Rob Watson

Nov 222014
Diabetes & Obesity Epedemic

It’s a story that is common to many of us. Modern life is rubbish, and no more so than our diets and the way our diets leave many of us feeling. I used to be something of a stress-head. Not so long ago I was short-tempered, well overweight, always hungry, and pretty unapproachable. I used to find it almost impossible to get out of bed in the mornings. I was unable to get to sleep at night, and I was pretty much dependent on caffeine to get me through the day. And in those circumstances it was easy for me to loose control of my drinking. Being stressed and generally unable to cope wasn’t pleasant.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle Changes

I would get into arguments for little reason (for some reason especially on trains). I felt like a different person when it happened. It wasn’t really me, but this little monster that was normally hidden inside me and who occasionally reared his head. I found it hard to make good choices. My self-esteem was low, and I was hyper-sensitive to comment and criticism. I found it impossible to win-people over to my ideas, and I became reclusive and over-protective of my remaining identity. I also became reckless and impulsive, and didn’t think through the consequences of some of my actions, so the people around me suffered – even though I tried to protect them from my generally poor disposition by following the well worth path of hiding from it and not talking about it.

So how did I stop what I now look back on as a period of decline? Well it wasn’t easy, but with some good advice from a few people around me who I trust, and some poor advice from my GP which I chose to ignore, I decided to make some changes to my life and the patterns of my living. The first thing I did was stop drinking, and I removed myself from the situations where I felt most vulnerable to the excesses of my dependencies. Effectively I cut myself off from the life I had previously been living and went into a reflective and contemplative mode. I started to exercise on a regular basis again, and as I’d done many times in my life before, I started to follow a diet plan (Slimming World) and made some effort to control my food intake. Over six months I dropped from 92Kg to 82Kg and started exercising four or five times each week.

Cooking Low-Carb

Cooking Low-Carb

In the summer of 2014, though, I made a massive change which has had a much wider impact on my life. I cut sugar and carbs from my diet, almost completely. This was after reading both John Yudkin, who had warned about the dangers of excessive sugar intake in our diets in the 1950s, and Booth and Bilton, and their book Know What To Eat. So, no rice, no potatoes, no pasta, no biscuits, no bread, no crackers, basically no carbs or starchy stuff. I now cook with plenty of butter and fat, and my food tastes so much better for it. I use butter, lard and olive oil generously because it tastes so much more like real food. I use salt generously because I don’t eat any processed food – it’s very difficult to reach the levels of salt that we find in most processed food, so when you are adding salt to your own tastes from scratch in a dish it’s good to add plenty.

Here’s a list of things I’ve started to do or include in my daily and weekly routine:

  • I eat a lot of green veg, cabbage, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower – and use the leaves on the cauliflower.
  • I cook a lot of mushrooms, peppers, courgettes,
  • I don’t eat a lot of fruit except for berries, strawberries and avocado.
  • Breakfast is often an omelette with onion, celery and cheese.
  • I cook at lot of stews (after reading Michael Pollan).
  • I cook with the fat in a joint and avoid buying lean meat.
  • I use the fat for the base of a sauce or a broth.
  • I eat cheese on a regular basis, mainly harder cheeses, which I wrap in greaseproof pa-per and keep in a cupboard rather than putting it in the fridge.
  • I use cream to cook with and as the basis of a desert.
  • For a snack I eat almonds or brazil nuts.
  • I eat oily fish twice a week, something like mackerel, salmon or sprats.
  • Under no circumstances do I eat any low-fat food.
  • I stay away from food in packs and that has been produced in a factory as the result of any kind of processing.
  • I buy my food on Leicester Market.
  • I only buy what I can carry and what I need for the next few days.
  • I’ve started to cook once a week so I have meals ready for when I get home from work.
  • My treat is a bar of dark chocolate (85%).
  • Coffee is generally limited to once first thing.
  • I drink pots of tea – either Earl Grey or Green.
  • I have a drink of broth/stock first thing in the morning.
  • I take a prepared meal to work for my breakfast and lunch.
  • At no point do I skip meals or reduce the portion size.

So what have I noticed? Well I can taste my food again that’s for sure. When I first cooked onions in butter after not doing so for years, it was a revelation. The succulence and the aroma of the fried onion erupted into something that was physically emotional. The supposed low-fat oils I’d been using over the years did nothing but burn the onions and leave them with an artificial taste. As a result my appetite is back under control. I no longer snack between meals, except for a handful of nuts. I used to feel hungry before a meal and then about an hour after a meal. There’s nothing worse than going back to the cupboard foraging for more food. Now I feel full after a meal and don’t think about food again for hours. I try to eat no later than 7pm and go through to breakfast, when I eat after exercising in the morning.

I now have more energy to get out and about and I have energy to exercise regularly. My clothes are fitting better, my waist has lost a couple of inches and keeps getting smaller. I’ve even bought a tighter belt. As a result I spend a lot less on food because I seldom visit a supermarket, so I’m avoiding impulse buys. But the biggest difference I’ve noticed is when I’m working. My concentration has improved vastly. I used to struggle to focus for twenty minutes at a time. Now I can focus for four or five hours of detailed work and writing. I can complete lengthy tasks again without having to pace around, buy sweets and snacks or disturb other people.

I feel comfortable in my own skin again, and I’m relaxing with friends once more. I find it easier to socialise, though I still try to avoid the places that I associate with the bad-old days. I seldom go to pubs anymore, or walk down the centre isles of supermarkets where all the rubbish sits. I still drink, but only occasionally and not when I’m alone. Only with friends on a special occasion. I don’t know if it is true, but people are starting to say I’m getting a set of hips again, and that my face is becoming better defined. I am definitely more interested in clothes and my appearance, and dare I say that my libido is pretty healthy as well.

Things I couldn’t control in the past, on my old standard, processed and carb-ridden diet, I now have no problem with. I seldom go back for seconds. I seldom want more later food. I don’t panic or fret if I miss a meal. I don’t miss drinking, and perhaps above all, I can taste my food again.

So what are the lessons I’ve learnt? The reason we eat, as Gary Taubs points out, is because we are getting fat, we don’t get fat because we eat. Exercise, in and of itself will not make you slim. Nor will starving yourself make you happy – or slim. At the heart of this process, of getting rid of carbs from my diet, is the recognition that controlling my insulin levels, and therefore my blood-sugar levels, is the key. This means rejecting the idea that calories are all the same. They are not. I can eat as much fat and protein as I want, but I won’t put on weight. If I eat carbs then my weight piles on. So, I am intolerant to carbohydrates, and the way I’ve dealt with this is not to restrict my diet but to correct it.

The UK is massively carb-loaded. It’s almost impossible to eat away from home without being overloaded with cheap, processed carbs and sugars. Access to traditional cooking, that is unprocessed and pre-prepared meals, is becoming harder and harder to maintain. Big Food is exploiting us and making it hard for us to keep trim because they are saying that we need sugar and carbs. This is a big fat lie. And a lie in the same way that the food triangle that has been provided by health experts is a lie. The fitness industry tells the big fat lie that exercise will make you slim, and the media scream at us that will-power is all you need to get trim. Big fat lies all of them. Will power won’t make you thin, exercise won’t make you thin, starving yourself won’t make you thin. Changing the environment we are in is the answer, and steering clear of insulin busting foods is the key.

Nov 212014

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?

Nov 182014

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.

Nov 022014

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…).

Nov 022014

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.

Oct 292014

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.

Oct 262014

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.
Oct 262014

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.

Oct 192014

Last week we introduced the idea of mediation and the function of media as a symbolic process of meaningful interactions. We used processed food as an analogy. This week I wanted to extend the idea of media as a technology so that we can build-up a picture of, as Jones and Hafner consider, how technologies have the capacity to change what we can do; what we can communicate; how we can relate to other people; what we can think, and perhaps even who we can be. I’ve thrown in some music videos that I like as a way of demonstrating how media and media technology change over time and reveal in the ‘rear-view-mirror’ the concerns we’ve had as different times in the past.

According to Jones and Hafner, a medium is “a material or abstract artefact used to communicate between things or people” (p.196). Mediation therefore is “the process of communicating between one thing or person and another using media” (p.196). And as such a “medium is something that stands in between two things or people and facilitates interaction between them…all interaction – and indeed all human action – is in some way mediated” (p.2)

The derivation of the term can tell us something about the way that we think of the concept of mediations. In Latin the word mediare means to ‘to go between’, and medium is a substance of phenomenon that provides those things that are in the ‘middle’. In tis sense we can also think of mediation as an intervention, something that comes between us as agents and the world, providing us with the [reality – (symbol) – viewer ] distinction.

Jones and Hafner explain how all social actions are mediated through cultural tools, and that some of those tools are technological (e.g. computers, telephones, wristwatches) and some are psychological (e.g. languages, counting systems). What is important to think about in relation to these tools, is that they all have applied affordances and constraints (i.e. they make some things easier and other things more difficult). This will be a theme that will run across the module, to think about the way that different forms of media give us the affordance to do things, while simultaneously constraining some of the things that we have so far been able to do.

So, we can summarise our starting points thus: mediation is a social process that is enabled through symbolic tools; mediation is the process through which we make sense of the world and each other; mediation is something that stands in between us and the world; media affords us the capability to engage and understand the world.

When we look at the mediation tools and techniques that we are using, and particularly when we look at the way that social media functions, we probably want to note the high degree of creativity that is inherent in their operations and the meanings that we get from them. This is because the way that tools make some things easier and other things more difficult influences what we can do, but does not determine what we can do.

We use tools in creative ways to adapt them to new situations or new goals, and sometimes, these tools can be used together so that it is easier to do something that each individual tool constrains. For example, in the 1980s music television gave rise to the pop video. We saw the techniques and style of television and film making come together to form a new art form based around the pop song. These videos established a tradition of creativity and self-awareness about the communication process, and have retained their characteristic inventiveness ever since.

According to Thomas De Zengotita “mediation means dealing with reality through something else…mediation refers to arts and artefacts that represent, that communicate – but also, and especially, to their effects on the way we experience the world, and ourselves in it” (De Zengotita, 2005, p.8). Nick Lacey adds that “technology is the medium through which a text is communicated and it clearly mediates between sender and receiver…[Therefore] cameras mediate reality by re-presenting it. How this is done, however, is determined by conventions which are obviously created by people” (Lacey, 1998, p.221).

We live, it can be argued, in a world where so much of everyday life is mediated. In which the ‘circulation of meaning’ (Silverstone, 1999, p.13) can be understood as a process of participation in the production and consumption of media. This process involves the constant transformation and circulation of meanings on the basis that we are all mediators acting in this process, crossing the thresholds of representing the world and our experiences of it. As Andrew Tolson suggests, the “way media structure our experience” (Tolson, 1996, ix): gives rise to a sense of media saturation and interpenetration into our everyday lives which means that the mediated world is our world.

If we are thinking about the process of mediation, then, we also have to consider that we do not just use the mediation tools functionally, but we are creative in the outlook and approaches we employ media for. This involves taking artefacts and objects and re-making them, and using technical devices to enhance and amplify our ability to communicate and mediate. We therefore circulate meanings in and through our daily routines and practices, and as such our understanding of the world and of each other is structure by experience of media and through our symbolic interactions.

So, if we keep in mind that “new media are constructed on the foundations of the old.” And that they “do not emerge fully fledged or perfectly formed” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 20). We can seek out the was that, as Bolter and Grusin suggest mediation (remediation) works in “both directions” as “users of older media such as film and television can seek to appropriate and refashion digital graphics, just as digital graphics artists refashion film and television” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 48). According to Bolter & Grusin, “it would seem, then, that all mediation is remeditation. We are not claiming this as an a priori truth, but rather arguing that at this extended historical moment, all current media function as remediators and that remediation offers us a means of interpreting the work of earlier media as well. Our culture conceives of each medium or constellation of media as it responds to, redeploys, competes with, and reforms other media” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 55).

In this sense, and according to Roger Silverstone, “mediation in this sense is less determined, more open, more singular, more shared, more vulnerable, perhaps to abuse” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 15). For some the process of mediation is a way of corrupting the intentions of the author, whereas for others, the meanings that are circulated and recirculated by the audiences of a text or a media product are to be celebrated. We might ask: is remediation an act of abuse or a creative appropriation?

As Jones and Hafner point out the “process of mediation, then, is not just a matter of media controlling people or people controlling media. It is a matter of the tension between what technology wants us to do and what we want to do with it, between the limitations it imposes on us and our ability to get around these limitations by ‘hacking’ it” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 101). This is hacking in it’s positive sense. In the sense that we can take media artefacts and we can repurpose them and use them in different contexts and make new meanings with them.

In the 1970s and 1980s an aesthetic and literary movement was popular in social theory, postmodernism. One of the most widely used concepts was that of Hyperreality, which can be thought of the process or the state of meaning which is caught in a feedback-loop on itself. Umberto Eco’s famous ‘Faith in Fakes’ or ‘Travels in Hyperreality. There is a story which has been used many times to open up these ideas, and is related again by Bolter & Grusin.

“Walt Disney once gave Billy Graham a tour of his park.  When Graham observed that Disneyland was a mere fantasy, Disney is supposed to have replied: ‘You know the fantasy isn’t here/ This is very real… The park is reality. The people are natural here; they’re having a good time; they’re communicating. This is what people really are. The fantasy is – out there, outside the gates of Disneyland, where people have hatreds and people have prejudices. It’s not really real’ (cited by Bryman 1995, 169-170)” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 171).

Postmodernists spent a lot of time discussing and thinking about the process of mediation, and how there is a function of media that is circular, in the sense that media does not relate to the real world, but instead related and remediates ideas about media itself. So, ‘in the early 1970s Jean Baudrillard [a famous postmodern thinker] defined mass media as ‘speech without response’.”  These days, according to Lovnick, “messages only exist if they are indexed by search engines, retweeted with shortened URLs, forwarded through emails and RSS feeds, liked at Facebook, recommended through Digg or, we must not forget, commented on the page itself. Media without response seem to be unthinkable’ (Lovink, 2011).

As Bolter and Grusin explain “Baudrillard (1983) has contended that (American) television is preoccupied with itself as a medium and only pretends to be offering events as they happen: that television is a cultural device for covering up the absence of the real. The shock value of Baudrillard’s claim rests on an old-fashioned premise that there should be a strict separation between the medium and the reality and that therefore media should be transparent to reality. Baudrillard expects us still to believe that the Renaissance logic of transparency is the norm from which our culture has diverged” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 194).

The process of mediation and remediation poses some interesting problems for us then. In what way do we face the future? Are we looking at the rear view mirror as Marshall McLuhan suggests? In which case repurposing media and meanings is essential to moving on? If remediation works both ways, and we refashion the media in response to the media, then this becomes an open and contested process with no fixed points of reference. So, while the technology imposes limits, it is entirely possible with the right know-how for us to break or ‘hack’ those boundaries. Hyperreality, therefore, is the sense that the ‘real’ has stopped making sense, and only images make sense. Welcome to the Desert of the Real.

So what does this mean when it has become common for people to engage in this transformative process of remediation as part of our every-day practices and lived experiences? What happens when this process of transformation becomes the reason that media is produced and circulated? As Daniel Chandler suggests: ‘in using any medium, to some extent we serve its ‘purposes’ as well as it serving ours. When we engage with media we both act and are acted upon, use and are used’ (Chandler, 1995). People, therefore, can have very different responses to media transformation

In which they are left feeling either in or out of control.

If there is any newness associated with the development of digital media then can be found in this extension of the ability to experience new forms of remediation, particularly those associated with social networking and our ability to remediate our own lives on a greater scale than ever before.

  • Creativity – a ‘surprise first wedding dance’ becomes an elaborate ‘surprise wedding entrance dance’ as a live event and recorded ‘music video’.
  • Mediation.
  • The video was uploaded to YouTube a month after the wedding to share with relatives who couldn’t be there.
  • Within a week, the video had been viewed 10m times.
  • The copyrighted track used in the video is ‘Forever’ by Chris Brown.
  • The track began as a jingle for Doublemint chewing gum and then a product placement music video
  • Prior to the Heinz’s wedding, Brown had been charged with assault of his then girlfriend, Rihanna
  • Two days after the wedding, Brown pleaded guilty to the charge
  • Sony monetized the  video with ads and links to buy the track which re-entered the charts

“Once uploaded to YouTube, however, the Heinz’s video became an object that could be commercially exploited by the‐rights holder, while denying the couple any right to direct commercial benefit from their own creativity. A piece of music that began as a musical ‘hook’ for a chewing gum commercial became the soundtrack to a mediated DIY musical wedding ceremony, which itself became a ‘music video’ working for the profit of a media corporation. Around the grey, largely untested legal area of fair use, practice is actually unfair and iniquitous in terms of the power relationship it institutes, whereby commercial culture exploits sharing culture using prohibitive copyright law – a practice that YouTube supports and implements with enthusiasm” (Clay, 2011, pp.223-224).

“Mediation is so pervasive that mediated reality is our reality and we are ‘mediated selves’ who are being encouraged to learn how to use new media and experience the participation culture of electronically-mediated communication (De Zengotita, 2005).

There is simply more and more media vying for your attention. “Ask yourself,” suggests De Zengotita, “is there anything you do that remains essentially unmediated, anything you don’t experience reflexively through some commodified representation of it? Birth? Marriage? Death?”(De Zengotita, 2005, p.9). With the tools and services of network media you can now mediate your life’s performance and share it with others

Essential questions to consider are:

  • How much control do we have over the process of remediation?
  • Digital media affords us the ability to re-echo and remediate like never before.
  • We make sense of who we are through a process of ongoing mediation.
  • Is anything not mediated these days?
  • How do we use the tools of mediation in our daily lives?

To sum up, we live complexly with traditional and digital media operating continuously in a mediated world where there are some significant shifts towards self-mediation as part of the effects of networks for social media. So much of our lives are experienced second-hand through media, and now increasingly as a form of production as well as traditional consumption. Therefore, it should be possible to think about and analyse our everyday lives as products of a process of mediation, thereby recognising the affordances and constraints of your cultural tools make possible or deny, and how we use them to extend ourselves, and facilitate social interaction?


Chandler, D. (1995) Processes of Mediation [WWW] Available from: [Accessed 06/10/06].

Clay A. (2011) ‘Blocking, Tracking, and Monetizing: YouTube Copyright Control and the ‘Downfall Parody’,  in Lovink, G. and Somers Miles, R. (eds.) Video Vortex Reader II. Institute of Network Cultures: Amsterdam.

De Zengotita, T. (2005) Mediated: How the Media Shape Your World. London: Bloomsbury.

Jones, R. and Hafner, C. (2012) Understanding Digital Literacies: A Practical Introduction. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Lacey, N. (1998) Image and Representation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rheingold, H. (2012) Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Cambridge Mass. and London: MIT Press.

Silverstone, R. (1999) Why Study the Media?. London: Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, Sage.

Tolson, A. (1996) Mediations. London: Arnold.





Oct 182014

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).


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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.