Media Ethnography 2.0 – David Morley revisiting David Morley, 40 years on.

June 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Just spent the morning at lovely Goldsmiths University campus — where the wind, mind you, was blowing in the tall branches of the large oak trees just as it does in Antonioni’s Blow Up*  for a half-day of workshop on media ethnography: “Media Worlds and the Ethnographic Imagination“. The point was to “interrogate ethnographic practices” in film studies, something David Morley, the keynote speaker, addressed heads-on. Morley’s keynote was an update on his 1974 publication “Towards an ethnography of Media Audiences” (published in his 2d year of PhD research?). Morley 2.0 then.

Morley first pointed out how relevant ethnographic media studies could be, as they allow to debunk abstract claims of a “we” in the media audience (or in the West. Is there a “we” in “Western”?), what he called the “abstracted sociology of the postmodern” that supposes all global audiences subsumed by the meanings  and practices of global “cyberspace.” Indeed, for ethnographic media studies, there are multiple media practices, multiple media communities, countless media cultures, where media takes on meanings. And not just media meanings at that, but meanings in cultures. Charged, in the following Q&A, with overstating his case of the absolute centrality of media in audiences’ lives, as media consumption after all does not occupy a majority of what we do in life (debatable, but an interesting debating position nonetheless), Morley brilliantly, and effortlessly, started reorganising the lecturer’s podium and chairs to graphically make the case that television was not only a content-provider that impacted people’s lives only during consumption, but was also what furniture in the (UK) living-rooms was pointing towards. Media, thus, with architectural meaning.

The second point of relevance for an “ethnographic turn” (which happened, by the way, in the 1980s and 1990s) was for Morley to definitely, conclusively and — one would hope — once and for all break the hold that hypodermic, deterministic models of media communication keep having on some parts of media studies. Significantly debunked by more complex models of active spectatorship, and declared dead in mass communication research since at least 1959 (!), hypodermic models are making a troubling come-back with our exposure to New Media. Case in point quoted by Morley: Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brainwhere the Internet, now treated as a creature with some sort of agency of its own (aren’t we supposed to wait for the Singularity for that to happen? Isn’t the Internet, gasp, us, and not the other way around? If we don’t like the Internet, guess what we can do about it…), appears to be responsible, directly at that, for us (who? all of us? only the idiots among us? only the idiots who live in New York City among us? Who is this “we” again? Is that people in China too? Which ones over there?) losing our powers of concentration, of reflection, of profound thinking, of…. Hang on, I’ve heard all this before — in fact, this reminds me of what a lot of old-technology teachers kept on telling me, in low-tech France, back in the 1990s, praising paper technology to me as all this new tech was accused of making scholarly work more superficial — at a time when the Internet was, in fact, and quite unexpectedly, making it possible for researchers like me, in France, with no money, and a desire to account for the full wealth of film wonders, to access documents from distant libraries around the world — thus making reflection, of the scholarly kind (slow, ponderous, boring scholarly thought with lots of inclusions and convoluted sentences) even more possible than before. Ah, the sadness of hypodermic communication theory indeed.

Ethnographic media audience studies, by comparison, of the Morley kind of course, looking at what happens to whom at what times of the day and at what point in the life of actual people in their actual context when they confront media, has brought forth so many uses of media. Two quick examples from this workshop:

  • Julie Archambault, presenting an example from her field-work in Mozambique, on how mobile phones have had profound impact on dating and romantic relationships between young people there, leading to cultural adaptations to navigate new forms of “authenticity” in the expression of feelings, from

1/ “before if I wanted to talk to a girl, I would risk being beaten by her brothers; now I just phone her”, to

2/ “what can this man offer if he can’t even call me back?”, to

3/ mobile phones with magic powers of forcing romantic break-ups as SMS history stored on the phone may reveal cheating.

  • Richard McDonald, presenting preliminary results from his current research into what I would call “spirit spectatorship”: films being projected to no human audience in outdoor installations in north Thailand as ritual practice of bribing the spirits by offering them entertainment. Interestingly, as he points out, the installations rely on 35 mm equipment, rather than the cheaper digital equipment that could be used. The materiality of 35, with large projector, complicated reel changes, noise of the projector, etc., possibly being the actual point in making the offering of value? This is research to watch for: the projectionists, apparently, boast that they know how the spirits watch those films, and what they make of them…

Ethnography, in Morley’s words , helps understand “how audiences perform television-viewing in their natural contexts”. A humbling shift to “how” questions, a turn to the everyday, to the banal, the what “goes without saying”, for, to quote again from this morning, “what goes unsaid is the single most important structuring force of cultural life“.

Brilliant, simple, illuminating, and answering a real need.

*  Antonioni’s Blow Up:  clearly, the film is about the wind in Britain — which I had not realised before coming to live in Britain where trees are works of art and the grass and leaves combine for a cultural masterpiece in green. In itself, I find, this is a good example of how meaning is a construct permanently revisited in the viewers. This is a common occurrence that every media scholar has experienced, yet it is often forgotten by media scholars busy deriving meaning from film semiotics and relying on essential readings of film texts. There is no definitive meaning, there are just meanings deploying through time and places.

Listen, then, the wind **:

**As it turns out, “Listen, The Wind” is the title of at least 2 works that deal in some way with evasion and flights of fancy: Jamaican Roger Mais’ 1943 short story on the wind at night and a young woman’s inner, secret smile, and American Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book recollections of flying with husband Charles (yes, that Charles).



The Internet of Things is Coming — a July conference

April 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

This came through the mail this morning. Consider attending:

Date: 3rd – 5th July 2014

Venue: York St John University

Confirmed Keynote speakers:

  • Dr Alison Powell (London School of Economics and Political Science)
  • Gerald Santucci (Head of Knowledge sharing, European Commission)
  • Bas Boorsma (Director, Internet of Everything for Cities, Cisco Corporation)


Call for papers

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an umbrella term used to describe a next step in the evolution of the Internet. While the first phase of the web can be thought of as a combination of an internet of hyper-text documents and an internet of applications (think blogs, online email, social sites, etc.), one of the next steps is an Internet of augmented ‘smart’ objects – or ‘things’ – being accessible to human beings and each other over network connections. This is the internet of Things.

Underpinning the development of the Internet of Things is the ever increasing proliferation of networked devices in everyday usage. Such devices include laptops, smart phones, fridges, smart meters, RFIDs, etc. The number of devices in common usage is set to increase worldwide from the current level of 4.5 billion to 50 billion by 2050 and may even include human implants.

By dint of the above, life as we know it on the planet will undergo a multitude of minuscule but incredibly significant changes that will alter not only how we relate to each other and the world, but also how we conceive of ourselves as beings within it. This situation proposes a pressing question: do we want to simply leave market forces to shape our reality? Or is there a deeper need, given the significance of this technology, to consider its ramifications within a philosophical context? For as computational devices become ever more central to how we relate to and interface with each other, so too do they begin to create new systems of power relations between people. To create a system of power is to impose a social dynamic. The design and deployment of the Internet of Things is thus not simply a matter of software/hardware architecture but also of politics; ethics; belief; citizenship; and social and civic relations. It is to this end of examining these issues more deeply that we are convening this conference.

The CFP closes May 20.

been thinking about media and migration — another cool conference

January 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

I have been thinking recently about working on developing a class on global media and migrations. Not very clear what it entails, apart from a consideration of where the “border” figures in a global media culture increasingly “borderless” (or is it?) — or the locus of tension between national memories vs. international futures, or national comforts vs. international fears. To be continued.

In any case, found this conference that I’ll try to attend, as one of the ports of call in this journey — working on what the CFP calls “a public history of immigration” would be quite exciting indeed.

Immigration, Nation and Public History
Wednesday 18 June 2014 at King’s College London

Hosted by the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies.
Convenor: Dr Eureka Henrich

Symposium Aims and Themes
This symposium provides an opportunity to reflect upon the tension between different representations of migrants in the public arena – from so-called ‘medical tourists’ and ‘problem’ populations, to immigrant ancestors and national founders, to affluent global citizens and international students. It asks: what part do historical perspectives play in these

representations? Can we talk about a ‘public history of immigration’ within Britain or elsewhere? If so, what might it look like? In other words, where do we encounter historical narratives of migration beyond the academy, how are they constructed and who do they seek to represent?

Another interesting conf if you have the time

January 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

Won’t have the time to submit though couldn’t agree more with the assumptions in this CFP.

ACTUALLY (self-promotion plug coming up) 🙂 I have something due for publication this year that explores how Hollywood cinema of the 1920s can be construed, through radio and fanzine re-mediation, to also “take place” in a domestic environment — would fit right in with the concerns of the conference…

Begin forwarded message:

Date: 14 Jan 2014 08:46:01 GMT


‘Media and Place’

School of Humanities and Cultural Studies
Faculty of Arts, Environment and Technology
Leeds Metropolitan University

To celebrate the launch of the new ‘Media and Place’ Masters programme, we are pleased to announce our conference on the 11-12th July 2014.

Confirmed Keynote speakers:
Prof Shaun Moores (University of Sunderland); Prof Kevin Hetherington (The Open University); Prof Helen Wheatley (University of Warwick)

Media operate in settings and environments: they exist in place. Some media spaces we occupy feel like home – listening to our favourite radio stations while we drive to work – while others enable virtual travel across vast physical spaces to different geographical locations. Media can escort us in an instant from the glamour of the global city to the minute, quotidian details of life lived at the local. Television’s liveness can gather very different people in the same physical space or draw together disparately located audiences around political events, sports tournaments and ecological disasters. Film makes possible different versions of the same city, multiplied as it filters differently through the eyes of the director to the audience. Media can blur the boundaries between the private and the professional, transform domestic boundaries into global businesses, and offer individual opportunities for public confessionals. New media connect us across continents with friends, loved ones and those we’ve never met. Yet place is always more than a location on a map; it is lived and experienced through repetition such that some places become laden with meanings of belonging and affective attachment. In what ways does place matter to the media? How far do we inhabit or live inside the media we use? Or rather, has the electronic world created a culture of placelessness? This inter-disciplinary conference welcomes researchers and practitioners from media and cultural studies, urban history, post-colonial studies, gender studies, urban sociology, cultural and phenomenological geography, politics, political economy, philosophy, social and cultural theory, cultural policy, anthropology, town planning, architecture, design, visual arts and ecology.

Conference themes
Themes and issues that the conference seeks to cover include (but is not limited to):

1. The cultural representations of land and urbanscapes across time and space;
2. Media and other representations of place and in particular of the North of England;
3. Transitory and marginalised spaces – suburbia, media as navigation, disadvantaged and stigmatised neighbourhoods, urban fringes, places en route;
4. Urban arts and media responses to the economic crisis post 2008, including – issues of cultural activism, resistance and culture-led regeneration;
5. Theories of rural and urban media mindscapes and imaginaries and of media, place and affect;
6. Drama, literature, cinema and television of the North: Kes, East is East, Last of the Summer Wine, The Red Riding trilogy, Wuthering Heights, Haweswater, Fat Friends …..
7. Post-colonial/global city spaces, hybrid and intercultural uses of media in urban and rural places;
8. Guerilla gardening, ecological DIY protest, pop-up urbanism, the emergence of new informal cultural venues and other grassroots interventions in urban and rural environments;
9. Digital technologies and new uses of urban and rural space;
10.Disruption, artistic intervention and subversive tactics (eg in post-communist countries in Eastern and Central Europe);
11.Transport, communication networks as media spaces;
12.Utopian/dystopian places;
13.The reputation of places in austerity times;
14.New media and spaces of protest, conflict and subversion.
15.The places and practices of sporting media (eg. Le Tour de France, the Paralympics, the World Cup);
16.Bottom-up, participatory urban and rural media and cultural policies.

The conference organisers are liaising with Palgrave MacMillan with a view to collecting selected conference papers together in an edited collection for publication in 2015.

Submission of abstracts
The conference organisers welcome proposals for single papers and panels of up to three papers. Please send short proposals of no more than 300 words tomediaplaceconf2014, by 1st February 2014 including a title, abstract, the theme your paper speaks to and your affiliation details.

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