Open Peer Review Process, from Palgrave Macmillan

February 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Palgrave Macmillan is trialling an open peer review process until 7 March. They have a few books available (4 under “Culture and Media”), and where it seems particularly interesting to me is that this is less peer review as “inviting feedback” and thus allowing for works in progress to be further developed. Jason Mittell tried a similar experiment in 2012 for the publication of his book Complex TVand MediaCommons has of course lots of other texts opened for scholarly review and feedback (including the White Paper on their study of Open Review practices, together with NYU Press) — but still, it’s nice to see an established publisher get on board.

Ballyhoo ain’t dead — the research project

January 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

One of the fun things about studying things historically is to realise how modernity is laced with the past — intersected, habited, haunted. Not in the sense of plus ça change, more in the sense that the “new” carries with it undertones of leads already explored, of thoughts already spoken, of directions already tried — in a quasi-biological sense. The now, in science-fiction terms, is merely one of the possible futures that the past has developed — but it bears the traces of what might have been — tantalising, inviting us to invent tomorrow.

So we now call it “viral marketing”, or even “prankvertisement”, but it is ballyhoo back from the 1920s, promotional stunts that are meant to get people to talk about the film, at all possible cost. And just like ballyhoo, it is, at the very least, about rehearsing audiences’ media competencies — working on that border between the fake and the real, helping them (us) put reality in play. This training of media competencies, then, goes back a long way — the “magic” of new media technologies more a skill we entertain than an innate quality of any medium. Viral marketing, then, takes the Barnum hoax (Barnums’ “operational aesthetics”) to new, more modern, heights: “is it fake, or is it real?” It is the same question, it is the same game — but realising that we’ve been playing this game for at least 200 years (much, much longer than that: since the first time a human decided to make-believe that any piece of unbelievable information relayed in some form, oral, painted, etc., was potentially true) may help us enjoy it more — indeed, help us live with media fictions.

At most viral marketing (just like 1920s promotional stunts, though the technology, then, was different) asks hard questions about the nature of film-going, since it can be about transmedia storytelling expansion, furnishing bits of information to the main movie plot that help make sense of the movie world and expand it — hard questions about where the pleasures of “cinema” precisely lie. You may, for example, have felt (as I did) rather unsatisfied with the restricted world-building that the movie Elysium offered, notably the limited views of both Earth and the space station for the rich,

the  way the movie restricted all economic activity on Earth to Matt Damon’s character’s factory job or his sweetheart’s nursing job (an economy based on just those types of low-skilled jobs would very soon crumble: what of the research, innovation, engineering jobs? How do these professionals feel about inequalities? About Elysium? How do they vote? These are all world-building questions, and what good sci-fi should be about as it attempts to build a model of a possible future). Indeed, it may be because that world-building was going on somewhere else: on the official website for the movie (, where there is[still, as of 24 Jan. 2014, but for how long?] a rich array of websites pretending to be from the construction company of the space station, complete with set-drawings blueprints of the homes one may “buy” on Torus. In lots of ways, the world-building that goes on with the promotional websites is more interesting than the movie itself — conventional, déjà-vu plot-driven fast-paced flick. And this raises the question, at least to me, of whether the film is not suffering from the fact that a decision was made to outsource lots of world-building material to the promotional campaign. Think about all the detailed world-building that went into the film itself of 2001, and made the experience of watching the film truly mesmerising. You’d have to start toying with the Elysium website before you’d start feeling the same level of amused amazement, the desire to stay in that world.

Incidentally, if the marketing is part of the fun of the film, it also raises the question of what happens to the film once that promotional material is gone (the anti-segregation blog “set up” by alien Christopher Johnson, a promotional stunt devised for District 9, for instance, has been archived, but the official link is dead) — and whether a true artist of viral marketing should not expand efforts into maintaining the fictional worlds they have set up for the film. Whether or not this would make any business sense, for the artist, would hopefully be irrelevant, though this points to a potential site of tensions here: the long-lasting relevance of a work, or the short-term, but powerful, vibration of meaning of a work encountering an audience? What if the second burst, though ephemeral by definition, could be made to last? A film like 2001 has no problem recreating its own flash of relevancy for a modern audience–but couldn’t there be another path to artistic longevity that promotional stunts, allied with new media tools, fast-speed networks, virtual reality equipment, and so on, could trace in the future of the industry? Prometheus may have been a disappointing film (haven’t seen it), but the website still looks good, inviting, tantalising — magic of sort, yes.

All of which makes me wonder if there is not more creativity being now expanded into the promotion — and less into the films themselves — and if the true evolution of transmedia storytelling is not just that the film fictions expand into other media, or that the films serve merely as events to launch a new line of merchandising, toys, TV series, and other products, as we are all quite aware — but that, more profoundly, the films serve as launching pads for the true fictional life of the stories that indeed take place somewhere else, in the promotional stunts. That the film becomes, in other words, a fictional virtual space more than a text. That maybe we need to think about a future where the film is reduced to a clickable link (“You Don’t So Much Watch it As Download It”) on a website where lots of other material build a detailed and amazing fictional world — where the film is one possible activation of the fictional world, which remains however open to other narrative possibilities through the world-building the websites offer. Given that promotional budgets may come to dwarf production budgets, this would not be such a surprising evolution after all–an evolution where film, “cinema” as we used to call it, expands its “interface” from a screen (a movie screen at first, a TV screen next, a mobile screen now) to a space (cyberspace, virtual reality).

The research project: to trace the development, history, genealogy, variations, evolutions of ballyhoo, promotional stunts, prankvertisement as the interface of cinema — from 1920s carnival to Torus, as cinema’s privileged world-building tool, en route to our future(s) where living with virtual realities is going to be loads of fun.

A good case for Reception Studies

January 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Found this browsing the issue of copyright laws, thought it made a good case for reception studies (tough in literature) and made a good case for the kind of document-based research that good reception studies should be about.

William St Clair on Reading the Romantics

Let’s start by talking about your groundbreaking book The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, which suggests that ordinary people may not have been reading what we think they were in the 18th and 19th centuries. Can you give us a brief summary of your findings?

As I read the main books about Romantic literature, I was struck by the extent to which they tended to assume that the works which we most value nowadays were also those that were most valued in their own time. I began asking simple questions like “Who read Byron?” – questions that had seldom been addressed in the academic literature – and when the spadework was done, the answers turned out to be very different from the then received views, which were mainly derived from what past literary critics had written. I gradually began to build up a picture of which books were available to be read, in what quantities, at what prices and by what constituencies of readers, in the English-speaking world in the so-called Romantic period. These years – from around 1790 to 1830 – not only saw an astonishingly rapid expansion of reading, but political and economic upheaval, including the French and Industrial revolutions, and many other innovations in ways of thinking.

I was also struck by the extent to which literary studies took the form of analyses of literary texts without being concerned with effects. Although I am all in favour of literary criticism, and of picking out and celebrating the best writing, my reaction was that we cannot assess the effects of the literature of the past, or of other writings, without information from outside the texts themselves. I worked for most of my professional life in the British Treasury, where the most important questions were to do with the real world effects of public policies and how these effects could be assessed and evaluated. So if there was a link between printed literature and wider effects – if literature was indeed as influential as is usually assumed – I thought it ought to be findable.

My book involved searching for primary records in archives of publishers, printers, libraries, trade catalogues and auction sales of copyrights, in several countries. To my surprise they turned out to be astonishingly full, and arranging and summarising the information takes up a large part of the book. What I was trying to apply, and to get over to my readers – and it hasn’t been accepted as fully as I might have wished – is that the conclusions of my book arise from the data. I’m not putting forward arguments and backing them up with footnotes – I’m trying to apply the scientific paradigm of collecting all the relevant data, searching for emerging patterns, putting forward findings and new hypotheses and allowing and encouraging other people to see if they can replicate the results.

Can you tell us more about the conclusions that you reach? I know that one of the notions you question is that the 19th century was the “golden age of Wordsworth”, as the hard data showed that not to be the case.

The “age of Wordsworth” convention is a good example. The way literary history has been presented has been as a parade of the literary figures who are regarded as great now. Wordsworth is one. Blake, Shelley and Keats are others. But in their time these four authors were little read. Compared with Scott and Byron, the numbers are tiny. What also comes out strongly is that people didn’t just read the books first published in their times. In fact, most of the books being read in the Romantic period were written at least a generation or two before, and cannot by any stretch be regarded as romantic. And this mismatch comes to the fore when you try to look at the mentalities that might be expected as the result of the actual reading. Many people in the Romantic period are stuck in a pre-Enlightenment, pre-modern view of the world – a largely static, local, rural, and religious culture of English villages – even though their lives had been transformed by urbanisation, industrialisation, wars and empire. The trajectory of reading is very different from the trajectory of writing. That’s a general finding, not just one specific to the Romantic period, and one that suggests that any attempts to relate writing to the effects of writing needs to take account of the time lags.

What people read in this period had a lot to do with accessibility of books, didn’t it? Pricing was key. Wordsworth wasn’t prepared to sell his work cheaply and therefore wasn’t as widely read as he could have been. Is that correct?

Yes, that is correct. Wordsworth’s books were mostly expensive and the numbers of copies sold was small. It took years to sell out an edition of 500 copies even with remaindering. The Excursion was one of the most expensive books for its size ever published. The retail price was equivalent to two or three weeks’ wages for a skilled manual worker. For the price of a single copy of The Excursion, when it was first published, you could buy more than 100 fat pigs. So Wordsworth’s works don’t really reach a middle class, let alone a mass readership until they came out of copyright towards the end of the 19th century. A lot of my book is about the book industry – the technology, the pricing and the copyright regimes that determine price. At first I only did that economic analysis as a way of getting at who had access to which texts at which time, a precondition for getting at potential effects. But strong patterns come out from that analysis of the book industry – notably the direct link between the changing copyright regime and price, and therefore access. Attempts to assess the effects of writings from a purely cultural point of view, without bringing in the conditions in which they were published, priced and circulated in material form are, in my view, methodologically incomplete. In the Romantic period, apart from word of mouth, ink on paper was the only way in which complex ideas could make their way across time and distance.

Let’s turn to your first book, The Romantic Ideology, which calls for a radically revisionary reading of Romanticism. Please tell us more.

I’ve chosen this book because, along with other essays by Jerome McGann, it does explain and consider what Romanticism is, and how it continued to influence our ways of thinking. Romanticism can be regarded as beginning as a movement in the later 18th century in Germany and going on until the mid-Victorian period. It has a number of components that don’t necessarily cohere. One is the rhetoric of individual genius, inspiration and creativity that takes it as given that the greatest authors and artists are able to declare truths that transcend their own times. Another is an emphasis on individual feeling that can be seen as a reaction to the mechanistic view of human nature that you get in the philosophical writings of the Enlightenment in the 18th century. A third was that individuals can learn timeless truths direct from looking at “nature”, such as the mountains and the forests, conceived of as unchanging and benevolent, without the hard grind of study and education. When, for example, Wordsworth claims that “One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can”, we can surely now see that this is nonsense. It is not a perennial truth but a way of thinking common in Wordsworth’s day and earlier, but now of only historical interest – it is an error that has been superseded.

What McGann says is that literary studies, and studies of Romanticism in particular, were prisoners of the phenomenon that they were allegedly studying. Such studies commonly talked about individual genius and about the meaning of the text as if that was fixed. They operated in a tradition of hermeneutics, which came from bible studies, that regards literary works as containing hidden truths that can be teased out by careful armchair study. Editors searched for the final intentions of the author as being the best guide to his best thought. In fact, as emerges from many empirical studies of how Romantic works actually came into being in the form that they did, many people besides the authors normally participated in the composition, production, presentation and dissemination, and printed texts were seldom stable. And besides being socially produced, they were also socially consumed, not only by being read aloud and talked about in drawing rooms and reading clubs, but by having been composed with the known preferences of readerships anticipated in the actual writing.

I chose McGann because he rightly says we shouldn’t uncritically swallow Romanticism but should unpick its assumptions and study literature, and the effects of literature, just as we should study other phenomena, by standing outside and not inside the rhetorics.

In that sense, your book is very much outside.

My book is very much outside the rhetorics of Romanticism. A lot of books nowadays claim to stand outside these rhetorics. There is nothing wrong with studying and celebrating the great authors, even when we cannot accept their worldview, and I am not advocating cultural relativism. Where the confusing error occurred was in thinking that studying the great authors in the “canon” takes us somehow to what actually happened in the past, or to the ways of thinking prevalent in the past.

There is also another point I would like to make. We have a spate of books now which I call “in the imagination” books, where the author, rightly distrustful of taking the great canonical authors as representative of an age, makes his or her anthology of non-canonical texts. So a scholar might bring together a piece of political writing, a play, a long-forgotten novel written by a woman and a book of advice on children’s education, that were all produced at much the same time, and the author then makes remarks about them and the “imagination” of the society from which they emanated. This kind of study is, frankly, quite easy to do in the age of on-line texts, but I’m very sceptical about the methodology or the general usefulness of what they can tell us, given that there is an infinitude of texts from which such anthologies can be compiled and an infinitude of criteria for making the selections. What claim can such texts have to represent the “imagination” of an age? These studies appear to me to be a residue of the romantic notion that texts deserve to be scrutinised without paying regard to the material conditions under which they were produced and read, or the many alternative texts that their readers, if there were any, had access to, and may have been influenced by.

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.

Ballyhoo ain’t dead — another research project

January 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

A study of ballyhoo, from the 1920s to today (the Carrie stunt at a New York café, october 2013):

  • a resurgence today, after decades of marginalisation of ballyhoo promotion to “disreputable” exploitation movies?
  • if so, why a resurgence in new media today? Are we re-discovering a sense of media magic due to new technologies?
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Recall: a research project

January 8, 2014 § 2 Comments

any work done on the process of recalling a film? On what magicians call “reconstruction” and which is thought of as part of the whole magic trick (as in, it is important that audiences remember the trick as magic, not as a method easily explained)?

—> looking at 1920s novelised versions of films as “reconstruction” process that draws attention to the magic of the film?

how about the issue of ‘misremembering’?

an audience study (through questionnaires etc.) of audience recall of films?
are there films that audiences remember better than others
is recall linked to how attentive audiences are
what do audiences recall? what do audiences not recall?
recall vs reconstruction of films
recall and film narrative strategies

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SERCIA’s Film Journal

June 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Welcome to Film Journal, SERCIA’s online journal. The first volume is available now, on “Hybridity, borders and margins in English-Speaking cinemas”. Two of the contributions deal directly with the issue of miscegenation in early Griffith and DeMille works, while a third looks at prostitutes in early talkies.

SERCIA has an upcoming conference in september in Bath for those who are nearby…Ken Loach will be visiting 🙂

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