PODCAST: From access to data – Smartphones & digital access in Global South

The adoption of mobile phones in the global south has provided consumers with greater access to interpersonal communication. The shift from basic handsets to smartphones has corresponded with a move to data usage where smartphone users produce, consume and circulate content ranging from images and social media posts to music and videos. Drawing upon recent research in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, this talk examines the consequences of data usage and questions the extent to which smartphones and the demand for data may mitigate some of the meaningful digital, financial and social inclusion that emerged in the access era of mobile telecommunications.

Heather Horst is Professor in the Department of Media in Communications at the University of Sydney, Australia and an Adjunct Professor at the Digital Ethnography Research Centre at RMIT University, Australia. A sociocultural anthropologist by training, her research explores transformations in the telecommunications industry, emergent mobile media practices and the use of digital media for learning across the Pacific, Caribbean and Australia. Her recent publications examining these themes include Digital Anthropology (2012), Digital Ethnography: Principles and Practices (2016), Locating the Mobile (Forthcoming) and The Moral Economy of Mobile Phones in the Pacific (Forthcoming).

PODCAST: Moral decline of the British press

Centre for Media History’s 10th Anniversary Seminar
in association with Media@Sydney

The phone hacking scandal that engulfed the British press was the culmination of a moral decline that began in the 1980s. This was manifested in the rise of fake news, phony medical scare stories, migrant fables, and irresponsible reporting that wrecked the lives of innocent people. By 2015, trust in the press in Britain was lower than in any other European country.

This moral collapse had multiple causes: pressures exerted by new proprietors, the bullying of journalists to get results, an industrial culture of impunity, a weak countervailing professional identity, and increasing staff insecurity. Above all, it was a response to the press’s deepening economic crisis, caused by collapsing sales and haemorrhaging advertising.

James Curran is Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. His work focuses on media history and journalism studies. He is the author or editor of over 20 books including Power Without Responsibility (with Jean Seaton, 8th edition due March 2018), Media and Power, Media and Democracy, Culture Wars and Misunderstanding the Internet (with Natalie Fenton and Des Freedman, 2nd edition published 2016). His books have been translated into multiple languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish.

PODCAST: Online movements in Africa – Emerging trends & challenges in digital activism

Mobile communication is increasingly playing a leading role in the coordination and mobilization of social and political protests around the world. Smartphones are changing the way political protests and movements are organized as geographical boundaries continue to diminish as citizens and activists unite in adopting digital tools provided by social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to invigorate protest communication. In this regard, like everywhere else, social media is helping spread ideas and information exponentially from one user to another among Africans. Information that previously was inaccessible to citizens as a result historically of a tough media regime, is now readily available online. The availability of online movements provides a firsthand opportunity to critically examine current digital engagements among citizens and activists seeking political reform in several African countries. This paper is a case study analysis of the trends, opportunities and challenges facing the online activism movements in Africa, where in spite of widespread poverty, access to technology is growing fast.

Bruce Mutsvairo is an Associate Professor in Journalism at University of Technology Sydney. He previously taught journalism and media at Northumbria University Newcastle, Amsterdam University College and Leiden University, where he earned his PhD in 2013. His research explores the role of technology particularly social media in galvanising political and social changes across Africa. Bruce is a former correspondent for the Associated Press in Amsterdam.

PODCAST: The continuing fascination with Erving Goffman – Presentation and face in online interaction

Erving Goffman’s work has always been influential in media and communication and is experiencing something of a revival in studies of self-presentation and face in social media. Intriguingly, key concepts from Goffman’s analysis of social life as drama, ritual and game developed to understand social interactions often between strangers in the cities and suburbs of mid twentieth century US are providing rich resources for the analysis of contemporary digitally mediated social interaction. Face, impression management, front and backstage, communication frameworks, frames, footing and self-presentation appear as relevant as they ever were, providing a nuanced account of the forms, contexts, ethics and realized identities of social interaction.

The deployment of Goffman’s ideas goes beyond their undoubted value as sensitising concepts to reflect his broader theoretical interests and concerns, which are illustrated through two examples of the appropriation of Goffman’s work. The first examines the shift in the study of social media from the emphasis on control of self-presentation to the analysis of facework online. The second responds to Hogan’s critique of Goffman’s self-presentation in relation to Facebook, which is contrasted to the idea of the curation of the self. An alternative, based on Goffman’s Gender Advertisements distinguishes the genre conventions of portraiture and pictures and suggests an analysis of posts as depictions of mis-en-scene rather than portraits of self-presentation.

From these considerations, I suggest that the continuing relevance of Goffman’s work is not reducible to his having coined some evocative concepts but reflects the contemporary resonance of his (implicit) social theory. His roots in Simmel, pragmatic principles from James and Mead, a reading of Durkheim’s sociology of law that links ritual to human rights, his view of the social self and account of the rationalizing social tendencies of cultural forms make his work relevant to contemporary media life.

Peter Lunt is a professor of Media and Communication at the University of Leicester, UK. His research interests include audience research, media regulation, social theory and the media and consumption research. He has written a number of books including Talk on Television and Media Regulation (both with Sonia Livingstone) and is currently working on a book for Polity Press: Goffman and the Media.

PODCAST: Negotiating public value and commercial sustainability – Broadcasting and the arts

This presentation will examine the negotiation of public value and commercial sustainability by key decision-makers within UK broadcasting. It analyses the relationship between broadcasters and the arts, a genre that has been a feature of schedules since the earliest days of television, and is often associated with cultural democratization and the construction of taste and visual literacy.

Using interviews with senior executives at the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky Arts, this paper will consider how this constituency is responding strategically to multi-platform developments and how leveraging partnerships with certain cultural institutions is now a vital strategic manoeuver both for commercial and public service broadcasters. Findings suggest that changes in the provision of arts television in the UK highlight wider commercial, cultural, and technological forces that have impacted the sustainability of genres traditionally associated with public value, and that many are at risk of disappearing from our screens.

The presentation will conclude by reflecting on research fieldwork conducted in Australia over the preceding weeks in this area in order to develop a comparative framework of the systems in which arts content is commissioned, produced and transmitted.

Caitriona Noonan is a lecturer and researcher at the School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC), Cardiff University, UK. Her research interests are on television labour, public service broadcasting and cultural production. She has published in journals such as the Journal of Popular Television, International Journal of Cultural Policy, Media History and the European Journal of Cultural Studies. She is currently preparing a monograph on the BBC and its relationship to arts programming.

PODCAST: Fact factories – the travel of facts in the digital age

Why do some facts about the world become well known and ubiquitous, whereas others are relegated to the status of opinion, or become so mired in controversy that they cannot survive the onslaught that they receive from those opposed to them? Why do bad facts travel far and wide, while good ones are stopped short in their tracks? Who has the greatest power over our factual information when facts are born digital?

At the heart of changes to the environment in which facts must travel today is the increasing ubiquity of software code and its role in the mediation of everyday life. Facts are not knowledge. Knowledge needs to take material form in order for it to be distributed and to have influence beyond its origins.

This talk charts the travel of facts across the infrastructure of the Internet, introducing new vocabularies and grammars for the production and appraisal of factual information. Focusing on the travel of facts about the 2011 Egyptian Revolution in the days before Hosni Mubarak resigned as President, it highlights how a new grammar constituted by the interaction between software code, social norms, policies and laws within Wikipedia has created the terrain for facts as they travel through the Internet. The result of a radical decrease in trust accorded to traditional institutions and a turn towards trust in individuals telling what appears to be unmediated truths online – we are witnessing a significant change in how we evaluate authoritative statements about the world.

Heather Ford is a University Academic Fellow in Digital Methods based at the University of Leeds School of Media and Communication. Before moving to academia, she worked for a number of non-profit technology organisations including the Association for Progressive Communications, Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, iCommons, Privacy International and Ushahidi as an activist, research and project manager.

PODCAST: In data we trust – Media in the age of the datalogical

Several key global events, especially within the political arena, have centered public interest on the role that data plays within contemporary society. Commercial media outlets obsess over data analytics in the face of falling revenues; global digital intermediaries are delivering content using algorithms that are obscure to human oversight; and social media platforms are becoming media powerhouses outside of regulation. Some public commentators recognise this as a process of ‘un-democratization’ as data and algorithms are impacting on society’s ability to make informed decisions. While this may be a reactive stance towards our latest technological turn, it is undoubtable that we are, to at least some extent, delegating our decision-making power to automatic systems and that this will have an impact on social and political life.

One emerging approach within computational computer science that is attracting attention, for example, is the combination of ethnography with digital media methods, but interpretive methodological work is being pursued by researchers in a variety of fields: from media studies to cultural studies, history to cognitive and behavioral science. In Data We Trust is a seminar designed to explore the contemporary issues surrounding the implications of datafication, and how best to research it. What are the sites in which data logics and techniques crystallize? Should the starting point be to study the algorithm and then follow the socio-technical relations that result from it? Or should we start from the people and practices that ultimately determine data’s usefulness? Discussing a variety of approaches that are currently being used to study cultures and societies that are heavily mediated by data systems, this workshop aims to encourage discussions about methods for consolidating approaches.

This seminar is presented by a number of leading experts across two brief panels. The speakers include:

Session 1: Themes – Jonathon Hutchinson, University of Sydney
Penny O’Donnell, University of Sydney
Martin Egan, Manager of News Innovation, ABC
Nick Enfield, University of Sydney

Session 2: Methods – Heather Ford, University of Leeds
Fiona Martin, University of Sydney
David Nolan, University of Melbourne
Heather Horst, University of Sydney
Jason Ensor, Western Sydney University

PODCAST: Crowds and agglomerations, public expression after the mobile phone

A growing plurality of populations in Asia, Africa and Latin America have now got regular access to mobile devices. Unsurprisingly, this has produced great challenges for postcolonial power, now confronted by media-enabled populations previously seen only as social political actors. Today, mobile media objects attach themselves to shifting platforms of political-aesthetic action while disrupting older partitions of postcolonial governance. As in the rest of the world, media periodically overflow from one channel to another leading to unanticipated consequences: the expose of a police atrocity or political secrets, a leaked intimate video. The transformation of public speech and expression in contemporary data infrastructures open up questions of collectivity in ways unimagined but a decade ago in the postcolonial world.

This seminar will look at volatile incidents involving street crowds broadcasting in real time through mobile applications like Whatsapp. The blurring of street crowds and online agglomerations, private chat networks & public expression raise many questions – for media theory as well as the performance of postcolonial sovereignty.

Ravi Sundaram is a Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. He co-edited the SaraiReader series, The Public Domain (2001), The Cities of Everyday Life (2002), Shaping Technologies (2003), Crisis Media(2004). His recently edited No Limits: Media Studies from India was published in 2015. Professor Sundaram’s essays have been translated into various languages in India, Asia, and Europe. He is currently finishing his next book project, Events and Affections: post-public media circulation.

Co-presented by Department of Media and Communications and Sydney Democracy Network, University of Sydney, and School of Communication, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology Sydney.