TECH1002 Lecture Eleven Summary

This is an overview of the topics that will be covered in the eleventh lecture for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology.

TECH1002 Lecture Ten Summary

This is a short overview of the main topics that will be covered in the tenth lecture for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology.

TECH1002 Lecture Nine Summary

This is a short video summary of the ninth lecture for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology.

TECH1002 Lecture Eight Summary

This is a short introduction of the main topics covered in the eighth lecture for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology.

TECH1002 Lecture Seven Summary

This is a short video summary of the seventh lecture for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology.

TECH2503 Lecture Five Summary

This is a short video that outlines the main topics that will be covered in the fifth lecture for TECH2503 Community Media Production.

TECH1502 Lecture Five Summary

This is a short summary of the topics that will be covered in the fifth TECH1502 Lecture about Community Media and examples of forms of community media.

TECH2503 Lecture Four Summary

This is a short summary of the main issues that will be covered in the fourth lecture for TECH2503 Community Media Production.

Round the Counter Podcast Number Eight

Here’s the latest edition of the Round the Counter Podcast. Lots of aimless chat with myself, Dave Weight and Ben Archer. Just chatting about stuff that we can’t be bothered to look in to in more detail?

TECH1502 Lecture Four Summary

This is a short presentation summarising the main topics that will be covered in the fourth lecture for TECH1502 Introduction to Community Media.

Dislocation and the Aftermath

The Art Exchange in Nottingham are showing two excellent exhibitions this weekend. The first is Fighting Walls – Street Art in Egypt and Iran, which explores how urban art is used to challenge the perceptions of the people of these authoritarian cities. “Tehran and Cairo are largely dominated by state ideological narratives,” though in recent years “a new generation of politically engaged graffiti artists have started a relentless battle for reclaiming ownership of the street.”

The images are striking and provoking, both in the context of the streets that they have been painted, but also in the context of the gallery space, where they are shown simply as photographic prints that are pasted to the concrete walls of the exhibition room, taking away that feeling of separation that normally accompanies art-works on a gallery wall.

[See image gallery at]

The second exhibition is the work of Jimmy Cauty, and consists of a full-size storage container that is fitted with peep-holes, enabling the visitor to find out what is inside. The Aftermath Dislocation Principle consists of a post-riot scene in which police officers in fluorescent jackets are the only remaining people. The views that the peep-holes give us are selective views of a model that represents an urban British cityscape in the midst of civil unrest and a violent meltdown.

The views that the peep-holes give us are selective views of a model that represents an urban British cityscape in the midst of civil unrest and a violent meltdown. The riot has moved on, and its effects are felt and recorded in the miniature scenes being played out.

It’s an interesting dynamic between the two sets of work. On the one hand, the street art depicts a series of  provocative interventions into a reality that  is defined in stone and concrete walls, while on the other hand, The Aftermath depicts only the traces of the riot and its signs, showing only the traces of the act and not the act itself.

Both works are literally fascinating as they test the viewer to accommodate the shifts and changes in perception that they represent. Jimmy Cauty gave a talk about the origins of the piece and how the process of collaboration has been incorporated into its production.

Both are invigorating, catch them when you can.

TECH2503 Lecture Summary Two

This is a short video summary of the main issues that will be covered in the lecture for TECH2503 Community Media Production.

TECH1502 Lecture Two Video Summary

This is a short video summary of the issues that will be covered in the second lecture for TECH1502 Introduction to Community Media.

TECH1002 Workshop 002 Video Summary

This is a short overview of the activities that we will be covering in the second workshop for TECH1002.

TECH1002 Lecture Five Video Summary

This is a short overview of the topics that will be covered in the fifth lecture for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology.

TECH1002 Lecture Four Video Summary

This is a short video summary of the topics that will be covered in the fourth lecture for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology.

TECH1002 Lecture Three Video Summary

This is a short video summary of the topics that will be covered in the third lecture for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology.

TECH1002 Lecture Two Video Summary

This video gives a brief overview of the issues that will be covered in the second lecture for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology.

TECH3022 Lecture 004 Video Summary

This video gives a short overview of the topics discussed in the fourth lecture for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production.

TECH3022 Lecture 003 Video Summary

This is a short video introduction to the issues that we will be covering in the third lecture for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production.

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.

TECH1502 Workshop Week One Video Introduction

This is a short video that outlines what we’ll be doing in the first workshop for TECH1502 Introduction to Community Media.

TECH1002 Workshop Introduction Number One

Here’s a short video I’ve posted about the first workshop sessions for TECH1002.

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.

TECH2503 Community Media Production Intro Number One

This video gives an introduction to the first lecture session for TECH2503 Community Media Production

TECH1002-17 Lecture Overview Number One

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

Planning Community Media Modules Over Coffee

I met with John Coster yesterday to discuss how we will be running the Community Media modules that are art of the BA Communication Arts course in Leicester Media School. It’s great to have John on board helping with the module as he brings years of experience running community media projects and working with community media groups in Leicester.

The learners are going to benefit from someone who has direct, first-hand experience of what it’s like to challenge mainstream media, and who has imagined an alternative way of producing media that is better suited to the lives of people who form vastly different communities in Leicester.

One of the changes I’m making to the running of the first year community media module this year, is to split the workshops back to a more traditional format. Last year I incorporated the lecture and the workshop in one session, but I felt that we never really covered enough background and contextual information in the process.

So John will be running the workshops and I will be developing the lectures. We want the workshops to feel very informal and relaxed, much like a community media café session is run. It’s surprising how much work you can get done, and how many questions get asked when there isn’t a strong agenda for the session.

Yeas, we’ve identified several things that we want to happen in each of the sessions, but if there’s something else more pressing that the learners want to explore, then we’ll cover that instead.

The themes of the lectures are going to identify the basics of community media, in terms of both thinking about why community media is different to mainstream media, but also how our sense of community has also changed as society has changed. Here I’m thinking of Robert Putnam and his analysis in Bowling Alone.

The aim of an introduction to community media is therefore twofold. One the one hand it is to help people to feel comfortable with the idea of self-produced media – what gets called citizen’s journalism or user generated content by media industry insiders. While on the other hand, it’s about developing an appreciation of why community media is different.

The simple premise of community media is expressed in the idea that it is people speaking for themselves, in ways that they and the other people in their community find meaningful. This might not be very business-like, professional or cutting edge, but it’s forms of media that emerge from the grassroots, and which have a strong focus on DIY.

So we’ll be encouraging learners to have a go at making basic media content, with no fancy production values, no sophisticated equipment, and no wider sense that we expect it to please anyone other than ourselves.

This way we can be free of the weight of expectation that media has to be planned for an audience, or that it has to serve a function. If we like it, and the students and volunteers like it, and make sense of it, then that’s all for the best.

I’m going to try and post a blog as often as I can that shows how we are getting on with these ideas. We’ll make a couple of podcasts and a few YouTube videos as well. After having fun with the media that we create is what this will be about.

Post-Brexit – The Generation That Bottled It

The Brexit crisis has turned out to be a rather impressive psychodrama. A drama that has polarised opinion on each side of the debate. Unpicking the consequences of the Brexit decision is going to take some time, and it won’t be easy to make sense of things for a while.

What was once up is now down, what was once certain is now unknown, and what was once predictable has become chaotic. The political polarities have shifted for sure. Finding out what this means in practice is going to take some time and some creative thinking.

Understanding what the emerging principles of this shift in our assumed reality is going to be much more difficult than the first batch of comment and analysis in the newspapers suggests. But understanding this shift will be key to successful political representation and debate in the United Kingdom for years to come.

Which side are you on, the fifty-two or the forty-eight? This is going to be the defining polarity in British politics and economics for some time to come.

If we are pragmatic in our approach to understanding what has gone on, we might find it useful to think of the debate as a set of interlocking translation issues. Two groups of people had assumed that they had been talking the same language and describing the same things.

It turns out that they had different things in mind, and had been using different frameworks of meaning that couldn’t be comprehended by the other side.

On the one hand there is a tendency for the Brexit result to be boiled down to an easy and straight forward sense of either spite or optimism. Or that the decision can be played out as a battle of inter-generational conflict, in which one generation pulls-up the ladder on a following generation.

There is a lot of evidence to support the view of the selfish generation making it harder for the next generation in practice, just look at the levels of inequality in the United Kingdom, but this is more of a consequence than a direct intent on the part of the Brexit supporters.

Likewise, the result can be broken down into a tension between the nostalgic or the optimistic. Those people who have no memory of the past afflictions of de-industrialisation, or the class war wrought by successive governments, or the shift and change in technology and the global economy, have been shunted sideways by a generation that can only think about how badly they have been treated.

Is this a forty year grudge.

There was a telling interview on BBC Radio Four’s Today Program earlier this week. Two women were interviewed, one who regretted her decision, and one who was confirmed in her decision. The woman who regretted voting leave said that she realised she had been holding a grudge for forty years, but that it was now too late to change her mind as her vote had been cast.

The other woman was clear, she had researched and read about the issue of the European Union and felt confident about her decision. She told the interviewer that she was against globalisation, but that the decision to support Brexit would make it easier for the United Kingdom to trade internationally.

This made me choke. The kind of choke and splutter that good radio can achieve on occasions. Quite what does she thinks globalisation is? Has she not understood that trading internationally is globalisation? How can she keep these two contradictory positions in her mind and resolve them?

How does she cope with the cognitive dissonance that she is grappling with?

This faulty logic is where we will find the answer to these issues. This will take some perceptive listening, some creative thinking, and some alternative methods of analysis to come up with a working solution that helps people to make sense of their predicament.

The on-going question, indeed the only question that will dominate British politics is concerned with how we go about building strong local identities, how we empower people locally, while accommodating international trade and global identity?

Where I think a useful place to look for an answer is somewhat counter-intuitive. Is the Brexit decision better thought of as a failure of nerve and resolve, rather than an embrace of the future and confidence in collective international action?

Clearly the Brexit result is a symptom and not the cause of a bigger problem. Is Brexit the result of one generation getting spooked because life felt like it was moving forward and getting too easy, when they felt that it should be hard?

People have said this is like a divorce, but actually the divorce happened a long time ago. This is one partner realising that their former partner has no need for them, so they are perplexed because their former lover seem to be getting on with their lives, meeting new people and generally having a nice time.

The disdainful ex-partner finds this difficult to deal with, and therefore wants to spite their former partner so that they feel as bad as they do about life. Why should they be out and about meeting people when we are sat at home staring out of the window?

There is a strong underlying current in British life that can’t believe that things can ever be so good. Because life should never be good, according to the puritan mind-set of struggle and toil. You have to work hard to get what you want. You have to be prudent and cut your cloth. Life shouldn’t feel this easy?

The ethic of the British mind-set is very often driven by a puritan impulse that seeks suffering and graft as virtues in themselves, regardless of how useful they turn out to be in practice, or the alternative, smarter ways of doing things that exist.

This mind-set is based on the misconception that the pleasures that life brings should be denied, for a greater virtue is awaited elsewhere, and is a reward for deferred gratification and ease now. John Maynard Keynes called this the Electromagnetic Problem – forcing your family to walk everywhere because the battery in the car is faulty, and so you scrap the whole car rather than just replacing the battery.

Puritans will tell you that learning, knowledge, information, association and participation shouldn’t feel easy. Surely they are difficult and challenging. Surely they are things that we have to work hard for. Surely those people who have the rewards in life got them because they earned them, and not because they where in the right place at the right time, just being lucky?

Our politicians and the news media have promoted the view that life is about tough decisions and that if dealing with things is easy then it is wrong. This is because the best way to keep what you have is to normalise the luck that brought it about and promote the myth that you got it through hard work and industry, when it was the result of the lottery of life.

Keep in mind that the lottery of life in the United Kingdom as been eschewed and knocked out of kilter for generations now. There is less opportunity for social mobility than ever before, and wealth never seems to trickle down the ladder as it was promised.

The Brexit vote, then, is a turning point in people’s sense of imaginative possibility – between the seemingly difficult and the seemingly easy. This is a turning point in which the older generation, by-and-large, bottled it.

They bottled it because they haven’t been able to adapt to the mind-set that internationalism and globalisation brings. What, we need to put a framework in place for cooperation and collaboration? What, we have to engage in international politics and win people over to our ideas? Sorry, our splendid isolation seems enough, why worry about the rest of the world when we can just look after ourselves?

They bottled it because they don’t understand how communication technology is stripping away national barriers, and allowing people to associate more freely.

Google Translate

Google Translate

Look at Google Translate and think about the power of technology to change our worldview. The Google Translate app on the iPhone has a live camera function, allowing the user to read the text in a sign as the words are translated in-situ.

They bottled it because they can’t understand that they had to turn-up and play a role in creating their own destinies, building their own communities, and enhancing their own sense of civic participation through which they could gain a sense of self-actualised identity.

There is an assumption that we need strong leadership in the United Kingdom to get things done. But this is simply people passing-off responsibility for their actions onto someone else. It’s not my problem guv!

If you want to live in a world in which learning feels hard and a chore, then you might want to invest in barriers, tariffs and vaults to protect your investments. If you think that learning is fun, creative and social, then you will want to break those barriers down.

The greatest question of our lifetimes shows that one generation has bottled-it in the face of these changes.

What is essential, though, is that TINA (There is no alternative) is now dead as a political maxim.

There is an alternative and people can choose it now if they want.

So be careful what you wish for if you thought that by voting for Brexit  you would be getting something back that you had been familiar with but estranged from.

The 48%

The 48%

Brexit empowers both ways, and your former partner is now well aware that all bets are off, and that alternatives are now open for discussion.

We in the forty-eight percent are free to choose what we want, without any feelings of responsibility for the people they are leaving behind. Bonne Voyage!




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.


Media Engagement – Looking at What People Do with Media

These are my notes for a presentation I’m giving at the University of Westminster, Media Engagement symposium.

The Problem with Media Studies

David Gauntlett & William Merrin – Media Studies 2.0. Focus on Media Production activity and DIY Media:

“The discipline… faces a choice. It has the potential to be one of the most important subject areas going into the 21st century, at the forefront of debates around digital technologies and their remaking of the world. But equally it has the possibility of being left behind, its focus on reception and content and broadcast forms and concepts condemning it to an increasing irrelevance for everyone but itself” (Merrin, 2014, p. 188).

“So media studies now is not so much about media content and is more about platforms – media as things you can do something with, and the platforms and supports that can be arranged to stimulate that. It’s about building creativity in society – and the thiungs that can get in the way of that. This means we are still engaged with institutions and organisations, and more generally with issues of social change and culture, learning, and power in society – but in a different way, with a more active role for creative individuals to make a difference” (Gauntlett, 2015, p. 188).

Henry Jenkins focuses on Participatory Culture, arguing that changes in expectations about participation in networks of media engagement require a rethinking of the concepts of consumption and assimilation that presently dominate the study of media (Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013).

This paper argues that the study of participation-based media must prioritise the pragmatic concept of community-through-conversation, thereby rejecting critical stances and models of media determination (Oakeshott, 1975; Rorty, 1982, 1989).

Pragmatic Approach
This pragmatic approach suggests that people who are active media participants and activists are faced with a series of translation issues that occur when agents are operating from different frames of symbolic reference. Of practical importance is the idea that it is difficult to achieve operational sustainability if these translation differences are ongoing.

“The notion of culture as a conversation rather than as a structure erected upon foundations fits well with the hermeneutical notion of knowledge, since getting into a conversation with strangers is like acquiring a new virtue or skill by imitating models” (Rorty, 2009, p. 319).

The point of the study of media, therefore, is to seek ways to resolve the incongruities faced by participants and agents in the different symbolic reference frameworks, as they are articulated and negotiated in practice by the different communities, organisations and agents.

According to Rorty by mapping out the commensurable and the incommensurable terms within our languages and social routines, we should be able to identify and distinguish what is new from what is old, what has changed from what remains the same, and what is useful from what is unnecessary.

This is a pragmatic approach in which the adage, that we can strip away anything that doesn’t make a difference applies at all times.

And while this might not seem to be particularly ‘deep’ or ‘critical’ set of aims or conclusions, when compared with other, more classically or critically oriented forms of social analysis, the degree to which this analysis provides insight as part of a wider discussion of emerging cultures of community and collaborative media, is significant.

The aim of pragmatic social thinking, according to Rorty, is to provide a space through which “commonsensical practical imperatives” can be validated against “the standard current theory about subjects” (Rorty, 2009 p.385).

As McCarthy and Wright affirm, “pragmatists theorising is a practical, consequential activity geared toward change, not representation” (McCarthy & Wright, 2004 p.20).

Hence, the task at hand is to link and validate the commonsensical practical imperatives of people who are working in communities and networks, with the standard ideas and concepts that are associated with the analysis of media, and then come up with some practical suggestions that might help in pursuing change on the ground – both in practice, and in the formulation of the prevailing ideas and concepts associated with the study of media (Forster, 2010).

As Etienne Wenger notes, the core of media practice is now based on the ideals of participation and direct experience, enabling those who take part, and who form their communities, to gain “radically new insights” as they “often arise at the boundaries between communities” (Etienne Wenger in Lesser, Fontaine, & Slusher, 2000, p. 12).

Leonidas Donskis suggests that by “radically changing everyone’s field of reference and system of concepts would make it easier to take away the dimensions of the past” (Donkis in Bauman & Donskis, 2013, p. 134).

Therefore, if we shift our perspective about media and consumer transactionalism, to that of community and collaborative media, based on a sense of participation and agency, then we might be able to open-up some opportunities for some innovative thinking about the future development of our social engagements.

Contingencies & Transience
Richard Rorty suggests that instead of looking for fixed and immovable accounts of social experience, we should instead be seeking out those things that are historically contingent, that can be described in their transience, and which can be theoretically revised.

With its heightened emphasis on collaboration and shared techniques of production, that are not expected of more conventional forms of media, participatory media, or forms of community and collaborative media, occupy a territory that is distinctive and challenging.

This distinction is characterised as a set of working and conceptual practices that are grounded in a real-world environment, in which individual and collaborative knowledge is blurred and indeterminate.

Our understanding of the importance of the every-day practices and experiences of the participants who volunteer in participatory media situations can therefore be usefully explained, on the one hand, as a form of social knowledge that is exchanged within a ‘societas,’ that is a group of people who share their corresponding life experiences together; or alternatively, as a set of social arrangements that takes the form of a ‘universitas’, in which there is a mutual self-interest between a group of people who want to achieve a particular goal or outcome (Oakeshott, 1975).

As Richard Rorty explains:

E”pistemology views the participants [of a community] as united in what Oakeshott calls an universitas – a group united by mutual interests in achieving a common end. Hermeneutics views them as united in what he calls a societas – persons whose path through life have fallen together, united by civility rather than by a common goal, much less by common ground” (Rorty, 2009 p.318).

Communities of Interest
It is possible to establish the basis on which participants in these communities of interest, identity and practice are able to understand their role, their identity and their accomplishments.

Furthermore, identifying the extent to which these communities of interest and correspondence are able to reflexively understand themselves in a way that can be described usefully as either a universitas or as a societas, or a blending of both.

The aim of our studies, therefore, should be to develop a pragmatic picture of the casual correspondence and contingent relationships that ‘fall together’ within fieldsites of community and collaborative media, with the assumption that this picture would open-up space for further discussion about the basis on which collaborative purpose is arrived at in accommodating communities.

In attempting to locate this presumed sense of common purpose, either as a society based on shared goals that are sometimes articulated in radical dreams of critical emancipation and utilitarian efficiency; or alternatively, as a society of correspondence, in which people just rub-along together. It is necessary to focus on the practical tasks that were useful as a wider example to people undertaking similar tasks or study.

These include: “predicting the behaviour of inhabitants” of the unfamiliar cultures of community media groups, learning to talk with different agents within overlapping community media groups,  despite the “incommensurability of [their] language” (Rorty, 2009 p.350); and the development of practical models that participants, students and supporters of community media can reflect on to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their ethical and practical operations.

As Rorty argues,

“The notion of culture as a conversation rather than as a structure erected upon foundations fits well with the hermeneutical notion of knowledge, since getting into a conversation with strangers is like acquiring a new virtue or skill by imitating models” (Rorty, 2009, p. 319).

According to Rorty, moreover, by mapping out the commensurable and the incommensurable terms within our languages and social routines, we should be able to identify and distinguish what is new from what is old, what has changed from what remains the same, and what is useful from what is unnecessary.

This is a pragmatic approach in which the adage, that we can strip away anything that doesn’t make a difference applies at all times. And while this might not seem to be particularly ‘deep’ or ‘critical’ set of aims or conclusions, when compared with other, more classically or critically oriented forms of social analysis, the degree to which this analysis provides insight as part of a wider discussion of emerging cultures of community and collaborative media, is significant.

The aim of pragmatic social thinking, according to Rorty, is to provide a space through which “commonsensical practical imperatives” can be validated against “the standard current theory about subjects” (Rorty, 2009 p.385).

By extension, therefore, if we shift our perspective about media and consumer transactionalism, to that of community and collaborative media, based on a sense of participation and agency, then we might be able to open-up some opportunities for some innovative thinking about the future development of our social engagements.

Put simply, it is not what academics and theorists say in their studies of media that matter, but what people living in different communities and lifeworlds achieve and accomplish with media that is important.

Symbolic Interaction
Therefore, it is in reintroducing Symbolic Interaction to the study of media that we will be able to make sense of how human beings act and achieve things on the basis of the meanings that they negotiate, and the potential lines of action that these meanings open up (Blumer, 1969; Prus, 1996).

Symbolic interaction proposes that the meanings that humans hold are themselves borne from social interaction, and that these interactions are modified and negotiated in an interpretative process as reflective agents interact with one another.

The social world is a world of social experiences that have been created in the process of interaction, and the meanings that individual agents hold are themselves shaped by their interactions and self-reflections.

“Any human event can be understood as the result of the people involved (keeping in mind that that might be a very large number) continually adjusting what they do in the light of what others do, so that each individual’s line of action ‘fits’ into what others do. That can only happen if human beings typically act in a non-automatic fashion, and instead construct a line of action by taking account of the meaning of what others do in response to their earlier actions. Human beings can only act in this way if they can incorporate the responses into their own act and thus anticipate what will probably happen, in the process creating a ‘self’ in the Meadian sense. (This emphasis on the way people construct the meaning of others’ acts is where the ‘symbolic’ in the ‘symbolic interaction’ comes from). If anyone can and does do that, complex joint action can occur” (Becker & McCall, 1990, p. 3).

This study has been able to demonstrate that the value of the ethnographic model lies in its ability to reflexively identify information from within complex, dynamic and transient social activities (Schensul, Schensul, & LeCompte, 1999).

While quantitative research methodologies are able to distinguish and characterise large-scale social issues, through a process of calculation and statistical analysis, what is not readily identified when using these techniques is the process by which social actors find meaning in their activities (Sim, 1999).

As a qualitative form of research, ethnography aims to narrate how social groups negotiate and allocate legitimacy for the meanings that they build-up in practical usage.

Moreover, ethnography is primarily concerned with the process of accumulated meaning as derived through social practice and experience. Ethnographic study puts a particular emphasis on how these meanings accord to contingent relationships, between different actors in temporary social groups, and how this changes and shifts as social norms change and shift.

This means that ethnographic study is able to ask questions about social relationships, such as how perceptions of on-going social and symbolic status are founded and regulated through, for example, power-related discourses of domination or subordination.

Or, what happens when new technologies are introduced to a social environment that changes the productive and cognitive capabilities of different participants of emergent communities?

In short, “ethnography tries to understand practices, relationships, and cultures from the inside” (McCarthy & Wright, 2004 p.34), with the provision that qualitative research, as Uwe Flick notes, does not seek to study “artificial situations in the laboratory, but the practices and interactions of everyday life” (Flick, 2009 p.15).

Symbolic Interactionism & Media Studies
Symbolic interaction, however, is not commonly taught as an orthodox research method in British media and cultural studies, although it is in many ways related and shares many common ideas and preconceptions.

The approach of media studies in the United Kingdom rests largely on political, industrial, economic, cultural, content, textual, discursive or archival analysis (Cobley, 1996; During, 1999; Hartley, 2011; Lievrouw & Livingstone, 2002; Livingstone, 2006; Long & Wall, 2009; Thornham, Bassett, & Marris, 2009). David Gauntlett suggests that “for a couple of decades, from the 1980s, media studies had settled into a reasonably stable cluster of subject areas, such as ‘institutions’, ‘production,’ ‘audiences’ and ‘texts’ (Gauntlett, 2015, p. 1).

Gauntlett argues, there are few opportunities to develop practice-based forms of media analysis grounded in the day-to-day experience of people, especially in the way that they use, create and experience media. Consequently, there is a clear lack of commitment to the training and schooling that is required when undertaking forms of investigation that can encompass the newer forms of participation and experimental media.

However, there is a useful affinity with the cultural studies tradition. Norman Denzin describes how Stuart Hall’s view of the cultural subject is “in part symbolic interactionist,” because people are defined as being able to work out the conditions in which they operate for themselves. According to Denzin, Hall explores how

“The meanings [a] subject brings to his or her situation are shaped by the larger ideological forces in the culture, for consciousness is ‘always infused with ideological elements, and any analysis of social frameworks of understanding must take account of the elements of ‘misrecognition’ which are involved’” (Hall quoted in Denzin, 1992, p. 118).

The pragmatist challenge to this notion of ideology as an extrinsic or determining force should be clear by now, but it is worth noting the significant differences that remain between the approach taken by Hall (hegemony) and that suggested by Rorty (interpretivism).

Communities of Practice
More recently, however, audience studies have gained currency in media studies approaches, combined with the expansion of the study of virtual communities and with the shift toward participative forms of ICT and social media.

Configurations of communities of practice and fan communities have shifted the focus of media studies away from the singularly textual approach, to the participative and experiential.

Therefore, is a contribution to the developing field of participative enactment that argues that it is not what academics and theorists say in their studies of media that matter, but what people living in different communities and lifeworlds achieve and accomplish with media that is important.

This places the use and development of symbolic interaction in a contested but central position. If symbolic interaction and participant observation are approaches that can be usefully applied to the study of people using media, then they need to be embedded in the mainstream media studies curricula. Symbolic interaction is a well-established methodology and field of study in its own right.

One that is time-honoured and proven to give meaningful insights into the operation of cultural and social activities.

Symbolic interaction, moreover, has the advantage that it recognises agency and diminishes ideology in its founding principles, and that these principles are expected to be enacted on the basis of pragmatic practicality. Norman Denzin summarises the predicament faced by the symbolic interactionist, however, when he explains that

“Of course, there are no real biographical subjects, independent of the stories told about them, and even these texts, in the telling, displace the teller. We can never get back to raw biographical experience. The closest we can ever get is when a subject, in an epiphanal moment, moves from one social world to another. In these instances the subject is between interpretative frameworks. When this happens, experience is described in words that are yet to be contaminated by the cultural understandings of a new group” (Denzin, 1992, p. 19).

The challenge then, is to define a set of tools and approach that can look at practices of media participation, engagement and the contingent, localised meanings that are articulated and accomplished within the lifeworlds and communities of people as they engage with media on a day-to-day basis.

Media & Ethnographic Study
At its most basic level, then, ethnography emerges from a series of anthropological and sociological investigative traditions, and can be thought of as a disciplined form of social enquiry that seeks-out accountable and practical approaches to the study of culture.

As Boellstorff et al suggest,

“Cultures, as shared systems of meaning and practice, 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)

It is therefore incumbent on ethnographic investigators to continue to “attempt to develop an understanding of how a culture works” (Bell, 2005, p. 17), and to describe and explain the many factors and historical movements that shape our cultural and social interactions. Put simply, “ethnography is a method for understanding culture” (Hine, 2005, p. 8).

An understanding that is founded in a shared affinity with the people being studied, and a sense of responsibility toward the use that those studies might be applied.

As Boellstorff et al specify, in ethnographic investigation

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).

If the mediatisation process has shifted to incorporate the practices and accomplishments of people, then the study of media must mark this with a shift to its focus of inquiry and exploration. This is about looking at what people ‘do’ with media all over again.

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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.

Community Radio Networking Day

On Saturday I attended the Community Radio Networking event organised by Christine Slomkowska and Patrick McCracken from 103 The Eye in Melton Mowbray. This was the second year that the event took place, and it gave community radio station organisers and supporters the chance to come together to discuss issues of common concern and celebrate the achievements of the different stations.

Bill Best from the Community Media Association gave an overview of the recent work of the CMA and how it is representing community media from the point of view of the associations members’ interests. I’m a member of the CMA council.

Tony Smith from Angel Radio gave a lively talk about radio aimed at older people, and how fundraising at the station is encouraged through programme sponsorship and fun activities such as ballroom dancing takeovers in their local Tesco supermarket.

Martyn Introduced Community Radio Awards

Martyn Introduced Community Radio Awards

Martin Parry talked about the Community Radio Awards that he’s inaugurating this year. He’s long argued that community radio needs to be celebrated in an accessible and open way, and so a grassroots award ceremony is something he is passionate about.

It was great to catch-up with Christine, she is always so passionate about the role that 103 The Eye plays in Rutland and Melton, and the way that it gives people a chance to participate in the station and its programmes, and the role it plays in the life of the local community.

It was also great to hear about the work of Siobhan Stevenson and Neil Hollins from Birmingham City University about their work in community media supporting Scratch Radio, and the impact that community media has for the life chances of different students from some challenging backgrounds.

I always feel relaxed at community media events, because so many people are happy to share their experiences about community media and the difference that it makes to the communities that they are part of. It’s less about marching along to a corporate purpose, and more about developing social spaces that people can share and engage with one another.

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.




TECH1502 Photowalk

For our workshop today we went on a photowalk around Leicester. We wanted to look at the city center as the shops are geared up for Christmas, and what the flip-side might be as we moved away from the main shopping streets. After walking around and taking some photos we headed to the LCB Depot, but there was a power cut that affected a large part of the city center, including Phoenix Arts. We then walked back to the DMU campus and called in to Leicester Cathedral. The overall opinion is that Leicester doesn’t feel very festive, but we enjoyed the chance to get out and about and to observe the range of people who live in the city.

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TECH1502 Podcast Planning

Last week on TECH1002 Introduction to Community Media we started to record and edit a short podcast feature. I took some photos as we worked and recorded some interviews.


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.