Thursday, March 31, 2005

the ethical issues of "lurking"

I am interested in your views on Parr's ethical concerns about lurking in chatrooms as a research tool. Journalists have such strict rules about this, but virtual space is a whole new ball game. Does anyone else share these concerns and is it good research in the sense that if you do reveal your virtual presence it could change the conversation?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

What on earth is community?

Today, we were discussing about community a lot. But, I am still wondering what community is. I wrote something about community in a term paper. I'd like to cite a part of that and raise a question how to define community:
Nowadays, the concept of community is ubiquitous; people frequently prefer to use the term “community”rather than employ“neighborhood,”“organization,”“school,”“city,” “state”or even "the world.” This tendency demonstrates that “community” is a value-laden concept because it implies a perspective of human group life, in which a certain group of people share interdependency, mutual trust, and participation. This normative definition of human group life also reflects an orientation or a desire of many social scientists who pursue to discover potential of democratic society in a certain type of human group life while the concept of community is defined and employed for a variety of scopes and purposes. This assertion is supported by Shepherd and Rothenbuhler (2001); they found that many scholars tend to assume community to be good for having such values as tolerance and diversity.

I am thinking that community is a psychological term. It is a kind of mental boundary; it works as potential to live interdependent life. Therefore, it is normative. But, I am still not sure about my idea. Is there anyone to make it clear?

Reference: Shepherd, G. J., & Rothenbuhler, E. W. (2001). Communication and community. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

patterns of technology/media

Community construction from a blend of technology/media and geographical place appear via the collective culture facilitated by TV & suburbia (Spigel) and the virtual world of the repressed neo-confederates facilitated by the Internet & regional ideology (McPherson). So, people seem to naturally relate their individual identity in terms of groups to which they do or don’t belong. And technology aids that identity discovery and growth by making a goal or perception into some form of reality. While this idea isn’t new, when TV and Internet were first unveiled, some theorists said they would bring people together and some argue that they still do. Are we viewing a standard human tendency cycle of technology/media adoption – enhanced by geographical underpinnings – to create behavior change / consequences / rethinking / etc. – in a way that this is always the pattern?

Sense of place and collective identity

From the Forest article, I have thought about the relationship between sense of place and collective identity. Obviously, they seem to have a correlation. Then, what does create the relationship? I think that communication among people in a boundary build sense of place and collective identity. From the West Hollywood gay community story, we can see how the media are used to support or create the meaning of place. In terms of Anderson’s imagined community, local media serve to build an imagined community without increasing direct communication among the community members. Therefore, I’d like to suggest some hypotheses: as urbanization or social differentiation increases, direct or face-to-face communication is likely to decrease. However, people need and create identity through communication; therefore, as direct or face-to-face communication decrease, people tend to create identity through building a relationship with place – sense of place. Therefore, sense of place, which might be generated by local media and/or direct experience with local environment, might be assessed differently according to individual’s dependence on media or direct experience with local environment. I know that these hypotheses are not sophisticated. However, I’d like to develop these based on more theoretical bases.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Imagining Madison

Forest talks about the key role played by the gay press in constructing a holistic notion of West Hollywood as a "gay city" and resolving internal tensions and contradictions about the identity of the place. I would say that a principal social function of local media generally is to foster a holistic quality of place, real and imagined, that is the basis for civic life. Problem in a place like Madison is that the place has changed so much so fast in recent years, in terms of both its size and demographic complexity, that mainstream media here are struggling to hold onto a holistic concept of the place without coming across as conservative or even reactionary social forces. So it was kind of amusing when, a month or so ago, the State Journal asked readers to write in with ideas about what makes Madison special and "cool".

Role Reversal: The Role of Suburbia in the New Urban Vision

I find Spigel's description of the purpose of the suburbs - particularly considering the mention of Park Forest, Illinois - interesting in light of the transformation Park Forest and other Chicagoland suburbs are undergoing now.

I believe we've discussed the phenomenon of "reverse commuting" before in class, and this situation directly reflects that. In light of the desire of young professionals to live in the busier, perhaps more vibrant social atmosphere of the city, elected officials such as Richard Daley of Chicago have been trying to clean up their cities, to make them even more attractive. Cabrini Green, a rather famous section of the projects in Chicago, has long been sandwiched by the affluent neighborhoods of the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park...and in the endless quest for more housing, young professionals have been creeping closer.

The solution, according to Daley, is to outsource the projects, send them out to the suburbs - like Park Forest. If this plan should succeed, what the suburbs were meant to be and what they have become will be at opposing poles.

What do we think about the changing roles of the suburbs in America? Is this a cycle - will the suburbs again become a place of escape - or will Americans tired of the urban life try to find another kind of place?


When reading Spigel's piece I was struck by the parallels between the impossition of the public sphere on the private sphere with the introduction of televison to the recent programming trend of reality TV. Here we have a great example of how both the public sphere continues to be brought into the safe realms of the private sphere (Survivor for instance) and how the private sphere is brought into the public sphere, (Big Brother, The Real World, Newly Weds).

I have three questions stemming from this line of thought.

1) Does this trend in television content, partnered with Spigel's argument that people spend more time with TV postwar, continue to make "cocooning" a more prevalent trend. "Why go out when I can watch other people engage in activities I'd like to, or not like to, do?"

2) What neighborhood ideal do shows like Big Brother and The Real World convey considering that the participants in these shows have extremely limited (Real World) or no contact (Big Brother) with their neighbors?


3) What group norm do these shows convey and how does that norm influence our desire or need to conform? And if so, how do we conform?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Fall 2005 Comm Arts seminar: Michele Hilmes

This seminar that Michele is going to offer in the Fall dovetails nicely with some of the themes of our seminar.

CA950:  Transnational Media Histories                              Fall 2005
Professor Michele Hilmes                                               
Monday 1:00-3:30                                                                   3155 Vilas

 Too often histories of media, particularly broadcasting, are written from a narrowly national perspective.  This is not surprising, since radio and television have been structured and controlled as national enterprises since the 1920s.  Even for media (usually) less centrally guided by individual nation-states -- such as film, publishing, and the Internet -- state intervention, subsidy, and regulation have been common, often centrally concerned with preserving elements of national cultures and creating defenses against the cultural incursions of other nations.

 This seminar will attempt to overcome the nationalist bias in media historiography by taking a transnational approach:  recognizing media, particularly broadcasting, as engines of national cultural production that are nevertheless centrally concerned with transnational negotiations of culture, power and identity.  Starting with the assumption that cultures define themselves relationally, often in specific opposition to or alliance with aspects of other cultures (both external and internal), we will examine the ways that the media of the twentieth and twenty-first century have gone about this enormous project of nation-building and culture-definition, not in a vacuum but in close contention with other, competing nations and cultures.  We will focus on histories of transnational influence, resistance, hybridity, opposition, and cooperation.  We will ask question such as:  what can a transnational approach add to our understanding of media?  Of national and diasporic cultures?  What historiographical problems do transnational histories pose, and how can we solve them?  Of particular interest will be the problem of Americanization,since the impact of US media and culture around the globe has often played a formative role in the cultural production of other nations.

Tentative/partial reading list/selections from:

The Television History Book, ed. Michele Hilmes (British Film Institute, 2003)

Jeffrey Miller, Something Completely Different: British Television and American Culture (Minnesota 2000)

The Media of Diaspora, ed. Karim H. Karim (Routledge 2003)

Jane Stokes, On Screen Rivals: Cinema and Television in the United States and Britain (Macmillan 1999)

Global Repertoires:  popular music within and beyond the transnational music industry ed. Andreas Gebesmair and A. Smudits (Ashgate 2002)

Rob Kroes, If Youve Seen One Youve Seen the Mall:  Europeans and American Mass Culture

At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World, ed. Esther Yau

Hollywood and Europe:  Economics, Culture, National Identity 1945-1995 ed. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and Steven Ricci (BFI 1998)

Jostein Gripsrud, The Dynasty Years: Hollywood Television and Critical Media Studies (Routledge 1995)

Michele Hilmes
Professor of Media and Cultural Studies
Director, Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research
Department of Communication Arts
University of Wisconsin-Madison

6040 Vilas Hall
821 University Ave.
Madison, WI  53706

608-262-9953 fax

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Think tanks and language: "It's 'Private' vs. 'Personal' in Social Security Debate" (NYT)

The New York Times > Washington > It's 'Private' vs. 'Personal' in Social Security Debate

Short but fascinating news analysis in the NYT today which cites a few think tanks over the question of language in the Bush administration social security "reform" proposal:

"'To most people 'privatization' means you're going to take the program out of the federal government and put it in the hands of private individuals totally,' said Representative Jim McCrery, the Louisiana Republican who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. 'That's not what I'm proposing, and it's not what the president is proposing.

'Accounts are not private in the sense that that individual has complete control over those accounts. He doesn't. His investment choices are very limited. He can't take the money out for any reason other than retirement. And he must annuitize a certain portion of it upon retirement.'

In short, a frustrated Mr. McCrery said: 'They are not private accounts. They are personal accounts.'

The Republican National Committee distributed to reporters a definition of 'privatize' and why it should not apply to the proposal.

Democrats and their allies counter that such individual investment accounts have been described as a form of 'privatization' for many years - by the very people advocating them. The Cato Institute, the research center that has long pushed for the accounts, called its effort the Project on Social Security Privatization until a few years ago.

Michael Tanner, an expert on the issue at Cato, said the organization decided to change the name independently of the Republican Party, but added, 'We were all probably reading the same polls.'

Peter Orszag of the Brookings Institution, a critic of Mr. Bush's approach to private accounts, said: 'I do find this a bit Orwellian. It's taking a term and saying you're not allowed to use this, even though it was widely used for years.'

The two sides agree that the language struggle is fueled by polls and pollsters, who say public opinion can swing significantly when the word 'privatize' is used."

Notice how the NYT identifies the think tanks not as "conservative" or "liberal," but with respect to their particular position on this single issue.

Monday, March 21, 2005

More war thoughts

This recent article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review “War of Ideas, Why mainstream and liberal foundations and the think tanks they support are losing in the war of ideas in American politics” interestingly builds on our discussions. The conservatives over the last 30 years have framed the debate – if you’re not conservative, you’re liberal – but it’s inherently “not the liberal way” to plow ahead without considering other ideologies. How likely is it that TTs likes the Brookings Institute are going to compromise their standing to say they are liberal just because the conservatives have created this environment? But if they and the others don’t say they’re liberal, does it make the liberal side seem quiet and allow more conservative domination? Geographically speaking, if Americans had to draw a conservative zone and a liberal zone randomly across a U.S. map, what would they draw as larger? And would this be true? My guess is that they would think there are more conservatives on one side of this fabricated divide (to Aaron's point), but that this likely isn’t a true representation… but as we’ve said, reality is often really perception. I agree with Amanda in that the conservatives perhaps created this ideological war out of a sheer urge to dominate. So what are the liberals to do, compromise their beliefs for the sake of winning a war they didn't frame or seek?

Friday, March 18, 2005


Our discussion of Powell's piece got me thinking about his role in the power of the conservative movement at the moment. Was it his status that really got the ball rolling on the ideas he proposed in the piece? Everything I've read about Powell labels him as a true moderate on the Supreme Court. For instance, in one of his landmark decisions, he voted to strike down racial quotas in universiy admissions in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), yet supported affirmative action as a general concept.

This piece is most likely just what the conservative movement needed. These ideas came from a well-respected figure who supposedly did not identify himself with the conservative party. Therefore, my question is, would these ideas have had much of an impact if they came from a staunch conservative? I don't think they would have. Also, I think the fact that he was appointed to the Supreme Court, a position which, in theory, is non-partisan (although we all know this isn't the case), shortly after writing this piece, added weight to his arguments. Maybe Nixon had this in mind when he appointed him to the bench

So, it could be that liberals need someone of similar stature to Powell to disseminate progressive ideas. This may be the only way for them to regain power.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

NYT: "Wolfowitz Nod Follows Spread of Conservative Philosophy"

NYT reporter Todd Purdum writes in a news analysis today, "By sending Mr. Wolfowitz to the World Bank, and another outspoken administration figure, John R. Bolton, to be ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Bush all but announced his belief that both institutions could benefit from unconventional thinking and stern discipline." How might we as mass communication researchers conceptualize the history and movement of the "unconventional thinking" that these two nominees epitomize? Were their stated, published, and relatively consistent policy positions on globalization, militarization, and democratization, for example, part of any kind of public policy debate in the Republican primary season of the 2000 election, the partisan debates of the 2004 election, or at any other newsworthy moment? What geography of knowledge production lies behind this extraordinary shift in US representation to perhaps the two most significant (and different) institutions of globalization?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A moment of utter generalizing

Something that occurred to me in class, and had occurred to me before - last November:

With all these articles we've read this week on how conservatism gained its foothold in the American political landscape, and how they manage to keep it, very few of them actually touched on what I think of as being the real crux of the matter; conservatives are in power because of a fervent, goal-oriented, ruthless desire to be. Liberalism certainly desires a return to power - this is obvious after the last presidential election - but there's seems to be a widespread fear of ruthlessness, of playing the game the way the opposition does.

It's my opinion that a political "coup" in Washington is unlikely to occur until liberals become more willing to treat it as the war conservatives have long considered national politics and culture to be.

Kozinet's Netnography citatation

As I mentioned today, here is a marketing guy's take on how to conduct ethnography within the Internet environment. He is currently here at UW and I hear he's somewhat approachable if anyone wants to contact him. He's done some interesting, what I call quasi-ethnogrphy work, gonzo enthnography in exploration of consumers who choose to be "off the grid" at Burning Man as well as ethnographies of fan cultures like the Star Trek Fan Club.

Anyway, here's his framework which I found beneficial, although not extremely enlightening, when I was doing some internet ethnography on punk-themes message boards.

Kozinets, R. V. (2002). The Field Behind the Screen: Using Netnography for Marketing Research in Online Communities. Journal of Marketing Research, 39, 61-72.

I couldn't get at it through Proquest but if anyone is interested I have a printed copy they could copy.

Does the government reflect the governed?

Something that occured to me in class, but that I couldn't find a spot to insert into the discussion:

What if we're completely wrong about the impact of think tanks and the right-wing policy process over the last 30+ years? What if the success of the right-wing is more about political geography than anything else?

Our discussion seemed to be premised on the idea that the Democratic Party is on the wane, and that conservative Republican dominance is due in large part to the think tanks' strategies. However, I'm not sure the numbers really bear this out. We tend to use party control of government as a proxy for public opinion. However:

  • As noted, George Bush got only 51% of the vote in 2004 (on less than 60% turnout), and only 49% in 2000 (on roughly 50% turnout).

  • While Republicans hold 55 Senate seats, the Democratic caucus actually represents more people than the Republican caucus does.

  • In either the Senate or House elections of 2004 (I can't find the data now, so I'm not sure which), the Democratic candidates drew 3,000,000 more votes than their Republican opponents.

  • Democrats lost four seats (net) in the House, the same number they lost in Texas after redistricting.

  • The power of incumbency is at an all-time high.

I see two outcomes from this data. First, the nature of the Senate -- two popularly elected Senators from each state -- gives more per-voter representation to less populous states, which are trending conservative. Second, the redistricting following the 2000 census (and subsequent re-redistricting) has produced districts so safe for incumbents, that challengers -- who are more likely than not Democrat, given the make-up of the House in the 107th Congress -- have less chance than ever of winning. Democrats who are already in the House are relatively safe; those who are not face electorates which tend to be staunchly conservative, and not very susceptible to any kind of ideological marketing from the left.

This sets up a situation in which conservatives' primary objective is simply not to screw up (see Delay, Tom, blatant and public ethical problems of). The think tank aristocracy is still an important part of policy-making in this model, but they don't really have to do much to sell anything to the public; their publics have already been bought.

Beltway Bandits

I'm struggling a bit to fit this week's readings into the readings and discussion up to this point, in terms of the geographical dimension and the mass media effect as it applies to think tanks. But as I think about the three different frameworks discussed by Del Casino et al for analyzing the spatiality of organizations I'd say it's worth talking about whether the common perception that the think tanks are primarily Washington DC phenomenon is accurate, for all intents and purposes, of whether it's more useful to see them is some larger spatial context defined by their funding sources and their larger (if more diffused) network of influence.

Networks and Geography: An Inter-methodological Challenge

(How's that for an academic title?)

The question I hope to start this discussion with is this: What is the place of network theory in geography, human or otherwise? I'm thinking specifically about the traditional kind of social network analysis of, e.g., Wasserman, but other sorts of analyses would be looking at as well. Del Casino, et al., seem to approach this question in their introductory discussion of organizational and institutional relationships, but I'm more curious about how these approaches can be integrated in practice. So, that's one thing.

Secondly, I'd like to talk about the way place might influence the behavior of non-governmental actors such as think tanks. For all the (relatively legitimate) talk about "liberal enclaves," it doesn't appear that tight geographical cohesion is in any way helpful to the cause of disseminating liberal ideas through the pundit class, the media, Democratic legislators, etc. How might the dispersal of conservative authors factor in, when coupled with the high tendency of the think tanks themselves to congregate in places such as New York and Washington? How is someone like New Canaan, CT-native Ann Coulter able to be taken seriously when vilifying urban America and lionizing a "heartland" that, for her, has never been a reality? (And I should note that I absolutely disagree with Alterman's assessment of Coulter and Gary Aldrich as non-influential, fringe elements of the right-wing media machine. I think he focuses far too much on the paradigm-shifting nature of the Big Tomes of the movement, and doesn't look closely enough as the dissemination of talking points on a day-to-day basis.)

For those fascinated by Paget's article on right-wing philanthropy, I'd lack to add to her list of readings on the subject a column by my favorite thinker, Lewis Lapham. (I had to paste it into the title line because it wouldn't paste in the post -- can anyone help me with that?). My questions after reading both are: while they point to a Republican triumph in organizing a PR/policy mill, are the Democratic failures fully explained? and has anyone noticed an increasing campaign to brand colleges/universities as unfair in hiring conservatives? I believe the latter is a newly invigorated item on their agenda.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What do the neo-conservatives really want?

Dehumanization may be too a simple answer for this question. However, I really don’t understand why they are doing their utmost only to maximize profit with dehumanizing. It is obvious: where there are no people who are enough to consume, there is no way for capitalism to survive. Nonetheless, what nowadays the right-wing is trying to do results in dehumanization and a threat to many middle-class; they are depriving ordinary people of capacity to carry on lives. I think that the conservatives are losing their control so as not to consider the appropriate strategy to make system work. Roughly speaking, I think that their logic is co-extinction of human-being.

Pre-discussion suggestion

(Yikes! Now that folks are "allowed" to post after the discussion is over, pre-discussion traffic on the blog has slowed to a dead stop. Well, time for the professor to step in.)

Might be a good idea for discussion tomorrow to start with the [Del Casino V et al 2000] piece on "Methodological frameworks for the geography of organizations" and then use the question of right-wing and left-wing organizational/institutional networks as a case study: do our readings on these "knowledge production" networks deal with geography? Should they? How might they?

By the way: Those of you in the class working on the J-School Qualitative Studies Group project dealing with the ongoing Madison school board districting, budgeting, and building questions -- figuring out who are the organizational players in this debate, how they attempt to mobilize various forms of media, and how much if any of this "elite" debate registers with the voting citizenry -- might think through how the three "geography of organizations" theories from this week might apply to this case study...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

a funny interpretation of the tsunami disaster

After the tragic distaster of the tsunami, a priest in Korea gave a funny interpretation. He insisted that the tsunami had been a God's penalty to those ares that were not christian-dominant. It is really silly and funny. But, many branches of Protestant in Korea are quite literally aggressive because historically they were influenced by the aggressive western protestants. About one hudred years ago, the protestants in Korea tried to destroy many traditional cultures with physical forces. Todays, they seem to be blind and not reasonable. They don't have a reason. More tragically, it is the fact that some crazy priests have a big impact on many lay persons. I think that for some people the news source is more influential than the news contents or media. Sometimes, media scholars seem to overlook the power of news source.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Per Chris' request :)

I think requiring the discussant(s) to post some after-seminar thoughts is a good idea. This will allow the rest of us to reflect on the discussion a bit more, as well as allow the discussant(s) to send some thoughts to the group that may not have fit well into the flow of the day's discussion.

I left discussion today with a reminder to always be skeptical of what I read. I finished the Fry piece accepting the idea that local news organizations provided little more than sensationalistic coverage during the floods. I really had no basis to doubt her -- I had a difficult time trying to recall how bad the situation was. Fortunately, however, we had Linda and Amanda who experienced the flooding first-hand and were able to refute some of Fry's contentions. This helped restore my faith in news organizations operating under these circumstances.

One thing that did strike me as odd, however, and this was brought up in discussion, is the lack of attention given to cable news coverage of the floods. Even if the local networks weren't providing the kind of historical perspective Fry was looking for, it is very possible that the cable news networks were. To me, the most important news in these types of crises is a straightforward description of what's happening at the moment. The larger picture perspective, at least initially, is just filler. Cable news networks would have more of an opportunity, in terms of time, to touch on broader areas.

Some other thoughts ...

We didn't discuss much of the May article, so I would like to address one aspect here. May contends that journalists are constrained by their "news net," which refers to the amount of sources journalists have for information. The news net is determined, as May states, by time constraints, but he doesn't mention the possibility that this is largely due to competition in the news industry, which is further driven by advancements in communication technology. News organizations are now able to get stories out to the public almost instantaneously, so it seems like there's more of a tendency for journalists to keep going to the same well, so to speak, for their information, so they can be the first to break a story.

Also, another issue I had with the May piece is his contention that news media try to paint a uniform picture of the world for their audiences. For example, he cites a Hall et al. (1978) article which states that newspaper coverage often attempts "to secure a consensual picture of the world where no such consensus exists" (p. 25). I think, however, that this is merely a product of the "news values" that May talks about, which are largely determined by the desires of the public. For instance, May writes that the homeless are often characterized in a way that will "reassure readers of their own normalcy" (p. 32). More specifically, urban homeless are classified as "animals" (p. 32) who live on the fringes of the city, and rural homeless are romanticized as friendly and harmless so as not to ruin the pristine image of the English countryside. This really made me think about the "us versus them" mentality that was brought up in discussion last week. Homeless people are often depicted in the way Fry contends they are because that's the way the audience wants to perceive the homeless situation. Therefore, I'm not so sure the media can take most of the blame for these inaccurate depictions. A great deal of the problem may lie in what the public is willing to accept as "accurate."

On to Aaron's comments . . .

Great ideas. I don't think meaningful discussion can be achieved if we are all scrambling to get our questions/comments to the blog by a certain time. Also, I think some of us, namely me, are still getting used to the whole blogging thing. I've never done this sort of thing before, so I'm still trying to get comfortable with the whole concept.

Oh, by the way, I tried posting this Wednesday after class, but the page kept quitting on me. Is this common with Blogger?

That's it -- have a great weekend.

Disaster Fatigue

Something I kept meaning to bring up today...

Something I kept hearing in regards to the tsunami disaster was "viewer fatigue" - when viewers reach a point where they can't care anymore. I was wondering if this phenomenon was a product of our time, with the influx of constant information, be it from internet, 24-hour news, network news and PBS - even weblogs. Is the evidential need to bombard viewers with all angles of a story merely serving to exhaust us?

power of the national press

before I have another "senior moment" and forget to post I thought I'd throw this on as a continuation of the army at disaster sites discussion. During the 97 flood at first there weren't enough Nat'l Guard troops made available. Then my mother, who was trapped by rising water in her condo building, called and said that the helicopters with Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw (a South Dakota boy) had arrived and they were now all over the national news. She said, "I guess what's happening is really important!" I think in the flyover, having national news anchors sent in to cover something is great validation, and I also think it made the people going through that disaster feel less isolated from the rest of the country. And because of the new national press attention the area suddenly got all the National Guard guys and Army guys they needed, so this press attention did help with that, a lot.

Quick shots

There's an interview here with Eric Klinenberg about Heat Wave, which is subtitled "A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago." The book is very data-rich and examines the event from all sorts of angles: media, politics, geography, sociology, demographics, etc. If you're interested in Klinenberg more broadly, I'm sure Lew can fill you in.

For Wikipedia, click here for the main page, or here for Wikipedia's own entry on what a "wiki" is. You may note an "edit this page" button, which allows you to do just that.

Blogging and the Academy

I've been thinking about this post for a couple weeks now, and have finally decided to just bang it out, stream-of-consciousness style, in homage to my bloggy forerunners.

The whole blog aspect of this seminar has been eating at me this we started using it. Despite feeling comfortable discussing the material in class (and I should that this is probably the best seminar I've been in here, discussion-wise), posting about it to the blog has me travelling sideways on a two-way street. My perceptions of blogging (or of "informal, online discussion," whatever) and of academic discourse are operating at cross purposes. My primary intent when posting to the blog is to further understanding (either my own or that of others) in an academic sense. This brings to bear all sorts of Postmanian issues of the nature of the written word and of information processing, etc., which don't connect with my notions of how blogging is produced.

As an example, I just wrote a post to my own blog comparing Jeb Bush's Presidential prospects in 2008 with the portrayal of Ted Kennedy in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72. It's relatively well written, I think, but was certainly not labored over, rigorously edited or researched in any way more than cursory. (And a sidenote, I didn't type out the full title of the book in my original post, but felt compelled to do so here.) It's full of snarky language, partisan broadsides and a bit of profanity; it is representative of the kind of language I find on blogs writ large, but not the kind of writing I would feel good about posting here.

I think that, for me, this is exacerbated by the fact that I'm very unfamiliar with the material being covered in this course. (I wonder, actually, if this unfamiliarity contributes to the liveliness of our discussions.) I'm much less able to make explicit connections to my existing knowledge with this type of new terrain than I am with, say, the material from the party system seminar I took last fall. This is partly due, I suspect, to the quasi-academic nature of the setting -- we all know "there are no stupid questions," etc., but let's be honest, none of us want to post something we think is brilliant, only to realize it's based entirely on a misreading of what "GIS" stands for. I seeing the connections more and more as the semester moves forward, but generally speaking, there's a negative correlation between the extent to which a piece focuses on geography and how much I think I can do with it before we discuss it in class.

Finally, I think that we, as a group, are not really sure what to do with this blog as of yet -- there's a code to it that we haven't cracked. Each week, we see a flurry of activity on Tuesday and Wednesday, a handful of comments, maybe a follow-up, and then five days of nothing much. Because we're mostly new to this method of discussion, we don't know how to most optimally use it. (This is kind of a deja vu thing for me -- back when I was taking Intro to Graphic Design about 10 years ago, we did an online class discussion experiment with something called Daedelus, which was a complete disaster.) I think that we should really think about better ways to utilize the blog, especially since our class discussions are so fruitful and give us so much to build on.

My proposal is a two-parter, one short-term and one long. First, I think we might be well served to focus some of our weekly posting energy on post-class discussion, rather than pre-class point-raising. I think that we take the ideas raised in class, which will already have undergone an organic discussion and extension, and spend some time afterwards applying our existing knowledge, we will come up with some interesting things that we can discuss further on the blog, but which would get short shrift if brought up in the next class session. Our Tues/Weds posts are good, but given the thorough intros by Greg and the week's presenter(s), it seems a little unwieldly to have a partial agenda laid out by the blog, which we don't always wind up addressing completely.

The long-term is a switch away from Blogger. I suspect one reason blog activity is so temporally limited is that Blogger can be kind of a pain to deal with. The dashboard site decides not to load, posts and comments sometimes disappear, we lack features like post truncation on the first page (which would be really nice for this post), and so on. Given that class-oriented blogs are probably on the wax, rather than the wane, maybe we ought to talk to Brian about setting up a server with Movable Type somewhere in the department. MT is only one option, but it's one that's easy to install, configure and maintain, and version 2.661 (not the latest, but still quite effective) is 100% free. I use it to run my site, and my wife just launched a site for her business that's run through MT as well. However, any locally operated option would take care of Blogger's major problems.

If blogging's major defining characteristic is self-reference (and I tend to think it is), this is probably as good a time and place as any to discuss this stuff. Comments?

fry on floods

I think Fry is off base with his assertion that the press in the Red River Valley area let their public down by not covering the "...long history of inappropriate building along the river and extensive river control. I am from there and lived through many floods. When I was seven years old the city of Fargo built 8' high dikes through the city. It was expensive and controversial and received in-depth press attention. Farming practices that affect flooding also get regular tv coverage, as topsoil runoff is a big issue up there.
These are topics that are routinely covered when the press there is not in crisis mode, as they were in 97. Fargo has two universities (NDSU and MSU-M) and a college (Concordia,) Grand Forks has a big university (UND,) and all have departments that study flood control. Their researchers appear regularly on news programs discussing this chronic problem. Every year as spring approaches and anxiety levels start to rise along with the water, these issues get covered, though they've never been solved.

Effects of Changing Representations

Cosgrove discusses a number of interesting things in his article, but I thought I'd pull out just one here:

As an icon of the Earth, 22727 would largely replace the cartographers globe with its delineation of lands and seas on a graticule of latitude and longitude.

It's an interesting observation, and one that seems true in my experience - every single geography textbook I had had as its cover image 22727. I have to wonder what the effect of this changing respresentation was on the academic study of geography; did the advent of a more "realistic" representation hurry along the growing attitude of geography being a pure science?

Why the fascination with extremes?

I was intrigued by Chris's comment about Small Town news especially in light of our discussion last week about whether we can be nostalgic for something we have never truly experienced. However, I want to take the discussion in a different direction.

In May's article we gain insight into how reporters frame the rural/urban debate in regards to homelessness - i.e., emphasizing the urban plight and minimizing, or romanticizing, the rural struggles. I agree that often reporters, while serving as gate keepers, do significantly limit the debate surrounding a topic I'm extremely curious about why academics spend so much time studying the extremes?

Of course the underlying hope, I believe, is that through a more detailed understanding of society's outcasts we might be better able to gain insight into our own lives. Yet, I'm struck by the need for a detailed analysis of the "Normals." Following a similar format to that employed by May, a critical analysis of how normal human existence is portrayed in the media would add a wealth of knowledge to any field of inquiry - how does the media craft and frame the "normal" human experience and how does that then cloud, or enlighten, our expectations, experiences, and dreams? Why are we so afraid to study "ourselves?"

Can technology over time improve TV media?

Are our expectations of TV media every going to be reached? Considering the new channels and 24/7 news coverage we now have via cable and internet, is it any better? Access is up, but TV news is still lamented for being at the lowest common denominator for what sells. Won't each media channel always be limited by varying degrees of place, space, technology and all the other factors that Fry mentions? Should we expect TV to give us "our understanding of the environments and people in those places, what that says about us, and what that says about the communication media we attend to and rely on for learning about and sharing information about other places and people"? Could changes in technology open an opportunity for TV news to become more informational, to understand "nature and environment," and how could and should the "TV news system" change to accommodate this?

Small Town News

Fry's discussion of the "heartland" concept that framed TV news coverage of the floods has to be considered in the context of our national mythology and the romanticization of rural America as somehow the authentic America. So it shouldn't be surprising that the network news executives and also individual reporters would tend to frame stories along those lines--it's a matter of national and, in many cases, individual identity. And this problem isn't just limited to commodified cultural products like news. One interesting criticism of the Chicago school of sociologists--Park, Wirth, etc--is that the rural/urban typoplogy it used for analyzing social change in the U.S., and the rise of mass society, was that they were all small town boys who carried those values and conceptual frameworks into their adult lives as academics.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Difference in international coverage?

I'm a discussant this week, but I though I would throw this out to the group and hopefully we can touch on it in class. While reading the Fry piece, I couldn't help but think of the recent tsunami coverage. Do international disasters affect the types of frames that are employed by domestic news organizations? Would the frames be much different from those used in domestic disasters?

Have you heard about "Meatrix"?

Here is an interesting web-site campign: the Meatrix.
It is a movement against factory farming.

Once again, Habermas' public sphere?

Through this week’s reading, I have recalled Habermas’ theories once again. How much our lifeworld has been colonized by systems? Do or can mass media function as public sphere to instigate public debate and to provide public forum for public issue? Frankly, I have doubted about a positive role of mass media. However, Fry’s article has given me a room to think about a potential of local media to serve as public sphere. Fry (p. 104) states that “the (local) station was able to broadcast many of the requests, rendering them literally a community bulletin board – a role they had never played in quite that way before or since.” I think that local media are relatively less dominated by the logic of system than national media. Therefore, they might work with the media of language, culture or norm of lifeworld rather than the media of money and power of systems. I think that some local media could work as “a community bulletin board” during the natural disaster because local reporters “had at stake as individuals and members of an affected community.” Buy, I don’t think that being local automatically guarantees a potential to being more public. However, I think that if community members can support local media with their check, the potential of local media to serve as public sphere can become more possible.

Weather Porn

Fry talks about the framing of natural disaster coverage as typically Man vs Nature and the failure of TV news to engage larger public policy issues concerning the prevention of such disasters. There's a rather vivid example of this problem on display right now in the Weather Channel's "Storm Stories" series. In case you're not familiar with it, this weeknight series features spectacular footage of killer tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, floods, etc. packaged in miraculous human interest survival stories. This programming, of course, is on top of the network's increasingly sensationalistic daily coverage of weather events nationwide and it's signature coverage style of a Weather Channel correspondent doing a standup live report amid a raging blizzard or with monster surf crashing behind. What's missing amid all of this exploitative, advertising-fat weather porn, from the standpoint of journalistic ethics and responsibility, is any demonstrated and sustaining commitment to talking about the larger social and economic forces, including of course global warming, that may be a factor in causing such destructive weather events. The network's only concession to such a responsibility is a tepid big-picture program called Our Weather World (or something like that) that airs for an hour or so once a week. Otherwise, the network is attempting to do nothing to directly affect the public policy agenda but rather is happy to cash in on titillating storm video and leave as an open question whether there's really a story here or it's just basically normal weather that happens to make really good TV.


Concerning Cosgrove's comment that people believe that photography is memetic and that the photographer is a witness that adds validity to the memetic image - is that really true? Is that photograph of the earth shot from the moon more personalized because an astronaut composed it as opposed to the Hubble telescope images? And today with digital manipulation, does anyone trust the validity of photographic images anymore?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

And now for the marketing sinner

I’ve had marketing in my job title for several years and stand before you all as a geodemographic sinner per Goss and image seller per Domosh (a form of manipulation, as we've discussed before...). Geodemographics is common practice, it's in all of the terms we use in understanding target audiences. However, what about the perspective that all of this marketing tool’s application is not evil and exploitive, and perhaps a natural evolution, with some beneficial and negative aspects, toward some societal ills but also to improved lifestyle and community as we consider ourselves in "like place" with certain groups? Pathetic perhaps that this is to what society gravitates, but is it absolute that geodemographics and advertising shape or define societal groups and cultural values through marketers instead of reflecting what we already are or want to be – or would we be anyway?

Here is a 2005 forecast for Chief Marketing Officers, which directly builds on many issues raised in our readings this week with security, direct targeting of ad messages, global ad consolidation and Internet influence. There's been tons of ad agency consolidation - and integration with PR and interactive media agencies - in recent years:

For fun if you’d like further venture to the darkside, you can take this quick VALS survey Goss references. Of note: your results will change if you alter your income. Hmmm…

Death of information

The global nature of advertising implies that corporations need to tailor their advertising messages to appeal to as many cultures as possible. Leslie outlines this approach through an examination of the Bennetton campaign To me, the only way to accomplish this is to strip advertising of any information to the point where ads just include visuals and no product information. Therefore, has globalization destroyed the utility of advertising for the consumer?

The Price of "Selling America"

As an amateur historian and business major in college, I have to admit that Domosh's article was the most fascinating for me to read. As she points out, advertising is, at a very basic level, about the creating a branded image for the company - and the most wide-spread and insidious ads are about creating an image for America.

The first question that came to my mind while I was reading this, and the one that stuck there as I continued to read her Singer case study, was this: how much influence did ads like these have not only in the creation of the United States' image in the nineteenth century, but also in the proliferation of this imperialist, "civilized" image even into the twenty-first? It's an image that has clear ramifications for our relationships with the other countries of the world, perhaps most obviously those in the Middle East, particularly Iran.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Nostalgia and the Shopping Mall

Since I'm leading discussion tomorrow (I think!) i'm saving my most insightful questions for discussion. However, I was struck while reading the first Goss piece for this week. Malls, he argues, are developer's representation of a time and place rooted in nostalgia. By incorporating the trappings of traditional civic spaces, places to meet, linger, and converse with others, in a setting recreating nature, shoppers feel transported to another place in time. As a result, they can justify their consumption behavior, which Goss argues goes against Americans' Puritanical upbringing.

My question arises from analysis of the current generation of consumers who have grown up in a society inundated by malls. Malls have been the substitute for civic spaces for as long as people my age and younger have been alive. As a result, I wonder whether this age cohort truly experiences the nostalgia Goss proposes. Or possibly more interesting, how can we feel nostalgia for something we've never truly experienced? If we do feel nostalgia is it generated by social conceptions, possibly through the use of the trappings of the old town square, and media representations of this previous time period? Or has this age cohort confused civic space with commercial space to the point that the two are one in the same?

idealizing our street..

I am very impressive with this week's reading. Especially, Goss' analysis of the contemporary retail built environment is very inspiring me. I have felt that the contemporary shopping malls become pseudo-community or miniature of city. Moreover, according to the Goss' analysis, the street in the shopping malls becomes "an idealized social space free, by virtue of private property, planning, and strict control, from the inconvenience of the weather and the danger and pollution of the automobile, but most important from the terror of crime associated with today' s urban environment." However, I think that this finding ironically proves us how important it is to make our streets safe and liable. According to Jane Jacobs, "streets and their sidewalks, the main public places of a city, are its most vital organs." Therefore, "to keep the city safe is a fundamental task of a city's streets and its sidewalks." Regardless of our personal taste and preference, we have to make our community safe in order to live our everyday life. The idealized street in the shopping malls can not replace our streets on which we live together. It seems conspicuous that as people try to escape themselves from their reality through the experience of pseudo-community or street, their dirty and dangerous streets continues to threaten their everyday life. Which is more important?

Here, There, and Nowhere

The publishing date of 1995 for Goss' analysis of geodemographics and Leslie's study of globalized marketing and advertising means that the Internet hadn't really entered the international picture yet and challenged the notion of culture and lifestyle as essentially bound to physical space/place. Goss describes geodemographics as firmly anchoring individuals, and their consumption patterns, in physical space (a notion that Gans had also argued in a reading for Week 2). Leslie argues that global marketing and advertising firms, by cloaking globalized production strategies in the visual and textual rhetoric of multiculturalism and the campaign for human rights, constructed the illusion of a transnational civic culture (see especially her discussion of the United Colors of Benetton marketing campaign). Ten years later, both of these analyses are questionable in light of the global information network's impact on society and culture. Re: Goss, the question is whether communities (or at least collectives) of consumption are forming that have no physical referents but are purely self-referencing in terms of cyberspace and the culture it enables. It's a matter of cyberdemographics, not geodemographics. Re: Leslie, transnational civic culture is no longer (and I would argue never was) a marketing construction but in fact is an emerging lifeworld phenomenon but one to which the system-level advertising and marketing appartus caters assiduously because of its consumption practices.