Sunday, November 23, 2008

More Border Radio...

Thanks for the link Brian. Bill Crawford is the co-author of the border radio book I am reviewing. The link you sent compliments the book because hearing the voices adds aesthetic value. How insane that Wolfman Jack was selling baby chicks over the radio!

The irony of us passing around X-radio links should not be overlooked. I love that Dr. Brinkley (the goat gland guy) is still getting airplay. It seems like something he would appreciate considering that he devoted much of his life and his money to getting his voice (and brand) on the air.

Here is another link for more border radio archival audio.

The Arhoolie label also put out a 3 CD set of the Carter Family on XET (see photo above). Arhoolie is a national treasure.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

NPR Should Start Paying Me...

I just listened to an episode of Here on Earth that focuses on this project called Urban Earth run by Daniel Raven-Ellison, a geographer at the Langtree School. Similar to Google Street, they are trying to capture still images of cities by starting at one side and walking to the other, taking a picture every 8 steps. The goal is demystify mega cities and show that there is much more to these cities than what is traditionally represented in the media.

If you're interested, here is the story...

There's not much on the website yet, but you can check it out here...

Also, this summer On the Media had an interesting segment on border radio if Jim sparked your interest...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Rape in Cyberspace

Here's a link to the Julian Dibbell article.

Turns out Julian is a he.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Geography of the Internet Industry - 1st Half

I actually found this book to be a surprisingly easy read. And before I get into the substance, I also want to point out that (for those of us who came in with know really geographic training), of all of the books we've read, this was the easiest to understand as geography. By which I mean it probably was the most cartographic book that we've read - I was pleasantly surprised how many maps there were in the book, and how well they explained the data, and how well the text utilized that information. I also thought the book did a good job of balancing the quantitative and qualitative research, but more on that later.


Mostly Zook defining his terms. He tells us what the Internet is, and a little bit about how it got there (more in the next chapter). He also tells us how he defines "Internet industry," a term that could mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. So, for our purposes, there are three criteria: 1) a business model that either is primarily Internet based, or that wouldn't work without the Internet; 2) expectation of extraordinarily fast growth (more on that in CHAPTER 4); and 3) financial backing from risk investors looking for big returns.

More important, though, is that he tells us up front that he doesn't buy into the notion that the Internet is placeless or that it renders space insignificant. "The development of the Internet industry is fundamentally embedded in geography and defies simple expectations of diffusion and the demise of cities and instead illustrates the continued importance of particular regional and urban nodes in an increasingly globalized economy" (p. 5).

He also misspells "Foosball" (fussball?).


A short historical background, from ARPANET to Mosaic and beyond. Zook uses this to lay the groundwork for the argument that some places had head starts, that other places quickly made up ground, and that the Internet really is made up of many connected places. He uses maps and tables to show us how use of the Internet grew, but also says that's not the best measure of what's going on in cyberspace. He also shows that peculiarities of place can be informative, sayig cultural factors in Japan may be responsible for the relative dearth of domains in an otherwise wired society.


Zook first argues that the Internet is largely an urban phenomenon, clustered around a few major (and key) cities. In particular, I liked how he connected to the previous chapter (something I thought he did well throughout the book), noting that Washington, D.C., began as the leading hub for domains, but was quickly surpassed by San Francisco, New York and LA when the Internet went commercial. By presenting and comparing data on domains, domains per host, and major Web sites, Zook establishes a sort of Internet heirarchy (San Francisco, good; Chicago, not so much). I also like how he demonstrates that some standard measures are less effective than they might seem, showing that while Internet use grew quickly throughout the U.S., the Internet industry remained concentrated in a few key cities.


Zook argues that most scholars get it wrong when they assume "the uniformity and perfect mobility of capital" (p. 40). While money may be invested anywhere with little effort, that doesn't mean venture capitalists don't think about location. He says that the Internet industry, like all industry, is influenced by factors such as government support, availablity of human capital, and infrastructure. However, Zook argues that what's more important than any (or even all) of those individual factors is whether people know how to best make use of them in concert 0 a sort of networking of resources (human, civil and governmental). Here, we get to his discussion of knowledge (I still don't really like that "tacit knowledge" thing) and its transfer. We also begin to meet venture capital, and to see how that system is set up. It, too, relies on networking - investors (from individuals to banks and pension funds) networking with "venture capitalists" and entrepreneurs, capital funds networking with each other so that each can supply a small amount of support for a project. He also notes that entrepreneurs often value venture capital for the contacts (networks) it provides ("[A] survey of 464 venture capital-funded entrepreneurs . . . found that "capital" was consistently the least important variable in an entrepreneur's decision. Entrepreneurs were primarily interested in establishing connections with venture capitalists wh could help recruit management, provide contacts with other key actors, lend credibility to their company, and contribute to overall firm strategy.") (p. 56) as much as for the money itself.


Here, Zook argues that the primary connection between the Internet industry and venture capital is the desire to get big fast - in the Wild West that is the Internet economy, estabishing a reputation is more important than having an actual product. And the capital recognized that, being willing to spend for something that might pay off big time. Here, again, he argues that there is a localism to the Internet, both from the side of capital ("Why should I even drive down to Redwood City [approximately 25 miles south of San Francisco] to see a company when I have more quality business plans that I can hope to review here?") and from the entrepreneurs ("A lot of people either come to [Silicon] Valley or spend a tremendous amount of time out here because this is . . . what did that guy say about robbing banks? . . . This is where the money is.") (p. 61). Here, too, is where I thought he did a good job of blending the qualitative (much of this chapter is essentially ethnography) with the quantitative - I have no idea what a "multivariate linear regression" is (maybe one of you quantoids can explain it to me over about 9 beers), but I know that Zook used one to show how things such as available tech jobs, an educated work force and available venture capital all combined to create the ideal environment in places where the Internet industry flourished most.

That's it. On to the second half . . .

The Geography of the Internet Industry - 2nd Half

The second half of Zook’s book was easy to swallow but tough to digest without a little discomfort. Having seen many of the aspects first hand, I find it difficult to accept some of the ‘environmental’ factors that he calls out as short-sided economic planning in the emerging internet age. The push-pull relationship between investors and technology companies often openly ignored some of the fundamental, established practices that kept the doors open for years at traditional brick and mortars. Some attention was given in the book to the complicated nature of venture capitalism, but I’m hoping in class we can discuss the nuanced role of core employees within the financed companies. Additionally, investment funds were often spent for the sake of depletion, in an attempt to cast a wider net for the next round of funding.

It is surprising that the book ends so abruptly without exploring the implications of the dot-com crash. Expectations by both investors and employees were seriously altered as a result of unusually high returns and baseless salaries. The book was published before the current financial situation could be seen, but Greenspan cut interest rates as a direct result of the financial crisis in the tech sector. The low interest rates fueled a sharp increase in real estate sales, with many nontraditional (including subprime) loans getting approved. It took awhile for the process to occur on a national level, but the fallout includes the current $700 billion bank bailout. It’s a bit off topic, but relevant when considering the geographical implications.

Obama Map

In reference to our earlier conversations about where and how we encounter maps; I found this Barack Obama’s Journey to the White House map when I visited Google Maps a few days ago.

Researching Cybercultures

The utility of “Researching Cybercultures” is not that it presents any new knowledge but rather the rich literature upon which it is drawn. Essentially Bell is concerned with research methodologies and ethics in cyberspace research and its related debates. Bell positions cyberspace as a site with questionable intellectual rigor, who’s the expert, and denotes its ephemeral nature all of which could prove problematic for researchers.

The bulk of the reading concentrates on textual analysis and cyber-ethnographies as “useful” methods and the unique ethical considerations one faces in cyberspace research. Textual analysis, in this case, is just the transference of an off-line method to the online environment, investigating style, layout, relationships with other texts, and “multimedianess” etc. However, the blurred lines between producer/consumer, and “intertextuality” of web documents can make textual analysis in cyberspace more challenging.

Is cyberspace a site for fieldwork? For many researchers virtual ethnography is thought the best and cost effected methods for getting at the rich data contained in chat, email, and “MUD/MOO sessions.” The biggest debate here appears to center on verifiability which gets into a larger debate on adaptability in new spaces. Many feel that cyberspace is a new world with different realities and thus, methodologies and researchers should evolve to meet these new dynamics.
The ethical considerations were perhaps the most thought provoking. Is masquerading in cyberspace wrong? Is that what people do in cyberspace? Does asking a series of questions count as spam? Are chat rooms and discussion lists public or private space? These are some of the unique ethical considerations faced by cyberspace researchers. Unfortunately Bell provides little in the way of answers to these questions; but perhaps that is beyond his scope here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Artists of networks in network

We haven't really talked about artists, and I just ran into one. His name is Jonathan Harris. He's a programmer who develops attractive and intuitive ways to monitor the content that's moving around on the net.

He has one piece called "We feel fine" that searches blog posts for the phrase "I feel" and grabs the sentence. He presents these sentences, and then offers a few tools to break down, such as weather, location, gender and so on. Right now, the word "accomplished" is coming up 5.5 times the normal level. Feeling better is more common than bad, but bad is more common than good, at the moment.

You can find this and other artworks at his website:

"We feel fine" came out in 2006, but you could find a similar presentation while the election results were coming in on the New York Times website.

When I think of artists as people who digest, simplify, and help us understand ourselves and our society, pointing out things we might have trouble seeing or have trouble accepting. I usually don't think of them doing this in respect to the internet. The net seems more like a commercial and expressive space. I like how this artist has positioned himself as a digester, between me and internet content, and that he is maintaining an identity as an artist. Not a web designer or a company. He's in deft command of technology, but doesn't identify primarily with it. He isn't constructing the messages, either, he's helping me focus on them, because without him, they would be scattered all over.

Somehow it's stuck in my mind.

Geography of the Internet Industry, Assorted Comments

While reading The Geography of the Internet Industry, or, all about venture capital, the links between knowledge and capital brought to mind Foucault. We often think of the power/knowledge couplet, but books like Zook’s really highlight the money/knowledge relationship for me. Try replacing “power” with “capital” in the following passage from Discipline and Punish (which I am reading for my other class):

“We should admit rather that power produces knowledge . . . that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitutive field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.”  Kind of scares me!

On the capital note, did anyone else get annoyed with Zook’s attributing some person Martin with the idea that money is a social relation?!

Also, I am curious to know what other people thought of Zook’s employment of the term tacit knowledge throughout the book. For example Zook concludes, “Thus, while capital in the most general sense of the word, i.e., money, provided the fuel for many Internet companies, in many ways it was the transmission of tacit knowledge of the venture capitalist that was perceived as the more valuable element” (p. 58). Even though he gives examples, it was easier for me to understand what counts as qualified knowledge than what tacit knowledge might be.

Several of the books we have read in this class have made me consider the relationship between geography and knowledge. I wonder why we have read about “knowledge” in terms of technology. That seems limiting to me. What is knowledge? And what is its geography?

I wanted to say something positive about Zook. I thought I might applaud his use of both quantitative and qualitative research. Some of the quotations from venture capitalists were great. But . . . I am pretty sure that we learned in qualitative methods class that making a point, then picking a quote to support it, making another point, picking a quote to support it—is not the best way to write up what one learns from interviews. It got distracting. But I lost the geography lessons after the first couple of chapters of this book anyway.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A final thought on music

While watching music videos as a way of avoiding real work, I found myself thinking about the ways in which I have structured places by associating music with them. I suppose this is not all that original of a thought, and we may have talked about it in class, but it is nonetheless interesting to think about music in the role of place-making. Or, in this case, conceptual place-making.

I'm reminded slightly of Mike Davis' work on LA, and the ways in which the film industry has constructed a particular mythology of LA. I wonder if there are great musically-defined cities that stand out to y'all. I'm particularly tied to images of Kinshasa and Lagos that I've encountered though African music of the 70s. These are places that I, at one point, had no non-musical point of reference for, but have a fairly well developed mental image of both. I've created largely mythical images of a place, and I think its interesting to think about these visions, and also communal visions. How did (does?) Motown structure the making of Detroit, both politically (or lyrically) but also in terms of sound? I remember touring the Stax Records Museum in Memphis and watching a video where Rufus Thomas talked about how once Soul Music hit the South, it turned dirtier and uglier. Its a common but nonetheless great thought, and one that I think directly relates to the construction of place though music, and the inverse, the construction of music through place.

I'm particularly interested in the actual sounds of music in terms of place-making and not the lyrics. Tempo and sound seem crucial to my conceptual understanding of place, so thinking about the sonic differences between hip hop from Houston or hip hop from Miami gives me a totally different read on the feel of the cities. The same could be said for a variety of different genres and cities and readings and misreadings and I imagine the result is that conceptual schemes help to create the realities of particular places. There is no Memphis without Elvis, ultimately.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Web Science: Understanding and Engineering the Internet

Read this article Web Science: Studying the Internet to Protect Our Futur, co-authored by the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee.

It's great to see the acknowledgment that the Web is more than technical, but must be considered though social and political (and geographical) approaches as well.

One of many interesting points raised is that of "scale-free" networks, which characterize how particular nodes have many more connections to and from them than other nodes. This insight proved useful beyond the realm of the virtual, however, and is incorporated into citation analysis and biology.

And a lot of other goodies ...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

sound tracks -- the first part, with frustration

The most succinct summary of the first part of this book would be, "Music has been used in many ways by all sorts of people and organizations in different places to many ends; and through all this flow themes of place and identity on different scales." Actually, it could probably be even more succinct, "Look at all the music in the world, la la la la!" And yes, I'm feeling snide. While I found interesting tidbits in this book, and while I think it has opened my musical horizons with the case studies, the material on the whole I found uncompelling and largely descriptive. Since most of us engage in some musical culture, I think many of us are aware on some level of the cultural milieu that we are participating in. How did we choose to be part of one musical culture or another? This choice is something that most humans don't get wrong. (Am I wrong about that?) The discussions offered here are adventures in the wide diversity of musical activity across the globe, but the diversity is more often overwhelming than enlightening, repeating pictures that we ourselves experience, instead of providing a strong framework for analysis or further understanding. That said, I will try to outline the first part of the book around issues and stories that appear repeatedly more than on their resolution or discussion.

Fluidity and fixity, whether real, imagined, or constructed, seem to play a big role in music, but the way we group musics popularly doesn't follow these qualities in a clear way. Folk music is a good example. Folk appears to be remade every generation or so. A new wave of music arrives on the scene, and starts "tainting" what came before, and people branch out to collect or preserve the "untainted" music (and identity) of the past. The preserved, fixed, music became folk, while the living music moved on. I find this weird, since the qualities of the music before preservation, such as change, loss, life, and connection, are not really part of the music once preserved, so it isn't really the same beast at all. And then there are musics, such as rock and roll, that now would qualify as folk (I sang them in elementary school), except that no one had to preserve them. Once a music crosses the fluidity fixity line, should we rename the genre? Anyway, a more stable difference between folk and other music might be the level of commodification, where folk could be defined as music that is indivisible from the politics, religious, communicative practices in a local group (a fluid music), whereas other musical forms are more entwined in entertainment and culture industries, and often recorded for distribution (fixed music). However, our terms for musics tend to stick more to the sounds, the material part of the music, than to the practice of it, and so the ideas of fluidity and fixity have only so much prominence. Fluidity and fixity do not seem to me to be inherently geographical, either, but if one considers the role of globalization of culture and technology, it becomes clearer how they are useful concepts for geographers.

These processes of preserving and innovating, fixity and fluidity, are part of a larger process of constructing credibility or authenticity, which are often bound up in rhetorics of place and identity. The common perspectives of people from one place in apposition to another place have caused audiences to coalesce around genres. Rap is inner city, country is rural, punk is suburbia, metal is deiundistrialization and so forth. Similarly, common identities of ethnicity or nationality also causes people to group in their musical interests. In some ways, how a musician might connect with the audience depends on what scale they're trying to establish a connection with. For example, many Swedish bands have grown to global prominence by not claiming authenticity or Swedishness. However, other genres, such as American country music, depend strongly on images of rural life and values, however idealized. Themes of place seem to resonate globally fairly well, as for example many rural populations around the world listen to and emulate country music, whereas nationality or ethnicity probably doesn't carry well beyond borders, and may not carry well even within them.

Some places come to prominence for their musical scenes or unique sound identities. Musicians often seem very aware of where they are, and channel the vibes of a particular place into their music. Listeners, when they are aware where the musician is from, seem to channel it as well. Sometimes this comes out in lyrics, but often lyrics are vague as to direct places. Music as a whole seems to give off senses of places, but you could say it gives off senses of all kinds of things, places being one type among many, so I'm not sure how this is useful as a guiding concept. Music may convey messages of mobility. Both people and music moves from place to place, cross fertilizing all over the globe. Advancing technology has strongly affected music, whether in how far it moves (across the world), or in where it moves to (the living room). Some music, such as western music, has moved further and more deeply into other places, probably due to capitalism.

The paragraph you just read is terrible. I know. I've been frustrated for days writing this summary! I can't seem to find anything in this book that doesn't add together to anything besides "varying," multiple," or "different." While I think recognizing change and differences are important, if you put it all into a heap, it will stay a heap. We already know that the world is full of diversity! Dig in deeper! The text boxes and the parts of the text incorporated context and more complete discussions of real places and musics were more effective for me, and should have been capitalized on. This book has missed something in that the world that we live in is the geography that organizes music into something comprehensible. If we take the world out, it stops making any overall sense. If you take the world out, you have to put something else in place to keep it from imploding, and these authors have failed to do that.

Please, tell me I'm wrong. Geography and music shouldn't be incompatible!

Malls as public space

For those interested in reading Bock v. Westminster Mall, I think I figured out how to upload that into my MyWisc space. Try and let me know if it works.

Optional Readings: Secondary Worlds (James Kneale) and Cinematic Cities (Maria Helena B. V. da Costa)

da Costa (looking at film) and Kneale (looking at science fiction literature) suggest a methodology for a geographical interpretation of representations of place. They examine the difference between representations of place and realities of place, looking for the cultural politics, interpretations and commentary embedded in those differences. Representations give new meaning to the lived experience of places and spaces, which translates into an influence on action in or reaction to place.

Both da Costa and Kneale consider the geography of texts: the pace of characters’ action and experience; the relationship of places to characters and plot; and the meanings and functions of places, both as part of the in-text action and as paralleled with reality. How places are represented (writing of the smells on a city street or showing a panoramic skyline) and the denotations of those representations (a character said to feel at home or the upbeat music in a scene) give meaning to places in texts.

Kneale warns against placing too much emphasis on a writer: the important things are the differences between the fictional world and the real (not the writer's) world, and the reader's interpretation (not the author's intention) of meaning in a work.

da Costa, however, does consider how the filmmaker’s own experience informs feelings about and presentation of a place. She also considers that representations of place are never solely informed by direct experience, they are also informed by other representations; and that interpretation of texts is subject to influences of place and space. (For example, a viewer’s interpretation of a movie is dependent on viewing place (at home or in a theater), space (alone or with friends) and mediation (private reflection or group discussion).)

While da Costa and Kneale give interesting explanations of how geography can inform textual analysis, I am unfortunately still unsure of how textual analysis can inform geography.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Connell, Gibson - Sound Tracks (second half)

Chapter 7

In this chapter, Connell and Gibson take a largely critical tone, decrying ‘world music’ as “the fetishization of place” or marginalia, a “form of apartheid,” (Sawhney), “yuppie-directed exotica,” and as “not a musical genre but…at best, a marketing category for a collection of diverse genres.” Connell and Gibson’s critique largely hinges on the commercialization of the exotic and the other, and the assertion of a binary between the developed and the underdeveloped world. In opposition, the authors detail the ways in which diverse genres of non-Western music are hybrid categories. They look at the ways in which Zouk, Congolese Rumba, and Thomas Mapfumo’s Chimurenga music are products of multiple musical and cultural movements. The result is another celebration of hybridity and open-ended communication, by now a dominant theme of the book.

Chapter 8

In this chapter, Connell and Gibson look at the ways in which diasporic music is a result of hybridity and transformation. Instead of seeing the music of migrants as a nostalgic vision of homeland, the authors examine the ever-changing nature of musical expression in migrant communities. Related to the general critique of notions of authenticity, the authors argue that neither homeland or migrant musics are stable, but instead are always in flux, along with their hybrid versions. Rai, Bhangra, and Salsa are all versions of music performed by migrants, and the result is a constant transmutation of meaning and sound, resulting in new musics and new conceptions of identity. They look at fascinating ways in which national music forges new regional identifications, like pan-Asianism, and the result is an always fluid interaction between nationality, ethnicity, and diaspora. The authors engage with Hip Hop and Reggae, two diasporic musics, and look at the ways in which identity is constantly renegotiated through cultural contacts. African reggae artists are both challenging the sounds associated with reggae, but also formulating new cultural identities through their engagement with the music. Music and identity are always in flux.

Chapter 9

This chapter begins with an analysis of music’s ability to shape space, through a look into Taylorist factories with piped-in muzak and malls playing Bing Crosby to discourage teenagers hanging out. The authors then look into the mental creation of space through lounge, ambient and new age music. These are musical movements that promote virtual tourism, either of particular far-off locales or just natural environments away from the bustle of the city. Connell and Gibson then invert this process, and look at the ways in which music facilitates the reclamation of certain spaces, such as empty warehouses for raves or the traffic-clogged street for Reclaim the Streets parties. The authors then look into the rejection and assertion of gendered or hetero spaces through musical movements, like Riot Grrl and the creation of transient gay spaces in the city.

Chapter 10

Connell and Gibson look into the creation of music-based tourist niches in a diverse array of places. As a kind of nostalgic pilgrimage tourism, music tourists forge emotional attachments to places, and suggest new methods of economic redevelopment for municipalities or countries. Various models of music tourism are discussed, from dance music fans touring the Pacific to deadheads and African drumming enthusiasts, and the authors unpack the various engagements with authenticity and the local economy that this tourism promotes. Additionally, the authors look at the ways in which music tourism constructs authenticity in the face of actual residents of a place, and the uneven economic results of tourism-based redevelopment schemes. Nashville is an ideal case, and the authors note “These ideological stances, values and moral positions, captured in the museums, memorials and malls of Nashville, are now part of a multi-million dollar industry. In addition to catering for tourist desires to experience ‘authentic’ country music, tourism in Nashville involves larger issues: representations of idealised domestic space, contested notions of American national identity and morality, and specific questions of race, class and gender” (242,243).

Chapter 11

In this chapter, the authors wonder if global consolidation of digital music companies into an oligopoly will change the styles of music offered to consumers. They find that, contrary to Adorno and critiques of the culture industry, global consolidation has resulted in both centralization and decentralization. Music economies are fractured and uneven and Connell and Gibson note “Media and technology giants like TimeWarner and Sony aim to wield global power, yet the dynamics of South and South-East Asian cassette cultures, or even the Christian and New Age music industries (largely independent from major companies, and simultaneously ignored by academics) demonstrate that their influence is not universal” (256). One way in which decentralization has occurred has been through the digitizing of music and the resultant possibility for do-it-yourself music networks. The constant conflict between dispersal and centralization is still at play though, and the authors argue that digitization and the internet prompt both place-based decentralization along with industry centralization and consolidation. The authors close the chapter by looking into the piracy of music in light of space and place. Ultimately, this chapter argues that there are no easy distinctions between the local and the global, or the centralized and dispersed, but that music and the structures that engage with it are inherent hybrid and transitory.

Chapter 12

The authors restate their case in this chapter, arguing in favor of the connectivity between the local and the global, between fixidity and fluidity, and noting that “almost all music is diasporic” (271). Music creates imagined communities, encounters dispersal and fusion, is both emancipatory and banal, dynamic and continuous, and authentic and inauthentic. Ultimately, “It would be elegant if the ‘local’ could be equated with the ‘authentic’ and globalization with the inauthentic, but it is abundantly clear that such simplistic distinctions have no bearing on the complexity of the migration, the fusion and hybridity of contemporary musical forms, their credibility or their enjoyability” (279). Throughout this book, the authors investigate the intersection of dispersed space and localized place through the lens of music. It is a similar question to the ones we have been engaging with this semester, and Connell and Gibson’s insistence on hybridity and continual flux is an exciting addition to the literature we have engaged with so far.

Optional Reading Summary, Douglas

“The Turn Within: The Irony of Technology in a Globalized World” by Susan Douglas, considers trends in journalism and entertainment media, specifically, the fact that news is characterized by ethnocentrism and entertainment media by narcissism. Douglas argues, “new communications technologies have not created a global village but have, ironically, led to a fusion of ethnocentrism and narcissism, best cast as a ‘turn within’” (p. 620).

With Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” idea as a starting point, Douglas endorses a kind of soft determinism in which “technologies are not seen as the prime movers, but as having some agency in the mix of how individuals, institutions, and political-economic systems respond to and shape technological change” (p. 623).

One principle at work is the irony of technology, which says, “the economic and political system in which the device is embedded almost always trumps technological possibilities and imperatives” (p. 625). It follows that communications technologies can have consequences opposite of what we think they might be. In Douglas’s example, it is possible for us to learn more about the rest of the world, but we are becoming more isolated and less informed about global politics.

This is due in part to conventions of news reporting. In the 1980s, the three broadcast networks downsized, eliminating foreign news bureaus and cutting back on international reporting. This was accompanied by an increase aimed entertainment and lifestyle news, and celebrity journalism. The turn within saw a marked decrease in foreign news from the 70s to the late 90s. Emphasis on higher profits and lower costs meant that international news coverage was the most expensive to produce, despite new technologies.

In addition to commercial pressures, storytelling conventions also “worked against constituting an empathetic global village subject” (p. 630). The focus on foreign people as Others, victims or combatants, with lack of context, denied people in other places their own subjectivity.

The trends of reality TV, which grew from 2000-2005, and celebrity-based entertainment, made personality, the body, and consumerism seem more important. Douglas holds that these genres made a bubble of the reality TV world which “privileges self-absorption, self-scrutiny, the intricacies of interpersonal interactions and an obsession with the private and personal at the expense of any broader public issues” (p. 632).

Douglas’ argument is clear, that the news cultivates ethnocentrism, while reality TV cultivates narcissism. She notes briefly that the life span and dominance of the turn with in remains unclear, as people disregard the news and some audiences, such as college graduates, value international news.

Douglas argues that it is political and economic structures that encourage either a microscopic or telescopic use of technologies. Soft determinism, or a “middle-level level theory” of technological determinism “seeks to find an intermediate level of analysis in which technology is seen as both socially constructed and as society shaping” (p. 635). Media can have multiple and at times paradoxical powers, hence, the often contradictory consequences of the digital revolution.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Sounding Out the City: Music and the Sensuous Production of Place, by Sara Cohen

This short description of Sara Cohen's article will certainly not do it justice, but it will give you an idea of what the full article is about. Cohen describes the connection that music has with culture, place and space. Cohen focuses part of her article on Jack, an elderly gentleman from Liverpool, who among other things is the child of Jewish immigrants who escaped the ravages of Eastern Europe during the late 19th century. Jack’s sense of culture, of who he is as a Jew, was developed and expressed through a lifetime love of and participation with music.

Music for Jack, could be a marker of generational difference [or alienation] as well as a “family of resemblance,” if the lyrics resonated with his experiences(p. 269). Jack expressed an affinity with Irish folk songs and the songs of Black slaves in America, because he characterized them as misfits, people with no homes, which to him was not unlike the Jewish Diaspora.

Although music was a personal way for Jack and other Liverpool Jews to identify and express themselves, Cohen describes how music was also used to categorize Liverpool Jews as, the “newly imported foreign Jew” living in the ghetto or quarter, the “second generation Jew” who was characterized as frequenting dance halls and having great dancing abilities; and the “English Jew” who was portrayed as much more cultured, artistic, literary and musical (p.264).

Even though music and musical abilities were used to categorize Jews, Cohen describes music as drawing people together through the symbolic creation of a collective sense of self and place. In regards to Liverpool Jews, Cohen notes that many of them were very religious and no doubt used music of various genres as a means to establish and strengthen social and spiritual ties, which also allowed them to maintain their collective and individual identities (p.264).

Cohen describes music as representative and interpretive, felt, heard and experienced. For Jack, music was sight, sound and smell which conjured up images of his Liverpool, his neighborhood and his life. Cohen writes that, “The musical practices and interactions of the immigrant Jews helped to define and shape the particular geographical and material space within the city that they inhabited (p. 267).”

According to Cohen, neighborhoods and communities are constructed through a context of social activity as well as concepts and symbols. In some locations, Black musicians would find themselves playing music in White spaces and in other contexts, Irish concertina bands acted as a trigger for Irish sectarian violence, representing an invasion of space and a marker of territory. Music, according to Cohen, is created in specific places and spaces through social interactions and contexts that create or produce their own sounds. Hence, every city makes different noises (p. 268).

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Geographies of Consumption

Geographies of Consumption (GC) serves as an introductory text for human geography’s treatment of consumption. Its position is predominately Western and oriented toward Anglophone cultures. Thematically is draws upon the social and spatial variations in consumption practices. As in the Castell (2004), reading Mansvel expands our understanding of “the network.” Overall GC was thought-provoking and severs as an excellent starting point for researchers interested in this area.

Consumption research in Geography is relatively recent not commencing until the 1990’s. Marxist and post-structuralist theories are the dominate frameworks employed in geographical consumption research.

Mansvelt divides consumption history into three periods; Modern, situated with the 17th and 18th centuries, Mass Consumption, 19th and 20th centuries, denoted by the evolution of public-private spaces and the development of marketing as an essential aspect of product promotion and finally postmodernism characterized by niche markets in the late 20th and 21st centuries.

The notion of space is understood not solely as a physical manifestation but by the meaning(s) produced from such physical environs. These experiences are termed spectacular spaces typified by a combination of visible spaces such as malls, festivals, and theme parks. In contrast, home represents a public-private sphere built upon differing constructions of gender and heterosexuality. Cyberspace is differentiated from both spectacular and home spaces because of the blurred lines between public and private spheres. Furthermore cyberspace is risky (unsafe) and subject to surveillance and interference by prying governments and third parties.

Other key points:

Consumption as identity

The Body as site

The Body in spaces

Performance as identity (gender, class, community, social groups)

Food consumption as identity (Class, space, ethnicity)

Connections between production and consumption

Three models

*Commodity chain

*Commodity circuits

*Actor Network Theory

Commercial Cultures

Music (power issues, blurred lines producer/consumer, race/ethnicity, spaces, class)

Globalization (homogenization, creolization)

Tourism (the other)


1. GC emphasized middle class lifestyles. How might the various spheres discussed by Mansvelt differ if more focus was placed on consumptions of the working class?

2. How might the three-stage model of consumption differ in newly industrialized countries such as Brazil, India and China?

3. Blurred lines were a reoccurring theme in Castells (2004). Mansvelt too mentions blurred lines in addition to power dynamics. Does the evolution of producer/consumers challenge traditional notions of power mentioned in GC?

Mona Domosh, Selling America

Sorry for the lateness. I couldn't break myself away from election coverage.

Mona Domosh offers a very unique and conversational piece about approaching advertisements as way to analyze culture. Specifically, she is interested in national identity and imperialism in the late 19th century and provides a tale from her own research about how studying advertising can illuminate our understanding of culture (or perhaps, analyzing culture can better help us understand advertising).

Domosh argues that advertisements should be understood as “cultural documents, participants in the shaping and reinforcing of public culture” (141). Within the context of imperialism, these cultural artifacts help construct and reinforce ideologies of nationalism. In her research on 19th century companies engaged in overseas marketing, Domosh introduces two theoretical framework that she found particularly useful. First, she draws form Judith Butler’s notion that cultural artifacts are iterative, “that the images and words on ads are meaningful to us because they are drawing on themes and stories, or narratives, that are familiar to most people” (144). Second, she evokes Clifford Geertz’s ‘thick description’, which she describes as acquiring “an intimate familiarity with cultural codes and meanings” (144) in order to develop adequate interpretations.

Domosh then provides an example of an ‘intellectual puzzle’ she encountered in her own research. She writes about being a bit bewildered by a Singer Sewing Machine Company trade card that was circulated at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Because I wouldn’t do it justice to summarize the blow-by-blow of her story (but it’s definitely worth a read), I will summarize her two main points. First, without properly placing the advertisement in its context (of the economic and social dynamics of the time as well as the prevailing advertising strategies of Singer at the time), she would have had difficulty understanding the advertisement and likely misread its intent. Second, she implies that the journey of discovering meaning is not one that has straight path but, rather, is full of dead ends and retraced footsteps. For me, her evoking of ‘thick description’ – which Geertz uses to describe how to conduct ethnography – suggests that researchers need to interact with their research in a more immersive manner than they are used.

She closes by noting that her main concern is “break[ing] down the boundaries between cultural and economic geography” (150). The chapter itself is part methodological piece, part case study, and part call for new research on advertising within geography. It’s a easy interesting and easy read and definitely worth a look.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Leslie's "Global Scan" on Advertising

Deborah Leslie provides an overview of activity in advertising in the 80s and early 90s, beginning with how globalization affected the industry structurally and showing how that played out in advertising strategy and content.

Before the 80s advertising was primarily handled by small local offices. Although there still were still many small niche advertisers in 1995, the medium sized businesses had diminished in number. American markets were saturated by the 80s and the most potential for growth came from other countries. Advertising firms began directly investing in foreign offices instead of creating their own to reap the benefit of local knowledge. They also began buying each other up to lower costs and attain a wide geographic expansion of their services. This allowed for a diversification of services and a wider client base. As firms grew fewer and bigger, it became more important to be located in a major city. Most advertisers are based in New York City today, with some in London and Tokyo. These re-structurings appear to have affected the advertising workforce negatively, with employees complaining about big lay offs, overwork and less creative flexibility.

The new global companies were faced with juggling between global and local advertising campaigns. Upscale commodities, and those embodying the American identity, such as soft drinks, jeans, computers, and pharmaceuticals, could be advertised as a world brand. Other commodities could not because associations from culture to culture would vary. Luckily, globalization isn't confined to advertising, and marketers found similar consumer segments repeated or created in populations all over the world. Women, youth, and mothers are seen as having the most in common, and are targeted more often as global advertising audiences.

Advertising agencies restructured how they did business as they grew. The rampant merging had caused many clients who were competing with each other to be buying advertising from the same company. This conflict of interest, along with all the reorganization, caused high competition for contracts from an unstable client base. Meanwhile, clients began consolidating their business into one or two advertising firms instead of several dozen. All of this helped coordinate campaigns and manage the overall image for companies. As such, advertising agencies began organizing their services on the client instead of around a locality.

Just as advertising may have created a national commodity culture, it may have begun creating a global one. British Airways (appropriately imperially) set the stage with an ad campaign featuring diverse actors converging in a non-descript field, accompanied by strong music and visuals, and few words. Many ads have followed suit, such as Benetton ads, which imply that people can overcome cultural boundaries through consumer citizenship. The places that are constructed in global advertising are non-places, and the people have thrown off traditional forms of identification. This may be less the meat of a common global culture, so much as a tools needed to enter a global culture.

At one point, the author quotes Speigel, "The global village, after all, is the fantasy of the colonizer, not the colonized." It is hard for me to disagree with this; however, the author also points out that advertisers construct their material by scanning the market first. This article does not try to untangle the conundrum of who is creating the history described here. Nor does it state openly how all these globalizations are related. Perhaps the author collocating these globalizations not simply because they are united by being part of the history of advertising. She may be subtly pointing out that it is the simultaneity of these globalizations, of structure, strategy, content, and culture, that makes all this fit together. Without these globalizations happening contemporaneously in each sphere, could any of them have sustained themselves alone? Would they be considered globalization if they did?

Goss, The 'Magic of the Mall'

In "The 'Magic of the Mall,'" Jon Goss aims to show that "developers have sought to assuage . . . collective guilt over conspicuous consumption by designing into the retail built environment the means of a fantasized dissociation from the act of shopping." In other words, shopping makes us feel guilty; but if we don't feel like we're shopping, then it's OK. So our mallmakers go to great lengths to build environments that help us pretend. They do this in downtown shopping districts that are constructed to look like historic places, and in suburban malls that evoke Mediterranean plazas (even in their names, the Galleria malls calling to mind Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, assuming anyone knows what that is).

According to Goss, a great deal of collusion goes into creating this effect - developers teaming up with financiers, architects, engineers, designers and government agenices - with the end goal being profit. The idea, it seems, is that everyone assumes that a profit motive is sufficient justification, that everyone benefits if everyone profits. The person who's left out of this equation, in Goss's mind, is the consumer, who is disarmed by all of this subterfuge.

Goss is particularly disturbed by the complicity of governmental agencies. Malls "may house post offices, satellite municipal halls, automated government services, and public libraries; space is sometimes provided for public meetings or religious services." In this way, malls appear to be public space, while mall owners insist that the space is purely private and still driven by profit. Drinking fountains are pushed to the margins in order to prevent their diverting business from the food court. Freedoms of speech, assembly and petition are curtailed. (Goss notes that courts generally have held that malls actually are some sort of limited public space, but I'm not sure this accurately characterizes the jurisprudence. In any case, I am hoping to provide an edited copy of Bock v. Westminster Mall, a Colorado Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the mall was a limited public space for free speech purposes.)

Goss says consumers have few means of responding to this constructed environment. He rejects as unreasonable the idea that consumers could construct their own alternative shopping areas, devoid of such deceptive "signification." Instead, he suggests that people treat malls as the public places they pretend to be - and that rebels engage in "the collective staging of games and farcical events, by artists, activists, and the shopping center patrons themselves, that can temporarily bring carnival into the shopping center, upsetting the conventional play of signification, subverting the cultural codes that are strategically deployed." It's here, I fear, that Goss buys his ticket on a nonstop flight to nutbar. He fails (refuses?) to consider that people go to malls not because they've been duped into feeling that they'r enot consuming, but because the mall offers something that is genuinely desireable, such as convenience (one-stop-shopping - isn't that why department stores were successful in the first place, and why big-box stores thrive today?). And does he honestly believe that his "stag[ed] . . . farcical events" will recapture the mall? Rather, I see events like that actually attracting people to the mall, without changing their disposition to either the place or the activities they engage in while there. ("What're you doing Saturday? I think I'm going to see what those crazy activists are doing at the mall. And I do need some new shoes. And maybe some TCBY.")

Finally, there's a bit of anachronism in this article. Published in 1993 (I think), surely it was written a year or so earlier. This coincided (or followed closely) both a spike in urban crime and the apogee of the Galleria-style suburban mall. In some ways, this anachronism doesn't matter so much. The modern strip mall has less of a constructed atmosphere than the indoor mall that is the focus of Goss's work; however, there probably are more of his urban-renewal malls. However, in other ways, I think Goss's failure to consider the geography of time does undermine his argment. For example, he writes extensively about how the psychology of fear (particularly fear of urban crime) fed the development of the mall. That argument is less relevant today, as construction of suburban strip malls continues apace, and urban-renewal malls continue to be built, often right next to blighted areas.