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CFA: Theorising Media and Conflict workshop, Vienna, 23-24 Oct 2015

August 27, 2015
A Media Anthropology Network event
European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)
Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology
University of Vienna, Austria
23-24 October 2015

** Financial assistance available, see below **

In a recent survey of the interdisciplinary literature on media and conflict, Schoemaker and Stremlau (2014) found that most existing studies display Western-centric biases, normative assumptions and unsubstantiated claims about the impact of media in conflict situations. With their ethnographic methods and ground-up theorising, anthropologists are therefore well placed to make a strong contribution to the advancement of this area of scholarship. Although a growing number of anthropologists have studied media in conflict and post-conflict contexts – working on diverse topics such as media representations, cyberwar, internet activism, social protest, video-making, or radio dramas – so far they have done so in relative isolation from one another. The result is a fragmentation of the field and a dissipation of efforts.

The aim of this workshop is to remedy this situation by bringing together media anthropologists and other media and communication scholars working on the complex relationship between media and conflict.

Having presented and discussed their own research (Day 1), workshop participants will then ask the following collective questions (Day 2):

  1. What is the present state of anthropological and interdisciplinary knowledge on media and conflict?
  2. What are the main questions in need of urgent research and writing?
  3. How can media anthropologists and others contribute to the interdisciplinary effort of theorising the elusive relationship between media and conflict?
  4. What topics and themes should an edited volume arising from the workshop focus on?

In addition to its networking function, the workshop will lead to an edited volume provisionally titled Theorising Media and Conflict. This will be the third in the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) Media Anthropology Network’s series of theoretical volumes published by Berghahn. The first volume came out in 2010 as Theorising Media and Practice (Bräuchler & Postill, eds), and the second volume, Theorising Media and Change (Postill, Ardevol & Tenhunen, eds) is forthcoming. The aim of the series is to place media anthropology at the forefront of theoretical advances in both anthropology and media and communication studies.

Please send your questions and abstracts (max. 300 words) by 20 September 2015 to John Postill (john.postill@rmit.edu.au) and Philipp Budka (philipp.budka@univie.ac.at).

N.B.There will be financial assistance with travel and accommodation expenses available to participants who require it. Please contact the organisers for further information if you require such assistance. The organisers are grateful to EASA, the Austrian Research Association (ÖFG), and the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna, for their generous support of this event.

22. Notes on the second digital ethnography reading session

August 20, 2015

This is the twenty-second post in the Freedom technologists series.

by Victor Lasa
PhD candidate
RMIT University, Melbourne

In this second session of the monthly Digital Ethnography Reading Group meetings at RMIT we discussed the Introduction and Chapter 5 of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. Gabriella Coleman. Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books, 2014. 464 pp.

In attendance were Will Balmford (digital gaming), Kate Cawley (digital gaming), Andrew Glover (sociology of consumption), Allister Hill (organisational ethnography), Victor Lasa (radical transparency), John Postill (internet activism), Jolynna Sinanan (digital ethnography), Katya Tokareva (Russian internet) and Ge Zhang (digital gaming).

This was a productive and thought-provoking meeting. The group read and discussed Gabriela Coleman’s (2014) fascinating analysis of Anonymous: from the informal beginnings to their intriguing role in contemporary global socio-politics, focusing on the case of Anonymous’ intervention in the 2010 Tunisian revolution (Chapter 5). Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous is a daring and unique attempt at deciphering the origins, structure, internal dynamics, motivations and strategies of Anonymous, the cryptic global hacking group.

Perhaps because of its complexity, some participants found the reading somewhat undefined, as if the general goal of the book wasn’t clear. Bearing in mind it is a work of popular scholarship rather than an academic text, the aim is not clearly spelled out until the book’s conclusion. In fact, the book’s structure seems to mirror Anonymous’ operational behaviour, since many of their missions remain a mystery until the end.

One issue we discussed was the ethnographic challenge of doing research on a collective like Anonymous. By immersing herself in the collective as participant observer, Coleman was able to go beyond the popular stereotype of Anons as unsocial ‘white boys’ out to wreak havoc. Instead she highlights their heterogeneity, inspired adhocery and team-based politicisation over time. In exploring the complexity of Anonymous’ morphology, Coleman also shows that sometimes it only took the leadership of one or two people to drive significant missions, as was the case with the Tunisian uprising in 2010-2011.

Despite a growing political nature in its actions, Anonymous still conserves an important element of mischief and havoc, or ‘motherfuckery’ as they call it themselves. There is a factor of having fun, doing ‘cool’ things by selecting challenging missions that will have a strong impact. However, some reading group members questioned the real impact of Anonymous’ actions in situations like the Tunisian revolution. The question of how serious Anonymous really got in Tunisia and how strong their political motivation was seems to remain unanswered in the book.

At any rate,  Tunisia was Anonymous’ first major foray into international politics. It was no more just about ‘internety’ issues, as Coleman point out. They seemed to realize their own power, becoming one of the pioneers in the new information geopolitics. In fact, their actions provoked envy in other non-state agents that were aiming to become geopolitically significant, like Al-Qaeda. More recently, the Islamic State seem to have learned about the potential of the internet to create action collectives and maximize the impact of its operations.

Anonymous’ turn into a political player can be partly explained by the actions of authorities on them, like the FBI, which hit their structure and provoked anger. The innovative and baffling nature of the organization made authorities nervous in many countries and led to repressive actions. A desire of revenge or reaffirmation might have driven the organization towards more political actions against institutions. However, participants realized that the tension between acting just for the ‘lulz’ of it or for political reasons still exists and has probably not been resolved. Part of the same debate is the legality versus legitimacy discussion, with Anonymous members justifying illegal actions for the sake of justice. Others believe that that kind of actions, i.e. distributed denials of service (DoDS), are counterproductive. Meanwhile, Pirate-style political parties have tried to get the movement to work through political institutions. Participants recognized this as a classical tension within activist groups.

The discussion then moved on to other examples of ‘freedom technologists’ moving towards conventional politics, like the citizen movements in Spain, now governing in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona or the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US. A representative of ‘nerd-friendly’ politics in Australia would be Scott Ludlam, Federal Senator for the Greens. John Postill 3MP theory the forging and spread of post-Global Financial Crisis (GFC) social uprisings is a useful framework to explain the transition from freedom technologist activism to social movements and conventional politics. The theory exposes the instrumental role of ‘nerds’ and specialized journalists and lawyers in this transition. Interestingly, the presence of anthropologists has not been that strong in these environments.

Back to Freedom technologists series…

CFP: Media, culture and change across the Pacific

August 13, 2015

730px-Map_of_the_Pacific_region.svg

by Raul Castro

via the EASA Media Anthropology Network mailing list

Call for Papers

Media, culture and change across the Pacific: perspectives from Asia, Oceania and the Americas

Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru (PUCP), Lima, Peru, 16-17 November 2015

Important updates 21 Aug 2015:

  1. The conference website has now been launched
  2. Selected papers will be published in an invited special issue of the international journal Media, Culture and Society

As the ‘Pacific century’ gathers pace, important questions arise about the media and communication dimensions of processes of social, economic and cultural change currently under way across the vast Pacific region. Ongoing negotiations around a controversial trade agreement affecting 40% of the world’s economic output, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), have added urgency to the need for greater collaboration among Pacific scholars and researchers.

Although the interdisciplinary field of media and communication studies, including the anthropology of media, is presently flourishing in this part of the world, most research to date has taken place within national or sub-regional scholarly networks. In addition, the North Atlantic region maintains its central position within the field. As a result, most East Asian scholars of media and communication still know little about empirical and theoretical developments in the Americas, Australasia or the Pacific islands – and vice versa.

The aim of this conference is to bring together media anthropologists and other media and communication scholars and researchers from across the region to share their current research, compare and contrast findings, and discuss possible research collaborations and funding bids. The conference will also serve to launch a new interdisciplinary network: the Trans-Pacific Media Research Network.

We invite abstracts in English (max. 250 words) from media anthropologists and other media and communication scholars conducting research anywhere in the Pacific region, i.e. East and Southeast Asia, Australasia, the Pacific islands, and Pacific countries in the Americas. Abstracts can be based on local, national or transnational research. Potential topics include (but are not limited to):

  • Regional and sub-regional media flows
  • Media theory beyond the North Atlantic
  • The geopolitics of media technologies in the Pacific
  • Media ownership and ‘liberalisation’
  • Radio, television, and print media in the digital age
  • Social media and inter-generational relations
  • Media and social identity (e.g. gendered, religious, cultural)
  • The uses of digital media in disaster communication
  • Internet freedom and control in the post-Snowden era
  • New and old media for protest and civic engagement
  • Mobile phones for increasingly mobile lives and livelihoods
  • Historical perspectives on media and communication

The abstracts are to be submitted by 15 September 2015.

Selected abstract authors will then be asked to submit full papers in English (max. 6000 words) by 10 November 2015.

The best papers will be published in an invited special issue of the international journal Media, Culture and Society under the conference theme of “Media, culture and change across the Pacific: perspectives from Asia, Oceania and the Americas”

The keynote speakers will be:

John Postill (RMIT University, Melbourne)
Heather Horst (RMIT University, Melbourne)

Please send abstracts and questions to Raul Castro, Pontificia Universidad Católica
Lima, Peru, raulcastro69@yahoo.es

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

Mobiles and protest: four areas in need of further theorisation

July 31, 2015

Extract from Monterde, A. and J. Postill 2014. Mobile ensembles: The uses of mobile phones for social protest by Spain’s indignados. In G. Goggin and L. Hjorth (eds.) Routledge Companion to Mobile Media. London: Routledge, 429-438.

[…]

This broad overview of the mobiles for activism and protest literature reveals four main areas of theorisation in need of further development. First, the specific affordances of different mobile technologies matter and should not be subsumed under general notions such as ‘new media’ or ‘digital media’. As we saw with the English riots, the low cost, speed and privacy of Blackberry made it an ideal device for rioters. By contrast, Twitter became the preferred platform for grassroots clean-up operations after the riots.

Second, we must also consider the wider, and shifting, media environments in which such affordances are played out. A manner of dynamic holism is called for in which the interactions and combinations of old and new technologies, agents and actions are integral to the analysis. A variety of working concepts are being currently tested to attain this elusive goal, e.g. Barassi’s ‘complex dialectics’, Chadwick’s ‘hybrid media system’, Tufekci and Wilson’s ‘new media ecology’, or Constanza-Chock’s ‘media cultures’.

Third, the study of new forms of mobile action is still in its infancy, with notions such as Wasik’s ‘flash mobs’, Rheingold’s ‘smart mobs’, Hardt and Negri’s ‘swarm intelligence’ and cognate terms all in urgent need of critical comparison and interrogation.

Finally, further thinking is also required on the diachronic, processual dimension of these phenomena. It is not sufficient to take ‘snapshots’ of the uses of mobile media for activism and protest at a single point in time. We must also conduct phase-by-phase analyses in order to establish which (mobile) technologies – and mobile ensembles – were particularly salient at which stages in the life course of a protest movement.

Thus, below we offer a processual account of three phases in the early development of Spain’s Indignados (15M) movement, with special reference to the uses of mobile phones in each phase and their relationship to the movement’s rapidly shifting mediascapes. By way of contextualisation, we first provide two brief overviews of the recent histories of mobile telephony and protest in Spain.

References

Barassi, V. “Review of Networks of Outrage and Hope, by Manuel Castells (2012)”, E-International Relations, 27 February 2013. http://www.e-ir.info/2013/02/27/review-networks-of-outrage-and-hope/

Chadwick, A. (2013). The hybrid media system: Politics and power. Oxford University Press.

Costanza-Chock, S. (2012). Mic check! Media cultures and the Occupy movement. Social Movement Studies, 11(3-4), 375-385.

Hardt, M., and A. Negri (2004). Multitude: War and democracy in the age of empire. New York, NY: Penguin.

Rheingold, H. (2002) Smart Mobs The Next Social Revolution, USA: Perseus Basic Books.

Tufekci, Z. and C. Wilson (2012), “Social media and the decision to participate in political protest in Egypt: Observations from Tahrir Square”, Journal of Communication 62 (2): 365.

Wasik, B.(2009). And then there’s this: How stories live and die in viral culture. New York, NY: Viking.

Second session of digital ethnography reading group

July 30, 2015

by Will Balmford
Research assistant
Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC)
School of Media and Communication
RMIT University
Melbourne, Australia

After a successful first session of the Digital Ethnography Reading Group (DERG) it is time to starting thinking about our next one.

The August session of the group will be held on Wednesday 12 August (12-1:30pm, in Building 9, Level 2, Room 9, RMIT City Campus, – the meeting room next to the HDR Space). […]

This month’s reading is the Introduction and Chapter 5 of Coleman, G. (2014). Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. London; New York: Verso.

We’ll leave it to you this month, to bring points of discussion to the group, but will say that Chapter 5 charts Anonymous’ efforts in relation to Operation Tunisia/#OpTunisia and the Tunisian uprising (ostensibly the start of the so-called Arab Spring).

Remember, the DERG sessions will run on the second Wednesday of each month. Please forward this email to those you think may be interested in attending this or future DERG sessions.

See you Wed 12 August 2015!

Feel free to bring your lunch.

Notes on the first digital ethnography reading session

July 14, 2015

by Allister Hill
PhD candidate
Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC)
RMIT University, Melbourne

Last week, on 9 July 2015, the Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC) ran its first monthly reading group. It was, by all accounts, a success. Intimate enough to allow everyone the chance to readily participate, with a little under 10 people going, John Postill (as the resident academic guru) and myself were facilitating. As you can see from last week’s post, the introductory reading, Horst, Hjorth & Tacchi (2012). ‘Rethinking ethnography’, was chosen to centre the discussion on what ethnography means to us as researchers and how this shapes (or will shape) our research practices moving forward, both in relation to analogue and digital localities.

The discussion was quite varied with participants sharing both their experiences and intentions, with regards to ethnography, in a variety of areas such as internet practices, activism, social media, indigenous groups, gaming and subcultures located in Australia and around the world; including Russia, Indonesia and Spain. While many of the group have been working closely with digital worlds it was apparent that digital media and materialities are not the only matters being explored. Some other discussion topics included matters, such as:

  • How relevant is the notion of community for ethnography and the idea that locality (be that virtual and well as physical or a mix of the two) may be a more important consideration, when identifying the boundaries of ethnographic enquiry. Amit and Rapport’s (2002) ‘The Trouble with Community’ was suggested as a good resource, in relation to conceptualisations of community; and
  • When considering the ‘reflective turn’ in anthropology, it was recognised that this was now part and parcel of the constructivist approach for ethnographers, as they instinctively acknowledge what they bring to bear in their own research. Rather than disappearing into the apparatus of the ethnographers tool kit, however, the recent ‘ontological turn’ in anthropology (exemplified by the Sahlins/Latour ’showdown’ at the 2013 AAA Conference – see Morrison 2014 ) and the rise of social activism suggests that inward looking reflexivity and the existence of multiple meanings, differences and worlds inhabited are front and centre for many ethnographers.

With the nature of the first session being fairly reflexive, in itself, and broad ranging there is too much to cover here. Moving forward the reading group will likely be more focused as participants reflect and discuss each month’s ‘digital ethnography’ reading. This is not to say every reading will have to include digital elements. As with the members of DERC, I’m sure future readings will cover a wide and varied range of ethnographic methodologies, accounts and insights.

Next month’s meeting is on 12 August 2015. If you’re in Melbourne at the time and would like to attend this meeting please drop us an email.

[John Postill adds: We’ll probably be discussing a chapter from Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. Gabriella Coleman. Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books, 2014. 464 pp. Gabriella Coleman will be giving a talk at DERC on 26 or 27 August, so the reading session will be a good opportunity to do some preparatory work.]

References
Amit, V., & Rapport, N. (2002). The Trouble with Community: Anthropological reflections on movement, identity and collectivity. London: Pluto Press.

Horst, H., Hjorth, L., & Tacchi, J. (2012). Rethinking ethnography: An introduction. Media International Australia(145), 86-93.

Morrison, I. (2014, 24 January). Public Engagement Vs. The Ontological Turn. Allegra Lab. Available from http://allegralaboratory.net/public-engagement-vs-the-ontological-turn/

New digital ethnography reading group

July 8, 2015

http://heatherhorst.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/DERCtallerD.png

By Allister Hill
PhD candidate
Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC)
RMIT University, Melbourne

Due to scheduling clashes, this month we are running the first group Thursday 9 July 2015, 12-1:30pm, Room 9.3.5A/B [RMIT city campus, Melbourne]. Moving forward they will be run on the second Wednesday of each month, starting on 12 August 2015 (12-1:30pm). See also the meeting invite.

As this is the first session we’d like you to think about some of the following. What ethnography means to you and to your research? How does your understanding of ethnography shape your practices as a researchers / how do you expect it to, if you are just starting out now? Where is the digital located, for you, in relation to ethnographic practice?

This month’s reading is (see attached, NB if the link doesn’t work you may need to right click and open link in a new window).

Horst, H., Hjorth, L., & Tacchi, J. (2012). Rethinking ethnography: An introduction. Media International Australia, 12(145), 86-93.

With regard to the reading for this week, Rethinking ethnography, perhaps one or a few of the following matters could be considered and discussed with the group:

  1. What are the ways in which the article encourages the reader to ‘rethink’ ethnography and ethnographic practice? How does this rethinking facilitate understanding the world (in particular digital lives and media) in ‘useful and insightful ways’ and more?
  2. Nightingale (2012) ties the development of media ethnography to the cultural or ‘reflexive turn’ in anthropology. What does this ‘reflective turn’ refer to? Furthermore, in what ways could this have lead to improved ethnographic practice in media and cultural studies and the expansion of media anthropology?
  3. Do you agree with Small’s (2009) differentiation between the ways that sociologists and social/cultural anthropologists have used and approached ethnographic research? What are the ways that sociologists approach ethnography, that may differ from anthropologists, if they are more inclined to encounter questions as to the validity of their research based on ‘how many’ and ‘who’ are in their study?
  4. Explore the notion of ‘being in fieldwork’ as used, with a nod to studying virtual worlds, by Boellstorff et. al (2012) and how that compares to what anthropologists may have considered ‘participant observation’ in the past.
If there are any digital ethnography readings that you would like to recommended, start thinking of them now and/or email them through and we can work towards setting up the list of readings for future reading groups.
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