Monday, December 13, 2010

We Are All Salespeople Now

On December 9th, the website Patently Apple, which monitor's the computer maker's patent applications, came across a filing for an intriguing new application sharing feature.  In a nutshell, it would allow iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Mac apps (coming in 2011) to be downloaded not only from Apple's proprietary servers, but also directly from devices belonging to one's peers.  Here's a graphic from Patently Apple outlining how the proposed feature would work:

The idea behind the peer-to-peer sharing function goes something like this.  Someone you know shows you an app.  You decide you like it, so you establish a wireless connection to your friend's device and presto! The app is yours, without ever having to log on to Apple.  At some point down the line, one or the other of the mobile devices would report the transaction back to Apple, which would in turn arrange for the appropriate billing.

It's difficult to draw meaningful comparisons between the analog and digital realms, but let me take a crack at it anyway.  Imagine for a moment that a friend of yours is reading a book.  You give it a quick inspection and determine that it looks interesting to you.  Instead of trudging to the library or bookstore, or ordering it online, your friend just happens to have another copy she'd be happy to sell to you directly.  And so on and so on, for every friend of hers who is also interested in the book.  (Somehow, the proceeds from each sale find their way back to the distributor.)

If Apple follows through on this patent application -- and there's no guaranteeing that it will -- then it could fundamentally alter how we understand and go about transacting for digital goods.  In addition to a fixed, centralized point of point-of-sale, there would now be millions of decentralized, mobile points-of-sale.  Buttressed by a sufficiently robust incentive system (say, a free 99¢ app after 10 paid shares, or something to that effect), you can only imagine how many apps would end up getting sold between friends.  We are all salespeople now.

In some ways, Apple's proposed peer-to-peer app selling system isn't anything new.  People have long discovered new products through interactions with friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances.  It's not a coincidence that these types of communications are the basis upon which viral marketing is built.  What is different, however, is the way in which Apple could conceivably close the gap between word of mouth advertising and a completed, commercial transaction.  Ideally, the two moments would become virtually indistinguishable from one another.

The other odd bit here, which no one seems to be commenting on, is this: under the proposed system, people would be paying Apple hundreds, even thousands of dollars for its hardware, which would in turn allow them to buy into the company's mobile app sales force.  That's right -- you get to pay for the privilege of working for Apple Computer! This is assuming that the meager incentives you receive for selling are, on balance, incommensurate with the high cost of the hardware.  If it wasn't abundantly clear by now, Apple truly has a bullpen full of evil geniuses in its employ.

Get ready to go to work.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Debate on the Future of Higher Ed

Culture Machine, probably the most innovative open access cultural studies journal around, is hosting a debate on the future of higher education.  It's very Important stuff.  Check it out!

The Culture Machine debate on the future of higher education in the UK and internationally, and on the position of the arts, humanities and social sciences within the university, continues.

Six new contributions have just been added to the Culture Machine InterZone section:

• ‘The Death of the University, English Style’ by Nick Couldry and Angela McRobbie, both at Goldsmiths, University of London

• ‘Cut the Shock Doctrine: Radicalize Common Sense’ by Paul Bowman, Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University

• ‘Amidst the Culture of Efficiency’ by Sunil Manghani, Critical and Cultural Theory , York St John University

• ‘On the “Death” of the University’ by Jason Rovito, Communication and Culture, York and Ryerson Universities

• 'Education, Education, Education' by Ewa Sidorenko, Education, University of Greenwich

• ‘Diversity and Choice’ by Leon Wainwright, History of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University

To read the pieces, visit the Culture Machine InterZone:

More contributions to follow.

If you still want to join the debate, email your all contribution to Gary Hall at <>, remembering to include your full name and academic affiliation (if any). If, for institutional or other reasons, you would prefer to have your piece published anonymously, we would be happy to accommodate this.

All contributions will be reviewed by the Editorial Board on a rolling basis, with those accepted for publication being made immediately available on the Culture Machine site.

Culture Machine is part of Open Humanities Press

For more information, visit the Culture Machine site at:

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Harry Potter Grows Up": The Meaning Behind a Cliché

For those of you who aren't familiar with The Late Age of Print, the final chapter of the book focuses on the extraordinary literary sensation that is Harry Potter. So, needless to say, Harry Potter has been on my mind quite a bit lately, especially with today's release of the first installment of the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I don't have much to say about the latest film, honestly, not having yet seen it -- although I intend to, as I've seen the previous six movies and have read/enjoyed all seven books. Instead, what I've been thinking about lately is the age of Harry Potter, or rather that of his fans.

I teach an undergraduate course at the 300 or Junior level called "The Cultures of Books and Reading"; during one week, we focus on the many-headed Harry Potter phenomenon. When I first launched the book class, back in 2006, I was excited to realize that my students were basically Harry's contemporaries. Those among them who were eleven years old -- Harry's age -- when the series launched in 1997 were twenty in 2006, which is the typical age of most college Juniors.

But now it's four years later, and those twenty year-olds are turning twenty-four. Yes, that's right, twenty-four -- practically a quarter century. Graduate school age. Marrying age. Getting established in one's career age. Even baby-having age. I'm feeling old just writing about them! Indeed, it's not just that Harry Potter and the actors who portray him and his friends on screen have grown up. The whole fan culture surrounding Harry Potter has grown up, too, to the point where, as with Star Wars fans, we might even start thinking about a whole new generation of Potter enthusiasts.

This is what the release of the first installment of the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows really means. It marks the beginning of the end of the film adaptations, yet it also marks the beginning of the beginning of the next generation of Potter fandom. What role, if any, will the books, films, toys, games, candy, costumes, etc. play in their lives? And what new meanings will the Harry Potter franchise take on once the torch gets passed, or rather shared?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Future of the Humanities

This video made the rounds last week on Facebook.  I'm sharing it here for those of you who may have missed it (or who want to watch it again).  It offers a tragicomic glimpse into the cynicism that pervades the academic humanities these days -- a result of poor job prospects for many, limited funding, and diminishing respect within and beyond higher education.  It's biting, but for exactly the reasons I wish it were not.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Critical Lede on "The Abuses of Literacy"

My favorite podcast, The Critical Lede, just reviewed my recent piece appearing in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, "The Abuses of Literacy: Amazon Kindle and the Right to Read." Check out the broadcast here -- and thanks to the show's great hosts, Benjamin Myers and Desiree Rowe of the University of South Carolina Upstate.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

E-Books: No Friends of Free Expression

I've just published a short essay called "E-books -- No Friends of Free Expression" in the National Communication Association's online magazine, Communication Currents. It was commissioned in anticipation of National Freedom of Speech Week, which will be recognized from October 18th to 24th, 2010. Here's a short excerpt from the piece, in case you're interested:
It may seem odd to suggest that reading has something to do with freedom of expression. It’s one thing to read a book, after all, but a different matter to write one. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that reading is an expressive activity in its own right, resulting in notes, dog-eared pages, highlights, and other forms of communicative fallout. Even more to the point, as Georgetown Law Professor Julie E. Cohen observes, “Freedom of speech is an empty guarantee unless one has something—anything—to say…[T]he content of one’s speech is shaped by one’s response to all prior speech, both oral and written, to which one has been exposed.” Reading is an integral part of the circuitry of free expression, because it forms a basis upon which our future communications are built. Anything that impinges upon our ability to read freely is liable to short-circuit this connection.

I then go on to explore the surveillance activities that are quite common among commercially available e-readers; I also question how the erosion of private reading may affect not only what we choose to read but also what we may then choose to say.

The Comm Currents piece is actually a precis of a much longer essay of mine just out in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 7(3) (September 2010), pp. 297 - 317, as part of a special issue on rights. The title is "The Abuses of Literacy: Amazon Kindle and the Right to Read." Here's the abstract:
This paper focuses on the Amazon Kindle e-reader's two-way communications capabilities on the one hand and on its parent company's recent forays into data services on the other. I argue that however convenient a means Kindle may be for acquiring e-books and other types of digital content, the device nevertheless disposes reading to serve a host of inconvenient—indeed, illiberal—ends. Consequently, the technology underscores the growing importance of a new and fundamental right to counterbalance the illiberal tendencies that it embodies—a “right to read,” which would complement the existing right to free expression.

Keywords: Kindle;; Digital Rights; Reading; Privacy

Feel free to email me if you'd like a copy of "The Abuses of Literacy." I'd be happy to share one with you.

The title of the journal article, incidentally, pays homage to Richard Hoggart's famous book The Uses of Literacy, which is widely recognized as one of the founding texts of the field of cultural studies. It's less well known that he also published a follow-up piece many years later called "The Abuses of Literacy," which, as it turns out, he'd intended to be the title of Uses before the publisher insisted on a change.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the work. Feedback is always welcome and appreciated.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ambivalently Scribd

Back in March I announced on my other blog that The Late Age of Print was available on the document sharing site, Scribd. I was excited to see it there for many reasons, chief among them the Creative Commons license I'd negotiated with my publisher, Columbia University Press, which provides for the free circulation and transformation of the electronic edition of Late Age. The book's presence on Scribd was, for me, evidence of the CC license really working. I was also excited by Scribd's mobile features, which meant, at least in theory, that the e-book version of Late Age might enjoy some uptake on one or more of the popular e-reading systems I often write about here.

Lately, though, I'm beginning to feel less comfortable with the book's presence there. Scribd has grown and transformed considerably since March, adding all sorts of features to make the site more sticky -- things like commenting, social networking, an improved interface, and more. These I like, but there's one new feature I'm not feeling: ads by Google. Here's a screenshot from today, showing what The Late Age of Print looks like on Scribd.

Late Age on Scribd

Note the ad in the bottom-right portion of the screen for a book called, Aim High! 101 Tips for Teens, available on (Clearly, somebody at Google/Scribd needs to work on their cross-promotions.) You can subscribe to an ad-free version of Scribd for $2.99/month or $29.99/year.

Now, I'm not one of those people who believes that all advertising is evil. Some advertising I find quite helpful. Moreover, on feature-rich sites like Scribd (and in newspapers and magazines, on TV, etc.), it's what subsidizes the cost of my own and others' "free" experience.

Here's the problem, though. The Creative Commons license under which the e-edition of Late Age was issued says this:
This PDF is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License, available at or by mail from Creative Commons, 171 Second St., Suite 300, San Francisco, CA 94105 U.S.A.

“Noncommercial” as defined in this license specifically excludes any sale of this work or any portion thereof for money, even if the sale does not result in a profit by the seller or if the sale is by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or NGO.

I'm pretty sure the presence of advertising on Scribd violates the terms of the license, albeit in an indirect way. It's not like Late Age is being sold there for money. However, it does provide a context or occasion for the selling of audience attention to advertisers, as well as the selling of an ad-free experience to potential readers. Either way, it would seem as though the book has become a prompt for commercial transactions.

As of today, the site has recorded close to 2,000 "reads" of Late Age (whatever that means), which would indicate that Scribd has managed to reach a small yet significant group of people by piggybacking on my book.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to do about this.

In software terms I've always considered the e-edition of Late Age to be more like shareware than freeware. That is, my publisher and I are comfortable with some folks free-riding provided that others -- hopefully many others -- go on to purchase the printed edition of the book. The e-edition is not, in other words, a total freebie. Columbia has invested significant time, money, and energy in producing the book, and if nothing else the Press deserves to recoup its investment. Me? I'm more interested in seeing the arguments and ideas spread, but not at the cost of Columbia losing money on the project.

In any case, the situation with advertising on Scribd raises all sorts of vexing questions about what counts as a "commercial" or "non-commercial" use of a book in the late age of print. This became clear to me after finishing Chris Kelty's Two Bits: The Cultural Politics of Free Software (Duke U.P., 2008). Kelty discusses how changes in technology, law, and structures of power and authority have created a host of issues for people in and beyond the world of software to work through: can free software still be free if it's built on top of commercial applications, even in part? can collectively-produced software be copyrighted, and if so, by whom? should a single person profit from the sale of software that others have helped to create? and so on.

Analogously, can the use of an e-book to lure eyeballs, and thus ad dollars, be considered "non-commercial?" What about using the volume to market an ad-free experience? More broadly, how do you define the scope of "non-commercial" once book content begins to migrate across diverse digital platforms? I don't have good answers to any of these questions, although to the first two I intuitively want to say, "no." Then again, I'm pretty sure we're dealing with an issue that's never presented itself in quite this way before, at least in the book world. Consequently, I'll refrain from making any snap-judgments.

As I've said here before, though, I recently ported The Differences and Repetitions Wiki from Wikidot to its own independent site after Wikidot became inundated with advertising. In general I'm not a fan of my work being used to sell lots of other, unrelated stuff, especially when there are more traditionally non-commercial options available for getting the work out.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Digital & Social Media Job Posting

My department at Indiana University, Communication and Culture, is looking for a top-notch person to fill an opening in digital/social media, at the level of assistant professor.  Check out the job announcement, below, and please circulate it widely.

I'm not a member of the search committee, by the way, so if you have questions it's best to contact the committee chair--my colleague, Professor Barbara Klinger.

Indiana University

Department of Communication and Culture

Digital and Social Media

The Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in Digital and Social Media to begin Fall 2011.

We seek a humanities-trained Ph.D. whose primary area of research expertise and training is in digital media studies focused specifically on the social dimensions and potentials of digital media. This applicant will be expected to interact productively with colleagues in one or more of the department’s three areas: Rhetoric and Public Culture; Film and Media Studies; and Performance and Ethnographic Studies. The applicant must have a well-developed research program and teaching experience in digital and social media. She or he will be responsible for developing an introductory lecture course and advanced undergraduate courses, as well as for actively shaping and teaching graduate offerings in this field of study.

We particularly encourage applicants whose research involves specialization in areas such as:

  • Social networking

  • New technologies of political advocacy

  • Ethnographies of new media

  • Convergence and participatory cultures

  • Digital video

  • Games and gaming

Candidates are expected to have a strong research agenda and a commitment to excellence in teaching. Preference will be given to those who have their Ph.D. in hand by the date of appointment. Applicants should send a letter of application, curriculum vitae, writing sample, and three letters of recommendation to: Professor Barbara Klinger, Chair, Digital/Social Media Search, Department of Communication and Culture, 800 E. 3rd Street, Indiana University, Bloomington IN 47405. Review of applications will begin December 1, 2010 and continue until the position is filled.

Indiana University is an equal opportunity and affirmative action employer. The university actively encourages applications and nominations of women, minorities, applicants with disabilities, and members of other underrepresented groups.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Get Organized

About a month ago a friend and fellow academic contacted me to ask how I organize all of the material that we accumulate in the course of our careers.  With the school year starting for most of us here in the United States and elsewhere, I thought it might be worth sharing what I told her.  It never hurts to start the year off on the right foot, eh?

Confession: I'm a prodigious keeper of academic stuff.  I'm not of the caliber of the people featured on the TV show Hoarders (which, by the way, literally takes my breath away), but my collection still runs pretty deep. Heck, I even have a few of my old notebooks from my undergraduate days, and truth be told I do refer to them on occasion.  I'm able to keep this much stuff because I live in the Midwest where housing prices are relative affordable.  Folks living in urban setting ought to take what I'm about to say with a major grain of salt.

One of the main items I hold on to are photocopied journal articles and book chapters.  Each one has its own separate file folder, and on the tab I write the author's name and the selection title.  Where possible I note the full citation on the document itself. I file these alphabetically by the author's last name in a four-drawer file cabinet that I've just about outgrown. In the event that the article is more topically-focused or doesn't name the author, I place it in a colored file folder and file it alphabetically by topic.

I've also begun amassing a growing number of e-readings of late, which I save on my laptop in a folder called "articles."  I use the author's last name and a keyword from the title as the file name.  I'm not yet convinced this is the best system, but it seems to be working for now.  Regular backup is a must.

I keep my old notebooks from graduate school in a cardboard file box. They're filed chronologically by semester, with the oldest ones toward the back.  I've moved a few of the notebooks I refer to most frequently to the front, even though that violates the chronological system.

I organize my teaching files by class and semester. Every class gets its own hanging file every semester, and in each I place three manila file folders: one for lesson plans, one for handouts/tests/syllabi/etc., and one for any other course related documents (e.g., enrollment records, grade rosters, etc.)  I keep the most active files in my desk-drawer file cabinet at home, and the older ones (usually for classes I'm not teaching anymore) I have archived in one of the file cabinets in my campus office.

My research files vary, but for the most part I keep a hardcopy of every finished manuscript in its own separate file folder labeled with the title and publication/presentation date. These I keep in a cardboard file box organized chronologically. The accompanying research materials I contain in accordion files, which I label with the project title. I keep these in a file box separate from the finished papers, although I've gone back and forth on this. Any articles I've used on a project go back in the metal file cabinet once I'm confident the project really is done.

I've managed to collect electronic copies of all of my published research, which I keep on my laptop in a folder called, surprisingly enough, "Published Research."  Within it I maintain separate folders for journal articles, book chapters, and book reviews.  Again, backup is essential.

Books: if I haven't read or referred to one in a long time, or if I've never read it at all, then it becomes a candidate to sell to a used bookstore -- although the only problem here is that I end up just trading them in for more books.  Otherwise, I use foldable/stackable bookshelves (a carry-over from graduate school, when I used to move around a lot) to house the many volumes comprising my library, the bulk of which I keep at home since that's where I mainly do my writing.  The titles are organized loosely by topic (philosophy, media studies, communication theory, postcolonial studies, race, cultural studies, etc.) and then by author, but I don't maintain any type of formal alphabetical system here. I try my best to organize multiple works by the same author chronologically.  Most of the time textbooks and odd or duplicate volumes end up on the bookshelves in my campus office.

That's my system in a nutshell.  What are your best tips, fellow travelers?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Feedback, Please!

Earlier this summer Desiree Rowe and Ben Myers, whose podcast The Critical Lede I cannot say enough good things about, invited me to contribute to a journal forum they're editing on "The Performative Possibilities of New Media." Given my interest in the politics of scholarly communication, I immediately jumped at the chance to participate.

Composing the essay took a little longer than I'd expected, but I think I've got a respectable version of the piece now in hand. It's called "Performing Scholarly Communication," and it reflects on the origins and possible futures of academic periodical publishing.

This is where you come in. I've posted the draft essay to one of my project sites, The Differences & Repetitions Wiki (a.k.a., D&RW), in the hopes those of you reading this might be kind enough to offer some feedback. You'll find "Performing Scholarly Communication" on the site, along with other essays I've worked on over the years.  Don't hesitate to comment anonymously -- I'm completely cool with that -- and definitely take some time to poke around a bit.  Oh, and by the way, the piece is pretty short, so it won't take you very long to read.

I mentioned back in July that I'd be rebooting D&RW, mainly as a result of the influx of advertising appearing on the original host site, Wikidot.  Well, this is it.  "Performing Scholarly Communication" marks the (dant-dant-daah!) GRAND OPENING of the new D&RW, which links directly off of this blog.  Enjoy.

Thanks in advance, wise crowd, for reading and commenting on the draft of my piece. I hope you find something in there that intrigues you.

Monday, July 19, 2010

David Harvey in Words & Pictures

I bet that silly notion of the "ivory tower" would disappear if all academic talks had a real-time cartoon accompaniment, like this one starring the Marxist critic David Harvey. Heck, maybe we should lobby Fox for a Sunday night animated series based on his work. The show could even feature guest appearances by Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek, and Toni Negri.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How to Have Culture in an Algorithmic Age

Note: this entry was posted originally to The Late Age of Print on June 14, 2010. I'm reposting it here due to the surprising amount of attention it's received and because of its relevance to my readers here on D&R.

The subtitle of this post ought to be "apparently," since I have developing doubts about substituting digital surveillance systems and complex computer programs for the considered -- humane -- work of culture.

Case in point: about six weeks ago, Galley Cat reported on a new Kindle-related initiative called "popular highlights,"which had just rolled out onto the web for beta testing. In a nutshell, Amazon is now going public with information about which Kindle books are the most popular, as well as which passages within them have been the most consistently highlighted by readers.

How does Amazon determine this? Using the 3G connection built into your Kindle, the company automatically uploads your highlights, bookmarks, marginal notes, and more to its server array, or computing cloud. Amazon calls this service "back up," but the phrase is something of a misnomer. Sure, there's goodwill on Amazon's part in helping to ensure that your Kindle data never gets deleted or corrupted. By the same token, it's becoming abundantly clear that "back up" exists as much for the sake of your convenience as it does for Amazon itself, who mines all of your Kindle-related data. The Galley Cat story only confirms this.

This isn't really news. For months I've been writing here and elsewhere about the back up/surveillance issue, and I even have an academic journal article appearing on the topic this fall. Now, don't get me wrong -- this is an important issue. But the focus on surveillance has obscured another pressing matter: the way in which Amazon, and indeed other tech companies, are altering the idea of culture through these types of services. Hence my concern with what I'm calling, following Alex Galloway, "algorithmic culture."

In the old paradigm of culture -- you might call it "elite culture," although I find the term "elite" to be so overused these days as to be almost meaningless -- a small group of well-trained, trusted authorities determined not only what was worth reading, but also what within a given reading selection were the most important aspects to focus on. The basic principle is similar with algorithmic culture, which is also concerned with sorting, classifying, and hierarchizing cultural artifacts.

Here's the twist, however, which is apparent from the "About" page on the Amazon Popular Highlights site:
We combine the highlights of all Kindle customers and identify the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers to focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people.

Using its computing cloud, Amazon aggregates all of the information it's gathered from its customers' Kindles to produce a statistical determination of what's culturally relevant. In other words, significance and meaningfulness are decided by a massive -- and massively distributed -- group of readers, whose responses to texts are measured, quantified, and processed by Amazon.

I realize that in raising doubts about this type of cultural work, I'm opening myself to charges of elitism. So be it. Anytime you question what used to be called "the popular," and what is now increasingly referred to as "the crowd," you open yourself to those types of accusations. Honestly, though, I'm not out to impugn the crowd.

To my mind, the whole elites-versus-crowd debate is little more than a red-herring, one that distracts from a much deeper issue: Amazon's algorithm and the mysterious ways in which it renders culture.

When people read, on a Kindle or elsewhere, there's context. For example, I may highlight a passage because I find it to be provocative or insightful. By the same token, I may find it to be objectionable, or boring, or grammatically troublesome, or confusing, get the point. When Amazon uploads your passages and begins aggregating them with those of other readers, this sense of context is lost. What this means is that algorithmic culture, in its obsession with metrics and quantification, exists at least one level of abstraction beyond the acts of reading that first produced the data.

I'm not against the crowd, and let me add that I'm not even against this type of cultural work per se. I don't fear the machine. What I do fear, though, is the black box of algorithmic culture. We have virtually no idea of how Amazon's Popular Highlights algorithm works, let alone who made it. All that information is proprietary, and given Amazon's penchant for secrecy, the company is unlikely to open up about it anytime soon.

In the old cultural paradigm, you could question authorities about their reasons for selecting particular cultural artifacts as worthy, while dismissing or neglecting others. Not so with algorithmic culture, which wraps abstraction inside of secrecy and sells it back to you as, "the people have spoken."

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Higher Education: Let the Free Market Reign!

Great news for all of my readers who despise profligate government spending! My buddy Kembrew McLeod published a thought-provoking article in Tuesday's edition of the Huffington Post called, "A Modest Free Market Proposal for Higher Education Reform." In it, Kembrew outlines a compelling vision for ending the financial bloat that's endemic to today's public universities.

Among his proposals, he calls for corporate sponsorship of classes. Personally I'm looking forward to the day when the syllabus for my Introduction to Media class, which enrolls 250-plus students every fall, can finally say, "brought to you by the Walt Disney Company." Kembrew also suggests that undergraduates be given the green light to utilize paid-for research assistance companies, which makes a good deal of sense, really, for how else are we to grow the economy in tough financial times? My favorite idea of his, though, is to incentivize cheap graduate student teaching. Soon-to-be PhDs, Kembrew writes, ought to be able to outsource their doctoral dissertations:
By no longer having to conduct original research themselves, graduate students will have more hours to spend in the classroom as adjunct instructors. Let's do the math. charges $17.00 per page, which adds up to $3,400 for a 200-page dissertation (plus, their website states that, "A discount of 10% applies to orders of 75+ pages!"). Although this might seem like a lot of money, consider the fact that most colleges pay adjuncts roughly the same, between $3,000 and $4,000, for each course taught per semester. Therefore, by just adding one extra course to his or her roster, a graduate student can pay for an entire dissertation in less than one academic year--while at the same time serving the university's undergraduate teaching needs. Once this new generation of scholar/project managers enters the profession, there will be no more need for traditional professors.
Since I'm an overpaid university professor who's contributing to all the bloat, I'll happily step aside to let someone with a bachelors or masters degree do my job for, say, seven or eight bucks an hour. But don't worry about me. I'll be lapping it up over at, where at long last I can put my skills and experience to some real use.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Academic Publishing Roundup -- Communication Edition

Wow! I'm happy to report that my home discipline, communication, is finally making some strides in terms of bringing its book and journal publishing policies into the 21st century.

Last week, the International Communication Association (ICA), in Conjunction with American University's Center for Social Media, released its Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication. The Society for Cinema and Media Studies devised a similar statement of best practices way back in 1993 (it updated the document in 2009), so needless to say I'm pleased to see ICA catching up at long last.

These types of policy statements are vitally important for media and communication scholars, and indeed for scholars more generally. As more and more of our work engages words, sounds, images, and other artifacts drawn from the popular media, we need to be reasonably assured that we can criticize and, where necessary, reproduce content protected by copyright, trademark, and other forms of intellectual property law. That's exactly what these best practices statements do, in part by identifying a "community of practice" and carefully defining its -- in this case, scholarly -- customs. But it's not only about "show and tell." Reproducing copyrighted content in academic work is important to the scholarly process. How else would reviewers, other scholars, and anyone else who may happen to read our work assess the validity of our claims?

Academics routinely -- and often unnecessarily, I might add -- self-censor our work, for instance by opting to exclude images we're analyzing for fear we'll get sued by some deep-pocketed media giant. Heck, I've even done it myself. And that's why I'm such a champion of these best practices statements. They may not give us carte blanche to use intellectual properties in our work however we may see fit. They do give us a useful set of guidelines for making informed judgments about how best to proceed in these matters, though, plus they underscore how our own practices are in solidarity with others.

The other bit of good news is that Boston College's Charles (Chuck) E. Morris III has drafted a resolution calling on the National Communication Association (NCA) to revise its fees for licensing NCA-copyrighted material. In a preamble to the document, Chuck writes:
The resolution seeks to regulate the prohibitively expense copyright fees charged by Taylor & Francis [publisher of NCA journals] in conjunction with NCA. Particularly alarming is that while for more than a decade NCA Executive Directors, who contractually have the prerogative to waive or reduce fees, intervened to make reprinted NCA journal materials affordable for high quality anthologies/readers of pedagogical and scholarly value, the current NCA Executive Director, Nancy Kidd, has prioritized profit and is allowing a dramatically higher fee.
Basically, NCA jacked up its licensing fees about a year ago, a move that will price smaller publishers out of the business of republishing top-quality communication research. The change not only promises to whittle down the competition (leaving only giants like Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell, and Sage standing), but it's also inimical to the larger cause of scholarly communication. When Chuck writes that NCA is putting profits ahead of publishing, he's exactly right.

If you're an NCA member, you have until Tuesday, June 29th the add your name to the document. You can do so by contacting Chuck via email: And hey -- if you're not an NCA member but you believe in the spirit of the resolution, why not go ahead drop Chuck a line anyway? I don't know if he can add your name to the formal list of signatories, but it can't hurt for him to be able to attest to support coming from beyond NCA.

Now, if only we could get NCA to adopt a best practices for fair use statement of its own. It's an embarrassment, frankly, for the oldest and largest professional association for communication scholars in the United States to lag so far behind its peer organizations.

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup...Fever?

Most of my friends seem to have developed World Cup fever, including those who, up until now, haven't shown any particular interest in soccer/football. I suppose that's how you end up with one in every two people on the planet watching at least some portion of the tournament.

But for those of you who, like me, are suffering from the opposite condition -- World Cup hypothermia -- I'm happy to share this most excellent clip from The Simpsons. Enjoy.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Social Media Hour Appearance

Just a quick note to let y'all know that I'll be a guest on Social Media Hour on Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 1:00 pm EDT. The topic is privacy, transparency, and social networking sites. You can listen live by clicking here; the archived recording will be available here. Here's a complete description of the program from the SMH website:
This week the show will explore the topic of privacy and transparency specifically looking at how social networks and social technologies/platforms are changing the standards of privacy … or are they? With the amount of transparency in today’s world, are people reevaluating what they share? Is that a good thing? Ted Striphas from Indiana University joins the program to discuss. Also on this week’s show, Shirin Papillon, the Founder & CEO of OneMoreLesbian – a media site that aggregates the world’s lesbian film, television and online video content in one place. What does this have to do with the other topic? Simple. An array of sites and networks have arisen catering to myriad special interest groups. You can find site and networks for just about anything … that’s not new. But think about it, you choose to visit a site and participate in a social network … that behavior is tracked – whether by Google or brands that may appear there. If you choose to post links or comment on posts, others see your participation – so suddenly your personal affinity for a particular group is now public, which means in the case of LGBT oriented content, you are now more out than you were before. We’ll talk about OML as a business and about its growth and what it means when it comes to helping further expose a wider audience to the gay community.
Should be a blast! Please listen if you can.

UPDATE -- Here's an embed from which you can stream the entire episode:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Scholarly Journal Publishing

My latest essay, "Acknowledged Goods: Cultural Studies and the Politics of Academic Journal Publishing," is now out in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 7(1) (March 2010), pp. 3-25. In my opinion, it's probably the single most important journal essay I've published to date. Here's the abstract:

This essay explores the changing context of academic journal publishing and cultural studies' envelopment within it. It does so by exploring five major trends affecting scholarly communication today: alienation, proliferation, consolidation, pricing, and digitization. More specifically, it investigates how recent changes in the political economy of academic journal publishing have impinged on cultural studies' capacity to transmit the knowledge it produces, thereby dampening the field's political potential. It also reflects on how cultural studies' alienation from the conditions of its production has resulted in the field's growing involvement with interests that are at odds with its political proclivities.

Keywords: Cultural Studies; Journal Publishing; Copyright; Open Access; Scholarly Communication
I'm fortunate to have already had the published essay reviewed by Ben Myers and Desiree Rowe, who podcast over at The Critical Lede. You can listen to their thoughtful commentary on "Acknowledged Goods" by clicking here -- and be sure to check out their other podcasts while you're at it!

Since I'm on the topic of the politics of academic knowledge, I'd be remiss not to mention Siva Vaidhyanathan's amazing piece from the 2009 NEA Almanac of Higher Education, which recently came to my attention courtesy of Michael Zimmer. It's called "The Googlization of Universities." I found Siva's s discussion of bibliometrics -- the measurement of bibliographic citations and journal impact -- to be particularly intriguing. I wasn't aware that Google's PageRank system essentially took its cue from that particular corner of the mathematical universe. The piece also got me thinking more about the idea of "algorithmic culture," which I've blogged about here from time to time and that I hope to expand upon in an essay.

Please shoot me an email if you'd like a copy of "Acknowledged Goods." Of course, I'd be welcome any feedback you may have about the piece, either here or elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Late Age of Print open source audiobook project

Listening to Chris Anderson's Free: The Future of a Radical Price on a long car trip got me thinking: why not make an audiobook out of my own book, The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control? And why not, like Anderson, give the digital recording away for free? The thought had barely crossed my mind when reality started to sink in. "You're no Chris Anderson," I told myself. "You don't have the time or the resources to make an audiobook out of Late Age. Just forget about it."

Well, I didn't forget about it. I figured if I couldn't make an audiobook myself, then I'd do the next best thing: let the computer do it for me, using a text-to-speech (T-T-S) synthesizer. The more I thought about the project, the more convinced I became that it was a good idea. It wouldn't just be cool to be able to listen to Late Age on an iPod; an audio edition would finally make the book accessible to vision impaired people, too.

And so I got down to work. I extracted all of the text from the free, Creative Commons-licensed PDF of Late Age and proceeded to text-to-speech-ify it, one chapter at a time. I played back my first recording -- the Introduction -- but it was disaster! The raw text had all sorts of remnants from the original book layout (footnotes, page headers/numbers, words hyphenated due to line breaks, and whole lot more). They seriously messed up the recording, and so I knew they needed to go. I began combing through the text, only to discover that the cleanup would take me, working alone, many more hours than I could spare, especially with a newborn baby in my life. Frustrated, I nearly abandoned the project for a second time.

Then it dawned on me: if I'm planning on giving away the audiobook for free, then why not get people who might be interested in hearing Late Age in on it, too? Thus was born the Late Age of Print wiki, the host site for The Late Age of Print open source audiobook project. The plan is for all of us, using the wiki, to create a Creative Commons-licensed text-to-speech version of the book, which will be available for free online.

There's a good deal of work for us to do, but don't be daunted! If you choose to donate a large chunk of your time to help out the cause, then that's just super. But don't forget that projects like this one also succeed when a large number of people invest tiny amounts of their time as well. Your five or ten minutes of editing, combined with the work of scores of other collaborators, will yield a top-notch product in the end. I've posted some guidelines on the wiki site to help get you started.

I doubt that I have a large enough network of my own to pull off this project, so if your blog, Tweet, contribute to listservs, or otherwise maintain a presence online, please, please, please spread the word!

Thank you in advance for your contributions, whatever they may be. In the meantime, if you have any questions about The Late Age of Print open source audiobook project, don't hesitate to email me. I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Easter egg hunt

It still may be one more day until THE BIG ANNOUNCEMENT, but what would Easter be (even if a day late) without an Easter egg? I've placed one somewhere on my other blog, The Late Age of Print. If you find it, then you'll get to learn the news a full day before rest of the world.

Happy hunting!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Big announcement coming soon!

Something BIG is brewing over at my other blog, The Late Age of Print! I've finally managed to secure all of the necessary okays to go public with the news, which I'll be posting both here and over at Late Age on TUESDAY, APRIL 6th. Be sure to check back then...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New look, same great taste!

You may have noticed that things look a little different here at D&R. After four-and-a-half years under the old blue, orange, and gray regime, I thought it was about time for a change.

The old template I was using started to seem, well, a little dated and generic, plus the star graphic that appeared in the upper left-hand corner began to smack of Texaco to me.

The new look makes D&R more visually consistent with the suite of sites that I maintain: The Differences & Repetitions Wiki; The Late Age of Print blog; and Bookworm, my academic website hosted at Indiana University. It's not just about preserving a consistent red, white, gray, and black color scheme, though. I'm also a fan of the Twitter feed that now appears prominently in the header.

So there you have it, the newly-designed D&R. I hope you like it! I may regret opening up this can of worms, but your comments on the new look are welcome. Gulp...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cultural Studies Review goes open access

D&R readers in North America may not be familiar with Cultural Studies Review (neé The UTS Review [1995-2002]), but it's one of the most innovative cultural studies journals around. Now it gets even better: CSR has gone open-access, with all of the journal's content freely available online. Definitely check out the current issue and, while you're at it, why not troll through the archive?

Cultural Studies Review 16.1 (March 2010)
Special Issue: Rural Cultural Studies: Research, Practice, Ethics

edited by John Frow and Katrina Schlunke
co-edited with with Clifton Evers, Andrew Gorman-Murray and Emily Potter

  • John Frow and Katrina Schlunke, Editorial, "Rural Cultural Studies"
  • Clifton Evers, Andrew Gorman-Murray and Emily Potter, ‘Introduction: Doing Rural Cultural Studies’
  • Lisa Slater, ‘Who Do I Serve?’
  • Emily Potter, ‘The Ethics of Rural Place-Making: Public Space, Poetics, and the Ontologies of Design’
  • Rob Garbutt, ‘The Clearing: Heidegger’s Lichtung and The Big Scrub’
  • Michelle Duffy, ‘Sound Ecologies’
  • Andrew Gorman-Murray, ‘An Australian Feeling for Snow: Towards Understanding Cultural and Emotional Dimensions of Climate Change’
  • Deb Anderson, ‘Drought, Endurance and Climate Change “Pioneers”: Lived Experience in the Production of Rural Environmental Knowledge’
  • Michelle Dicinoski, Poems: 'Weights' and 'Measures'
  • Kim Satchell, ‘Auto-choreography: Animating Sentient Archives’
  • Tanya J. King, ‘Damming the Flow: Cultural Barriers to Perceived Procedural Justice‚ in Wonthaggi, Victoria’
  • Rae Dufty, ‘Reflecting on Power Relationships in the 'Doing' of Rural Cultural Research’
  • Lisa Slater, ‘“Calling our Spirits Home”: Indigenous Cultural Festivals and the Making of a Good Life’
  • Melissa Gregg, ‘Available in Selected Metros Only: Rural Melancholy and the Promise of Online Connectivity’
  • Ross Gibson, ‘Intimacy’
  • Ouyang Yu, Four Poems: ‘Bad Blurbs’, ‘2009’, ‘“Australia”’‚ and ‘World Atlas: A Random Fragmentary Selection’
  • Pam Brown, ‘Windows Wound Down’
  • Ann Game and Andrew Metcalfe, ‘Presence of the Gift’
  • Katelyn Barney, ‘Gendering Aboriginalism: A Performative Gaze on Indigenous Australian Women’
  • Sarah Gillman, ‘Heroes, Mates and Family: How Tragedy Teaches Us About Being Australian’
  • Margaret Henderson on Angela McRobbie, The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change
  • Adrian Martin on Stuart Cunningham, In the Vernacular: A Generation of Culture and Controversy
  • Deane Williams on Ross Gibson, The Summer Exercises
  • Dimitris Vardoulakis on Nick Mansfield, Theorizing War: From Hobbes to Badiou
  • Sarah Cefai on Samantha Holland (ed.), Remote Relationships in a Small World
Cultural Studies Review
is a peer-refereed open-access e-journal published twice a year (in March and September) by UTSePress. This is the journal's first issue as a purely on-line publication. You can view the journal here: Access is free, but you do need to register. Once you have done this, you can read the current issues, receive publication alerts for all future issues, submit articles for consideration on-line and, if you are willing, record your research interests for our referee database.

Register now, and keep up to date with the latest high-quality research and innovative writing in the realm of cultural studies. Queries:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Beyond computing -- CFP from Culture Machine


Special issue of Culture Machine, vol. 12;
edited by Federica Frabetti (Oxford Brookes University)

The emerging field of the Digital Humanities can broadly be understood as embracing all those scholarly activities in the humanities that involve writing about digital media and technology as well as being engaged in processes of digital media production and practice (e.g. developing new media theory, creating interactive electronic literature, building online databases and wikis). Perhaps most notably, in what some are describing as a ‘computational turn’, it has seen techniques and methodologies drawn from Computer Science – image processing, data visualisation, network analysis – being used increasingly to produce new ways of understanding and approaching humanities texts.

Yet just as interesting as what Computer Science has to offer the humanities, surely, is the question of what the humanities have to offer Computer Science; and, beyond that, what the humanities themselves can bring to the understanding of the digital. Do the humanities really need to draw so heavily on Computer Science to develop their sense of what the Digital Humanities might be? Already in 1990 Mark Poster was arguing that ‘the relation to the computer remains one of misrecognition’ in the field of Computer Science, with the computer occupying ‘the position of the imaginary’ and being ‘inscribed with transcendent status’. If so, this has significant implications for any so-called ‘computational turn’ in the humanities. For on this basis Computer Science does not seem all that well-equipped to understand even itself and its own founding object, concepts and concerns, let alone help with those of the humanities.

In this special issue of Culture Machine we are therefore interested in investigating something that may initially appear to be a paradox: to what extent is it possible to envisage Digital Humanities that go beyond the disciplinary objects, affiliations, assumptions and methodological practices of computing and Computer Science?

At the same time the humanities are not without blind-spots and elements of misrecognition of their own. Take the idea of the human. For all the radical interrogation of this concept over the last 100 years or so, not least in relation to technology, doesn’t the mode of research production in the humanities remain very much tied to that of the individualized, human author? (Isn’t this evident in different ways even in the work of such technology-conscious anti-humanist thinkers as Deleuze, Guattari, Kittler, Latour, Negri, Ranciere and Stiegler?)

So what are the implications and possibilities of ‘the digital beyond computing’ for the humanities and for some of the humanities’ own central or founding concepts, too? The human, and with it the human-ities; but also the subject, the author, the scholar, writing, the text, the book, the discipline, the university...

What would THAT kind of (reconfigured) Digital Humanities look like?

We welcome papers that address the above questions and that suggest a new, somewhat different take on the relationship between the humanities and the digital.

Deadline for submissions: 1 October 2010

Please submit your contributions by email to Federica Frabetti:

All contributions will be peer-reviewed.

Established in 1999, CULTURE MACHINE ( is a fully refereed, open-access journal of cultural studies and cultural theory. It has published work by established figures such as Mark Amerika, Alain Badiou, Simon Critchley, Jacques Derrida, Henry Giroux, Mark Hansen, N. Katherine Hayles, Ernesto Laclau, J. Hillis Miller, Bernard Stiegler, Cathryn Vasseleu and Samuel Weber, but it is also open to publications by up-and-coming writers, from a variety of geopolitical locations.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Differences & Repetions -- the wiki

Because I know blog readership has a tendency to ebb and wane, I thought I'd remind all of you about this site's companion, the Differences and Repetitions Wiki. I also have an exciting announcement to share.

I launched D&RW back in November 2007, initially as an experiment in collaborative and distributed or "rhizomatic" writing -- and antidote, I'd hoped, to the traditional, closed model of writing in the humanities. The first project, which is still active, began with an essay I drafted for a meeting of the National Communication Association. It explicates Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's enigmatic statement from their book, What is Philosophy?: "“We do not lack communication. On the contrary, we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present.” Rather than letting myself have the final word, I decided to make it an open and ever-evolving project; anyone who wants to edit, add to, or otherwise improve upon the piece is welcome to do so, along the lines of Wikipedia.

Currently there are two more projects hosted on D&RW: my piece on cultural studies and the politics of academic journal publishing, a slightly revised version of which should be appearing imminently in the journal, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies; and my essay on audience labor and the Amazon Kindle e-reader. Although neither piece is set up for public editing, anyone is welcome to leave comments, questions, or feedback on the project site -- anonymous or otherwise.

More than two years after launching the D&R Wiki, I'm happy to report that "We Do Not Lack Communication" continues to evolve. A pretty robust dialogue has also cropped up around early fragments of the journal publishing and Kindle essays, which I'd be delighted to see multiply on the fuller versions. Of course, this is all thanks to the many contributions of the D&R community. Please keep them coming!

It's pretty clear to me that there many more possibilities for engagement on D&RW, compared to your run-of-the-mill academic journal. And so finally, the big announcement: if YOU have a writing project that would (a) be of interest to readers of this blog and that (b) you'd like to see hosted on D&RW, send me an email inquiry. Let's open this thing up even more!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why "postscript?"

I've been thinking lately about Deleuze's essay "Postscript on Control Societies," published in the book Negotiations. I'm wondering if anyone knows why the essay announces itself explicitly as a postscript.

Now, I realize that Deleuze frames the essay as a response -- or really a critical rejoinder -- to Michel Foucault's explication of the "disciplinary society" in Discipline and Punish. It may well be, therefore, that Deleuze offers the piece on control societies as a postscript to Foucault's work.

I am, however, mistrustful of that interpretation. I trace my suspicion mainly to the last few lines of the "control societies" piece. There, Deleuze states that it's the job of "young people" to "discover whose ends these [aspects of control societies] serve, just as older people discovered, with considerable difficulty, who was benefiting from disciplines" (p. 182).

It seems to me that Deleuze, rather than composing a postscript, is actually outlining a research program. This conclusion would also seem to follow from the proliferation of critical research on control, neoliberalism, governmentality, etc. So would it be more apt, then, to call the essay a "prolegomenon " on control societies? If so, then what might have been Deleuze's motivation for labeling the piece a postscript in the first place?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Going mobile

Great news! A good Samaritan, whose handle is "creiercret," recently uploaded the free, Creative Commons-licensed PDF of The Late Age of Print onto the document sharing site, Scribd. Here's the link to the PDF if you're interested in checking it out. The book has already had more than 200 views on the site, I'm pleased to report.

Late Age has been accessible for free online for almost a year, so why am I so excited to see it appear now on Scribd? Mainly because the site just added new sharing features, making it easy to send content to iPhones, Nooks, Kindles, and just about every other major e-reader you can imagine. In other words, The Late Age of Print's mobility-quotient just increased significantly.

I may have some more exciting, mobility-related news about the book, which hopefully I'll be able to share with you in the next week or so. I'll keep you posted. Until then, be sure to check out The Late Age of Print on Scribd, and why don't you go ahead shoot a copy off to your favorite e-reader while you're at it!?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Harry Potter and the Simulacrum

I've been meaning to blog about this for a couple months now. An article of mine, which may be of interest to readers of my book, The Late Age of Print, was published in the October 2009 issue of the journal, Critical Studies in Media Communication (CSMC). Here's the citation, abstract, and keywords:
Ted Striphas, "Harry Potter and the Simulacrum: Contested Copies in an Age of Intellectual Property," Critical Studies in Media Communication 26(4) (October 2009): 1-17.

This essay begins by investigating how and on what basis the boundary between originals and copies gets drawn within the framework of intellectual property law. It does so by exploring Harry Potter-related doubles that were featured in the 2000 trademark and copyright infringement case, Scholastic, Inc., J. K. Rowling, and Time Warner Entertainment Company, L.P. v. Nancy Stouffer. The paper then moves on to consider how, within the context of the case, the boundary line dividing “originals” from “copies” grows increasingly indeterminate, so much so that it becomes untenable to speak of either category at all. It thus investigates what happens when the figure of the simulacrum, which troubles bright-line distinctions between originals and copies, enters into the legal realm. Theoretically, the simulacrum would seem to pose a challenge to intellectual property law's jurisprudential foundations, given how it blurs what should count as an “original” or a “derivative” work. This paper shows that while this may be true in principle, powerful multimedia companies like Scholastic, Time Warner, and others can strategically deploy simulacra to shore up their intellectual property rights.

Keywords: Harry Potter; Intellectual Property; Copyright; Trademark; Simulacrum
There's a good deal of thematic overlap between the article and Chapter 5 of The Late Age of Print, which also focuses on Harry Potter and intellectual property rights. They differ, though, in that the journal essay is more theoretically focused than the book chapter; the latter, I suppose, is more historical and sociological.

The strange thing about "Harry Potter and the Simulacrum" is that even though it's quite theoretical, it's also quite -- I'm not sure what exactly -- playful? comical? whimsical? In any case, it's probably the most fun piece that I've ever written and published. I attribute that largely to the bizarre court case at the center of the essay, which I swear must have been plucked from the pages of a Lewis Carroll story.

In a perfect world I'd link to a PDF of the article, but the journal publisher, Taylor & Francis, prohibits it. In an almost perfect world I'd link you to a post-print (i.e., the final word processing version that I submitted to CSMC), but even that I'm contractually barred from doing for 18 months from the time of publication.

Taylor & Francis charges $30 for the essay on its website, which to my mind is just ridiculous. Heck, a yearly personal subscription to the journal costs $81! So, if you're university-affiliated and want to take a look at the piece, I'd encourage you to check with your own institution's library. If you're not, I'm allowed to share a limited number of offprints with colleagues, and you can email me for one.

To complicate matters even more, the printed version of "Harry Potter and the Simulacrum" has the wrong copyright declaration. I signed Taylor & Francis' double-secret "license to publish" form instead of the usual copyright transfer. Despite that, the piece still says © National Communication Association, which is the scholarly society under whose auspices CSMC is published. Sigh.

Suddenly this is starting to sound like a Lewis Carroll story....

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where the Cylons will come from

I missed most of the SyFy (née Sci Fi) series Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), though I managed to catch enough to know that I wanted to watch the new prequel, Caprica, from the beginning. I haven't been disappointed. With the pilot and two episodes now under my belt, it's safe to say that I'm hooked.

Caprica provides an origin story for the Cylons, a cyborg race created by humans who later attempt to annihilate their masters. That may sound pretty de rigueur as far as the sci-fi genre goes, but here's the twist: we learn that each Cylon's "being" -- his, her, or its unique identity or essence -- is actually the aggregation of a human individual's medical records, purchasing patterns, educational transcripts, voting records, electronic communications, and other personal information archived online. The Cylons are, in other words, the walking, talking, informational avatars of the human race.

It was with all that in mind that I happened upon the clip embedded below, which is from the February 2, 2010 episode of The Colbert Report. The title, "Cognoscor Ergo Sum," translates from the Latin as, "I am known, therefore I am." How apt. In the segment Colbert spotlights,, and other websites that allow people to reveal and record the intimate details of their daily lives. Blippy lets you broadcast what you've just purchased using your credit card, and where. IJustMadeLove allows you shout from the electronic rooftops when, where, and how you've just done the nasty. (Yes, I wish I were making that one up.)

The Word - Cognoscor Ergo Sum
Colbert Report Full Episodes

There's been all sorts of talk for years now about the vulnerability of information online, and it's no surprise given the proliferation of networked databases that identity theft has emerged as one of the foremost crimes of our time. What's even more striking to me, however, is how Caprica and the Colbert clip together seem to shift the meaning of -- and even up the ante on -- identity theft.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that we humans are poised to give rise a line of super-machines intent on wiping us out. What I am suggesting, though, is that we can only begin to imagine how and for what purpose the digital data trails that we leave behind today will be used in the future. I like to think about it this way: when I started college, how could I have anticipated a rash of photos and videos surfacing close to 20 years later on Facebook? Heck -- there was barely an internet back then, let alone affordable scanners or even the idea of social networking.

Leave it to popular culture, then, to register one of the critical questions of this new decade: how does a society plan for an information future that may well be unfathomable, technologically speaking?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Oprah has landed

It's always intriguing for me to see how life influences the direction of one's work. When I was growing up in the 1980s, 4:00 p.m. meant one thing: The Oprah Winfrey Show would be on the television set in my home. Sometimes my mother would take a break from cooking to watch the show in our TV room. If the meal was complicated, she'd just turn the TV up and listen from the kitchen. Either way, 4 pm meant that it was her time -- and consequently my time -- with Oprah.

Plus or minus two decades later I published an article on Oprah's Book Club in an academic journal called Critical Studies in Media Communication and, later, a chapter on the same subject in my book, The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control (Columbia University Press, 2009).

Because I've been ensconced in Oprah for so long, both personally and professionally, it's difficult for me to understand why people refuse to take her seriously. I suspect a lot of it has to do with offhanded impressions about the The Oprah Winfrey Show, television talk shows in general, or indeed Oprah herself. Honestly, I don't have much tolerance for critics who disparage or dismiss the Oprah phenomenon without studying it intensively, in all of its complexity and over the long-term. I don't embrace all-things-Oprah by any means, yet it seems pretty clear to me that she's transformed and even enriched U.S. culture in countless ways.

I'm excited, therefore, to see this week's edition of the media blog In Medias Res devoted to the theme of Oprah. Here's the lineup:
  • Monday: "Stories of O: Oprah's Culture Industries" by Kimberly Springer
  • Tuesday: "Too Big to Fail" by Janice Peck
  • Wednesday: "For the Sake of the Children" by John Howard
  • Thursday: "I've Been Rich and I've Been Poor: The Economics of Oprah" by Vanessa Jackson
  • Friday: "Oprah's Got Beef?: Alleged Matriarchies and Masculinist Rhymes" by Kimberly Springer
I'm looking forward to seeing how the series of posts unfolds. I find that academic authors tend to be extremely cynical towards Oprah, both the person and the broader phenomenon, and so I'm keeping my fingers crossed here. Hopefully the contributors will give such complex subject matter its due.

You can expect to see me leaving comments on IMR throughout the week, since, clearly, this is a topic that's been with me for a good long while. I'd encourage you to chime in, too. In the meantime, enjoy the Letterman-Oprah-Leno ad from last night's Superbowl.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Before Biggy & Tupac

Before the ill-fated East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry, there was this one: Englishman John Maynard Keynes versus Austrian Friedrich von Hayek. Biggy and Tupac battled it out to determine who was more gangsta. These guys, on the other hand, had a different beef: whose economic philosophy ought to prevail?
Both: "We've been goin' back and forth for a century."
Keynes: "I want to steer markets!"
Hayek: "I want them set free!"
Hilarious...and only in the age of YouTube.

Too bad my flow isn't better. Maybe then I'd be better able to explain the differences between Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau to my students.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

New issue of Collapse now available

The latest installment of one of the coolest, most cutting-edge theory journals out there....

Collapse VI: Geo/Philosophy is now available.

Advance orders and subscription copies are being shipped immediately.

Please visit to purchase. A PDF preview of the editorial introduction to the volume is also available on the website.

Contributors to the volume include: Charles Avery, Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain, Stephen Emmott, Owen Hatherley, F I E L D C L U B, Iain Hamilton Grant, Renée Green, Gilles Grelet, Manabrata Guha, Nicola Masciandaro, Timothy Morton, Greg McInerny, Robin Mackay, Reza Negarestani, Drew Purves, F.W.J. Schelling, Eyal Weizman, Rich Williams.

Following Collapse V's inquiry into the legacy of Copernicus' deposing of Earth from its central position in the cosmos, Collapse VI: Geo/philosophy poses the question: How should we understand the historical and contemporary bond between philosophical thought and its terrestrial support?

Collapse VI: Geo/philosophy begins with the provisional premise that the Earth does not square elements of thought but rather rounds them up into a continuous spatial and geographical horizon. Geophilosophy is thus not necessarily the philosophy of the earth as a round object of thought but rather the philosophy of all that can be rounded as an (or the) earth. But in that case, what is the connection between the empirical earth, the contingent material support of human thinking, and the abstract 'world' that is the condition for a 'whole' of thought?

Urgent contemporary concerns introduce new dimensions to this problem: The complicity of Capitalism and Science concomitant with the nomadic remobilization of global Capital has caused mutations in the field of the territorial, shifting and scrambling the determinations that subtended modern conceptions of the nation-state and territorial formations. And scientific predictions present us with the possibility of a planet contemplating itself without humans, or of an abyssal cosmos that abides without Earth - these are the vectors of relative and absolute deterritorialization which nourish the twenty-first century apocalyptic imagination. Obviously, no geophilosophy can remain oblivious to the unilateral nature of such un-earthing processes. Furthermore, the rise of so-called rogue states which sabotage their own territorial formation in order to militantly withstand the proliferation of global capitalism calls for an extensive renegotiation of geophilosophical concepts in regard to territorializing forces and the State. Can traditions of geophilosophical thought provide an analysis that escapes the often flawed, sentimental or cryptoreligious fashions in which popular discourse casts these catastrophic developments?

Continuing to combine and connect work from different disciplines and perspectives in innovative ways, this new volume of Collapse brings together philosophers, theorists, eco-critics, leading scientific experts in climate change, and artists whose work interrogates the link between philosophical thought, geography and cartography. This multiplicity of engagements makes Collapse VI a philosophically-rich yet accessible examination of the present state of 'planetary thought'.

Contents of Volume VI are as follows:

- In 'Becoming Spice: Commentary as Geophilosophy', Nicola Masciandaro (CUNY, argues that philosophy belongs not to the ‘folly’ of a vertically-oriented ‘straight path’ but to a ‘circular and endless’ movement on the surface of the earth. The practice of commentary provides the key to understanding this endless movement, as the continual production of knowledge, a practice which ‘proceeds by staying’. Masciandaro sees this role of commentary as being encoded in spice, as a global commodity whose currency and commercial movement figures the production of understanding through continual differentiation and distribution.

- One significant modern attempt to create a philosophy that encompasses the Earth system is F. W. J. Schelling’s naturephilosophy. In Schelling’s 1798 work On the World Soul, previously unavailable in translation, the philosopher revendicates the ancient theory of the ‘World-Soul’, entirely reconstructing it through the most contemporary science of his time, which he supplements with the necessary speculative basis that will allow him to effect this grand synthesis. As Iain Hamilton Grant tells us in his introduction to extracts from his new translation, Schelling’s book must be understood as a bold experiment in systematically thinking ‘the All’.

- Reflections on the contemporary problems of thinking the ecology of the planet follow, in extended interviews with research scientists working on computational models of climate change at Microsoft's Computational Science lab in Cambridge, England. Stephen Emmott, Greg McInerny, Drew Purves and Rich Williams discuss their work devising new predictive computational models which reflect the interconnectivity and complexity of the biosphere, and present us with the perspective of ecology as a science reborn and negotiating its foundations and principles in response to the urgency of environmental crisis.

- In 'Thinking Ecology: The Mesh, the Strange Stranger and the Beautiful Soul' Timothy Morton (Professor of Literature and the Environment at the University of California, Davis, and author of Ecology Without Nature) presents a challenge to the pious sentimentalisation of 'nature' in ecological discourse, challenging 'environmentalists' to leave behind the 'beautiful soul' and think themselves as enmeshed in a 'dark ecology'.

- A contribution from UK artist collective F I E L D C L U B extends Morton's critique of the ideology of environmentalism, and examines the technical mediation of man's relation to the biosphere, asking: 'How Many Slugs Maketh the Man?'

- In 'Fossils of Time Future', Owen Hatherley continues his project to rescue architectural modernism from the ‘Ikea modernism’ of ‘light and airy’ interior design belonging to the vacuous economic optimism of the late twentieth-century. He contends that, in restoring the links of modernism with its less palatable predecessors – such as the proto-brutalism of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall – we can reawaken a suppressed, but rich and provocative, historical lineage where architecture confronts the 'chthonic'.

- In an extended interview with architect and theorist Eyal Weizman, 'Political Plastic', we discuss the way in which he sees architecture per se as interacting with the ‘political architecture’ of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and how the structure of the latter has been involved in a conceptual commerce with theory. Discussing in depth his conception of ‘forensic architecture’, Weizman speaks about the way in which this materialist-pluralist conception of politics demands a rethinking of the notions of responsibility, ideology, and resistance, and how his project Decolonising Architecture’s processes of ‘design by destruction’ and ‘ungrounding’ seek to disrupt the very temporalities according to which the very question of a ‘solution’ to the problem of occupation has been posed.

- Graphic work by artists Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain examines the many ways in which the planet is coded; their playful constructions explore the peculiar grammatologies that emerge once this stenography between the geographical and the symbolic is in place.

- Manabrata Guha (Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, India) presents an ‘Introduction to SIMADology’ in which he addresses the ‘global security ecology’ and suggests that its regime of thinking the relation of war to the earth – inherited, as he suggests, from the ‘father’ of the theory of warfare, Clausewitz – fails to register the radical difference which terror-operations inpose on the martial landscape. What Guha calls the SIMAD – Singularly Intensive Mobile Agencity of Decay – disrupts the Clausewitzian paradigm, drawing war-machines into a ‘chthonic battlespace’ which they are constitutively incapable of navigating.

- Reza Negarestani’s contribution undertakes an analytic examination of an ‘architecture and politics of decay’. Excavating some of the more bizarre preoccupations of mediaeval thought, and tracing their influence on early-modern mathematics, Negarestani suggests that they offer us the formal basis for an ‘architecture, mathesis and politics of decay’.

- Artist Charles Avery presents a new 'epilogue' and images of work from his project 'The Islanders', prefaced by Robin Mackay's essay which discusses the history of 'Philosophers' Islands' and the relation of Avery's work to this philosophical-literary tradition.

- Philosopher Gilles Grelet presents an implacable manifesto refusing philosophy's role of carving up and dividing the earth; presenting 'boat-theory' as 'a full-on attack on the world’, an angelic thought whose ‘crossings’ operate without the imperatives of the ‘worldly’.

- Artist Renée Green's film work 'Endless Dreams and Water Between', presented as part of an installation at Greenwich Maritime Museum in 2009, and presented in transcript form in Collapse VI, tells the story of four women driven by a curiosity about the island as a ‘non-location’. In contemplating their island locations, Green’s protagonists move towards a collective thinking which expands into the realms of the abstract only on the basis of their localisation and the contingency of their respective interests and life-circumstances.