Five: Netsmarts & Attention Management

We started this week’s lecture with a look at an online video shared by Martin Aleksiev in his blog The short video is an appeal for us rethink the nature of sociality in our constantly connected, online, social-media world, and is a good introduction to some of the ideas that we are going to be considering in future weeks.

This lecture summarises the five digital literacies that are identified by Howard Rheingold in his book Net Smart (2012). And looks at how social media technology has raised questions about what it means to be literate in the networked age, and how we can be successful in new social contexts using these new communication technologies. These are important issues that run through the social media strand of the course because they settle on the question, what does it mean to live a good life in an online and social media world?

We can start by asking a simple question, what are the fundamental things you need to do to thrive online? For some it means that we need to join as many social networks as we possibly can. What we get out of the connections that these networks brings is a sense that we are keeping up to date with other people; and that we are able to play a part in society because we have the right mix of skills and capabilities; and that we are can demonstrate that we have mastered certain types of social fluencies (or literacies) which allow us to use all the available aspect of social media. Indeed, we might reflect on the potential anxiety that is caused when we are unable to plug-in to our networks and we aren’t able to access the sites and apps that we have very quickly come to rely on in our day-to-day routines?

100 Essential Apps

100 Essential Apps

The Mail Online ran an article recently in which they listed the one hundred apps that are essential to modern living. What’s interesting is not necessarily what is included in this list, but rather what is excluded. There is a plethora of consumer apps and lifestyle apps, such as maps, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, cooking, health and fitness, and so on. The Mail Online’s recommendations read like a pretty wide ranging and typical consumer lifestyle magazine. What’s missing, however, is any kind of reflection or ethical intervention in our lives. There are no faith-based apps, no apps that help us to deal with ethical dilemmas, or political issues. History is absent and philosophy, literature and learning are non-existent. What the Mail Online has done, then, is to reduce living to a functional exchange. A consumer exchange in which money management takes priority over questions of ethicacy and morality?

7 Digital Deadly Sins

7 Digital Deadly Sins

The Guardian, on the other hand, ran a different web project called the Seven Digital Sins, in which contributors where asked to identify the ways that we might consider issues such as bullying or envy online. Are we subject to the same ethical rules in a virtual environment as we are in the real world the project asked? The Guardian’s Seven Deadly Sins gives us a simple choice between admonishment or denial that our actions online have consequences, and is an interesting counterpoint to the consumer-driven functionalism of the Mail Online.

So, this lecture raises some questions about the role of social media in our lives, and offers some discussion points about how we might think, or re-think, the challenges inherent in social interaction. In doing so we’ll look at two principle writers who have outlined some of their ideas about thriving online. Tom Chatfield who’s book How to Thrive in the Digital Age (2012) is published as part of the ‘School of Life’ series; and Howard Rheingold, long-time contributor to debates and discussions about virtual communities and his book Net Smarts – How to Thrive Online (2012). If you want to hear directly from Tom and Howard, there are plenty of YouTube videos available of interviews and talks they have done.

Social life on line is often discussed as if it is a new form of collective life. Chatfield’s book is a contribution to a wider debate about the value of our digitally mediated experiences, and he suggests that “if we are interested in living with technology in the best possible way, we must recognise that what matters above all is not the individual devices we use, but what we use them for.” According to Chatfield “digital media are technologies of the mind and of experience.” So ‘”if we wish to thrive in their company, the first lesson is that we can only hope constructively to comprehend them if we speak not of technology in the abstract, but of the experiences it enables” (Chatfield, 2012, p. 3).

Picture2According to Chatfield, “if there is a common thread” in our thinking about the use of social media, “it is the question of how individual experience fits into the new kind of collective life of the twenty-first century: how what ‘I’ am relates to what others know of me, what I share with those others, and what can remain personal and private” (Chatfield, 2012).

Chatfield’s view is that “we are entering a place where human nature remains the same, but the structures shaping it are alien.” According to Chatfield “ today’s digital world is not simply an idea or a set of tools, any more than a digital device is simply something switched on for leisure or pleasure. Rather, for an ever-increasing number of people, it is a gateway to the place where leisure and labour alike are rooted; an arena within which we seamlessly juggle friendships, media, business, shopping, research, politics, play, finance, and much else besides”(Chatfield, 2012).

The challenge offered to individuals in these circumstances is often put forward, not as a collective or environmental challenge, but often as a purely personal one. What takes priority is the idea of self-control and personal integrity in the face of the overwhelming changes and reconfigurations that are taking place in our social worlds. Chatfield believes, therefore, that we must “look to the nature of our experiences rather than the tools creating them if we hope to understand the present. We must cherish the best of these experiences – but also carve out a space apart from technology in our lives, and take control of our attention, apportioning our time knowingly rather than allowing always-on devices to dictate the texture of every moment” (Chatfield, 2012, p. 133).

As Chatfield continues, “we must too, understand something of the histories of the digital tools and services that we use, and critique them as we do other creations, rather than inhabiting them like a landscape. We must learn not simply to share, but to share well – and to participate in the digital commons with the kind of integrity that breeds integrity in others” (Chatfield, 2012, p. 133). According to Chatfield, therefore, “we need to make more time to be ‘unplugged’ from the network, to be on our own and with others away from the ‘default state’ of digital media” (p.30), since… “In an age of constant live connections, the central question of self-examination is drifting from ‘Who are you?’ towards ‘What are you doing?’ Much as we may hunger for connection, if we are to thrive, we need to keep some sense of ourselves separate from this constant capacity to broadcast. We need tenses other than the present – other qualities of time – in our lives’ (Chatfield, 2012, p. 32).

So, some immediate questions can be summarised. We can thrive online, but have to work out how? How do we face the challenges about managing who we are online? What do we understand about the tools we use and how they are different and do different things? What happens if we spend time unplugged from the network? Is it a good thing to be outside of the network of digital connections? How can we maintain a sense of self-examination in this environment and what does self-reflection bring? To what extent, therefore, is a life lived through social media a good thing?

Rheingold’s Fundamentals:
Picture1Howard Rheingold is a long-time participant in the debates and discussion about virtual communities since their development in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Rheingold outlines five fundamental digital literacies and online skills that he believes, given his extensive experience, will help us use social media intelligently, humanely, and, above all, mindfully. According to Rheingold it’s a question of ‘know-how’ as much as anything else. Rheingold puts forward five fundamental skills that we would be well to attend to: Attention; Critical consumption (‘crap detection’); Participation; Collaboration; Network smarts.

Perhaps the most difficult part of living in any community is the extent to which we are able to make sense of those communities over time. For some our community life is consistent and predictable, but for others our experience of community life is unpredictable and precarious. One of the issues that is discussed within community studies, therefore, is the extent to which we are able to cope with change. The extent to which we can call on common stocks of social capital to bolster our resilience when it comes to coping with disruption? The online social media world is a place of persistent and constant disruption, so to what extent are we investing in building our resilience and skills to cope with the high levels of disruption that are evident?

Howard Rheingold points out that ‘humans pay a lot of attention to other humans – hence the success and seductive distractions of social media such as Facebook and Twitter’ (Rheingold, 2012, p.40). The question that Rheingold wants to develop an answer to is related to our experience in these online interactions. How do we cope with the disruption of always-on and everywhere media? As Rheingold suggests, ‘when it comes to interacting with the world of always-on info, the fundamental skill, on which other essential skills depend, is the ability to deal with distraction without filtering out opportunity’ (Rheingold, 2012, p. 41).

Guardian-Reading-001According to Rheingold, and supported by Jones & Hafner (2012), attention management is emerging as one of the great driving forces or regulating principles in our thinking about online social life. You need to CONTROL ATTENTION by INTENTION is the suggestion. Having a goal, i.e. something you intend to achieve, can only be reached with an intense focus and by eliminating unwanted distractions. Take for example the recent Guardian article about finding the time to read books. According to the article “a survey last year found that almost 4 million British adults never read books for pleasure,… a lack of time was the dominant factor”

This level of disruption to our attentiveness is wide-ranging and pervasive, and has been a feature of social life for a long time. Few people have the time and available resources to devote to literary attentiveness. People work, have families and social networks. People find pleasure in other pastimes, doing things, going to places. Sitting around and studiously reading is not an easy thing to do, especially when our working environments have been taken over by noise and disruptive technologies that continually create more noise and distraction. Compare different libraries for example. Some you can hear a pin drop, while in others there is a constant hubbub and chatter.

Howard Rheingold therefore suggests that we should aim to create ‘mindfulness’ (‘mindful awareness’), as this can potentially be ‘the most important practice for anyone who is trying to swim through the infostream instead of being swept away by it’ (Rheingold, 2012, p. 64) . This is a form of ‘metacognition’ (i.e. ‘thinking about thinking’) in which we apply what you know to control attention. Rheingold goes on to offer some tips for mindfulness meditation and strategic goal-achieving tips.

BREATHING ‘could be a tool to help moderate our unthinking, ultimately unhealthy reactions to many online stimuli’ (Rheingold, 2012, p. 45).

MEDITATION: ‘pay attention to your breathing and return your attention to it when you find your mind wandering’ (p.60) and repeat if necessary.

• Don’t just control your attention, manage it.
• Manage your attention with ‘goal-setting rituals’.
• Daily short lists of intentions and related ‘to dos’ for that day.
• Write a goal, set your intention.
• Set the goal, create a ritual of goal-setting.
• Re-groove your attentional habits – short bursts of attention (25 minutes) with 5 minute breaks.

Overall then, thriving online should focus on ‘know-how’ based on an enhanced smartness about our participation in digital media so that we can cope more effectively with the disruptions that we encounter. Therefore it is up to us to manage our attention, and that we shouldn’t contract it out, instead we can the necessary learn attention management techniques that will help us to manage our resilience to these disruptions.

Next on the list of Net Smarts is critical consumption, or the ability to determine the difference between those things that are authentic and inauthentic. According to Rheingold, ‘if the rule of thumb for attention literacy is to pay attention to your intention, then the heuristic for crap detection is to make scepticism your default. Don’t refuse to believe; refuse to start out believing’ (Rheingold, 2012, p. 77). As Rheingold goes on, ‘the first thing we all need to know about information online is how to detect crap, by which I mean information tainted by ignorance, inept communication, or deliberate deception’ (Rheingold, 2012, p. 16).

Internet Hoax

Internet Hoax

For example, the Independent reported this week on an Internet hoax suggesting that Nasa had confirmed that “the Earth is headed for ‘Six Days of Total Darkness’”–its-a-hoax-9822744.html

Picture8Now, while this kind of hoax might seem innocuous and enjoyable in its absurdity, other forms of misrepresentation online have wider and more immediate consequences. In 2013, for example, the well publicised libelling of Lord McAlpine created a huge media storm when Sally Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the Commons, and George Monbiot, a columnist for the Guardian, were among other people who claimed that McAlpine was the subject of a BBC Newsnight story about child abuse. The unfounded story, and the subsequent Tweeting of messages by Bercow and Monbiot, had associated Lord McAlpines with a set of false claims. Lord McAlpine’s solicitor, Andrew Reid, said the “nasty” tweets would “cost people a lot of money”, warning the guilty parties: “We know who you are.” Adding, “Twitter is not just a closed coffee shop among friends. It goes out to hundreds of thousands of people and you must take responsibility for it.” “It is not a place where you can gossip and say things with impunity, and we are about to demonstrate that” (Swinford and Rayner, 2012).

Ford Ballons

Ford Ballons

We can see a wider emerging trend online about fake and real, or authentic and inauthentic media when we look at ‘Astroturfing’ and ‘Spoofvertising.’ Astroturfing is fake grassroots media that deploys covert strategies to make ‘viral’ commercial or campaign videos that appear to be authentic user-generated content. On the Internet user generated content is given a high degree of trust and credibility as it is considered to be more authentic and therefore more genuine. An example is Ford’s 2007 ‘balloon’ ad campaign, in which various cars are cleared from the streets by attaching balloons to them. Quite literally they just float away and out of mind. Seeing this ad in New Zealand a group of people get together to test if it is possible to do this in real life, and decide to attach helium filled balloons to a car. The accompanying hand-held video has all of the traits of user-generated video. It’s casual and spontaneous; it has shaky camera movements and sudden edits, and it ‘s shot from a single persons perspective.



A number of websites then picked-up on the video and asked if this was real or not? Though I’m not sure that really matters, what is more important is that the YouTube video has been seen by 1,756,471 people. Probably far more than have seen or acknowledged the original advert in the first place.

The art of hoaxing, faking and spoofing demonstrates, therefore, a playfulness in the use and deployment of digital media culture that blurs the forms and experiences of traditional media, and creates instead a form of advertainment. The fact that supposed DIY videos subvert the form of professional adverts is further challenged because this form of subversion itself has become a deliberate attempt to deceive or playful ‘teasing’ of the audience? When we look at the overall content of YouTube we can see that it is a mixture of the corporate and the user-generated, creating an ideal social media space to plant videos that imitate the DIY aesthetic (low resolution, hand-held, webcam, camcorder-produced home videos). As O’Neil points out is this a case of a “great gimmick” or are these astroturf videos a “counterproductive, unethical ‘dirty schemes’” (O’Neill 2010).

A couple of other examples:

Spreadable Media:

Spreadable Media

Spreadable Media

What this leads to, then, is a re-evaluation of the way that media is circulated in a network. Rather than thinking of social media audiences as passive dupes of the centralised and corporate media cultures of the broadcast age, consumers in the social media age play a more active role in “spreading” (Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013) content rather than being the passive carriers of viral media. What is circulated online amounts to the aggregation of choices that are made by different members of the audience in which we can potentially trace their investments, the actions that determine what gets valued in the new mediascape. This is a different model that we will come back to and explore in more detail. It argues that Content is spread based not on an individual evaluation of worth, but on a perceived social value within community or group, and that we have to look at the social factors that motivate the sharing of information and content with others. The shared values and experiences, the way that users and audiences make sense of things and understand things, how they to establish boundaries, cope with the disruptions and to express their feelings as part of the routines of interaction.

To thrive online, then, according to Rheingold and Chatfield, we need to be aware of our own sense of awareness as we encounter different forms of media and different situation in which we use media. We should be attuned to detecting the ‘crap’ in different instances of media – to the point that they might cost us a lot of money. We should be aware that commercials and marketing strategies are designed to pull us in to the circle of commercial mediation by faking it, but that it is ultimately now up to audiences to decide what they want to spread what they find meaningful.

According to Howard Rheingold, networks have structures that influence the way individuals and groups behave. To thrive within these networks we have to gain a sense of the routines and the boundaries of the interactions within these networks. Understanding what networks are and how they work is essential in being able to be a successful participant in online social networks. As Jones and Hafner suggest, ‘because social media platforms allow individuals to easily create and share content through the internet, they provide us with opportunities to get and give attention’ (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 92). A primary factor in the social media landscape then, is what is called the ‘attention economy’. The extent to which we are able to offer our attentiveness for short or significant periods of our days, and what this experience feels like. Howard Rheingold contrasts the way that emails work and the way that Twitter functions to keep hold of our attention. According to Rheingold, ‘Twitter is a flow, not a queue like your email in-box, to be sampled judiciously’ (Rheingold, 2012, p. 145). But that ‘to oversimplify, the successful use of Twitter depends on knowing how to tune the network of people you follow, and how to feed the network of people who follow you’ (Rheingold, 2012, p. 144).

Howard Rheingold is an interesting example of a social media user, in the way that he regulates his interactions. For example, he tends to only follow people he knows offline. He interacts with people who he finds interesting in terms of where they live and what they do. Rheingold values people who are knowledgeable about something that interests him, and who provide useful links to issues that he cares about. He follows a few that he considers to be wise or funny, and who put out the right mixture of personal tweets, informational tidbits (such as useful links), self-promotion (about his work as an educator). Rheingold is happy to socializes and answers questions, and is willing to respond to people who send @hrheingold messages as much as he can. And, every once in a while Howard tries to be entertaining.

According to Rheingold, ‘if it isn’t fun, it won’t be useful. If you don’t put out, you don’t get back. But again, you have to spend some time tuning and feeding if Twitter is going to be more than an idle amusement to you and your followers (and idle amusement is a perfectly legit use)’ (Rheingold, 2012, p. 144)

To conclude, there are several points that we can hold on to as we think about our own social media interactions. Firstly, the network is a place – we have to learn what the rules are. Secondly, each form of social media has its own rules and ways of doing things so we have to learn to be ‘in-tune’ with the other people in a network and look for good examples of social media users and model what they do. And remember, if it’s not fun, why are we doing it?

Social Media Principles

Social Media Principles

Finally, Dan Gillmor’s offers a similar set of five ‘Principles of Media Consumption’

• Be Sceptical – start out not believing.
• Exercise Judgment – don’t be cynical, exercise caution.
• Open Your Mind – find things that disagree with your own beliefs.
• Keep Asking Questions – investigative mind-set.
• Learn Media Techniques – learn by doing, participate in social media production to.

A useful way of looking at this process is if we familiarize with the attitudes of cultural producers, and ask how do we know if we are being fooled or not? What are the skills that we need to learn to help us to focus online? If someone wants our attention how do we ration it and change them for it? How do we spread the stuff that we find meaningful and disregard the rest?choices-are-infinite-300x300

Jenkins, H. , et al. (2009) If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead: media Viruses and Memes. Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Weblog [Online] 11th February. Available from [Accessed 08/12/09].
Jones, R. and Hafner, C. (2012) Understanding Digital Literacies: A Practical Introduction. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.
O’Neill, M. (2010) 5 Fake Viral Video Campaigns: Great Gimmicks or Bad for Business? [WWW]. Available from: [Accessed 06/02/11].
Rheingold, H. (2012) Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Cambridge Mass. and London: MIT Press.
Swinford, S. and Rayner, G. (2012) Peer to sue tweeters who linked him to sex abuse as BBC pays £185,000 damages [WWW]. Available from: [Accessed 26/11/12].

Chatfield, T. (2012). How to Thrive in the Digital Age. London: Macmillan.
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media. New York: New York University Press.
Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.
Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart – How to Thrive Online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

TECH3022 Lecture Week Five – Netnography

This week we’ve moved forward with our review of how ethnographic principles can be used to build a picture of communities and peoples lives online. As Robert Kozinets describes: “Applying a systematic mixed method approach can reveal many facets of a culture, such as its hidden social structures. But the grounding element, the core of these methods, should be cultural understanding if that approach is to be termed a netnographic one”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 182).

As we considered last week, the approaches to investigation identified in ethnography more generally, suggest that the researcher works on the basis that they are immersed in the settings that they are studying; that they act as participants within the setting so that they can listen to what people tell us about the lifeworlds they are part of. In order to capture what we hear it is a good idea that the researcher maintains a field journal that they can use to record any observations about what they have encountered in the field, and to reflect on their own experiences as a participant in the community.

For this project we will be working with a mix of ‘real-world’ and ‘virtual-world’ encounters and situations. But we shouldn’t immediately draw a fixed distinction between the two. As Kozinets points out, “online communities are not virtual. The people that we meet online are not virtual. They are real communities populated with real people, which is why so many end up meeting in the flesh”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 15). Therefore, we start from the premise that “Using the Internet is a culturally located experience” (Hine, 2005, p. 9), and that “Netnographers grant great significance to the fact that people turn to computer networks to partake in sources of culture and to gain a sense of community”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 7).

As Kozinets points out, “community and culture can inhere in many of the familiar forums and ‘places’ of the internet”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 7). And that “social networking sites and virtual worlds [therefore] carry the complex markers of many cultures and both manifest and forge new connections and communities. Newsgroups and bulletin boards, as well as chat-rooms, although ‘old-style’ communities, may never go out of style completely”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 7).

The role of the ethnographic researcher is to be attuned to this experience, and to look at the different ways that people use the tools and technologies of online life to interact and communicate. As Kozinets goes on to suggest, “under-standing how members interact with the culture in general can pay off richly in understanding the complex lived experience of communal interaction”(Kozinets, 2010, p. p.133).

Kozinets boils this whole process down when he says that “Netnography examines the individual interactions resulting from Internet connections or through computer-mediated communications as a focal source of data”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 8). But rather than thinking that this set of interactions can be mapped out in one form only, say recorded observations in a manually written journal, Kozinets suggests that in addition “Netnographic data analysis must include the graphical, visual, audio, and audiovisual aspects of online community data”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 133).

Our priority as investigators, therefore, is to be attuned to the “symbol systems, rituals and norms, ways of behaving, identities, roles and, in particular languages, that help particular online social formations to organise and manage themselves?” Kozinets suggests that this process of investigation can be typified in a series of starting questions: “Are these linguistic systems, norms, actions and identities distinctive to online groups, and online communications? Are they taught? Are they common to some groups and not to others? Are they common to some media and not to others”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 12).

According to Kozinets, therefore, “Netnography is a specialised type of ethnography. It uses and incorporates different methods in a single approach focused on the study of communities and cultures in the Internet age. Qualitative online research such as netnography is ‘essential in shaping our understanding of the Internet, its impact on culture, and culture’s impacts on the Internet”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 157).

There are a number of issues that we should note. Online communities should be afforded the same status as offline communities. Netnographers seek out places of online community. Social networking sites carry markers of culture that netnographers can map. There are common elements to our online interactions – what Robert Prus terms Generic Social Processes.

Generic Social Processes

Generic Social Processes

Generic Social Processes are centred on three sets of concepts. Firstly, the extent to which social actors participate in different social situations, then, what the attributes might be of the sub-cultural lifeworlds that these situations are made up of, and then, how these relationships are formed and maintained through processes of coordination and association. As Zygmunt Bauman and Tim May suggest, “these three themes should not be seen as stages or sequences but, instead, represent interrelated sets of processes that people implement on more or less simultaneous basis as they do things in the community” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 142).

Generic Social Interactions

Generic Social Interactions

Generic Social Processes, relate, therefore, to the sets of practices and roles that people play in community situations, and the way that they make sense of them through the symbolic interactions they are involved with or undertake. Robert Prus lists how these processes operate and what the researcher might do to be attentive to them. According to Prus, “people in all manner of associations find themselves coming to terms with a relatively generic set of processes. These include the matters of: (1) acquiring perspectives; (2) achieving identity; (3) doing activity (performing activities, influencing others, making commitments); (4) developing relationships; (5) experiencing emotionality; and (6) achieving communicative fluency. We may expect that people participating in any setting may be differentially attentive to these dimensions of association on both an overall, collective basis and over time. However, by attending to each of these sub-processes, researchers may more completely approximate the multiplistic features of particular roles (and relationships) that the participants in those settings experience” (Prus, 1999, p. 144).

What the pragmatic ethnographer is looking for, according to Prus, is to build a picture of interaction between actors and agents in situations that are meaningful to those agents. Prus describes how Symbolic Interactionism is attentive to these engagements and how the ethnographer spends their time looking for ways to record and describe those engagements. As Pus points out, “the interactionist, generally, concentrate on the ways in which people manage or deal with particular aspects of their life-worlds. While this agenda is still rather encompassing, the underlying attentiveness to the ongoing accomplishment of human activity represents the essential core for approaching the study of the human condition” (Prus, 1999, p. 140).

Holistic Theories?

Holistic Theories?

The task before us, therefore involves, according to Prus, that we should be “(a) attending to the various life worlds or subcultural realms that the participants distinguish, and (b) establishing intimate familiarity with those participating in these life-worlds so that we might be better able to acknowledge and identify the situated and emergent interlinkages, disjunctures, and irrelevancies that people experience in the course of conducting their affairs.” This means that as pragmatic ethnographers we should distance ourselves, Prus argues, from the process of theory-building which typifies much of the social sciences. Instead, as pragmatic ethnographers we should approach the investigation of these generic social process ‘minimally’. According to Prus, “this requires that social scientists suspend the pursuit for cultural holisms or overarching rationalities, or at least approach these with exceedingly great caution, even in what may seem the most simplistic of human communities” (Prus, 1999, p. 136).

This process is far from straightforward and simple. There are many complex interactions taking place that are relevant to different groups of people in different ways. How we think about our involvement in these different lifeworlds is a core part of the pragmatic ethnographic process. As Prus points out “even when analysts focus on people’s participation in specific settings, it is important that analysts be mindful of these overlapping life-worlds and the ways in which people manage their multiple realms of involvement” (Prus, 1999, p. 143).

Therefore, as practicing researchers working both online and offline, we are seeking out the interrelated sets of processes that people navigate and use when they are operating in a community. But we will do this on the basis that we are aware that people in different situations encounter generic processes differently, and that as a result we should be attuned to what do people do, and what do they accomplish. As pragmatic ethnographic researchers we have to think about how we attend to people’s life worlds, and therefore, in what way these life worlds overlap, and what distinctions we can draw from our observations?

Ethnographic work, therefore, is primarily focused on building a picture of social interaction and community engagement in the field. As Kozinets points out, “cultural knowledge must be grounded in detailed field knowledge of that culture, and in the data that fieldwork creates”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 166).

Fieldwork Priorities

Fieldwork Priorities

John Creswell lists the priorities for this field work:
1. “Qualitative researchers are concerned primarily with process, rather than outcomes or products.
2. Qualitative researchers are interested in meaning – how people make sense of their lives, experiences, and their structures of the world.
3. The qualitative researcher is the primary instrument for data collection and analysis. Data are mediated through the human instrument, rather than through inventories, questionnaires, or machines.
4. Qualitative research involves fieldwork. The researcher physically goes to the people, setting, site, or institution to observe or record behaviour in its natural setting
5. Qualitative research is descriptive in that the researcher is interested in process, meaning, and understanding gained through words and pictures.
6. The process of qualitative research is inductive in that the researcher builds abstractions, concepts, hypotheses, and theories from details” (Creswell 1994 p.145).

Approach to Data Collection

Approach to Data Collection

Robert Kozinets summarises this process when he suggests that the “idea behind this approach to data analysis is straightforward.” Firstly, according to Kozinets, we should “consider the online environment a social world.” Secondly, we should “assume that outline environments have social and language games, with attendant rules, fields, winners, and losers.” Thirdly, we should “treat online data as a social act.” Then, we should “seek to understand the meaning of these acts in the context of the appropriate social worlds.” Before, and only “when appropriate,” broadening the “particular online social world to interact with other online social worlds as well as other social worlds that are not exclusively online, or not online at all”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 132).

There are, according to Kozinets, three main types of data that we can work with: “Archival data… elicited data… field-note data”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 98). Our focus in the projects associated with this module will be to look at how these different forms of data can be mapped and made distinguishable so that we can use them to build a picture of the social interactions that people in different online and offline communities undertake. To do this we will employ techniques associated with Computer Aided Research, and particularly the research application Nvivo.

“Psychologist Eben Weitzman and Matthew Miles (1995, p.5) suggest the following uses of computer software in qualitative research projects:
• recording fieldnotes
• correcting, extending, editing, or revising fieldnotes
• storing texts
• organising texts
• searching and retrieving texts and making them available for inspection
• connecting relevant data segments to each other, forming categories, clusters, or networks
• writing reflective commentaries or ‘memos’ on the data as a basis for deeper analysis
• performing content analysis by counting frequencies, sequences, or locations of words and phrases
• displaying selected data in a reduced, condensed, organised forms, such as in a matrix
• aiding in conclusion-drawing, interpretation, confirmation and verification
• building theory by developing systematic, conceptually coherent explanations of findings
• creating diagrams or graphical maps that depict findings or theories
• preparing interim and final reports” (Kozinets, 2010, p. 128).

Computer Aided Research

Computer Aided Research

In future lectures and workshops we will look at these techniques in more detail.

To summarise, it is worth going back to the wider process that we are engaged with, the sense that we are trying to build a picture of the attendant lifeworlds of different actors and communities. As Bauman and May suggest: “Individual actors come into the view of sociological study in terms of being members or partners in a network of interdependence. Given that, regardless of what we do, we are dependent on others, the central questions of sociology, we could say, are: how do the types of social relations and societies that we inhabit relate to how we see each other, ourselves and our knowledge, actions and their consequences” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 5).

Therefore, as Kozinets points out, “data collection in netnography means communicating with members of a culture or community. That involvement, engagement, contact, interaction, communion, relation, collaboration and connection with community members – not with a website, server, or a keyboard, but with the people on the other end”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 95).

Finally, as Kozinets states, in practical terms, “the better you can get at organising data as you collect them, the more methodical and systematic about data collection that you can become, then the better a netnographer you will be” (Kozinets, 2010).
To conclude, fieldwork is the primary method for collecting data. The online world is a social world and online data can be treated as a social act. There are standard data collection techniques that we will seek to become proficient with as this will allow us to talk with members of the communities we study in not only a more responsible and ethical way, but also in a more illuminating and insightful way. As ethnographers, therefore, we should remind ourselves that “online communities are communities; there is no room for debate about this topic any more. They teach us about real languages, real meanings, real causes, real cultures”(Kozinets, 2010, p. 15). And as good pragmatic ethnographers, we should use “our quest to find the ‘difference that makes the difference’,” and establish how the “practices of these branches of study differ from each other?” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 4).

Ethnographic Approach

Ethnographic Approach

Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking Sociologically (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Hine, C. (Ed.). (2005). Virtual Methods – Issues in social Research on the Internet. Oxford: Berg.
Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Netnography – Doing Ethnographic Research Online. London: Sage.

TECH3022 Lecture Week Four: Thinking Sociologically

This week’s discussion for Advanced Social Media Production looks at how we can take forward the idea of investigating the social processes associated with the uses of social media. This means thinking about the methods and the principles that we might use to investigate in this field consistently, in a way that other people can share the data and make sense of the ideas that emerge from it.

Sociological Objectives: What Can a Sociological Outlook Achieve?

Our starting point recognises that “cultures, as shared systems of meaning and practice, [that] shape our hopes and beliefs; our ideas about family, identity, and society; our deepest assumptions about being a person in this world” (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012, p. 1). The role of the social researcher, therefore, is to “develop an understanding of how a culture works” (Bell, 2005 p.17).

For the research element of the project in this module we will be adopting the techniques and the approaches associated with ethnography. As Hines points out, “ethnography is a method for understanding culture” (Hine, 2005, p. 8). And in doing this the “goal is to grasp everyday perspectives by participating in daily life, rather than to subject people to experimental stimuli or decontextualized interviews. Ethnographers often speak of their work as ‘holistic’. Rather than slicing up social life according to variables chosen for their contribution to variance in a statistically drawn sample, ethnographers attend to how cultural domains constitute and influence each other” (Boellstorff et al., 2012, p. 3).

Structure or Structures of Feeling?

When we look at society and start to attempt to build wider pictures about the events and routines that are happening in it, then we have to think about ways to deploy a sociological perspective that recognises the set of generic social processes that give form to our social relationships. C. Wright Mills famously called this the Sociological Imagination. A way of thinking about the processes within society and between social actors that “enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals” (Mills, 1959, p. 5). As Mills points out: “Perhaps the most fruitful distinction with which the sociological imagination works is between ‘the personal troubles of milieu’ and ‘the public issues of social structure.’ This distinction is an essential tool of the sociological imagination and a feature of all classic work in social science” (Mills, 1959, p. 8).

Hypothesising or Describing?

It’s essential to note that “Ethnographic research is fundamentally distinct from experimentations; the goal is not to determine how controlled variables account for difference, but to trace and interpret the complex currents of everyday life that comprise our collective lived experience as human beings” (Boellstorff et al., 2012, p. 3).

And that sociology, instead, has an intense focus on the things that people do, as opposed to theoretical objectification. As Zygmunt Bauman and Tim May suggest: “from this point of view we can say that sociology is distinguished through viewing human actions as elements of wider figurations: mutual dependency (dependency being a state in which the probability that the action will be undertaken and the chance of its success change in relation to what other actors are, do or may do). Sociologists ask what consequences this has for human actors, the relations into which we enter and the societies of which we are a part” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 5).

Therefore, ad as Mills argues, “there is no ‘grand theory’, no one universal scheme in terms of which we can understand the unity of social structure, no one answer to the tired old problem of social order taken uberhaupt [in the first place]“ (Mills, 1959, p. 46). What we have to focus on instead is the small interactions between agents working in a field of operations. It is the aggregation of the many operations and interactions that form the social. As Bauman and May argue: “Thinking sociologically is a way of understanding the human world that also opens up the possibility for thinking about the same world in different ways” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 5).

TECH3022_15-Lecture-004-Thinking-Sociologically-001-2014-10-14The focus for our studies within this module, therefore, can be expressed in diagram form in which the interactions between different subjects are what give shape to the cultural frameworks. As Uwe Flick points out, the linear model of research looks for data in a sequential process, but the ethnographic process looks, instead, for data in a comparative process that is built-up over many repeated cycles of interaction.TECH3022_15-Lecture-004-Thinking-Sociologically-002-2014-10-14

Being in the Field – Observations of Lifeworlds:

“Usually ethnography is concerned with all aspects of social life, or all facets of a social setting. Broadly, the idea is for the researcher to be immersed in the setting, to generate an understanding of the context in which interaction is rooted” (MacKay in Hine, 2005, p. 134). Therefore, “when we set out to research social interactions we cannot specify in advance just what form those interactions will take, nor how we will be able to participate in or observe them” (p. 2).

Participant observation is the research process that “enables researchers, as far as is possible, to share the same experiences as the subjects, to understand better why they act in the way they do and ‘to see things as those involved see things’ (Denscombe 1998: 69, Quotes in Hine, 2005 p.17). As Judith Bell suggests, “the very act of participating in a community changes the nature of later data analysis. This is what makes ethnography and netnography so thoroughly different from techniques such as content analysis or social network analysis. A content analyst would scan the archives of online communities, but she or he would not be reading them deeply for their cultural information, pondering them and seeking to learn from them how to live in this community and to identify as a community member. This is the task of the netnographer” (Bell, 2005, p. 96).

According to Bauman and May, “sociology is an extended commentary on the experiences that arise in social relations and is an interpretation of those experiences in relation to others and the social conditions in which people find themselves” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 180). “Because ethnographers can anticipate large amounts of data, categories for interpretation emerge from the ground up, and research questions and foci shift during fieldwork. It is thus best to categorise and continually sort and re-sort the data as these are collected” [#ref?]. Therefore, “the better you can get at organising data as you collect them, the more methodical and systematic about data collection that you can become, then the better a netnographer you will be” [#ref?].

For examples, it is “valuable to record observational fieldnotes written in the margins of downloaded data, elaborating upon subtleties noticed at the time but which are not captured in the text or data itself. These fieldnotes offer details about the social and interactional processes that make up the members of online cultures and communities’ everyday lives and activities. It is best to capture them contemporaneously with interactive online social experiences is important because these processes of learning, socialisation, and acculturation are subtle and our recollection of them becomes rapidly diluted over time” [ref?].

In addition to noting the actions and events that take place in a field of study, the researcher also has to work out what impact and what difference their own interactions in the data collection process make. This process of reflection, as John Dewey argues “involves not simply a sequence of ideas, but a consequence – a consecutive ordering in such a way that each determines the next as its proper outcome, while each in turn leans back on its predecessors” (Dewey 1910 p.2). As Dewey explains “reflective thinking is always more or less troublesome because it involves overcoming the inertia that inclines one to accept suggestions at their face value; it involves willingness to endure a condition of mental unrest and disturbance” (Dewey 1910 p.13).

For the researcher, therefore, reflexivity can be understood and the “extent to which the netnographic text acknowledges the role of the researcher and is open to alternative interpretations” [#ref?].

From which a number of important questions arise:

  • What is the role of the researcher in this process?
  • What kind if assumptions do we make and what kind of bias do we retain?
  • How can we incorporate our own experience within the research process?

Empathising, Being and Participating with Others:

What, then, is the primary role of social research? According to Bauman and May both the researcher and the subject of the researcher’s attention are “both enabled and constrained in the everyday practices of freedom.” As Bauman and May point out, “at one level we are taught that there are types of desires that are acceptable and achievable within the group. Appropriate ways to act, talk, dress, conduct ourselves generally provide for the orientation that is needed to get us through life within the groups to which we belong. We then judge ourselves according to these expectations and our self-esteem is given accordingly” (Bauman and May 2001, p. 20).

Robert Prus outlines the associated process of interaction as Generic Social Processes. According to Prus: “people in all manner of associations find themselves coming to terms with a relatively generic set of processes. These include the matters of:

(1) acquiring perspectives;

(2) achieving identity;

(3) doing activity (performing activities, influencing others, making commitments);

(4) developing relationships;

(5) experiencing emotionality; and

(6) achieving communicative fluency.”

According to Prus, “we may expect that people participating in any setting may be differentially attentive to these dimensions of association on both an overall, collective basis and over time. However, by attending to each of these sub-processes, researchers may more completely approximate the multiplistic features of particular roles (and relationships) that the participants in those settings experience” (Prus, 1999, p. 144).

As Bauman and May explain, “this overview of generic social processes is organised around three very broad concepts:

(a) participating in situations,

(b) engaging subcultural life-worlds, and

(c) forming and coordinating associations.

These three themes should not be seen as stages or sequences but, instead, represent interrelated sets of processes that people implement on more or less simultaneous basis as they do things in the community” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 142).

“The interactionist, generally, [then] concentrate on the ways in which people manage or deal with particular aspects of their life-worlds. While this agenda is still rather encompassing, the underlying attentiveness to the ongoing accomplishment of human activity represents the essential core for approaching the study of the human condition” (Prus, 1999, p. 140).

Accordingly “The very act of participating in a community changes the nature of later data analysis. This is what makes ethnography and netnography so thoroughly different from techniques such as content analysis or social network analysis. A content analyst would scan the archives of online communities, but she or he would not be reading them deeply for their cultural information, pondering them and seeking to learn from them how to live in this community and to identify as a community member. This is the task of the netnographer.” [#ref?]

The task before us, as Robert Prus argues, therefore, involves

  1. “attending to the various life worlds or subcultural realms that the participants distinguish and
  2. establishing intimate familiarity with those participating in these life-worlds so that we might be better able to acknowledge and identify the situated and emergent interlinkages, disjunctures, and irrelevancies that people experience in the course of conducting their affairs.”

Importantly, as Prus points out that, even on the most basic level, “this requires that social scientists suspend the pursuit for cultural holisms or overarching rationalities, or at least approach these with exceedingly great caution, even in what may seem the most simplistic of human communities” (Prus, 1999, p. 136). And that “even when analysts focus on people’s participation in specific settings, it is important that analysts be mindful of these overlapping life-worlds and the ways in which people manage their multiple realms of involvement” (Prus, 1999, p. 143).

John Cresswell lists the main attributes of this process:

  1. “Qualitative researchers are concerned primarily with process, rather than outcomes or products.
  1. Qualitative researchers are interested in meaning – how people make sense of their lives, experiences, and their structures of the world.
  1. The qualitative researcher is the primary instrument for data collection and analysis. Data are mediated through the human instrument, rather than through inventories, questionnaires, or machines.
  1. Qualitative research involves fieldwork. The researcher physically goes to the people, setting, site, or institution to observe or record behaviour in its natural setting
  1. Qualitative research is descriptive in that the researcher is interested in process, meaning, and understanding gained through words and pictures.
  1. The process of qualitative research is inductive in that the researcher builds abstractions, concepts, hypotheses, and theories from details” (Creswell 1994 p.145).

In summary then “the idea behind this approach to data analysis is straightforward:

  • Consider the online environment a social world.
  • Assume that outline environments have social and language games, with attendant rules, fields, winners, and losers.
  • Treat online data as a social act.
  • Seek to understand the meaning of these acts in the context of the appropriate social worlds.
  • When appropriate, broaden the particular online social world to interact with other online social worlds as well as other social worlds that are not exclusively online, or not online at all” [#ref].

Netnographic Approach 001 2013-03-04And that we should consider how as “individual actors” we “come into the view of sociological study in terms of being members or partners in a network of interdependence.” And that regardless of what we do, we should acknowledge that we are “dependent on others.” According to Bauman and May the “central questions of sociology… are: how do the types of social relations and societies that we inhabit relate to how we see each other, ourselves and our knowledge, actions and their consequences” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 5).

For Bauman and May, “the social scientist who spends his intellectual force on the details of small-scale milieux is not putting his work outside the political conflicts and forces of his time. He is, at least indirectly and in effect, ‘accepting’ the framework of his society. But no one who accepts the full intellectual tasks of social science can merely assume that structure. In fact, it is his job to make that structure explicit and to study it as a whole” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 78).

Therefore, “the better you can get at organising data as you collect them, the more methodical and systematic about data collection that you can become, then the better a netnographer you will be” [#ref].

To summarise, “In our quest to find the ‘difference that makes the difference’, how do the practices of these branches of study differ from each other?” (Bauman & May, 2001). That will be the question for later sessions, but for now we can be satisfied that our starting point has been established.


  • Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking Sociologically (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Bell, J. (2005). Doing Your Research Project (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Boellstorff, T., Nardi, B., Pearce, C., & Taylor, T. L. (2012). Ethnography and Virtual Worlds. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Hine, C. (Ed.). (2005). Virtual Methods – Issues in social Research on the Internet. Oxford: Berg.
  • Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Netnography – Doing Ethnogrphic Research Online. London: Sage.
  • Mills, C. W. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Prus, R. (1999). Beyond the Power Mystique. New York: State University of New York Press.

TECH1002 Lecture Week Four – Culture Jamming

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been thinking about the idea of mediation and how it can be understood as a cultural and social process. Last week we asked:

  • How much control do we have over the process of mediation?
  • To what extent does digital media affords us the ability to re-echo and remediate?
  • We make sense of who we are through a process of ongoing mediation.
  • Is anything not mediated these days?
  • How do we use and make sense of the tools of mediation in our daily lives?

This week I wanted to take these ideas a little further and look at some concerns that have been raised in the past about the process of mediation. Concerns that push our commonsense and everyday ideas about media to a seeming breaking point. Put simply, thinking about mediation as a function or as a transaction leaves us in a limited and precarious position. We have to think about mediation as a symbolic process that allows representations and signs to shift and change, and to be understood from different perspectives.

To get things started we watch the video for 3AM Eternal by the KLF

Jones and Hafner, in one of the core recommended books for this module point out that “Digital media are even breaking down barriers that used to divide literacy practices themselves. Because they facilitate new ways of distributing our attention, they allow us to participate in many practices simultaneously” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 14). This is because, as Jones and Hafner go on to say, that “digital tools have a different kind of materiality than physical tools like books, they have a greater capacity to be modified (or ‘modded’), to be mixed, merged or ‘mashed-up’ with other tools, and to be adapted to unique circumstances and unique goals” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 14).

It is our ability, therefore to master the practices that are associated with digital media that we should keep in mind when we are thinking about how media is used and artefacts are circulated within communities and audiences. This, according to Jones and Hafner is not just being able to “mimic things that others have done, but rather on being able to mix tools with one another and with environments and people to create new meanings and activities and identities” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 14).

In this lecture, then, we look at the idea of ‘culture jamming’ and the way that media texts can be used to subvert or undermine the transactional, instrumental and deterministic approach to meanings and ideas. As a wise person once pointed out “the human race will begin solving it’s problems on the day that it ceases taking itself so seriously” (Younger, 2012, p. 78).

The idea of culture jamming is widespread and has been around for some time. Culture jamming is said to be a “form of disruption that plays on the emotions of viewers and bystanders. Jammers want to disrupt the unconscious thought process that takes place when most consumers view a popular advertising and bring about a détournement”

And it is the process of détournement that we want to spend some time thinking about. “Détournement is similar to satirical parody, but employs more direct reuse or faithful mimicry of the original works rather than constructing a new work which merely alludes strongly to the original. It may be contrasted with recuperation, in which originally subversive works and ideas are themselves appropriated by mainstream media”



For example, the phenomenon of subtervising gives us some insight into this process. “Subvertising is a portmanteau of subvert and advertising. It refers to the practice of making spoofs or parodies of corporate and political advertisements. Subvertisements may take the form of a new image or an alteration to an existing image or icon, often in a satirical manner. A subvertisement can also be referred to as a meme hack and can be a part of social hacking or culture jamming”

“Billboards are a one-way lecture. Graffiti creates a two-way communication” Jill Posner (1982). Subvertising, is a cultural guerrilla movement of loosely affiliated artists, activists and other individuals who target advertising. Subvertising is part of a wider movement known as Culture Jamming, a term coined in 1984 by the band Negativland.


So why would anyone want to subvert this process? What can be gained from the parodic and creative realignment of the function of meaning and the parodying of the communication process. One group who sought to do this where the situationists. The legacy of situationism has been felt in contemporary popular culture in things like the punk rock movement. “The situationists believed that the shift from individual expression through directly lived experiences, or the first-hand fulfillment of authentic desires, to individual expression by proxy through the exchange or consumption of commodities, or passive second-hand alienation, inflicted significant and far-reaching damage to the quality of human life for both individuals and society”

This is a useful video that gives some background to the Situationists movement:

In the book ‘Society of the Spectacle’ by Guy Debord, the idea that we can search for an authentic and realistic sense of what communication is gets challenged. We re introduced to the post-modern notion that all that we see or seem is but a set of images and signs that refere and relate to other signs. There is no authentic sense of self, or a sense of reality that is hidden behind a veil waiting to be discovered. Debord, instead “traces the development of a modern society in which authentic social life has been replaced with its representation: “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

“The Society of the Spectacle is a critique of contemporary consumer culture and commodity fetishism. Before the term “globalization” was popularized, Debord was arguing about issues such as class alienation, cultural homogenization, and the mass media”

This is explained in a very visual way in this video:

Story of the KLF:

71Jdb6M3fvL._SL1500_In the early 1990’s I was a regular clubber in Manchester, and one of the bands that was big at the time was the KLF. There combination of House sounds, combined with a rock format gave them a unique and distinctive feel. But did I really understand or could I really make sense of what they where about? Well at the time I didn’t really have a clue about the content of their songs and what the references where that are contained in them. It wasn’t until I read John Higgs excellent book ‘The KLF – Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds’ over the summer that I made much sense of what they were up to.

So, I’ve pieced together some fragments from different sources, based on the story and ideas that Higgs puts forward to try and tie their music together.



The KLF was originally known as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu in 1987. In 1988, they had a UK number 1 hit as the Timelords with Doctorin the Tardis.

“From the outset, [the KLF] adopted the philosophy espoused by esoteric novel series The Illuminatus! Trilogy, gaining notoriety for various anarchic situationist manifestations, including the defacement of billboard adverts, the posting of prominent cryptic advertisements in NME magazine and the mainstream press, and highly distinctive and unusual performances on Top of the Pops. Their most notorious performance was a collaboration with Extreme Noise Terror at the February 1992 BRIT Awards, where they fired machine gun blanks into the audience and dumped a dead sheep at the aftershow party. This performance announced The KLF’s departure from the music business, and in May 1992 the duo deleted their entire back catalogue”

In the early 1980s Bill Drummond was Living in Liverpool, and was the manager of two important bands, the Tear Drop Explodes and Echo and the Bunny Men. In the late 1980s Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty began working together sampling music from The Beatles and Abba, and getting into trouble for copyright infringement. There music was something of an experiment in cross-cultural mediation and took the form of hip-hop, house music and rave and turned it into ‘stadium rock’. In 1991 the KLF where UKs best selling international artists, getting to number one in eleven countries.

Time Lords – Doctoring the Tardis

The Timelords

The Timelords

In 1988 Cauty and Drummond had a number one hit with the novelty record ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’, which is an “electronic novelty pop single” The song is “predominantly a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme music, Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part Two)” with sections from “Blockbuster!” by Sweet and “Let’s Get Together Tonite” by Steve Walsh.” As a novelty single there was little critical credit given to it, but it was commercially successful in the UK and in other countries, “charting in the Top 10 in Australia, Ireland and Norway”

Under various names, The JAMS and then the KLF, Drummond and Cauty adopted a style of music production that was based on the use of samples. But rather than using samples that are subtle and in the background of the track, they instead lobbed whole sections of tracks into their singles. This caused them some trouble with the legal rights holders of the music, and meant that the had to destroy their album ‘What the Fuck is Going On’ and the track ‘The Queen and I’ for its wholesale use of Abba’s Dancing Queen.

“In 1987, the JAMS, also known as the KLF (Kopyright Liberation Front), released an album titled “1987, What the Fuck is Going On?” The album heavily sampled the single “Dancing Queen” from the Swedish super-group ABBA. KLF did not clear the samples, and consequently Abba filed a complaint alleging that the samples constituted a copyright infringement. In response to the complaint, in August of 1987, the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society ordered the JAMS to destroy all remaining copies of their “1987” LP”

“Shortly after independent release in June 1987, The JAMs were ordered by the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society to destroy all unsold copies of the album, following a complaint from ABBA. In response, The JAMs disposed of many copies of 1987 in unorthodox, publicised ways. They also released a version of the album titled “1987 (The JAMs 45 Edits)”, stripped of all unauthorised samples to leave periods of protracted silence and so little audible content that it was formally classed as a 12-inch single”

Other notable examples of their use of samples include:

“Kylie Said to Jason” was intended to be a top 10 record which The KLF — Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty — were hoping could “rescue them from the jaws of bankruptcy”.[2] Instead, it flopped commercially, failing even to make the UK top 100 and forcing the entire film and soundtrack project to be put on hold. The release did peak at number 6 on the UK Indie Singles Chart during August 1989”

The JAMs’ primary instrument was the digital sampler with which they would plagiarise the history of popular music, cutting chunks from existing works and pasting them into new contexts, underpinned by rudimentary beatbox rhythms and overlayed with Drummond’s raps, of social commentary, esoteric metaphors and mockery.

“Whitney Joins The JAMs” is a song and 1987 single by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (The JAMs). The song, released on The JAMs’ independent label KLF Communications, is built around plagiarised samples of Whitney Houston in which—thanks to studio technology—she “joins The JAMs“

So what underpins the approach that Cauty and Drummond took? According to John Higgs, they adopted the Discordian philosophy of chaos after reading the ‘Illuminatus!’ trilogy of books.

“In those novels, the JAMs are what the Illuminati (a political organisation which seeks to impose order and control upon society) call the group of Discordians they’ve allowed to infiltrate them (in order to feed them false information). . As The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, Drummond and Cauty chose to interpret the principles of the fictional JAMs in the context of music production in the corporate music world. Shrouded in the mystique provided by their disguised identities and the cultish Illuminatus!, they mirrored the Discordians gleeful political tactics of causing chaos and confusion by bringing a direct, humorous but nevertheless revolutionary approach to making records, often attracting attention in unconventional ways

200px-PrincipayellowYou can read more about the Discordian principles here:


Discordia Principles

“The Principia Discordia holds three core principles: the Aneristic Principle (order), Eristic Principle (disorder) and the notion that both are mere illusions. The following excerpt summarizes these principles quite well:

The Aneristic Principle is that of apparent order; the Eristic Principle is that of apparent disorder. Both order and disorder are man made concepts and are artificial divisions of pure chaos, which is a level deeper than is the level of distinction making.

With our concept-making apparatus called “the brain” we look at reality through the ideas-about-reality which our cultures give us. The ideas-about-reality are mistakenly labelled “reality” and unenlightened people are forever perplexed by the fact that other people, especially other cultures, see “reality” differently.”

There is a useful passage in the Principia Discordia that states:

“If you can master nonsense as well as you have already learned to master sense, then each will expose the other for what it is: absurdity. From that moment of illumination, a man begins to be free regardless of his surroundings. He becomes free to play order games and change them at will. He becomes free to play disorder games just for the hell of it. He becomes free to play neither or both. And as the master of his own games, he plays without fear, and therefore without frustration, and therefore with good will in is soul and love in his being” (Younger, 2012, p. 78).

The argument is, and however bizarrely this is expressed and contextualised, “we look at the world through windows on which have been drawn grids (concepts). Different philosophies use different grids. A culture is a group of people with rather similar grids. Through a window we view chaos, and relate it to the points on our grid, and thereby understand it. The ORDER is in the GRID. That is the Aneristic Principle” (Younger, 2012, p. 51).

The Discordian philosophy (or anti-philosophy) is then absorbed and used as a basis for the books that for the

Illuminatis Trillogy!_Trilogy



“Illuminatus! is a huge cult sex-drugs-occult-paranoid conspiracy theory-science fiction book, where reality shifts and nothing is as is seems. Or is that what I want you to believe? It was first published in the mid seventies, written by Robert Anton Wilson and Bob Shea (who were employees of Playboy when they wrote it), originally as three separate novels: The Eye In The Pyramid, The Golden Apple, and Leviathan.”

“’Illuminatus!’ tells the tale of the international conspiracy the Illuminati, who attempt to order and control mankind, and receive individual power (become illuminated) by causing mass deaths. Their arch enemies The Justified Ancients of Mummu (The JAMs), are “an organization (or disorganization) who are at least as old as the Illuminati and represent the primeval power of Chaos”. Along with affiliated groups the LDD and the ELF (Erisian Liberation Front), the JAMs are engaged in a secret war to prevent the Illuminati from ‘immanatizing the eshcaton’ (bringing closer the end of the world). The JAMs were members of the Illuminati, but were expelled at the behest of a faction protesting “kick out the JAMs”. The illuminati control all the record companies, which is why all music is very dull, and how they managed to incorporate the anti-JAMs gibe “kick out the jams” into a MC5 song. The JAMs started their own company to bring out good music, and combat the Illuminati.”

Ken Cambell's Illuminatus! Stage Play

Ken Cambell’s Illuminatus! Stage Play

According to John Higgs, Bill Drummond, when he was twenty-three years old worked on the sets for a staged version of the ‘Illuminatus! Trilogy’, staged over nine hours in Liverpool by the maverick theatre director Ken Cambell. Later the play would transfer to London, where Jimmy Cauty saw the play.

Now, according to John Higgs “Discordians have something of an obsession with the number 23” (Higgs, 2012, p. 239). According to Discordian ideas, everything can be related to the “Law of Fives” which “states that everything is related to the number five, if you look hard enough” (Higgs, 2012, p. 240). As Higgs points out, “Bill Drummond was 23 when he worked on the Iluminatus! Play, which had 23 cast members…. Drummond and Cauty burnt the million pounds on 23rd August 1994 (1+9+9+4 = 23). ‘Docternin’ the TARDIS’ was released on 23 May, the car painted on its roof and the Turner Prize incident occurred on 23 November. November the 23rd was also a Discordian holy day (being Harpo Marx’s birthday), the date when Ken Campbell’s Illuminatus was first performed, the date this book was first published and, the date that Doctor Who was first broadcast. That first episode of Doctor Who was 23 minutes long and had a budget of £2,300, and it would be the disastrous 23rd series of Doctor Who that resulted in Ken Campbell and his protégé Sylvester McCoy auditioning for the role” (Higgs, 2012, p. 241).

Conspiracy Theories?

Conspiracy Theories?

The principle idea of the ‘Illuminatus! Trilogy’ is that the world is controlled by a secret sect who are trying to impose a form of order on the world, but they are opposed by an alternative faction, the JAMMS, the Justified Ancients of Mummu, who seek to ensure that the world remains disordered. There is a conspiracy theory developed in the book that goes like this:

“The puppets in the Kremlin have no idea that they and the puppets in the White House are working for the same people. The Illuminati control all sorts of organisations and national governments without any of them being aware that others are also controlled. Each group thinks it is competing with the others, while actually each is playing its part in the Illuminati plan… At present rate, within the next few years the Illuminati will have the American people under tighter surveillance than Hitler had the Germans. And the beauty is, the majority of the Americans will have been so frightened by Illuminati backed terrorist incidents that they will beg to be controlled by a masochist begs for the whip” (Shea & Wilson, 1998, p. 198).

As such, it is the role of artists and performers, writers and musicians to ensure act in the vanguard of the discordian principles of chaos. Here’s another passage from the book:

“’Right,’ said Hagbard. ‘America is the target now. They’ve got most of Europe and Aisia. Once they get America, they can come out into the open. The world will then be much as Orwell predicted in Nineteen Eighty-four. They bumped him off after it was published, you know. The book hit a little to close to home. He was obviously on to them – the references to Inner and Outer parties with different teachings – and they got to him. Orwell, you see, ran across them in Spain, where they were functioning quite openly at one point during the Civil War. But artists also arrive at truth through their imaginations, if they let themselves wander freely. They’re more likely to arrive at the truth than more scientifically-minded people.’” (Shea & Wilson, 1998, p. 200).

So if we look at one of the music videos that the KLF made, we can see these ideas expressed in the style of the video, the signs and images that are used and the sense that there is a story underpinning these songs. There is a pyramid, but rather than an eye at the pinnacle, there is a ghetto blaster. There is a temple, monks with rhino horns, a submarine, dolphins and other iconic images from their books. The motto of the JAMMS is ‘Okay, everybody lie down on the floor and keep calm’. Which is a key sample used by the KLF.

In 1992 the KLF where asked to preform at the BRIT Awards ceremony. “They caused controversy with a succession of anti-establishment gestures that included a duet performance of “3 a.m. Eternal” with the crust punk band Extreme Noise Terror, during which The KLF co-founder Bill Drummond fired machine-gun blanks over the audience of music industry luminaries

What has become known as “their most notorious performance was a collaboration with Extreme Noise Terror at the February 1992 BRIT Awards, where they fired machine gun blanks into the audience and dumped a dead sheep at the aftershow party. This performance announced The KLF’s departure from the music business, and in May 1992 the duo deleted their entire back catalogue”

With the dissolution of the KLF and the deletion of their music catalogue the next provocative act of Cauty and Drummond was to burn a million pounds. An extreme act of randomness that is difficult to justify in any

So How do we make sense of this, and what’s it’s relevance to the way we might think about the web? Well have you ever wondered where Memes come from and what purpose they serve? There is an emerging line of thinking that suggests that the world is defined through a ‘network of thought and ideas’. This is called either the Noosphere or the Ideaspace. For example:

“In 1938, a Jesuit priest wrote a book in which he postulated the existence of “a sphere of thought” enveloping the Earth. This book, The Phenomenon of Man, wasn’t published until the late 1950s, after its author, Teilhard de Chardin, had died. In it, he called this enveloping sphere of thought the noosphere and described it as “a living tissue of consciousness” enclosing the Earth and growing ever more dense”

Listen to what Alan Moore talks about when he describes magic and the way ideas exist in the world around us.

To conclude, there is a simple question we can ask, if you want to develop an antidote to processed pop, how would you go about doing it?



Higgs, J. (2012). The KLF – Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds. London: Phoenix.

Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.

Shea, R., & Wilson, R. A. (1998). The Illuminatus! Trilogy. London: Raven Books.

Younger, M. t. (2012). Principia Discordia. Seattle, Washington: Pacific Publishing Studio.

TECH3022 Lecture Week Three – Participation

In this week’s TECH3022 Lecture I wanted to introduce some concepts that would help us to situate the role of participation in the function of social and collaborative media. Our discussions are looking at developing our understanding about social media, and the way it has the potential to encourage civic or grassroots media engagement. I wanted to highlight some ideas, therefore, that have been associated with the way that public sphere has been used as a way to explain how civic discussion is understood. Coupled with this I also wanted to introduce the idea of hegemony and the critique of dominant ideas within society, and how they are controlled by ruling elites. To do this I wanted to introduce some examples drawn from DIY and alternative media, as well as thinking about the relevance of community media.

It is useful to keep in mind that despite what many voices in the mass media might want us to believe, it’s entirely possible to imagine alternative ways of communicating with media that aren’t dominated by corporate control and the dominant social discourses that define Western society. This challenge to the dominant monoculture of ideas and thinking in Western capitalism can be examined, on a number of levels. Either from the point of view of social movements and historical forces that might be argued to shape society, or, by paying attention to the daily life practices of ordinary people working on the day-to-day functions of living and interacting. In the context of social media we should remember, as Henry Jenkins points out, that “what people collectively and individually decide to do with [new media] technologies as professionals and as audiences, and what kinds of culture people produce and spread in and around these tools, is still being determined” (Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013, p. xiii).

I’ve been working and researching in the field of community media quite a bit over the last ten years or so, and I’ve developed a familiarity with the way that participants in community media can find the confidence to articulate their individual voices, nurturing and developing alternative ideas and practices. Community media has the potential to offer something different for participants that is not as fixed or determined by the controlling influence of mainstream corporate media. Follow this link to listen to one of my Community Media World Podcasts.

Kevin Howley notes that “community media represent a unique site to interrogate the process of identity formation through communication technologies, and to examine the dramatic impact of social and technological change on the everyday lived experience of disparate groups within a geographically based community. Put another way, attending to the institutions, forms, and practices associated with community media provides enormous insight into the relationship between people, places, and communication technologies” (Howley, 2005, p. 38).

So, a focus on participation, and the development of social media practices that promote participation, have the potential to afford us, as Delwiche & Henderson suggest, a mechanism by which individuals and grassroots groups can challenge the domination of centralised and hierarchically organised media organisations. According to Delwiche & Henderson:

“Armed with inexpensive tools for capturing, editing, and organising, people tap into a vast ocean of real-time data and multimedia content to promote personal and political interests. Functions once monopolised by a handful of hierarchical institutions (e.g. newspapers, television stations, and universities) have been usurped by independent publishers, video-sharing sites, collaboratively sustained knowledge banks, and fan-generated entertainment” (Delwiche & Henderson, 2013, p. 3).

This notion of a usurping function for community and collaborative media is echoed by Howley, when he explains how an “emphasis on ‘social-political policies’ is instructive insofar as it highlights the constructed and contested character of media systems. In other words, rather than view these systems as the natural or inevitable outgrowth of any given technology, this perspective illuminates the social, political, economic, and cultural dynamics involved in creating a media system” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

Howley goes on to give an example and suggests that, “for instance, radio broadcasting operates in terms of a hierarchical, one-way flow of information between media producers and media audiences. This centralised form of message production and distribution positions audiences as relatively passive consumers of media messages. And yet, there is nothing inherent in broadcast technology that precludes decentralised communication between message producers and received. Indeed, in its early days, radio was a vibrant, participatory, and decidedly two-way medium of popular communication” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

If we keep in mind that the choices that have been made to regulate broadcasting and media services in Western societies come from a particular set of ideological conventions and ideas, then we can start to examine how the process of organisation shapes and structures our wider expectations about media democracy. As Howley points out,  “terrestrial radio broadcasting, as we know it today, developed as a result of explicit policies – rules and regulations covering every aspect of broadcasting, from technical specifications governing spectrum allocation and transmission power, to the conditions for licensing, ownership, and financial support mechanisms – that favoured well-financed private ownership or some form of state sponsorship and control” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

Therefore, and as Howley continues, “as media and cultural historians remind us, the policies and structures that set the terms of broadcasting in the first half of the past century were the result of a series of negotiations and bitter disputes over how broadcasting would be organised, regulated, and paid for. Critically, the level of public participation was constrained by a number of social, economic, and political conditions. As a result, powerful economic and political forces, representing an narrow range of interests, prevailed and established the foundation for present-day broadcast structures and regulations” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

In this respect as Howley argues, media and political theorists would be well advised to acknowledge that “community media provide a unique site to illuminate hegemonic processes,” and that “community media demonstrate not only signs of resistance and subversion but evidence of complicity and submission as well” (Howley, 2005, p. 35). In this respect, it can be argued that “Social media breaks down the control and the hierarchy between the mainstream media and the population” (Hill, 2013, p. 53). Marking out spaces and territories that can be populated with alternative voices, contrary opinions and distinctive, and clearly non-mainstream, participants.

This argument rests on some assumptions about the role and the function of alternative and community media Firstly that the levels of control exercised by corporate media actively excludes people. Secondly, that the highly structured hierarchies that are set in place to manage corporate media encourage a largely one-way flow of information, and mark clear distinctions between producers and consumers which are absolute. All of which is held in place by state organised mechanisms and regulations that are designed to hold these economic, civic and social policies in place. What community media is useful for, therefore, is to gain some insight and sense of how an alternative model might work in practice and what it might mean when encountered in the life-worlds of different participants.

Underpinning many of the ideas and thinking about the role of community and participant media is the concept of the Public Sphere:

“The concept of the public sphere, as described by Jürgen Habermas, provides a robust theoretical framework to examine the crucial link between democratic self-governance and communication. Habermas (1993) argues that the public sphere is the foundation for civil society; it is a forum for the citizenry to reach consensus on the issues and policy decisions that affect public life. In Habermas’ formulation, the public sphere is a realm, insulated from the deleterious influence of state and commercial interests, in which citizens openly and rationally discuss, debate, and deliberate upon matters of mutual and general concern to a self-governing community. Isolated or ‘bracketed’ from both state and market forces, this public sphere is the space in which a public comes to understand and define itself, articulate its needs and common concerns, and act in the collective self-interest. In short, it is a space in which a social aggregate become a public” (Howley, 2005, p. 19).

In this sense then, “the concept of the public sphere [is] in a very general and common-sense manner, as, for example, a synonym for the processes of public opinion or for the news media themselves. In its more ambitious guise.” However, as the idea of the public sphere was developed by Jürgen Habermas, and according to Peter Dahlgren, “the public sphere should be understood as an analytic category, a conceptual device which, while pointing to a specific social phenomenon can also aid us in analysing and researching the phenomenon” (Peter Dahlgren in Dahlgren & Sparks, 1991, p. 2).

Howley points out that “according to Habermas, an effective and robust public sphere depends on two conditions: the quality of discursive practices and the quantity of participation within this discourse. The first requirement calls for rational-critical debate based not on the speaker’s identity or social standing, but upon the reasoned and logical merits of an argument. The second requirement entails opening up the debate to the widest public possible and encouraging the inclusion of competing opinions and perspectives” (Howley, 2005, p. 19).

Who constitutes a ‘public’ is one of the key questions to emerge from this line of thinking. Indeed, working out who in practice is capable or given permission to be included in this sense of civic engagement is one of the fundamental critical questions we can seek to establish.  As Habermass himself suggests: “we call events and occasions ‘public’ when they are open to all, in contrast to closed or exclusive affairs” (Habermas, 1994, p. 81). And the extent to which “the private sphere of civil society [is] no longer confined to the authorities but [is] considered by the subjects as one that was properly theirs” (Habermas, 1994, p. 89) is the foundation for much of the ethical interventions that are associated with participation.

According to Howley, however, “the threat to the public sphere, as Habermas sees it, is the encroachments of the state and commercial interests into this realm. Habermas observes that as the public sphere shrinks, there is a marked increase in political apathy, a relentless pursuit of economic and material self-interests, and a rising tide of cynicism and social alienation” (Howley, 2005, p. 19). Therefore, “the concept of the public sphere has enormous relevance for the ongoing project of building and sustaining a more democratic media culture… As the nature of citizenship changes in an increasingly integrated world, the question of who deliberates has enormous implications… There is relatively scant popular participation in this deliberative process” (Howley, 2005, p. 20).

So, to recap, the public sphere is a way of understanding the role of the media in civic spaces. Participation is at the heart of what is said to constitute a healthy public sphere. Media participation formulates ‘publics’ that challenge ‘private’ interests, and therefore the public sphere cannot be thought of as free standing – it is challenged by the state and commercial interests, and therefore the he idea of the ‘citizen’ or ‘agent’ is vital to participation because it the actions of citizens that bring about change.

Across this debate it is widely asserted that “politicians whose views and policy recommendations challenge corporate interests are rarely seen or heard in the mainstream media.” And that, “conversely, those who are sympathetic to and support corporate policy tend to receive favourable coverage in the press. As a result, alternative positions on public policy and oppositional views on corporate culture are rarely publicised, let alone opened up for broad popular debate” (Howley, 2005, p. 23).

So practices do exist that point to an alternative way of thinking about and producing media. As Delwiche points out: “creative cultures flourished beneath the surface of the mainstream media; many of these cultures were nurtured and extended by mimeographed zines” (Delwich, 2013, p. 19). If, as Howley suggest, “corporate media depoliticises both the public and private spheres. In their efforts to deliver audiences to advertisers, commercial media socialise people to believe that health, happiness and the good life are to be found in the implacable, competitive, pursuit of consumer goods” (Howley, 2005, p. 24). Then alternative forms of media, such as zines elude to a different way of thinking about media and media participation, As Delwiche points out: “researchers have demonstrated that participatory cultures are characterised by commitment to access, expression, sharing, mentorship, the need to make a difference, and the desire for social connections” (Delwich, 2013, p. 11).

It’s worth watching each of these documentaries about zine culture to get a sense of how embedded the idea of participation is and what consequences it has for the development of a participation-based outlook.


If, as Howley suggests: “advertising was instrumental in engineering a shift from a producer ethic to a consumer ethic. In so doing, advertising and consumer culture divert the public’s attention, energy, and resources away from society’s fundamental needs like public education, health care, the environment, economic justice, and racial, ethnic, and gender equality that are essential to the institutions, needs, and values that are not based on capital accumulation or profit generation are all but ignored by commercial media” (Howley, 2005, p. 24).

One such example that is said to define online media and the notion and practices of virtual communities was The Well. “The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, normally shortened to The WELL, is one of the oldest virtual communities in continuous operation” According to Delwiche the “WELL was firmly rooted in participatory cultures, with founding principles that included self-governance, community connections, user-driven design, open-endedness, and low barriers to access. Power was deliberately decentralised and the network’s programmers carefully embedded ‘a countercultural conception of community’ into the entire fabric of the system’”(Delwich, 2013, p. 19).

This optimistic and (sometimes) utopian view of participation, as an alternative to the corporate and consumerist notions of civic engagement, presents us with a conundrum, such that as Howley argues, when all is said and done “the commodification of public communication belies claims that the information age will free the minds and liberate the spirits of the world’s people” (Howley, 2005, p. 26).  As Jenkins points out: “the growth of networked communication, especially when coupled with the practices of participatory culture, provides a range of groups who have long struggled to have their voices heard” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. xiv). And that these “new platforms create openings for social, cultural, economic, legal, and political change and opportunities for diversity and democratisation for which it is worth fighting” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. xiv).

To echo our starting point for this discussion, and as Jenkins et al suggest “the terms of participation are very much up for grabs, though, and will be shaped by a range of legal and economic struggles unfolding over the next few decades” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. xiv).

So, to summarise, the terms of this discussion suggest that it is possible to challenge corporate interests through creativity. That participation that is based on access, expression and sharing will make a difference to the quality of social and civic engagement in the public sphere, and therefore the producer ethic needs to be nurtured. Self-governance, networking and user-generated content are the principles that will drive participation, and that new platforms as well as giving us a wider range of affordances also change our expectations about how, and who, can participate.

Kevin Howley uses the work of Martin-Barbero to “demonstrates how mass media are embedded in the everyday lived experience of local populations and illuminates the distinct role various cultural forms (e.g., theatre, cinema, radio dramas and telenovelas) play in the construction of national and cultural identities. In this way, the concept of mediation encourages the examination of both micro and macro level processes of cultural production from a socio-historical perspective. As such, mediation provides a valuable analytical perspective from which to consider community media” (Howley, 2005, p. 34).

According to Howley, community media is “akin to the practice of appropriation so often celebrated by cultural analysts, community media form and content is a bricolage of artefacts and routines generally associated with the culture industries. Like textual poachers (e.g. Jenkins 1992), community media producers glean bits and pieces of media culture and invest this material with their own social experience in attempts to make sense of their lives. And, like the fan culture commonly associated with textual poaching, community media represents distinctive cultural practices that create and nourish affective relations” (Howley, 2005, p. 34).

Likewise, “the culture industry’s dismissive attitude toward the technical abilities of ‘non-professionals’ and the social value of their work underscores the adversarial relationship between dominant and community media. All too often, the work of ‘amateurs’ is marked as esoteric, frivolous, and apolitical. Rarely do commercial or public service broadcasters even acknowledge the existence of community media organisations. More often than not, when community media is acknowledged, it is invariably depicted as a refuge for outsider artists, hatemongers, pornographers, and the radical fringe: a perception some community media producers enthusiastically embrace” (Howley, 2005, p. 36).

And that “community media also represents strategic alliances between social, cultural, and political groups mounting and organising resistance to the hegemony of dominant media institutions and practices. As a resource for local service agencies, political activists, and others whose missions, methods, and objectives are antithetical to existing power structures, community media publicise oppositional messages that are either distorted by or altogether omitted from mainstream media coverage” (Howley, 2005, p. 35).

“These initiatives” according to Howley, “diminish the debilitating effects of political-economic systems that cater to well-heeled special interests by enhancing the capacity of local communities to organise themselves and participate in political processes” (Howley, 2005, p. 35). And, “as a result, producers and audiences alike are complicit in accepting and circulating the notion that community media are aesthetically inferior to mainstream media form and content, and socially and politically irrelevant for popular audiences. Perhaps the reluctance of communication scholars to engage more thoroughly with the phenomenon of community media” (Howley, 2005, p. 36).

As Howley describes, “This emphasis on participation, local content, and especially the impulse to revitalise the civic life of place-based communities is the motivation behind yet another strain of the community networking movement, so-called civic networking” (Howley, 2005, p. 78). Any that of equal importance are the ‘civic networks that are “designed to encourage and facilitate discussion within and between local residents, thereby promoting participatory democracy at the community level” (Howley, 2005, p. 78).

And it is through this process of facilitation that we are able to observe how communities and participants are able to underpin the “creation of new cultural territories,” and work for the “preservation of existing cultural spaces.” According to Howley, this “takes on enormous significance in light of the ease with which people, sounds, imagery, and cultural practice circulate about the globe.” Community media, according to Howley contributes to the “reterritorialization of culture by establishing new structures and creating new spaces for local cultural production. In this light, community media can be viewed as a dramatic expression of the felt need of local populations to exploit as well as contain these forces in their efforts to make sense of the dramatic, and at times traumatic, upheavals associated with globalisation” (Howley, 2005, p. 38).

The question at hand, then, is how do we build the capacity for participation? On what basis should we plan and support the necessary social and symbolic resources that extend participation as a general social process. As Christopher Keilty points out, “those who provide the capacity for participation expect something as well. Participation is now a two-way street. Government now provide participatory democracy, citizens are engaged by the government or corporations, and publics are constituted, consulted, and used to legitimate decision-making” (Kelty, 2013, p. 23).

And as such, “participation is now expected to have an effect on the structures, institutions, organisations, or technologies, in which one participates. Participation is no longer simply an opening up, and expression, a liberation, it is now also a principle of improvement, and instrument of change, a creative force. It no longer threatens, but has become a resource: participation has been made valuable” (Kelty, 2013, p. 24).

So we can see that community media is a useful way to examine how media functions. It is also a useful for building a picture of how our own social experience is essential to defining how we participate in different types of social process, both media and intersubjective. We can see this in the way that the amateur has become central to participative media, and how the subsequent resisting of the dominance of corporate culture is played out through oppositional messages in alternative and community media projects. Generally, community and participation-based media is poorly thought of, but if civic-life is to be invigorated, then participation must be given more status.

To summarise: “community media are strategic initiatives to counteract a climate of political apathy and social alienation that confounds a sense of belonging in local communities” (Howley, 2005, p. 35). “The challenge of building a participatory medium hinges upon the extent to which a diverse user population can not only access the system, but also make safe and productive use of it” (Howley, 2005, p. 250). And likewise, “without full consideration of the enormous variations within a given user population, community networks are unlikely to meet the needs, competencies, and preferences of heterogeneous users” (Howley, 2005, p. 250).

It is necessary, therefore that we take a closer look at the “institutional configurations of the public sphere” so that we can make sense of the participative phenomenon, both at the macro-level of structures and at the micro-level of structures. In this sense, and as Peter Dahgren points out, “an understanding of its dynamics requires that we also consider the processes and conditions of sense-making, whereby subjects link experience and reflection to generate meaning (political or otherwise)” (Peter Dahlgren in Dahlgren & Sparks, 1991, p. 16).

If we are to ask one question as a consequence of this process it would be, as Kelty proposes that we ask: “What is participation like today? How has it become newly important with respect to yesterday? Are participatory democracy, audience participation, user-generated content, peer production, participant observation, crowdsourcing all the same phenomena? If they are different, what characterises the difference” (Kelty, 2013, p. 23).


Dahlgren, P., & Sparks, C. (Eds.). (1991). Communication and Citizenship – Journalism and the Public Sphere. London: Routledge.

Delwich, A. (2013). The New Left and the Computer Underground – Recovering Antecedents of Participatory Culture. In A. Delwich & J. J. Henderson (Eds.), The Participatory Cultures Handbook (pp. 11-21). London: Routledge.

Delwiche, A., & Henderson, J. J. (Eds.). (2013). The Participatory Cultures Handbook. London: Routledge.

Habermas, J. (1994). The Emergence of the Public Sphere. In Polity (Ed.), The Polity Reader in Culutral Theory (pp. 81-90). Cambridge: Polity.

Hill, S. (2013). Digital Revolutions – Activism in the Internet Age. Oxford: New Internationalist Publications.

Howley, K. (2005). Community Media – People, Places and Communication Technologies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media. New York: New York University Press.

Kelty, C. M. (2013). From Participation to Power. In A. Delwiche & J. J. Henderson (Eds.), The Participatory Cultures Handbook (pp. 22-31). London: Routledge.


TECH1002_15 Lecture Week Two: Fast Food Media

This week I wanted to find a quick way of putting the forms, structures and patterns of our media culture into a shape that made it stand out because it seems strange. Using an analogy I wanted to demonstrate that the media and communication industries that we take for granted for most of the time, are in fact an industry that is structured around specific ideas of mass production, standardisation and homogenisation. Relating the media industries to the modern, Western, food industries, is a very useful way to draw attention to the artificial, constructed and contested world that we inhabit.

Food, like media is an everyday cultural practice that has great significance and importance to each of us as individuals, to us as communities, and as broader societies. As Zygmunt Bauman suggests “these matters are about our experiences and their relationship to our everyday practices, the control we have over our lives and the direction in which our societies are unfolding” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 6). For Bauman and other students of social organisation, “the only way we can make sense of the human world around us is to draw our tools of explanations solely from within our respective life-worlds” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 9).

Food is Culture is therefore a good place to start to think about how we interact with the world, how we interact and make sense of each other, and how we understand the mediation processes that are at play between different groups of people. As Jones and Hafner point out: ‘To learn to eat, you have to learn to use a spoon or a fork or chopsticks, which come between you and your food and facilitate the action of eating. To learn to read, you have to learn to use language and objects like books that come between you and other people and facilitate the action of communication’ (Jones and Hafner, 2012, p.2)

I posed a couple of questions and statements that we could reflect on when thinking about our relationship with food. After all, food is more than fuel.

• Food is a cultural thing. We need food, but we shouldn’t think of it simply as fuel, what about the erotic experience of eating?
• How often do we sit down for a meal with other people?
• How often do we take our time to eat?
• What choices of food do I have when I’m out? The DMU campus centre?
• I eat sitting at my desk because there is no other place that’s convenient or private, as a dedicated eating area, where I can take my own food.
• Whatever happened to dining rooms?
• Do I want to be ‘careful’ about my food continually (paranoid)?
• Do I want to be hungry most of the time, never feeling full or satisfied?
• I try to eat healthily, lots of fruit – at least five-a-day?

Indeed, we use food as a marker of significant events in our lives. We celebrate with food, we use food to comfort our egos when we feel stressed, we use food as a way of being accepted into our social networks and peer groups. My personal experience of food, and my relationship with food has changed over the year. From never thinking very much about food, to being obsessed, almost addicted to food, my weight has gone up and down. I’ve done diets. I exercise regularly and I think I eat healthily. And yet my weight is far higher than it should be, and the fat around my middle is persistent and difficult to spread. Is this just middle-aged-spread, or the consequence of eating habits that are out of synch and unbalanced?

Comfort & Emotion:
• If I had a problem I would have a drink, or a bag of crisps.
• When I would sit and write I would have crisps and caffeine for the stimulation.
• I’ve never had a sweet tooth, so avoided cakes & sweets.
• At a family celebration the sweets and cakes come out automatically.
• Look at how binge drinking is such a part of British life, it’s seen as being normal to fall about in the streets after a skin-full on a night out.

Fast Food Culture:
In Western, industrialised countries the consumption of food has taken on a highly regulated form. It’s largely based around the industrialised food production process. It’s based on products that are produced in mass-volumes, and it’s significantly reduced in nutritional value. Underpinning this processed-food culture is sugar, and the way that it is included and hidden in seemingly healthy products. As Bilton and Booth point out:

“In many cultures, with the possible exceptions of the traditional Inuit, sugar has become a ubiquitous source of pleasure and self-indulgence. Research in the new millennium has shown why many of us are hooked on sugar. There is now compelling evidence that sugar can alter our brain chemistry by the same biochemical mechanisms that drive addiction to hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin, and to a lesser extent, nicotine and alcohol. Furthermore, this effect is rein-forced by the presence of fat and salt in highly palatable sugar-rich junk foods” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 32).

All of which has incurred drastic consequences for the health of people in Western countries.

“In 2000, the average American consumed an astounding 2 to 3lb of added sugar per week in their diet (USDA Economic Research Service), and Britain is not far behind with a Defra report indicating a consumption of 1.9lb per week in 2006. This is an average US consumption of 5,600 calories per week from sugar alone, and is almost three days’ worth of total calories every week with no nutritional value and the potential to gain at least 1lb of body fat per week” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 35).


Hardly a week goes by now when news reports about the state of the health service crop up to alarm us about the epi-demic of obesity and diabetes that we are living through.

Where we are now, however, is unprecedented. Never before has human society, and particularly Western society, been faced with the problems of an over-abundance of food. As Bilton and Booth point out:

“Our present way of living has only become typical within the past two generations. Diets consumed in modern indus-trialised countries today have evolved considerably from those of our early Stone Age ancestors. It was the industrial revolution that completely altered our diet, along with the shift of populations from the country to towns and the limited success of town dwellers to fruits, vegetables and other fresh foods” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 9).

And as a consequence, and as Michael Pollan argues:

“Rates of obesity in Europe are rapidly approaching those of the United States, and increases in diabetes and cardiovascular disease are certain to follow. This has been the sequence wherever traditional diets and ways of eating have succumbed to the modern diet of processes food” (Pollan, 2009, p. xiii).

This is a problem decades in the making, and can be traced back to the 1950s when nutritional thinking changed to focus more on the availability of saturated fats in our diets. As Michael Pollan describes:

“Beginning in the 1950s, a growing body of scientific opinion held that the consumption of fat and dietary cholesterol, much of which came from meant and dairy products, was responsible for rising rates of heart disease during the twentieth century. The ‘lipid hypothesis’, as it was called had already been embraced by the American Heart Association, which in 1961 had begun recommending a ’prudent diet’ low in saturated fat and cholesterol from animal products” (Pollan, 2009, p. 23).

There are some interesting films that are worth watching about these problems. “Food, Inc. is a 2008 American documentary film directed by Emmy Award-winning film maker Robert Kenner.] The film examines corporate farming in the United States, concluding that agribusiness produces food that is unhealthy, in a way that is environmentally harmful and abusive of both animals and employees. The film is narrated by Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser. “,_Inc.


  • Food is a medium.
  • Food is a cultural product.
  • The experience of sharing food is culturally mediated.
  • Western Diets have become highly industrialised.
  • Sugar, salt and processed fats form the basis of the processed diet.

Processed Food & Industrialisation:
Access to food, then, has become highly mediated. It is controlled and shaped by the large supermarket chains who don’t sell food any more, but instead offer, as Michael Pollen says, ‘Food-Like Substances’. As Pollen points out:

“The supermarket has become the only place to buy food, and real food [is] rapidly disappearing from its shelves, to be replaced by the modern cornucopia of highly processed food-like products. And because so many of these novelties lie[…] to our senses with fake sweeteners and flavourings, we c[an] no longer rely on taste or smell to know what we [are] eating (Pollan, 2009, p. 14).

We have a food system, which prioritises the following:

• Industrialised, processed, simulated, convenience, addictive.
• High-Fructose Corn Syrup
• Long-life products.
• Refined to be attractive – roughage is removed from four, etc.
• Can be stored and centralised.
• Towns used to mill flour locally, then bake it very quickly.
• With improved milling in the 18th Century, milling became more centralised, flour could be transported, stored for longer. I have flour in my cupboard that’s been there for two years. Nothing else will eat it, so why should I?
• Obsessed with low-fat – they don’t tell you there are more calories.
• Predicated on simply calorie exchange model.
• Sugar is the next tobacco.
• Pepsi and Coke sell drinks in Third-World in places with poor water supply.
• Where the western diet has been introduced, the Western diseases soon follow.

There is some suggestion that we might rethink our attitude to food and return to some basic principles. As John Yukin pointed out long before this subject became a topic of popular discussion:

“It is generally agreed that our earliest ancestors, the squirrel-like primates of some 70 million years ago, were vegetarian. They continued as vegetarians up to 20 million years ago, for they had no difficulty surviving on fruits, nuts, berries and leaves. But then the rainfall began to decrease and the earth entered a 12-million-year period of drought. The forests shrank and their place was taken by ever-increasing areas of open savannah” (Yudkin, 2012, p. 8).

This is because “in order to survive, [early humans] had to forsake the vegetarian and fruitarian existence… and change to a scavenging and hunting existence that was largely carnivorous” (Yudkin, 2012, p. 8).

So we can look at our food culture and work out to what extent it is:

• Based on standardisation – through the supply chain.
• Products are frozen, dried, canned, and stored for long periods.
• Fruit is now grown to be high in sugar, and is available all year around.
• It’s very difficult to get fresh vegetables, locally to where we live.
• Leicester market has lots of fruit stands, but a declining number of veg stands.
• Supermarkets pre-package a lot of veg. The traditional grocer has disappeared from the high-street.
• Sugar, corn syrup and other carbohydrate products are used extensively in processed foods. Extends shelf life, palatability.
• Supermarkets stack the shelves high with low-cost sweets, crisps and biscuits.

One of the origins of the culture of fast food that we are now living with is the ‘drive-in’ fast food restaurant, typified by McDonalds and other American convenience food retailers. As Eric Schlosser describes, the “southern Californian drive-in restaurants of the early 1940s tended to be gaudy and round, topped with pylons, towers, and flashing signs. They were ‘circular meccas of neon’… designed to be easily spotted from the road” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 17).

However, “at the end of the 1940s the McDonald brothers had grown dissatisfied with the drive-in business. They were tired of constantly looking for new carhops and short-order cooks – who were in great demand – as the old ones left for higher-paying jobs elsewhere. They were tired of replacing the dishes, glassware, and silverware their teenage customers constantly broke or ripped off. And they were tires of their teenage customers. The brothers thought about selling the restaurant. Instead, they tried something new” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 19).

Schlosser gives an engaging and detailed account of how “the McDonalds fired all their carhops in 1948, closed their restaurant, installed larger grills, and reopened three month later with a radically new method of preparing food. It was designed to increase the speed, lower the prices, and raise the volume of sales. The brothers eliminated almost two thirds of the items on their old menu. They got rid of everything that had to be eaten with a knife, spoon, or fork. The only sandwiches now sold were burgers, replacing them with paper cups, paper bags, and paper plates. They divided food preparation into separate tasks performed by different workers” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 19).

All of which led to “the new division of labour meant that a worker only had to be taught how to perform one task. Skilled and expensive short-order cooks were no longer necessary” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 20).

• Western industrialised diets are based on ‘food like substances’.
• Processing, standardising and extending the shelf-life increase profitability.
• Humans evolved on a very different, and more varied set of diets.
• Employing the factory system of standardisation changed food consumption.
• A small number of corporations control the food supply.

There are some immediate questions that can be asked about the combination of industrial food production processes, centralised distribution networks, and factory-like distribution points that are aimed at consumers. For example:

• To what extent is this a process of domination and domestication?
• How much of this is about lowering costs and how much is about increasing profit margins?
• When the marketing of processed food is pervasive, how to we escape from the product placements?
• Why can food-like substances that have longer shelf lives, brighter packaging be allowed to display healthy mes-sage (one of five per-day, etc.) on their labels.

The Western food industry goes to inordinate lengths to ensure that we adopt processed foods:

There are embedded beliefs, despite evidence to the contrary, that
• Fat is bad for you – no evidence.
• Low-fat is good for you.
• Calorie restricted diets work.
• Maintenance and careful observance – otherwise you are ‘slothful, greedy and unsocial’.
• Exercise is one way to loose weight.
• Willpower is essential to loosing weight.

WALL-E is a 2008 American computer animated science fiction romantic comedy film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and directed by Andrew Stanton. The story follows a robot named WALL-E, who is designed to clean up an abandoned, waste-covered Earth far in the future. He falls in love with another robot named EVE, who also has a programmed task, and follows her into outer space on an adventure that changes the destiny of both his kind and humanity. Both robots exhibit an appearance of free will and emotions similar to humans, which develop further as the film progresses.

• People are ‘domesticated’ into following the ‘convenient’ path.
• We are conditioned to think that low-fat is good, and fat is bad.
• Exercise does not lead to weight loss on its own.
• Just wishing you are lean and fit will not make it happen.
• Are we being led into a dystopian future?

Real Food – What are the Alternatives?

Here’s a quick set of hints and tips I’ve taken from some of the writing on the sugar and processed food crisis:

“People eating the Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets” (Pollan, 2009, p. 140).

“The solution to the problem would appear to remain very much the same: Stop eating a Western diet” (Pollan, 2009, p. 141).

“Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that included) high-fructose corn syrup” (Pollan, 2009, p. 150).

“Avoid food products that make health claims” (Pollan, 2009, p. 154).

“Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle” (Pollan, 2009, p. 157).

“Get out of the supermarkets whenever possible” (Pollan, 2009, p. 157).

As Bilton and Booth point out: ”The word diet is most often associated with sacrifice, hunger, guilt and unhappiness. Most diets involve restricting the amount of food consumed in an attempt to reach a given body weight, and this is al-ways accompanied by cravings and feelings of hunger. Common sense should tell us that a calorie controlled diet for weight loss cannot be continued indefinitely. What happens when the diet is over and a goal weight has been reached? We all know the answer. Usually the weight lost is regained and so the cycle begins again” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 221).

“Stop smoking… take exercise… eat healthily… eat the right fats…” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 222).

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” (Pollan, 2009).

While this has been a discussion about food, it has also been a discussion about media. I’ve added a couple of words to a statement from Jones & Hafner as I think it relates really well to the problems that we need to consider if we are to find a way out of the processed food/media crisis that we are facing:

“It should be clear from the above that [food] literacy is not just a matter of things that are going on inside people’s heads – cognitive processes of encoding and decoding words and sentences – but rather a matter of all sorts of inter-personal and social processes. [Food] Literacy is not just a way of making meaning, but also a way of relating to other people and showing who we are, a way of doing things in the world, and a way of developing new ideas about and solutions to the problems that face us” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 12).

The question is, what would we do to enhance the skills of people when it comes to food?

Perhaps, as Henry Jenkins and others suggest “in an environment fostering spreadability, grassroots communities are embracing content from elsewhere, actively facilitating its circulation (often in advance of its commercial availability) and taking responsibility for educating their local public about its traditions and conventions” (Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013, p. 270).

Spreadability being those kinds of texts and media products that take on a life of their own, and which don’t sit so easily with the mass produced, corporate messages of the corporate media companies – or food producers. As Jenkins argues:

“The spreading of media texts helps us to articulate who we are, bolster our personal and professional relationships, strengthen our relationships with one another, and ‘build community and awareness around the subjects we care about. And the sharing of media across cultural boundaries increases the opportunity to listen to other perspectives and to develop empathy outside our own” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. 304).

• There are alternatives, but they require a change of mind-set.
• Support traditional styles of eating.
• How do we avoid the yo-yo effect and achieve sustainably healthy living?
• Food literacy is essential.
• Change from the bottom-up, not the top-down.
• Awareness of others builds empathy and a sense of esteem.

Zygmunt Bauman writes a lot about the experience of living in late modernity, or what he calls ‘liquid modernity.’ Bauman suggests that:

“Individual exposure to the vagaries of commodity-and-labour markets inspires and promotes division, not unity; it puts a premium on competitive attitudes, while degrading collaboration and team work to the rank of temporary stratagems that need to be suspended or terminated the moment their benefits have been used up. ‘Society’ is increasingly viewed and treated as a ‘network’ rather than a ‘structure’ (let alone a solid ‘totality’): it is perceived and treated as a matrix of random connections and disconnections and of an essentially infinite volume of possible permutations” (Bauman, 2007, p. 2).

The consequence is that we live increasingly fragmented lives, with little security, many competing pressures to succeed and less of a safety-net to rely on. As Bauman points out: “A life so fragmented stimulates ‘lateral’ rather than ‘vertical’ orientations. Each next step needs to be a response to a different set of opportunities and a different distribution of odds, and so it calls for a different set of skills and a different arrangement of assets” (Bauman, 2007, p. 3).

This fragmentation can be seen in the way that “eating at fast food outlets and other restaurants [has become] simply a manifestation of the commodification of time coupled with the relatively low value many Americans have placed on the food they eat.” Andrew F. Smith ‘Encyclopedia of Junk food and Fast Food’ (2006).

Perhaps the final word, though, should go to Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates. “In terms of fast food and deep under-standing of the culture of fast food, I’m your man.” Bill Gates

Critical Questions:
• What if media companies are doing the same thing?
• What does real media look and feel like?
• What can we do about the totality of the system?
What skills and capabilities do we need to thrive in this system?

Bauman, Z. (2007). Liquid Times – Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking Sociologically (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Bilton, R., & Booth, L. (2013). Know What to Eat. Formby: Supercritical.
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media. New York: New York University Press.
Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.
Pollan, M. (2009). In Defence of Food. London: Penguin Books.
Schlosser, E. (2002). Fast Food Nation – What the All-American Meal is Doing to the World. London: Penguin.
Yudkin, J. (2012). Pure White and Deadly: Penguin.

TECH3022_15 Lecture Week Two: Digital Literacies

The second lecture for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production is an introduction to the concept of digital literacies, the principle of media engagement and our capability to understand and make sense of these media engagements. The lecture discussed the underlying principle that our culture is defined by a set of ideas, routines and doctrines that people strive to make meaningful, which as a social process of sense-making, is shaped by a series of social regulations and interrelationships.

For the American pragmatist thinker John Dewey, the important to keep in mind that our culture is shaped by the people within it, some of whom are regarded as the arbiters of what is passed on in our culture. As Dewey says:

“Certain men or classes of men come to be the accepted guardians and transmitters – instructors – of established doctrines. To question the beliefs is to question their authority; to accept the beliefs is evidence of loyalty to the powers that be, a proof of good citizenship” (Dewey, 1910, p. 149).

In general terms, then, we might think of the practices and the products of our symbolic interactions, particularly when they are shaped into a common set of experience and ideas, as a common culture, and as a store-house, as Andrew Tudor points out, “is above all a repository of human value: humanity’s most significant beliefs and achievements are articulated and ‘stored’ in culture. Or, at least, this is how it should be” (Tudor, 1999, p. 23).

To demonstrate this type of thinking we watched a brief extract from the landmark 1960s British television series ‘Civilisation’, as it is a good example of a way of thinking about culture as a collation of all the ‘best’ things that we produce.

Noting, as Matthew Arnold famously points out, that culture not only acts as a store of our social values and experiences, but also as a process that changes us and works on us as individuals.

“Crucial to [Matthew] Arnold was the insight that culture fosters the internal growth of our humanity; that we have a ‘best self’ as well as an ‘ordinary self’, based on a commitment to ‘a growing and becoming’ as opposed to expressing our animality; the culture tries to develop in us that ‘best self’ at the expenses of ‘our old untransformed self’” (Kenneth Dyson in Dyson & Homolka, 1996, p. 2 ).

This is in contrast to the kind of cultures that are talked about High vs Mass vs Popular vs Social Culture debates that have taken place in Western society since the mid Twentieth century. The idea that culture is a restricted and elite enterprise has been well and truly challenged, with this challenge resonating through the popular and mass cultures associated with industrial and consumer production of media products, routines and audiences. We now have a specific view of culture that is defined through things like television, or magazines, or the internet, as opposed to the church, the state or even the Enlightened individual.

The contrast between mass media and the individual consumption of cultural products is marked out by things like the industrial process of production, something the structuralist thinkers of the Twentieth century where keen to explain, How “originality and intellectual stimulation were squeezed out by the economics of cultural production, which in turn exploited peripheral frills, novelties and stylistic variations to make cultural products appear new and different, in the process disguising the underlying standardisation” (Kenneth Dyson in Dyson & Homolka, 1996, p. 7).

As this was an introduction to some of these issues associated with cultural value and the meaningful social experience, a great deal of the nuanced discussion was avoided, but I thought it would be useful to note some of the tensions in this debate by using an example. So we looked at the seminal work by Richard Hoggart, ‘The Uses of Literacy’, and in particular the famous passage about ‘juke-box boys’, in which Hoggart says: “Perhaps even more symptomatic of the general trend is the reading of juke-box boys, of those who spend their evening listening in harshly lighted milk-bars to the ‘nickelodeons.’”(Hoggart, 1957, p. 203).

Hoggart was drawing attention to a growing need to understand popular culture and to view it as something worth thinking about, particularly in the context that if society is to grow and develop then a clear understanding of the conceptual tools that meet the popular culture of each age is needed. The ‘literacies’ that each age call for have a shared and common set of principles, but they can’t be used timelessly and without a sense of struggle to understand them and contextualise them. The literacies that we need to understand our culture are contemporary, contingent, and have to fought over to make them relevant to the social world that we live in today, the technologies that we adopt and use today, and the expectations that we have about individual and social engagement with these forms of culture.


  • Do we rely on certain people – men – to tell us what and how to think?
  • Is there an objective position we can take on what is ‘good’ in our culture?
  • How do we explain and understand popular, mass and now social culture?
  • What’s our role s individuals in this process – are we merely animals?
  • Where does our intellectual stimulation come from?

I thought it would be useful to mention how some thinkers are sceptical of the supposed role that new forms of cultural engagement are affording us. Andrew Keen is a widely recognised sceptic of the ‘cult of the amateur’ who argues that:

“Th[e] blurring of lines between the audience and the author, between fact and fiction, between invention and reality further obscures objectivity. The cult of the amateur has made it increasingly difficult to determine the difference between reader and writer, between artist and spin doctor, between art and advertisement, between amateur and expert. The result? The decline of the quality and reliability of the information we receive, thereby distorting, if not out rightly corrupting, our national civic conversation” (Keen, 2008, p. 27).

I also thought it would be useful to contextualise this debate by quoting Raymond Williams and pointing out that these concerns, about the purpose of our culture and the processes that are going on deep within it, have been discussed and considered for many years. As Williams argues:

“Art reflects its society and works a social character through to its reality in experience. But also, art creates, by new perceptions and responses, elements which the society, as such, is not able to realise. If we compare art with its society, we find a series of real relationships showing its deep and central connections with the rest of the general life. We find description, discussion, exposition through plot and experience of the social character. We find also, in certain characteristic forms and devices, evidence of the deadlocks and unsolved problems of the society: often admitted to consciousness for the first time in this way” (Williams, 1992, p. 69).

In many way, we can think about the products and the artefacts of our culture – the media that we produce –as things that are understood through the application of a set of symbolic tools. More recent thinking about literacies, and particularly digital literacies has emphasised this. So Jones and Hafner, one of the key books for the module, are able to point out that”

“All tools carry the history of their past use. After people have used a particular tool in certain ways to perform a particular practice for a period of time, the conventions or ‘social rules’ that have grown up around the tool and the practice become ‘solid’. We call the process by which social practices and conventions come to ‘solidify’ around various technologies the technologisation of practice” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 100).

And who go on to suggest that: “Media becomes ideological when they become resistant to hacking, that is, when the affordances and constraints they embody are presented as ‘just the way things are’ rather than as ‘workable’ and adaptable” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 101).

And that:

“Transparent media encourage us to regard the kinds of actions that they make possible as ‘natural’ or desirable and the kinds of actions that they constrain as unnatural or undesirable. Technologies tend to become more transparent to us the more we use them” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 101).

Indeed, to the extent that “Many marketeers of media technology extol the value of media transparency” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 101).

In order to illustrate this concept in introduced the concept of Skeuomorphism, the way that we use object so of the past to make sense of the virtual and symbolic tools we have of the present. For example:

“The Macintosh user interface has been called the first ‘intuitive’ interface, suggesting that a user can learn how to use it by instinct alone without the need for instruction manuals or training. The design of the interface is based on its use of what have become known as ‘real-world metaphors’” (Feldman, 1997, p. 16).

“Steve Jobs was—notoriously, to many members of the design community—a fan of skeuomorphism, a style that relies on real-world metaphors and textures in digital interfaces. Fake leather, wood, paper and glass became commonplace in Apple applications, in addition to real-world metaphors like bookshelves, paper shredders, and even casinos” (Schybergson, 2012).

“Apps which look like old technologies such as a compass or notepad are “skeuomorphic” since there is no need to render them that way on a modern device” (Baraniuk, 2012).

What this means, therefore, is that the culture that we consume and participate in is defined by a set of ideas and regulating cultural systems. When we examine these systems we can work out the process by which they are expected to operate, with as an ideology or as a set of generic social interactions. As Jones and Hafner point out:

“Anytime a person uses a semiotic system like language to make meaning they always have an agenda. We produce texts in order to get things done – whether that means achieving some kind of material gain, fulfilling an obligation to someone, or making someone do something or believe something. We judge how successful our texts are by how well they help us to realise our agendas. The first question to ask whenever we encounter a text is what the agenda is of the person or people who produced this text is” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 103).

And the reason why it is important to find appropriate tools that can make sense of this, is because our world is increasingly fragmented and our social systems are much more haphazard and ad-hoc than they have been in the past. We no longer share a strong common-culture, tied with national, religious, social or personal identities. Instead, we have become an aggregation of individualised identities that primarily find satisfaction through consumption and the pulses in the electronic nervous system of the internet and electronic media.

As van Dijk points out “Several significant cultural aspects can be perceived in the trends of fragmentation, segmentation and individualisation of social reality currently appearing at all levels of Western society. The contention is that ‘mass society’ or ‘mass culture’ is eroding and a huge increase of cultural diversity is taking place” (Dijk, 1999, p. 166).

And as Zygmunt Bauman reflects: “A life so fragmented stimulates ‘lateral’ rather than ‘vertical’ orientations. Each next step needs to be a response to a different set of opportunities and a different distribution of odds, and so it calls for a different set of skills and a different arrangement of assets” (Bauman, 2007, p. 3).


  1. What happens when cultural distinctions become blurred
  2. What are the new relationships that are afforded by new technologies?
  3. How do we pull back the veil and ‘see things as they are?’
  4. Metaphors are replete within our culture as a way of making sense of the world.

It’s about trying to make sense of a fragmented world.


Ultimately, literacies and digital literacies discussions come down to one simple question: How Do We Know We Have The Right Tool Kit?

As Jones and Hafner state:

“The distribution of tools, both technological and symbolic, in any society is always unequal. What this means is that the kinds of actions that media makes possible are always only available to certain people. In other words, the use of meditational means is always tied up with economic and political systems that govern the way we access to them is distributed. As a result the ways media end up being used usually support or perpetuate these political and economic systems” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 100).

So, “Learning how to use technological tools, then, involves not just mastering the range of choices they present, but also being indoctrinated into the social practices that have come to be technologized around these tools. The range of actions these tools make available not only determine how people behave and communicate with each other, but they also end up promoting particular versions of reality and making some kinds of social relationships more possible and others less possible” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 108).

Therefore, as Don Tapscott points out:

“The ability to learn new things is more important than ever in a world where you have to process new information at lightning speed. Students need to be able to think creatively, critically, and collaboratively; to master the ‘basics’ and excel in reading, maths, science, and information literacy, and respond to opportunities and challenges with speed, agility, and innovation. Students need to expand their knowledge beyond the doors of their local community to become responsible and contributing citizens in the increasingly complex world economy” (Tapscott, 2008, p. 127).

We then looked at some promotional web material for different media production courses from around the word, and what was interesting was the similarities in language, tone and intent within each of these courses. Few courses are distinctively different in ideological tone. They are mainly focussed on the need to develop ‘supposed’ industry skills, and they all seem to promise that the completion of a media production course will result in the ‘dreams’ of the students coming true.

Media Production Courses:


  • What tools do we have to work with?
  • Who has the best tools and what do they do with them?
  • How do we learn to integrate the use of these tools into our day-to-day practices?
  • What opportunities do these new tools afford us?

So, what are the skills and mind-set that we need to thrive in the media world of the future? Should we be focussing on the literacies that people need in order to be able to make sense of the world, or do we need to think about building the capabilities that people have to engage with and change the world? This might not come from a traditional mindset, but instead is something that will come about because we listen to a different set of social and interpersonal impulses. Social media is redolent with examples of alternative literacies and capabilities. For example:

Playfulness is a more important consideration than play. The former is an attitude of mind; the latter is a passing outward manifestation of this attitude. When things are treated simply as vehicles of suggestion, what is suggested overrides the thing. Hence the playful attitude is one of freedom” (Dewey, 1910, p. 162).

I then suggested that other mind-sets might be important in the future, and illustrated some potentially distinctive ways of thinking that Howard Gardner suggests might be useful in the future.

The Disciplined Mind:

“The absence of disciplinary thinking matters. Shorn of these sophisticated ways of thinking, individuals remain essentially unschooled” (Gardner, 2008, p. 36).

“Scholarly disciplines allow you to participate knowledgeably in the world; professional disciplines allow you to thrive in the workplace” (Gardner, 2008, p. 37).

“The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking – a distinctive mode of cognition that characterises a specific scholarly discipline, craft, or profession” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Synthesising Mind:

The synthesising mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesiser and also to other persons” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Creating Mind:

The creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Respectful Mind:

“The respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these ‘others,’ and seeks to work effectively with them” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Ethical Mind:

The Ethical mind ponders the nature of one’s work and the needs and desired of the society in which one lives. This mind conceptualises how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

How these things come together in our media is fascinating to trace. This clip of Paul Morley describing his experiences in popular culture is a very fertile discussion of some of the themes, anxieties and preoccupations of our contemporary mediated culture.


  • Which is more important, playfulness or disciplined thinking?
  • How can we learn to deploy and use different thinking skills?
  • To what extent are competing or are we showing solidarity and respectfulness?
  • What do we need to think about that goes beyond our own self-interest?


To wrap-up this somewhat scatter-gun discussion I left learners with a quote from Zygmunt Bauman, in which he suggests that whatever we think we might desire, we have to employ an objective assessment of our realistic ability to achieve our aims. If we don’t have the facilities to achieve, then no end of wishful thinking will make it happen.

“It is therefore, one thing to have the ability to change or modify our skills and quite another to possess the capability to reach the goals we seek” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 18).

Critical Questions:

  • What skills and capabilities do we need to be:
    • Sociable?
    • Critical?
    • Producers?
    • Attentive?
  • How will we know we are reading others correctly?
  • Is literacy something imposed upon us, by others, or something that emerges from the things we do for ourselves?


Baraniuk, C. (2012). How We Started Calling Visual Metaphors “Skeuomorphs” and Why the Debate over Apple’s Interface Design is a Mess.   Retrieved 16th October 2013, 2013, from

Dewey, J. (1910). How We Think. New York: D.C. Heath.

Dijk, J. v. (1999). The Network Society. London: Sage.

Dyson, K., & Homolka, W. (Eds.). (1996). Culture First – Promoting Standards in the New Media Age. London: Cassell.

Feldman, T. (1997). Introduction to Digital Media. London: Routledge.

Gardner, H. (2008). Five Minds for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.

Keen, A. (2008). The Cult of the Amateur. London: Nicholas Brearley Publishing.

Schybergson, O. (2012). Skeuomorphism is (finally) dead: So what is Apple’s next design move?   Retrieved 16th October 2013, 2013, from

Tapscott, D. (2008). Grown Up Digital – How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. London: McGraw-Hill Professional.

Tudor, A. (1999). Decoding Culture – Theory and Method in Cultural Studies. London: Sage.

Williams, R. (1992). The Long Revolution. London The Hogarth Press.

Bauman, Z. (2007). Liquid Times – Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking Sociologically (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.

Hoggart, R. (1957). The Uses of Literacy. London: Chatto & Windus.


TECH1002 Lecture Week One – Mediation

The process of mediation is a central concept to the study of social media, and it was the main topic explored in the lecture I gave this week to Year One BSc Media Production students on the module TECH1002 Social Media and Technology.

I decided that the best way to introduce this topic was to look at the work of Marshal McLuhan, and his central idea that the ‘Medium is the Message.’ As McLuhan asserts in The Gutenberg Galaxy

“[I]f a new technology extends one or more of our senses outside us into the social world, then new ratios among all of our senses will occur in that particular culture. It is comparable to what happens when a new note is added to a melody. And when the sense ratios alter in any culture then what had appeared lucid before may suddenly become opaque, and what had been vague or opaque will become translucent” (Marshall McLuhan, 1962, p. 41).

So, rather than thinking about media and the technologies of media that we use and encounter in our social interactions, it would be more appropriate to step back and think about how technology enables us to think about the world in different ways. What it enables us to do and how it shapes the way that we think, interact and respond to different things that take place in the world, but which are mediated to us through different platforms, different concepts different languages, different technologies.

The starting point is to understand what a media is, and what it does. A media, as Jones and Hafner describe, is something that stands between two things and facilitates different interactions between them. How a set of gears on a bicycle mediates the actions of the cyclists legs and feet and transforms one force into another type of force.

“A medium is something that stands in between two things and facilitates interaction between them… The fact is, all interaction – and indeed all human action – is in some way mediated” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 2).

As Jones and Hafner argue, as individuals we are unable to act alone, but have to do things by establishing relationships with other people. To do this successfully we have to deploy and utilise a range of practical and symbolic tools. As Jones and Hafner say, “the definition of a person is a human being plus the tools that are available for that human being to interact with the world” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 2).

Therefore, in thinking about media and the way that we use it to make sense of the world we have to understand that it is a process, as Roger Silverstone suggests, a “process of mediation” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 13).

As Silverstone goes on to point out:

“To do so requires us to think of mediation as extending beyond the point of contact between media texts and their readers or viewers. It requires us to consider it as involving producers and consumers of media in a more or less continuous activity of engagement and disengagement with meanings which have their source of their focus in these mediated texts, but which are extended through, and we are measured against, experiences in a multitude of different ways” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 13).

Underpinning this process, then, are a whole set of technologies and ideas that, according to McLuhan, provide use with an extension of our capabilities, and gives us ‘affordances’ that open up the world to us in new ways, or, indeed, close the world to us in different ways. McLuhan’s breakthrough idea was that we will, in the future (think 1960s here) use electronic forms of communication as a ‘nervous system’ in which we wont just be able to exchange products and objects, but through which we think and share ideas. McLuhan was thinking this around the same time that the early developments of the internet were being pioneered, but well before the Internet was developed as a working tool.

The challenge that this way of thinking introduces, then, is that we can then rethink the processes of media production, and that we can reflect on the whole set of expectations that we have in our culture about the requirements for learning and engaging with the media as producers and not as simply as consumers. It’s impossible to buy a ready-made, out-of-the-box pack from a store that enables us to become a ‘media producer’. It is a very seductive consumer fantasy that we can walk into a store and purchase the kit that we need to be a media producer. The truth is, however, that we have to learn production, technical management and creative skills in order to be a successful media producer. We have to practice these skills, test our ideas and understanding, and reflect on the processes that we engage in when creating our media.

This idea of mediation is nothing new in Western Society. It has presented challenges to thinkers and philosophers for many thousands of years, so we quickly looked at the idea of Plato’s Cave, to get a sense that the fundamental process of making sense of the world is a major problem that has concerned people for many different reasons and in many different ways.

We understand the world through signs and symbols, and what we are looking to get a sense of and be aware of are the generic social processes that allow us to mediate the world around us for our own understanding and for our interaction with others. As ethnographer Robert Prus argues:

“All constructions of reality, all notions of definition, identifications, and explanations, all matters of education, enterprise, entertainment, interpersonal relations, organisational practices, cultic involvements, collective behaviour, and political struggles of all sorts are rooted in the human accomplishment of intersubjectivity” (Prus, 1996, p. 2).

McLuhan argued that anything might be recognised as a mediating process. The things around us have symbolic structure, and that they transform how we think about the world.

“Media, under McLuhan’s analysis, constitute a broad category: cars, speech and language are examined alongside what we more commonly think of as media — newspapers, television and radio. All of these “artefacts” can be treated as media because, as technologies, they mediate our communication; their forms or structures alter how we perceive and understand the world around us. McLuhan argues that media are languages, with their own grammar and structure, and that they can be studied as such”(“Old Messengers, New Media: The Legacy of Innis and McLuhan,” 2014).

As such, this is a process that is contested and is transformative, and never stays still. As Roger Silverstone argues “Mediation is like translation… It is never complete, always transformative, and never, perhaps, entirely satisfactory. It is always contested” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 14).

So, through this module, we will be looking to examine the ‘symbolic interactions’ that represent the moments when people exchange ideas and try to give meaning to things that they are considering and trying to make sense of – the ‘translations’ that people attempt to fix or which they contest in different situations and under different circumstances.

McLuhan thinks that the important factor is not what is said, i.e. the specific content of a message, but the form and the function of the carrier of that message. It’s not the voice on the telephone that we necessarily need to consider, but the way the telephone affords us the technical capability of speaking over distances. As Stevenson points out

“Marshall McLuhan is best known for the provocative thesis that the most important aspect of media is not to be located within issues connected to cultural content, but in the technical medium of communication. The medium, declares McLuhan, is the message” (Stevenson, 2002, p. 121).

We then spent a short amount of time looking at McLuhan’s ideas of Typographical Man, Hot and Cold Media and his model of Globalisation. I’m not going to describe them here, but they are certainly a useful point to follow up in the further reading associated with this module, particularly how Jones & Hafner use and expand on the concepts of ‘affordances’ and ‘constraints’, in which media is recognised as a set of tools that allow us to engage with each other in different ways than we might previously. As Jones and Hafner point out:

“Strictly speaking, the process of mediation and the tension between what tools allow us to do and what we do with them is fundamentally the same whether you are using pencil and paper or a word processing programme. What is different… are the kinds of affordances and constraints digital tools offer and the opportunities they make available for creative action. In many ways, digital media are breaking down boundaries that have traditionally defined our literacy practices” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 13).

Which itself is an echo of what McLuhan argues when he says:

“Western man acquired from the technology of literacy the power to act without reacting… We acquire the art of carrying out the most dangerous social operations with complete detachment. But our detachment was a posture of non-involvement. In the electric age, when our central nervous system is technologically extended to involve us in the whole of mankind and to incorporate the whole of mankind in us, we necessarily participate, in depth, in the consequences of our every action. It is no longer possible to adopt the aloof and dissociated role of the literate Westerner” (Marshal McLuhan, 1964, p. 4)

This then brings up the challenge of how we can attune our skills and our capabilities to deal with these new media practices and technologies, and what types of ‘literacies’ we might need to thrive in this world? As Jones and Hafner assert:

“The crux of the concept of mediation is that we cannot interact with the world without doing it through some kind of medium, and the media that we use play an important role in determining how we perceive the world and the actions we can take. And so part of mediation has to do with how we are to some degree ‘controlled’ by the tools that are available to us to take action” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 99).

This is a world in which traditional barriers are being broken down and new practices are being explored and introduced that enable us to think about our identities in different ways and to reconsider the communities that we are part of in different ways. Over the coming weeks, in both the lectures and in the workshop sessions we are going to work through these ideas. There is plenty to be thinking about, experimenting with and working to make sense of. As Jones and Hafner point out:

“There are at least four ways that media can exert control over us. The first is through what we have been calling affordances and constraints. Different tools make some actions more possible and other actions less possible… The second way media exert control over us is through social conventions that grow up around their use. The away particular tools get used is not just a matter of what we can do with them, but also of the ways people have used them in the past… The third way media exert control over us is through who has access to the. The distribution of tools, both technological and symbolic is always unequal… Finally, media exert control over us through how easy or difficult they are for us to use. All tools require that people learn how to use them” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, pp. 99-101).


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