The following is a literature review I did last winter to better familiarize myself with the media literacy, participatory culture, and networked publics literatures. I post it today in preparation for my minor field exam tomorrow. Full disclosure: it is heavily laden with in-text citations.
“I too will try to recollect what I can, knowing well that any totalizing description of LA-leph is impossible. What follows then is a succession of fragmentary glimpses, a freed association of reflective and interpretive field notes which aim to construct a critical human geography of the Los Angeles urban region.”
Edward W. Soja (1989, p. 223)
Geographer Edward Soja imagining Los Angeles in cinematic terms in 1989. Better still, though, might be to consider his ruminations not as evocative of cinema but of its more affordable, and thereby more democratic kin, video. As Soja wrote his opus, media artist Anne Bray was founding Freewaves “A Magnet for Media Arts,” intending to use video as nothing less than a tool for structural reformation of the public sphere (Rogers, 2010). In the years hence, and in a turn paradigmatically expressive of the communications revolution, Soja’s 1989 cheap and readily available film video is 2011’s exotic, the museum conservator’s charge, having been replaced by an even more flexible, affordable, and apparently democratic technology: digital video.
In those twenty years and change, the communications revolution altered the landscape, real and virtual, beyond our wildest collective dreams (Allon, 2004; Appadurai, 1990; Bar, Baer, Ghandeharizadeh & Ordonez, 2008; Barnett, 2004; Buckingham, 2000, 2003, 2009; Bull, 2004; Canclini 2001; Caron & Caronia, 2007; Castells, 1996; Couldry, 2004; Couldry & McCarthy, 2004; de Block & Buckingham, 2007; Gibbs, 2004; Ito, 2008; Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton & Robison, 2009; Kabisch, 2010; Lim & Kann, 2008; Massey, 1994; McCullough, 2006; Morley, 2000; Moores, 2004; Rogers, 2007, 2010; Russell, Ito, Richmond & Tuters, 2008; Shirky, 2010; Singhal & Rogers, 2004; Soja, 1989; Townsend, 2006; Tuters, 2004; Tuters & Varnelis, 2006; Varnelis, 2008; Varnelis & Friedberg, 2008). Freewaves missed not a beat during this telecommunications tempest. It was among the first media arts organizations to use the Internet as a screening/archive to supplement the citywide screenings, and in doing so illustrated video’s Internet-borne transition from production- to distribution-centeredness (Rogers, 2007), and thus the evolution of creative consumer to producer (Bar, Baer, Ghandeharizadeh & Ordonez, 2008; Barnett, 2004; Buckingham, 2000, 2003, 2009; Bull, 2004; Caron & Caronia, 2007; Castells, 1996; Couldry, 2004; de Block & Buckingham, 2007; Gibbs, 2004; Ito, 2008; Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton & Robison, 2009; Kabisch, 2010; Lim & Kann, 2008; Rogers, 2007, 2010; Russell, Ito, Richmond & Tuters, 2008; Shirky, 2010; Townsend, 2006; Tuters, 2004; Tuters & Varnelis, 2006; Varnelis, 2008; Varnelis & Friedberg, 2008).
Characterizing Freewaves as a media arts organization only glances lightly on its true pursuit. Media and Cultural Studies scholar Kenneth Rogers (2007) avers, “Freewaves is less organization than it is a network” (p. 38). Likewise, its endeavors radiate outward, subsuming creative production, distribution, and educational outreach in collaborations with arts and social justice activists to nourish connective links between otherwise disparate Angelenos and their lives. Its most recent project, the cooperative Out the Window,embodies the apogee of Freewaves’ aspirations.
The first of its kind participatory learning experience for young people and the Los Angeles Metro ridership, it is a collaboration among four of the city’s media arts organizations – Freewaves; UCLA’s Center for Research in Engineering, Media, and Performance (REMAP); Echo Park Film Center; and Public Matters. The project’s first phase comprised the instruction of students from East Los Angeles, Echo Park, and Historic Filipintown to consider, reflect on, and creatively document their neighborhoods. Their resultant art and related questions were then broadcast from June 13-18, 2011, and again in October and November, joined by local Angeleno artists’ productions, on LA Metro bus televisions to the riders with the aim of sparking SMS-enabled and web-facilitated dialogue in a purposively mobile space among parties already separated by time and place.
Thus, Out the Window reflects a hearteningly optimistic take on the “annihilation of space by time” Marx (as cited in Morley, 2000, p. 172) foresaw so long ago. How so optimistic? And why these methodologies? What are the ideological, technological, and educational conditions that helped give rise to this particular project? The following paper comprises select literature that examines just these questions. In the first portion, I will consider writings on new media’s intersection with space, what I believe to be the Out the Window collective’s bedrock assumptions, and its turn to locative media to articulate these conditions and beliefs. In the second section, I will delve into pedagogy – of the media, the border, and the oppressed – all aimed at the creation of a participatory culture and the “networked public.” Note I wrote “hearteningly” and not “exclusively optimistic” above. Even the most fanatic supporters of new media submit provisos, and there are of course detractors. The paper submits their positions, too, and concludes with thoughts on implications for media research itself. I maintain understanding these literatures underscores Out the Window’s unique and important contribution to art-generated urban social justice: dialogue, education, participatory democracy, and self-expression.
Communications Technologies and Public-Private Spaces
“Why not argue that media coverage massively multiplies the interconnections between places, rather than weakening our sense of place?”
Nick Couldry (as cited in Moores, 2004, p. 23)
Whether we are living in the incipient stages of the electronic-architectonic metamorphosis of the city (Couldry, 2004) or in the middle (Tuters, 2004), the notion that the opportunity for public space has proliferated as a result of new media is widespread (Allon, 2004; Barnett, 2004; Canclini, 2001; Caron & Caronia, 2007; Couldry, 2004; Couldry & McCarthy, 2004; Gibbs, 2004; Ito, 2008; Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton & Robison, 2009; Kabisch, 2010; Lim & Kann, 2008; Moores, 2004; Morley, 2000; Russell, Ito, Richmond & Tuters, 2008; Tuters, 2004; Tuters & Varnelis, 2006; Varnelis, 2008; Varnelis & Friedberg, 2008). Specifically, Fiona Allon (2004) disagrees with David Harvey (1989), saying his time-space compression needs to be rethought and that communication technologies have in fact summoned “new spatialities and temporalities” (p. 261). As more media points are added to the virtual landscape, we experience “a restructuring of the articulations between the public and the private” (Canclini, 2001, p. 23), apparent also in the “reordering of urban life” (ibid.). Mobile telephony has even rendered Augé’s (1995) non-places and Caronia’s “no-when times” (as cited in Caron & Caronia, 2005, p. 38), erstwhile existential states of abeyance, functional. Sitting, riding in the bus to our unique destinations, we can now reach out in collective communication.
Our whole concept of community is in flux. Associations of people are further flung (Appadurai, 1996; Castells, 1996; Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton & Robison, 2009; Lim & Kann, 2008; Massey, 1994; Morley, 2000; Moores, 2004; Rogers, 2010; Russell, Ito, Richmond & Tuters, 2008; Soja, 1989; Tuters, 2004; Tuters & Varnelis, 2006; Varnelis, 2008; Varnelis & Friedberg, 2008), “psychological neighborhoods” (Meyerowitz as cited in Morley, 2000) join the earthbound ones, and indeed, communications technologies provide us the “raw materials for a new cartography…in the details of people’s daily lives” (Rouse as cited in Morley, 2000, p. 43). Communications scholars Andre Caron and Letizia Caronia (2007) remind us not only do these media propagate community, communications technologies construct meaning in our lives. Following Certeau (1984), they argue our cell phones are not incidental effects – our communiqués are cultural artifacts, material and discursive objects. Our “mobile conversations are effectively powerful social glue” (p. 176).
While some embrace these new geographies, others are less sanguine. Artist and critic Michael Gibbs (2004) coins the term “Cellspace” (p. 280) to reflect the enmeshing of our digital information with the real world, noting the edges between public and private space have become so obliterated we will have desperately private mobile phone conversations in the most public of forums. In “‘To each their own bubble’: mobile spaces of sound in the city,” Media Studies scholar Michael Bull (2004) suggests that the more the public realm warps to meet our communication technologies customs, the more we warp with it, becoming all the more alienated from one another. Social-cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai (1996) holds new media are creating communities devoid of sense of place; as such we should regard all cultural forms as “fractal” (p. 46) in configuration.
Doreen Massey and the Situationist International on Los Angeles Metro Buses
“…praxis, not therapy; form, not structure; situation, not power.”
McKenzie Wark (2011, p. 159)
While many voices and minds contribute to Out the Window’s formation, I submit geographer Doreen Massey (1994) and the Situationist International (SI; 1952-57) are the project’s primary ideological forebears. Massey’s power-geometry concept critiques Harvey’s time-space compression, noting its effects are distinct depending on an agent’s class, gender, and ethnicity. Massey’s “power-geometry” obliges us to see that “time-space compression needs differentiating socially” (1994, p. 148). However, while power relations are asymmetrical, marginalization does not equate to impotence; migrant populations can and do deploy control in their new cities (de Block & Buckingham, 2007). To bulwark their agency and better sociospatial relations, what we need is “a sense of place which is extroverted, which includes a consciousness of its links to the wider world” (Massey, 1994, p. 195).
The Out the Window collective recognize Los Angeles as a fractal-metropolis. Its articulation of Bull’s alienating cell phone for opening discursive spaces between parties unfamiliar is a direct attack on that metropolitan condition. Better still, its infiltration of Transit TV, the (confoundingly) private television system operating in LA Metro (public!) buses, is pure Situationist détournement, and each bus ride, a conceivable dérive (Wark, 2011). The playful tempo and energy of the videos evoke painter and theorist Asger Jorn’s contribution of artistic materialism to SI practice. Art is not embedded in Marx’s superstructure but within our infrastructure; it is playful, social. Jorn proposes, in contradistinction to Althusserian Marxism, games and “ontology of nature as flux, difference, and cooperation” (p. 53). The Situationists believed ultimately in a low theory, with “critical thought indifferent to the institutional forms of the academy or art world” (p. 3).
“…location aware, networked, mobile devices make possible invisible notes attached to spaces, places, people, and things.”
Ben Russell (as cited in Tuters & Varnelis, 2006)
May ‘68’s posters are today’s locative media. Accordingly, programmatic text-friendly Situationism is widely agreed to be a precursor to the locative media movement (Gibbs, 2004; Tuters, 2004; Tuters & Varnelis, 2006). Certeau (1984) agreed with the Situationists that the best way to come to know your city is to walk its streets. This existential practice reforms: individuals are no longer consumers but producers (Kabisch, 2010). Through locative media, one returns “to the messy multiplicity of the street level” (McCullough, 2006, p. 26), where she is “messaging, searching, meeting, and tagging” (p. 27). The experiences and consequent discourse are not of virtuality, but hybridity (Kabisch, 2010).
Artists are drawn to locative media for reasons manifest. First, it is the latest addition to the public space intervention stable (Gibbs, 2004; Townsend, 2006; Tuters, 2004; Varnelis, 2008). “In practice, psychogeography brings the art installation and its public…from the contained space of the gallery into the body of the city” (Tuters, 2004, p. 1). Second, it is at once unfettered from the worries attending much media art equipment, such as monitors and projectors, and reinforced by the proliferating open source software for “mobile geography, collaborative mapping, and social organization” (Gibbs, 2004, p. 280). Next, locative media is apparently bound to discourses of human subject-centered representation, foregrounding the human experience in space with two types of Situationism-inspired mapping options: annotative (virtual place-tagging) and phenomenological (action tracing) (Tuters & Varnelis, 2006). Finally, locative media can be politically powerful: tagging systems in particular are potent methods for sharing authorship for the re-designation of places and things in the urban realm (Townsend, 2006).
However, if a primary objective of locative media is to illustrate the nuances and textures of culturally constituted space (Townsend, 2006; Tuters, 2004; Tuters & Varnelis, 2008), interaction designer and researcher Eric Kabisch (2010) finds it wanting. “A place – in all its richness – becomes a static marker on a map, a journey becomes a line, and a community becomes a polygon outline…. We must move from modes of…representation and move to those which engage the interaction and performance of the user and the environment” (p. 50). Locative media researcher Marc Tuters and architecture scholar Kazys Varnelis (2006) also write about locative media’s brush with neo-Cartesianism, but dismiss that critique as emblematic of “another nostalgia, one for an autonomous art” (ibid.). They do, however, agree that some locative media artists collaborate with the commercial and state sectors, those most associated with the articulation of hegemonic power, certainly not grassroots social movement (Kabisch, 2010; Tuters & Varnelis, 2006).
“For want of a better term, media literacy is a form of critical literacy.”
David Buckingham (2003, p. 38)
What is media education? Why is it important? Simply, it is the process of teaching media literacy, the ability to read and write media. Multiliteracy education refers to dealing with the ever-widening range of media and the concomitant requirement to go beyond traditional literacy training (Buckingham, 2003). Advocating scholars regard such education as not just important, but essential (Buckingham, 2000, 2003, 2009; Caron & Caronia, 2007; de Block & Buckingham 2007; Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton & Robison, 2009). Media and education scholar David Buckingham (2003) contends media is embedded in children’s social relationships, thus multiliteracy is not just about modes of communication but the “inherently social nature of literacy” (p. 38). Attaining media literacy upholds the process of interpretation, criticism, and identity building (Buckingham, 2000, 2003; Caron & Caronia, 2007; de Block & Buckingham 2007; Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton & Robison, 2009). Per the Share, Jolls, Thoman media literacy framework, students learn to consider the following questions: Who created this message? What creative elements are employed to get our attention? How many might perceive this message differently from me? What lifestyles are reflected in or omitted from this message? And finally, Why is this message being sent? (Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton & Robison, 2009). These questions foster young people’s attainment of skills, knowledge, moral frameworks, and self-confidence (ibid). Further, critical appraisal of the media fosters “‘identity work’ … laying claim to more prestigious or powerful social identities” (Buckingham, 2003, p. 109). Caron & Caronia (2007) argue teens’ use of communications technology artifacts likewise encourages individuation.
In The Making of Citizens: Young People, News and Politics, David Buckingham (2000) advances children are cynical about the news due to a “growing awareness of their own powerlessness” (p. 203) His suggestion, that this can be ameliorated by departing from the classical, incredibly conservative format of the news model, relates to communications scholars Arvind Singhal and Everett M. Rogers’ (2004) “entertainment-education,” wherein media messaging is conceived to exploit mass media’s appeal “to show individuals how they can live safer, healthier, and happier lives” (p. 9).
Communications and convergence culture scholar Henry Jenkins also advocates for sociopolitical actualization through creativity. I will return to participatory culture in greater detail later, but for now here are the set of new media literacies laid out by him and others in 2009’s John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Report on Digital Media and Learning, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton and Robison). This list of integral “cultural competencies and social skills” (2009, p. xiii) adds to conventional classroom knowledge: play (which de Block and Buckingham, 2007 also promote), performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition (the ability to use tools), collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation.
“It is also about linking learning to social change, education to democracy, and knowledge to acts of intervention in public life. Critical pedagogy encourages students to learn to register dissent, as well as to take risks in creating the conditions for forms of individual and social agency that are conducive to a substantive democracy.”
Henry A. Giroux (2005, p. 216)
Education scholar Liesbeth de Block and David Buckingham (2007) bemoan the tendency to treat children as passive recipients of socialization in their adoptive countries. They are active performers and often, as in the case of economic migrants (those migrating for employment opportunity and improved standard of living – the clear majority of the immigrants in the United States and certainly among the Out the Window teen participants’ families), develop ambiguous power relations with their parents post-migration. They are the “front line” in migrant families’ endeavors to negotiate their new environments (p. 23).
Just as media literacy advocates see their project as component to a larger political objective, so too does cultural critic Henry Giroux (2005) conceive his border pedagogy. Pedagogy matters because it is the province in which issues of authority, social praxis, and political intercession are learned, practiced, and implemented. Border pedagogy requires even more. First, the liberal concept of multiculturalism and consensus needs replacing with a “radical notion of cultural difference and citizenship that recognizes” (p. 24) that discord persists between constituencies. Second and third, that its core values are those of “democratic revolution – freedom, equality, and justice” (p. 24), and that these tenets must be proclaimed within each of the diverse public spheres. Finally, recalling Situationism, Giroux enjoins students to participate in “cultural remapping as a form of resistance” (Giroux, 2005, p. 25).
Liberating Discourse in the Digital Divide
“And we may see the emergence of an educational ‘underclass’ that is effectively excluded from access, not merely to economic capital but to social and cultural capital as well.”
David Buckingham (2003, p. 203)
“The pedagogy of the oppressed, as a humanist and libertarian pedagogy, has two distinct stages. In the first, the oppressed unveil the world of oppression and through the praxis commit themselves to its transformation. In the second stage, in which the reality of the oppression has already been transformed, this pedagogy ceases to belong to the oppressed and becomes a pedagogy of all people in the process of permanent liberation.”
Paolo Freire (1993, p. 36)
How to bridge the digital divide? It exists. Surveying 461 LA Metro riders in 2011, the Out the Window team discovered that while 51.5% of English-speaking riders usually use the Internet, 43.9% of Spanish-speakers never use it. (This relationship exists even when controlling for age.) One cannot conceive of media – whatever the form – without thinking of the sociocultural implications and modalities (Allon, 2004; Appadurai, 1996; Bar, Ghandeharizadeh & Ordonez, 2008; Barnett, 2004; Buckingham, 2000, 20003, 2009; Bull, 2004; Canclini, 2001; Caron & Caronia, 2007; Castells, 1996; Couldry, 2004; Couldry & McCarthy, 2004; de Block & Buckingham, 2007; Freire, 1993; Gibbs, 2004; Ito, 2008; Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton & Robison, 2009; Kabisch, 2010; Lim & Kann, 2008; McCullough, 2006; Moores, 2004; Morley, 2000; Rogers, 2007, 2010; Russell, Ito, Richmond & Tuters, 2008; Shirky, 2010; Singhal & Rogers, 2004; Tuters, 2004; Tuters & Varnelis, 2006; Varnelis, 2008; Varnelis & Friedberg, 2008).
What’s more, the implications of the digital divide are nuanced. A 2004 research (as cited in Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton and Robison, 2009) demonstrated that young gamers later become gainfully employed adults. A year later, a study conducted in the United Kingdom found the divide yawns not in terms of access but speed, site, quality, and support – the extent to which the Internet is engaging and rich (ibid.). Who and what provide this engaging access? Schools, after-school programs, and parents (ibid.). This is relevant because access amounts to cultural capital, to “cultural forms of expression and communication” (Buckingham, 2003, p. 183). Oscar Gandy (as cited in Couldry, 2004) goes so far as to say that the “real digital divide” (p. 24) is encountered in market and political language, and that information flow and storage have raised critical questions about how to assure trust in markets and politics. And the fact remains that access, humdrum access, costs money. While mobile telephony manages somewhat to traverse the divide, the locative commons command progressively specialized hardware to function – and we continue to pay handsomely to private corporations for access to said commons (Tuters, 2004).
Jenkins (2006) worries that focusing exclusively on access obscures the greater threat, the participation gap. The emphasis should be on a pedagogy that inspires youth to see themselves as creative producer, which bears with it a call for adult education in simultaneity. Jenkins concedes those about whom he waxes poetic in Convergence Culture (2006) are “disproportionately white, male, middle class, and college educated (p. 26). His is an impassioned defense: he is an “active fan” (p. 12) and “critical utopian” (p. 258).
Out the Window has a similar critical utopian spirit. It also hearkens critical pedagogy theorist and philosopher Paolo Freire’s manifesto, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1993). Freire advocates for nothing short of radicalization of its actors. Fed “by a critical spirit” (p. 19), radicalization is invariably creative and, vitally, assures a revolutionary’s steadfastness. Cardinal to Freire’s theory: that the oppressed are not marginalized within society, nor is their ambition with revolutionary leaders to overpower their persecutors, but to liberate them also. The revolutionaries and the oppressed actualize this collective liberation through their “permanent relationship of dialogue” (p. 50), constituted by “the essence of dialogue itself: the word” (p. 68). Together these groups can intervene in reality and achieve global change. For Freire, all true words are praxis and their articulation summons social justice.
In his Theory of Revolutionary Action, Freire upholds intersubjectivity between Subjects-Actors (revolutionary leaders) and Actors-Subjects (the oppressed) in contradistinction to the Theory of Oppressive Action, featuring Actors-Subjects (the dominant elites). This mode manifests in the “co-intentional” (p. 51) learning that revolutionary leaders engage in with the oppressed. “Problem-posing education” embraces an ardent practice of discovering reality, it “strives for the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality” (p. 62). This joint tutelage assumes neither party bears more knowledge than the other – all people must regard themselves as independent, autonomous thinkers. Caron and Caronia (2007) echo this sentiment in their concept of “intentionality,” namely that the deliberate interfacing with an object or phenomenon encourages rebellion against apparent constraints to overcome adversity; “where there is choice, there is responsibility” (p. 53).
The Consumer Citizenry and Participatory Culture
“To consume is to make more sense of a world where all that is solid melts into air.”
Néstor García Canclini (2001, p. 42)
Media and communications scholar Couldry (2004) addresses us from the Old World, anthropologist Canclini (2001) from the Southern Cone, and Jenkins (2006) from the megaUSA. Despite their discrete milieus, they all contend a consumer society can be our society. Couldry (2004) proposes the productive consumer, noting the network has exposed the false legitimacy of the producer-consumer hierarchy. Canclini, for his part, disagrees out of hand that neoliberalism is the only viable avenue into globalization. Likewise, he believes our prevailing conception of credible democratic participation is hobbled from the start. Were we to frame citizenship as a “political strategy” (p. 21), our options would be legion. Instead, we delimit ourselves, treating it as a reason-bound, Habermasian “political matter” (p. 20). Just the act of reconsidering citizenship assumes agency, the right of entry into and belonging in a sociopolitical structure – “the very arrangement in which we desire to be included” (p. 21). His media citizenship obviates the production-consumption binary, instead zeroing in on the institutional contingencies “through which cultural value is produced, reproduced, and contested” (p. 69). In the purchasing and appropriation of goods, we proclaim our cultural citizenship, thus rights as citizens.
“Empowerment,” for Jenkins and his MacArthur team (2009), “comes from making meaningful decisions within a real civic context” (p. 12). “Participatory culture” defined: “culture in which fans and other consumers are invited to actively participate in the creation and circulation of new content” (2006, p. 331). Better still, we have diverse access points; participation can occur at three levels, production, selection, and distribution. No, he acquiesces, popular culture will not exorcise America’s demons, but interacting with it can at least offer some semblance of agency, perhaps help fend off the general sense of disempowerment-fed malaise Buckingham (2000) implicates in young people’s political apathy. Jenkins’ (2006) convergence culture affirms both Couldry’s productive consumer and Canclini’s cultural citizen. Consumers now seek seek their peculiar quarry from among the scattered media. We “will go almost anywhere” (p. 2) for the entertainment we want.
“Increases in community size, decreases in cost of sharing, and increases in clarity all make knowledge more combinable, and in groups where these characteristics grow, combinability will grow.”
Clay Shirky (2010, p. 142)
The implications are myriad. Another favored term, “networked publics” underscores the imbricated array of cultural, social, and technological advancements constitutive of and constituted by the emergence of the communications revolution (Ito, 2008). However we phrase it, “network publics,” “network culture” (Varnelis, 2008), “network society” (Castells, 1996), the ostensibly infinite digital landscape has ushered an altogether novel human existence. As much (perhaps more) than its relevance to technology or industry, convergence culture embodies “norms, common culture, and the artistry of everday life” (Russell, Ito, Richmond, & Tuters, 2008, p. 72).
Information sharing is a central virtue of the networked culture. While their concerns are of divergent scales – linguist and new literacy advocate James Paul Gee regards the individual while “collective intelligence” media scholar Pierre Lévy, the group – they share an abiding interest in Internet participation as expressive of “living in a world where knowledge is shared and where critical activity is ongoing and lifelong” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 192). Collective intelligence crusader Clay Shirky (2010) explains cognitive surplus emerges from four conditions: means, motive, opportunity (it requires a community, after all), and culture, or the collectively held assumptions about operations.
As a democratic phenomenon, collective intelligence is invariably “disorderly, undisciplined, and unruly” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 53), but however messy, that democratic exchange is as imperative in the Internet as it is anywhere else. While nformation and communication studies expert Lim and political scientist Kann (2008) endorse Jenkins’ stance that amateurs spreading their media and engaging in participatory culture “is an important aspect of democracy” (p. 99), they are slower to call it democratic. Rather, “it is convivial” (ibid). Some select from Habermas’ and Rawls’ respective contributions to deliberative democracy, espousing citizen involvement in discourse. Others choose mobilization, the development of expansive social networks. Others still are “uncivil, anarchic, and even undemocratic” (ibid, p. 80). Media theorist Neil Postman (as cited in Morley, 2000) and political theorist Chantal Mouffe (as cited in Morley, 2000), recalling Giroux (2005), each remind us this negotiation is fundamental to democratic action. Postman’s Internet “community” is as likely a faction not of shared but of variant interests, and the participants in which must juggle each others’ predilections. Mouffe maintains it is precisely the discrepancies among groups that assures democracy. Agonistic pluralism understands that “a healthy democratic process calls for a vibrant clash of political positions and an open conflict of interests” (as cited in Morley, 2000, p. 191).
Lim and Kann (2008) caution us not to read a robust e-clashing so readily as an expression of egalitarianism. Internet initiatives alone will not suffice, but must be done in coordiation with “other media networks, as well as between cyberspace and geographical place” (p. 90). Just as Massey’s (1994) mundane world comprises power-geometries, so too does the virtual one. In whichever realm, then, we must champion “network neutrality” (Bar, Baer, Ghandeharizadeh & Ordonez, 2008), recognizing that “networks can consolidate power in the act of dispersing it” (Varnelis & Friedberg, 2008).
What (Research) Is to Be Done?
“There is no value anymore, if there ever way, in research that assumes the researcher somehow has a radically different and ‘better’ perspective on the problems of everyday life.”
Nick Couldry (2004, p. 25)
Singhal and Rogers (2004) maintain entertainment-education is a propitious tool for social change. They contend it can positively impact audience appreciation and concomitant comportment, as well as establish conditions for advancement at both the local and institutional levels. Of course there are a whole host of factors that determine its effectiveness: audience characteristics, organizational factors, media environment, audience research, program-specific factors, and infrastructural factors. Not a one of them insignificant.
At the pedagogical level, there also remain realities and practical impediments to media research. For one, production is so profoundly a social, collaborative process that we cannot say that students’ visual output is an accurate portrayal of reality (Buckingham 2009). Buckingham (2003) rails against “Romantic notions of ‘creativity’ and ‘self-expression’ (p. 137). Production is not an end in itself but a unit of data for integration “into larger critical analysis education, and rigorous self-evaluation for theoretical insights” (p. 84). Such expeditions into meaning require that educators and researchers engage in starkly reflexive analysis. The asymmetrical power relations between teacher/researcher and student are as abstract as they are ensured (Buckingham, 2000, 2003, 2009; Caron & Caronia, 2007; Couldry, 2004; de Block & Buckingham, 2007).
“Networked digital media are beginning to be taken for granted in everyday life. Although the nature of adoption varies widely by factors such as nation, region, class, and gender, an increasing number of people are domesticating networked media for their ongoing business, for socialization, and for cultural exchange.”
Mizuko Ito (2008, p. 1)
Perhaps not remarkably, scholars in all this paper’s represented disciplines call for interdisciplinary work (Canclini, 2001; Couldry & McCarthy, 2004; de Block & Buckingham, 2007; Giroux, 2005; Varnelis, 2008). This is because the quotidian superimposition of the Network on authentic and virtual spaces is irrefutable. There has developed a mobile sense of space, virtual dimensions have gained in popularity, and mapping and tracking technologies have propagated. These conditions do not reflect normative goods – there are grinding tensions (Varnelis & Friedberg, 2008). They affect all, so all best weigh in.
Still, optimists within the discourse find assurances in Ito’s domesticated media. Returning to the subject of art, Jenkins (2006) charges the Internet’s cultural economy in all its variegated colors helps bridge the digital divide. The Internet acts as a meeting ground for an array of grassroots communities, it is a media archive for “amateur curators” (p. 275), and is spreadable media, thus a vehicle for agency. Buckingham (2003) agrees that the creative industries are not just economic boons to their communities, but convey appreciable psychological benefits, such as self-esteem and discovery of heretofore-unknown talent. The Out the Window team champions this idealism, hoping to share this psychosocial windfall with its student-creators and rider-participants and endeavor to transform Los Angeles from a fractal to a connected, egalitarian, and liberated network.
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