Sunday, December 21, 2008

Well-deserved winter vacation

Thanks for a thoughtful semester of discussions, folks, and for your reflections on the borders between geography and mass communication. Your grades should be online by late Friday Dec. 26. Do keep in touch!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Final reflections on Human Geography & Mass Communication

OK, so human geography and mass communication.

First I should say this was my first real introduction to either field. Although I grew up obsessed with maps, this was my first geography class, and my first introduction to the field in academe. And while I spent more than 10 years in the practice of mass communication (journalism), I have never really take a course in that field, either.

I guess my main response to the class is that it focussed perhaps too much on the former (human geography) and not enough on the latter (mass communication). My limited exposure to communication as a discipline tells me that communication consists of both the means of communication and the message itself. Most of the communication that came into this class was concerned with the means of communication - the telecom networks, for example. Clearly, geography played a role in the development of these communication systems, and our reading did much to illustrate that fact. However, we didn't learn as much about how geography can affect the message itself.

That is one reason why I am pleased with my choice of book for my book report. My book discussed communication systems, and the readings we did for class provided good perspective for that discussion. But it also showed how concepts in geography could influence message and the communication of that message.

Overall, good class. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed (most of) the readings, which were both interesting and informative. If I had to tweak, I guess I would tweak in such a way as to put more of the message in the communication part of the class.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Geography and Mass Communication? Really?

I'm not going to come out so cheery and positive right away about this conjunction of disciplines. I got to it at the wrong moment for me.

I came back to academia this year leaving a job where I had to make up almost everything I did as I went along, and had probably three persons' worth of that to do. I was fried and looking for something to put the world back into coherence. I wanted guidance, and school is where you get that.

I chose geography for a lot of reasons, but one of which was its interdisciplinary flexibility---I've never liked simply settling down in a nice old rut---but I think this time, this characteristic frustrated me more than it attracted my unconventional nature. I really wanted traction, some tools that I could put to future use, some concise boundaries, a clear structure. Instead I got an interesting meander through a ton of circumstance, out of which I had a lot of trouble extracting foundational concepts, although I don't doubt they were there. I've come out with a richer understanding of the world and history, but I don't think I have a good handle on my chosen discipline, which is sort of disappointing. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps I've become too practical. Perhaps I needed to take this course a year from now, when I had the tools to understand and appreciate it. Given that others have said it took a while to grasp the topic, I don't feel alone, and I suspect I will value what we've done here more down the road, once I have some context.

I think this is what happens when disciplines meet, at least sometimes. We're in that stage where we have to create the place between. It's a lot of work. We've pulled together as experienced initiates, we're juggling cannons rich in historical undulation, we're testing waters barely traversed, and we're not sure what will come out of it. Perhaps only one seminar, or perhaps a series of seminars that will start forming its own guiding ideas. For now, what we do know, as many of you have said, is that there are a lot of things going on in the world that this interdiscipline embraces. I don't doubt that, simply looking at how undersea internet cables were cut this year legitimates the endeavor. And it's a useful place for us. We get a new perspective here, and it's fertile. It's like sitting on the rug with all the Legos spread around you. You can build all kinds of things, even if not all of them will stand. Why shouldn't it be a place?

For one, as we talked about, technology moves so fast that academia, with it's slower mechanisms of proof and discussion, can't keep up meaningfully.

For another, although there are plenty of world issues to address in this cross-section, are we sure they can't be addressed in other places? Which should it be, "Geography OF Communications" or "Geography AND Communications"? Because aren't our analyses geographic, and our topic communications? Technology doesn't have a discipline either, despite the huge role it plays. Perhaps then, we don't have the capacity for so many disciplines. It may remain a place in between. A place with Legos on the rug.

But these may turn out not important in the long run. The greatest worth I found in this semester was the repeating discovery of how our perceptions of how the world was working did not line up with how it was really working. People thought technology was a big equalizer, but we find out that it is also unevenly distributed. People thought a new technology would knock out another older one, and usually it does not. People thought workplaces, face-to-face interaction, and libraries would disappear. They did not. This investigation has created new carrying metaphors for research, like the space of flows, and new ideas for policy. Making sure that we don't simply depend on predictions and summaries to understand the world, that we check back on ourselves, figure out who we were and who we are, and that we do the research, find the trends, build the theories; that I think is the most valuable part of what we do. And that can be done from any place, even a place that's not quite a place yet, like this one.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why Human Geography and Mass Communications?

I began this course unable to define 'human geography' (and, obviously therefore, unable to see its value to mass communication). I took this class because, as someone who shies away from all technology I can reasonably avoid in a highly technological world, I thought the topics covered in this class would expand my understanding of mass communication in mediums that I try to avoid thinking about in a more quotidian way.

Having overcome my ignorance, I am saddened that there are not more courses combining these disciplines! As Brian said, it's easy for mass communication studies to be decontextualized – we study the content, effect and medium of communications but often forget the most geographical and human elements of where mass communication exists in society. Mass communication students easily assume that better production – advertising, reporting, etc – will mean better communications. But the place of communication also makes a big difference: how people access and use communication; where communication comes from and where it is going; and how we understand and act within certain spaces of communication all factor into how well we exchange ideas and understand our world.

What good is geography to the study of mass communication?

Or, What good is mass communication to the study of (human) geography?

I wondered why the question wasn’t posed the other way around, or why not, “and vice versa?” But, appropriately, for my answer, the way the question is posed does not make a difference. What good is geography to the study of mass communication? For me, it demonstrates and reinforces the idea that disciplinary boundaries are BOGUS.

My personal graduate school background involves a couple of years of quantitative study in mass communication. In my development as a grad student, there are a few seminal articles—and moments, literally, in a grad school classroom—which have determined the direction my interests have taken or solidified a way of thinking that might just have been inherent. In the communication side of things, the article that spoke most loudly to me was Todd Gitlin’s (1978), Media sociology: The dominant paradigm.

The view of mass communication studies presented by Gitlin is one a field which, at its inception and for decades to follow, was overwhelmingly empirical and social-scientific in its orientation to research. He criticizes the media effects tradition of research for its approach, “the search for specific, measurable, short-term, individual effects” (p. 224). This hearkens back to the reactions to the quantitative revolution in geography that we read about in Key Texts. Gitlin’s discussion of Personal Influence—one of the “key texts” in mass communication—shows the ways in which mass communication studies was born out of a behavioral science tradition. Gitlin’s describes the dominant paradigm of mass communication as a “fetishism of facts,” and quotes Adorno as having said he has no problem with empirical research as such, but with its primacy over—and instead of—theory.


After arriving at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and re-reading Gitlin in one of Hemant Shah’s seminars, I began to take Gitlin’s polemical argument more seriously. This meant leaving media effects research behind. And led me to Cultural Studies. And eventually, human geography as well. I gravitated to Cultural Studies because the theory, cultural/historical focus, and INTERDISCIPLINARY inquiry allowed me a much wider perspective on communication and social phenomena more generally. But when I took a class in human geography last semester in the geography department, I realized that geography had a lot of incredibly useful and important theory that often did not enter the vocabulary of cultural studies—and unfortunately, many other disciplines too.

In short, cultural studies and human geography are top-notch in my book. Because you can study virtually ANYTHING! This is not to say that the fields are chaotic or without foci, rather, that they engage with social theory on a level that is appealing to me. I remember reading an interview with Stuart Hall where he says we should not be concerned with policing the boundaries of what constitutes Cultural Studies. And in some ways, human geography is the same for me—boundaryless (pardon the pun)! What of society or nature isn’t geographical?

Key Texts in Human Geography was probably one of my favorites because it traced the development of human geography in a chronological fashion that allowed us to see the phases and breadth of work in the field. First, bless Yi-Fu Tuan’s heart for taking an entirely novel approach to geography and allowing such a rich account of the experiences of human beings in space and place.

And Harvey’s work I will likely keep close to my heart, for making historical materialism into
historical–geographical materialism, for coherently giving capital it’s due as a social force in The Condition of Postmodernity, and for promoting knowledge in the service of social change.

I am still deciding what to do with Castells. The formulations of the space of flows and the network society are useful for empirical work, surely, but, for now, I’d rather not privilege the broader theoretical ideas of Castells over any other “theory.” Taking classes in many departments—as most of us are fortunate enough to be able to do—has meant that we as graduate students consume lots of theory. Mull over, weigh out, decide the utility of. And settle on which to buy, employ, and reinforce with our own research.

My conclusion is not just that geography and mass communication have cannons of work that can enrich one another and that communication and geographic theory are mutually informing. As a student of mass communication, this class has showed me that most analyses are incomplete without an understanding of the geographical aspects of social phenomena and processes. But more than that, it has made me a better consumer of any type of social scientific research. This class has increased my vocabulary. It has made it more spatial and sensitive to place, allowing me to become a better consumer of research, and hopefully, author as well.

Above all, this class has confirmed my commitment to interdisciplinarity. Again, amen!

What good is geography to the study of mass communication?

I took this course on the weight of one lecture that Greg Downey gave in a Mass. Comm. colloquium the first semester I was here at Madison. I was fascinated with the idea of Greg's study of telegraph boys as the labor of technology, which informed many things about the telegraph industry.

My own background is in English literature and writing, very non-technical and certainly non-science, so I'm a Johnny-come-lately to mass comm. I admit to taking at least six weeks of this class to get a sense of what geography really is and how I felt it related to what I want to know about the world, as well as how it relates to mass communication.

If I could use a visual descriptor for considering the impact that geography has on mass communication, I would say that geography is the difference between the glossy pages of the National Geographic and the flatness of a copy of the Wallstreet Journal. Because...geography is, whether we concern ourselves with Castells' network, uneven growth in technology, the crisis of control at the beginning of the industrial revolution or the loss of ATMs as banks changed the way they do business, a very visual concept. And all of the processes I mentioned above beg to be visualized. Maps and diagrams describing the ebb and flow, or spaces of flows, or space, home, neighborhood, town, city, county... of human life can make sense out of very complicated processes and work in conjunction with mass communication.

Of course, the above description is limiting geography to maps and diagrams and I certainly don't mean to do that. The growth, decline, routes, processes, and flows of traffic, goods and intellect to the market are followed very closely by mass communication, which describe, forecast, sensationalize, advertise and otherwise profit from what's going on in the world which in many ways is defined by geography.

Richard, in his blog, has insisted that mass communication is the handmaiden to geography. I love his enthusiasm! However, I am not sure what came first, the chicken or the egg or which one we should characterize as geography or mass communication.

My indecision might indicate that I am a fraud, still more in touch with humanities than mass communication, even after three semesters. Nonetheless I am sure that geography and mass communication inform and support each other in ways that I would never have considered until I took this class. So, I know you're what ways does this happen?

Consider the book we read on empire building. The spread of the telegraph was fueled by the desire to communicate, but if we look under the surface the desire to communicate was fueled by the desire to BUILD and exploit and make money. The spread of empire could only occur when communication was made available which made investment less risky [or so they thought]. While communication via the telegraph was initially for government use, mass communication was an incredibly important tool for shuttling information back and forth and facilitating production and growth.

I don't think either geography or mass communication would function as well as they do without the other. Handmaiden status is yet to be determined.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Book Review Summary – Outside the Box (Kumar)

Bringing together questions of globalization and its impact on labor, as well as how the news media report on such issues, Deepa Kumar’s Outside the Box: Corporate Media, Globalization, and the UPS Strike (2007) succeeds in using a case study to provide support for larger theoretical claims. Kumar analyzes the media coverage of the UPS strike of August 1997, in which 185,000 UPS workers across the United States walked off their jobs, to argue that collective struggle is key to challenging policies of globalization.

Kumar sets the context of the strike by explaining what effect globalization has had on the working class. She defines terms such as lean production and neoliberalism, giving the reader less familiar with such concepts simple explanations, clearly from a viewpoint unfavorable to management. The discussion of the negative effect of capitalism on labor is followed by the argument that people are not helpless in combating economic forces, the UPS workers’ successful strike a case in point.

While it is questionable whether Kumar overstates the ratio of resistance and dominance to globalization, she offers a model called the Dominance/Resistance Model, which “examines both the ways the status quo is upheld . . . and how critical views might enter the media” (p. 38). Giving the reader background on how the commercial media system works, she explains that despite the pro-corporate bias in coverage of economic issues, collective struggle does have the power to impact the tone of media coverage. This is Kumar’s central argument. The material experience of large movements challenging the status quo, struggling for hegemony, is a way to get media to acknowledge dissent.

From her analysis of news stories from the major TV networks and three national newspapers, Kumar finds that coverage in the first week of the strike followed a nationalist narrative, in which the public interest was equated with the interests of business. But in week two of the strike, an anti-corporate tone emerged, with coverage more favorable to the strikers and Teamsters. Kumar argues public opinion, 55 percent favorable to the strikers, resonated with the general public, who felt class identification. Once the strike was over, however, media coverage returned to the pro-business status quo.

Kumar ends with a discussion of the lessons to be learnt from the strike, particularly for communication theory. In the most theoretically dense section of the book, she argues that cultural studies, pragmatism, and even political economy do not go far enough to theorize resistance to the neoliberal economic system. For the reader with knowledge of these subject areas, more in-depth discussion and support might be needed for these points and her Dominance/Resistance Model.

Despite the large problem of organizing the television chapter by frame and newspaper chapter by newspaper, Kumar succeeds with an interdisciplinary study, as she is able to take a critical argument, support it with an empirical case study, and situate it within the context of social and social scientific theory.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On Human Geography and Mass Communication

My ultimate research objectives are to apply geographical principals and techniques to various occurrences within library and information science(lis). Thus, my reasons for enrolling in this class were very purposeful, to identify a theoretical framework that would map onto lis phenomena as well as reacquaint myself with human geography.

Geography offers researchers not only a unique lens to view mass communications but perhaps most importantly it offers a variety of visual tools to display results. Mass communication, in my view, is an assortment of technologies that take on different meanings across time, space and community. Therefore geography with its temporal and spatial emphasis provides a unique conceptual model to began investing these spaces. My research this semester, on contested knowledge production and dissemination - via antebellum periodicals, has greatly benefited from David Sibley’s construction of excluded geographies, particularly his concentration on excluded knowledge domains and locality.

Geography and Media (in my humble opinion)

Since I have no pretense that I can offer the definitive answer to the question “what good is geography to the study of mass communication?” I will offer a personal response to “what good is geography to me (as someone who studies mass communication)?” To that question, I would say that geography has been and will be helpful 1) as a conceptual framework for studying media globalization and 2) as an analytic tool for engaging with field sites when conducting ethnography.

As far as globalization, Castell’s network society is a some-what elusive, yet ultimately useful conceptual tool for understanding the production and distribution of media. This conceptual framework provides opportunities to study “the” global media network as a whole, or to look specifically at nodes or connections between the nodes. For instance, Michael Curtin (in Comm Arts) has been using this network concept to study agglomeration of certain sites of film and television production into what he terms “media capitals.” Similar to Silicon Valley for information technology and Detroit for the automotive industry, these nodes are sites of greater production, have more connections and transmit a larger amount of “data” across the global media network. Besides nodes, it’s also useful to study media distribution in terms of movement across the global network. At the same time, Ferguson (2006) questions the idea of global “flows” in terms of capital. Using Africa as a case study, Ferguson points out that “[c]apital is globe-hopping, not globe-covering” (38), jumping from place to place rather than spreading evenly. I think it would be interesting to use Ferguson to amend Castell’s framework and study if media distribution resembles a “flow” or is similar to Ferguson’s capital.

But currently, geography will be most useful to me as an analytic and descriptive tool for studying the spaces and places that I will consider “fieldsites” in future ethnographic research. In a well-intentioned, but not particularly well-written chapter in a collection on global media ethnography, Clau (2003) points out that all too often, ethnographic work takes its sites of research as a given. But she argues “[m]edia ethnography should not consider space as a fact, but as a challenge: that is, as the object/subject of critically [sic] inquiry” (Clau, 66). She continues “[l]ooking at space differently…means asking new questions and thus opening the scope of media ethnography” (66). It’s easy for mass communication studies to be decontextualized, so thankfully many in the discipline utilize theory from other disciplines (political science, sociology, literature, etc.) to help us better study media in context. But if we are conducting ethnographic research, geography is an incredibly useful tool for understanding the sites where we conduct our research and the locations where our research subjects encounter media. Over winter break, I will spend a few weeks in Kibera (a large slum outside of Nairobi, Kenya) studying a media advocacy organization. In anticipation of this trip, I’ve been trying to get a handle of Kibera as a place of meaning and work for this organization and as a place where I will be conducting research. I don’t know if I’ve been particularly successful yet, but I know that the place of Kibera is central to understanding the work of this organization, so I will continue to rely on human geography to help me get a handle on that.

Clau, A. (2003). Where is audience ethnography’s fieldwork? In P.D. Murphy & M.M. Kraidy (Eds.) Global Media Studies: Ethnographic Perspectives. New York: Routledge.

Curtin, M. (forthcoming) Media capital: The cultural geography of globalization. Blackwell.

Ferguson, J. (2006). Global shadows: African in the neoliberal world order. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press.

Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen...

Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves, Revised Edition (2002) presents an historical account of the development, rise, and eventual decline of Border Radio stations (i.e. mega-wattage stations set up along the U.S.-Mexican border that broadcast deep into the American and Mexican - and sometimes Cnadian and European - airspace).

The book is divided into as a series of profiles that exemplify some of the personalities, experiences, and battles that took place between the late 1920’s and the 1980’s related to Border Radio (also known as X-Radio stations and Border Blasters). These profiles (many of which which rely heavily on oral interviews) are a big part of what makes the book interesting. As you might guess from the title, there are lots of crazy characters and stories to choose from.

While the book does not explicitly draw from mass communication and geography theory it presents some of the themes that we've discussed in class. In particular, the book shares a connection with Communication and Empire and Soundtracks. Overall, the book presents the confluence of technological, social, legal, economic, political factors that led Border Radio to emerge and thrive when and where it did. It also places Border Radio within the larger context of the development of American radio in general. Because you don’t need to read the entire book to make these connections, a few selections from the book would serve nicely as an optional reading during a discussion of music and geography and/or international communication.

The author’s major arguments, which they make most strongly in the introduction and conclusion, is that Border Radio was important in that it: 1) pushed the technological development of radio by pushing engineers and owners to develop new technological solutions to meet their increasing wattage needs; 2) presented opportunities for owners, radio personalities, and advertisers to experiment with programming and format. For an extreme example, you can read about the broadcaster who had sex over the air. In part, the experimental programming was made possible because the border stations were able to avoid federal laws and oversight (e.g., laws related to decency and wattage levels) that regulated U.S. stations. They were not entirely free, however, in that they still had to follow Mexican broadcast regulations and were under U.S. jurisdiction in other ways; 3) provided a testing ground for the use of radio as a political and religious mouthpiece; 4) helped bring country music onto the national and international stage.

Here are some things that I think the book does well:

1) Interesting stories and well written accounts – lots of interviews with the actual players
2) Uses compelling stories to exemplify some of the key themes
3) Contextualizes the rise of Border Radio around the confluence of factors that led to its development - versus simply sticking to an economic analysis
4) Makes some interesting arguments about the role that Border Radio played in the development of radio broadcasting as a whole.
5) Makes an argument for the role of Border Radio in the growth of country music

Some things that the book does not do so well:

1) Analysis is mainly in the first and last chapters and does not draw from mass communication or geographic theory.
2) Mythologizes the border and the personalities (mavericks / “us vs. them” theme)
3) Writes sympathetically of the personalities (vs. being critical of the damage that some of them did)
4) Does not dig into the wider experience of Border Radio (What about the not so glamorous stuff? What was the day-to-day experience of the technicians, musicians, etc.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Geographic Visualization by Martin Dodge, Mary McDerby and Martin Turner

Geographic Visualization provides a broad overview of the current concepts and methods behind spatial representation and communication. The book looks beyond the typical visualization techniques and explores some of the social aspects of geographic representation, showing that visualization can not only show the act of communication but that it can also be an act of communication.

The collection of articles within the book range from technically applied work addressing cartographic conventions or GIScience to more theoretical questions regarding the roles of space and place in our rapidly evolving technical world. For example, Michael Goodchild explores the role of Google Earth and its potential impact on the social sciences by examining the technical advantages and limitations of meshing a collaborative spatial environment with quantitative information generated from a variety of scientific fields. The book offers more information than one would typically find concerning technical executions within the different visual forms of communication.

In a less technical fashion, Andy Hudson-Smith explores the development of virtual social spaces ranging from immersive environments, such as Second Life, to networking sites such as Twitter. Hudson-Smith identifies three different kinds of space: visual, informational and perceptual. He notes that the progression of perceptual space binds the users to their social environments through communication. In a very compelling manner, the book gives examples of collaborative virtual environments that may give a greater sense of belonging to the users that have built and frequent occupy those spaces.

Overall, the book provides some valuable insight into effective visual communication and the emergence of several new forms of collaborative social environments. The collection of material does, however, suffer in trying to establish the intended audience for the book as a whole. Some of the chapters seem as if they should be bound in separate publications, such as the article on visualizing uncertainty as compared to the chapter on the art of landscape visualization. Also, some references within the book are presented several times, but the same details are covered as if the information is unique in every context. The editing shortcomings are generally minor and the book provides a solid breadth of information regarding contemporary geographic visualization.

self-interview with a geographer

Q: What good is geography to the study of mass communication?
R: Geography offers tremendous value to the study of mass communication. Geography is theoretically rich and provides a number of conceptual tools that can be applied to particular topics in many other disciplines. Our analytic tools of space, place, scale, bordering, and landscape provide insightful ways of looking at traditional problems. For example, studying the impacts of advertising on consumer identity may greatly benefit from a spatial analysis of different demographic groups or retail businesses. Telecommunications patterns take on different meanings when analyzed at different scales and scalar resolutions. Geography’s rich notion of place draws on existentialist humanism to understand human agency and meaning in the world, topics crucial for mass communication study.

The strength of geography is that, like history and mass communication, it draws many critical interconnections between times, places, and events that usually fall under specialized academic disciplines. Geography prides itself on its interdisciplinary tendencies and can offer mass communication geographical insight into social, political, economic, and environmental processes. There is a synthesis of ideas in geography, not simply a borrowing from other disciplines. In this sense geography is not narrowly-defined, but takes on a full range of phenomena … there is no subject matter that geography doesn’t want to engage with. Aside from the ‘everything happens somewhere’ acknowledgement, thinking geographically involves particular ways of looking at the world that, though similar to other social sciences and theories, are value-added. Said another way, we don’t study social processes (which is what sociologists should be studying). We study geographic processes.

Q: Then why shouldn’t mass communication students just become geographers?
R: Oh I think they should. Don't get me wrong, I think mass communication is pretty sweet. But geography’s a little more marginalized of a discipline, giving it some edge right now as it gains theoretical momentum in the development of post-post-structuralism.

Q: Get outta here!
R: No, really. And maps are sweet too.

Q: Okay … does geography have something to gain from mass communication?
R: Sure, if there’s a geography specifically focused on communication-related topics, say the diffusion of information technologies or the consumption of particular forms of broadcast media, geography will want to incorporate mass comm. research into its analysis. The phenomenon of mass communication plays an enormous role in shaping the American landscape, individual and collective senses of place, and the political/economic/cultural context within which human practice occurs. It would be foolish of geographers to ignore it.

Q: So the two disciplines can collaborate well together?
R: Absolutely not. Geography simply kicks ass, and mass communication is destined to become its handmaiden.

Consuming Power: A Social History of American Energies by David Nye

David Nye’s book Consuming Power is an ambitious project to both tell the history of energy systems in the US and account for how increased energy expanded the US consumer culture, especially during the latter half of the twentieth century. He provides an informative and engaging history of the transformations from muscle-labor power to water, coal and steam generated power, and finally electricity. Each successive energy system brings increasingly abundant potential energy, changes in the ordinary daily practices of individuals, and changes in geographical and societal organization. This history is rich in detail and persuasive in demonstrating how energy underpins the particular character of society and the economy. Nye’s attempt to tie in an explanation of the “culture of consumption” is somewhat less convincing, however. While the rise of new products, excess capital, leisure time, and the manufacturing of desire through advertising all accompany an explosion of available energy in the 20th century, the reader is left feeling lost in a complex argument with many causes and effects. Better sign posting on the part of Nye would facilitate a clear path through the complex webs of causality between energy and culture. In the end, the book is valuable insofar as it provides a detailed narrative of energy systems transformed the American economy and landscape in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Consuming Power explicitly challenges what Nye simply calls a “determinist” account of historical change, particularly with regard to energy technologies. Nye argues that some energy systems gain “technological momentum” and do so not because they are an inevitable natural force. Instead humans select the machines they use from various options available to them for a variety of contingent and political factors. Furthermore, new technologies are interpreted and shaped to fit people’s needs in historical contexts. Consuming Power describes how particular energy systems are shaped by humans and gain dominant positions in society.

A central thesis of Consuming Power involves the growing amount of energy Americans have at their disposal to do work. Nye does an excellent job of providing interesting conversions of energy from one system to another. For example, when considering the shift from muscle power to water power, Nye notes that with the development of a 500-horsepower water turbine a mill has the equivalent of 1000 horses, though without the need to feed horses and care for them with additional personnel. In addition to geographically freeing production from rivers, steam coupled with coal dramatically increases the energy available to construct steel and concentrated urban centers. With gasoline and electricity, Americans find themselves in the historically curious position of having an overabundance of energy. Nye notes how in 1970 the “average household commanded more energy than a small town in the Colonial period” and how a television consumes more kilowatts in an hour than a team of horses could provide in a week. Consuming Power puts into perspective our intense energy dependence for the infrastructure we take as granted today.

Book Review: The Victorian Internet , Standage (1998)

Where Communication and Empire offered an economic and political history of the telegraph industry The Victorian Internet (VI) provides not only a social history but a sociological view of the telegraph. This rather compact book is aimed primary at readers, perhaps the majority of us born in the late 20th century and beyond) who are scarcely familiar the telegraph. Its causal tone translates into a quick read however, it is this very casualness that will force serious scholars to consult more rigorous resources.

The first half delves into the telegraph’s early history traversing multiple political geographies; beginning in France with the telegraph’s invention in the late 1700’s, to the fervent interest and subsequent improvements in Great Brittan , and finally to the United States with Samuel Morse’s development of the electronic telegraph in the early 1800’s. Rounding out the first half is a facile description of the laying of telegraph lines along with the economical and political dimensions that accompanied it.

Where VI really gets interesting is in its social treatment of the many different actors, reception and uses of the telegraph. Poor and working class, male, youths worked as messenger boys charged will delivering messages to and from customers and establishing a pipeline of sorts for future operators. Telegraphy appears to have been one of the earliest spaces for employment of (white) women, in the USA and UK, outside the home and in non domestic roles. One of the things that the VI does quite well is showing how telegraphy as new technology was understood or rather misunderstood by early adopters and illustrates that users determine much of how communication technologies are utilized whether that be for inauspicious purposes, business or pleasure and not the technology itself. Surely there are more comprehensive books that cover the history of the telegraph ,the VI succeeds in that it provides the social commentary on the telegraph’s use and users.

Digital Eyes in Naqoyqatsi

Godfrey Reggio’s third Qatsi movie is not about what he thinks. The title, Naqoyqatsi, is a Hopi word meaning:

1. life of killing each other
2. war as a way of life
3. civilized warfare

Reggio turned to technology to explore this theme, showing how technology has become intertwined in human affairs so closely that we cannot tell ourselves apart from it. Technology has allowed the 20th century person to be so self interested we haven’t realized our change, and are oblivious to the consequences. Reggio then implies that this has lead us, or perhaps will still lead us to our downfall of accelerating violence.

Naqoyqatsi is well presented visually and audibly (it includes a Philip Glass score featuring Yo-Yo Ma). However, the movie is largely incoherent on first viewing, leaving the title as unexplained as the film, meanwhile failing to engage issues of technology relevant to people and society today, such as the digital divide. Part of this is due to Reggio’s story telling decisions, the most problematic of which is that his war and its participants are unclear, as is how to avert it. His movie is abstract enough from the modern human experience that it is hard to tell where we fit in. This works just fine if you can understand his movie as not being about us. Reggio himself calls his movie a tragedy, and when you place humanity as the tragic hero, with technology as its/our tragic flaw, the inevitable and beautiful gloominess of his civilized violence becomes a more interesting fiction.

I like Naqoyqatsi better if you if you look at the footage itself without Reggio’s intentions in mind. Reggio uses digital distortion rampantly, both making the film a visual adventure and creating a strong distancing effect. The soulful touch of the Glass’s music makes the footage seem even more alien, even though it is portraying images that we see daily on television. These effects allow Naqoyqatsi to show us what we look like to a nascently conscious network. In this light, the movie holds a vision of modernity uniquely portrayed and clutchingly relevant, given our closeness to these networks today.

Mass Com + Geography - Fledgling Views

Here is a bit of text from the course website: “This class is a reading seminar covering geographical theories, methods, and concepts which might productively be applied to mass communication research questions, and exploring existing mass communication research which has (explicitly or implicitly) drawn on geographic insights.”

Reading this paragraph at the start of the semester did not mean much to me in that I came into the class with very limited background in mass communication, geography, or human geography. In rereading this now, however, I can begin to articulate (at least at a novice level) some of the theories and methods that shape the field of human geography. I can also extend this to the point where I can discuss how and why these theories might be meshed with theories and methods from mass communication. But, as someone who is in neither of these disciplines, it seems important *for me* to ask some key questions: Who would (or more positively, who might) want to listen to me talk about geography and mass communication and why? Ask yourself this as you read my post : ) How can these theories inform my own area of study/research, which broadly speaking, is curriculum and instruction?

Before moving on, let me briefly return to the intro paragraph… I did a quick review of some other course syllabi online and it seems more common to find mass communication scholars/students being challenged to draw from geography than the other way around? Why is this and does it matter? How might the paragraph above be rewritten to make us contemplate how geographers can draw from the field of mass communication? OR is this a meaningful question/distinction?

In the end, I feel that I will be able to bring something back from exploring mass communication, human geography, and the intersection of the two, that will inform my own work and deepen my ability to think critically about education and learning (both of which can, and have been, studied and critiqued from mass communication and geographical perspectives). The title of Michael Streibel’s 1998 article (Information technology and physicality in community, place, and presence) from the journal Theory Into Practice is just one example of this. He argues for the importance of physical place and physical presence in how we construct meaning in our lives, especially in the area of education. One can’t make or critique this argument without touching on some of the themes that we have discussed in class (e.g., theories of place, networks/networking, virtual spaces, placeless communication, etc.). This, of course, is only one example.

As someone from another field it was interesting to see how different theories and methods get taken up across disciplines. I am not sure that I would call it a spatial turn, but it seems that I have seen more references to geographical theories and authors in education over the past few years. I am sure that I will come across more (or at least notice more now that I have taken this class) in the years to come. For example, it is not uncommon to come across articles related to the use of mobile media in formal and informal learning environments that draw from Castells. It helps that he edited a book in 2006 titled Mobile Communications and Society. Why is this becoming more common? In part, because like many others, educational researchers, teachers, students, parents, etc. are trying to make sense of what the “new global, networked, technological society” is (and is not). We are also concerned with the impact(s) that new communication networks/communication technologies are having on teaching and learning. For example, think of the questions we discussed in class related to online learning. We used concepts like scale, place, distance, equity, and power to frame the discussion. It makes sense that mass communication and geography should be used to help frame and explore questions and problems in education – after all, teaching is a particular form of communication that occurs in particular ways, in particular places.

Two final thoughts 1) Another great thing about combing mass communication and geography is that we all have personal connections to many of the topics and concepts we discussed in class. While we don’t want our own experiences to rule the day (read discussions), personal connections can help us make sense of dense theory. 2) Combining two disciplines opens the door to even more configurations.

For example, mass communication/geography/art

Not to mention the ever popular pharmaco-ethnomusicologist - human geographer and mass communication are implied and embedded in this title I am sure!

Speaking of Jake Leg… yet another NPR link…

…and from the vaults

Abridged Book Review: "Cultural Politics and the Mass Media: Alaska Native Voices"

In "Cultural Politics and the Mass Media: Alaska Native Voices," Patrick J. Daley and Beverly James address Alaska Natives' use of mass media as a means of resisting colonization and cultural assimilation. With case studies concerning newspapers, radio and television, the authors show how Alaska's diverse Native groups (including Athabascans; Tlingit Indians; and various Eskimos and Inuit) were able to adapt mass media for their own means.

This is not primarily a geographic work. It is, as the title indicates, primarily an account of cultural resistance - a study of the tools Alaska Natives employed in seeking to maintain their traditional ways of life. Secondarily (again, as the title indicates), this is a study of mass communication - a look at the ways in which media were used, the frames that were applied to certain issues, etc. However, the very nature of this sort of work requires a consideration of geographic concepts. In Alaska, space is always a critical situation. Communities can be separated by hundreds of miles, often without roads, meaning some communities may be accessed only by boat, airplane or sled. Moreover, thousands of miles separate Alaska from its colonial rulers (Moscow) and its neo-colonial rulers (in Washington). Place, too, is important, in part because of the meanings that Alaskans (both Native and non-Native) attached to places.

The Introduction lays the groundwork, introducing the reader to Alaska's history and its peoples. It also introduces the reader to concepts important to each of the three above-mentioned disciplines. Most important, I think, is the rejection of an "essentialist" view of indigenous cultures - the view that a culture must always remain as it was at some fixed point in the past, else it has lost itself. Culture, the authors argue, is dynamic, and cultures always have and always will borrow from one another; that does not prevent their maintaining some cultural integrity.

Chapter 1 recounts one of the state's earlier mass media products, a school newspaper published at a boarding school where the emphasis was on "civilizing" the local Tlingit (pronounced KLINK'-it) Indians. In this chapter, the reader sees an attempt to use mass media as a means of promoting assimilation, and gets a preview of how some media properties would continue to treat the state's Natives. But readers are also shown how the boarding-school experience and exposure to mass media would help Alaska Natives defend themselves later on.

Chapter 2 tells how a group of Tlingit used their occastional newspaper, the Alaska Fisherman, to resist colonial-style economic exploitation, particularly at the hands of the fishing industry. The newspaper was founded by a Tlingit group, but its Tlingit editor skillfully framed issues not as Native-vs.-White, but as local-vs.-outsider, arguing that the industry's methods dispossessed Native and non-Native subsistance fishermen alike. Furthermore, the paper never failed to point out that the big industry players (and their allies in Washington) lived far, far away and had no interest in the well-being of Alaskans. This us-vs.-them narrative, with the far-away fishing industry as "them," allowed the Alaska Fisherman to play down differences between local Whites and local Natives, pitting them as a unified voice against an exploitative enemy. The paper also utilized time in ways particular to his readership, including delaying publication of major stories while his readers were away fishing.

Chapter 3 examines a later newspaper, the Tundra Times, that was founded by Yupik and Inupiat Eskimos to voice opposition to a plan to detinate nuclear bombs to build a harbor north of the Bering Strait. Later, Athabascans were brought into the enterprise when new interpretations of hunting treaties threatened subsistence practices of both groups and a proposed dam and reservoir would have resulted in the flooding of dozens of Athabascan communities and the dislocation of thousands of people. While the state's mainstream media framed the harbor and dam as "progress," through the Tundra Times the Natives were able to effectivly create alternative frames, emphasizing land rights and environmental issues. They mobilized their own constituencies, while disputing the notion (promoted by the state's mainstream media) that Alaska Natives supported the projects. Place played a major role on both sides. Supporters of the project sought to show that Alaska a was a modern state, capable of anything that could be done elsewhere in the United States, and they framed their arguments accordingly; moreover, they described the area to be flooded by the reservoir as "ugly" and the area of the nuclear fallout from the harbor as simply a bunch of snow. The Tundra Times, on the other hand, emphasized the importance of these same places in Native lifeways.

Chapter 4 reports of the growth arrival, emergence, and eventual fading of Native radio. In a tale reminiscent of "Communication and Empire," the authors tell how wired and wireless communication arrived in Alaska primarily to serve military needs, and secondarily allowed for commercial exploitation. However, when Congress in the 1960s made available money for community radio, Alaska Native communities were quick to take advantage. Again, place was critically impotant, not only because of technical challenges rarely presented elsewhere (how many radio stations, due to a lack of roads, have to share a tower with an airfield, necessitationg negotiation between the station, the FCC and the FAA?), but also because Eskimo dialects differed from community to community requiring local programming to be in the local dialect. Stations along the Eskimo-inhabited western and northern coasts opted for lots of cultural programming, helping to perserve their language and their stories.

These successes, however, were not replicated when public television arrived in Alaska, as told in Chapter 5. The requirement that most programming be in English, and even the technical preferences of television editing techniques, made it virtually impossible for Native peoples to tell their stories their way. While Native radio (until funding cuts forced consolidation and eventual elimination of most stations) proved the power of local programming to promote cultural resistance, the experience with television showed how rules geared toward the regional at the expense of the local resulted in programming that viewers found to be irrelevant to their lives.

The book leaves some modern developments unaddressed: Have satellite communications changed the way Alaska Natives have made use of mass media? Has the Internet penetrated these communities; if so, to what extent and to what effect? Still, for the period it covers, this book does a fine job of showing mass media can be tools for cultural resistance, and how an understanding of geography is essential for examination of some mass media enterprises.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Final thoughts on Human Geography and Mass Communication

I came into this class with a decent sense of what human geography was and very little idea of what a mass communications department did. I think it’s a testament to the related nature of these two interdisciplinary departments that, when I went over the syllabus recently, I found it fairly difficult to discern what came from where. Both departments seem to be interdisciplinary convergences of history, sociology, technology studies, and spatial relations. As our class demonstrated, I think there are a few ways in which the actual convergence of the two disciplines is extremely fruitful.

The first is fairly straight-forward and was something talked about in class regularly. Human geography and Mass communications come together well when talking about the industries of mass communication. This was demonstrated well by Zook’s book. The analysis of labor and the economic effects of communication industries seems extremely geographic, and agglomeration regions play a big role in development discourses. I am not entirely sure how much attention mass communications departments pay to the actual economic workings of IT companies, but it seems as though there is a clear relationship between geography and communications when looking into the physicality of technology. Many of the books we read that referenced the city are good examples of this, including Zook most directly but also the two anthologies, on the network society and cities. Castells, too, is an interesting example of this, and I found his work, especially his article on Silicon Valley and Finland, to be a good vision of the intersection between geography and mass communications in an economic development sense. A related line of study would be the interrogation of physical technology infrastructure, notably the work on urban agglomerations but also potentially work that dealt with the creation of places through their interactions with physical infrastructure. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, as both a failed a state and the only place in the world where the material in cell phone chips is mined, seems like a perfect example of the linkages between place and communication technology. Lisa Park's work, which we referenced in class a few times, seems like another great version of a merger of mass communications and geography scholarship. More work that analyzes the physical geography of placeless communication seems like a really interesting direction for scholarship to move in. Zook's attempt to map the internet industry is a great example, but I imagine there are plenty of other research possibilities.

This relates directly to the question of space, and the idea of produced space could have tremendous connections to mass communication. Spaces and places are constructed though a variety of means, with mass communication playing a distinct role. Soundtracks dealt very clearly with these issues, and served as an interesting demonstration of the intersection of media studies and geography. I imagine that very similar books could be written on the construction of places though media, both discursively but also experientially. How is our sense of place altered and constructed through mass communication technologies? And how does the representation of places via the mass media serve to change them in actual, physical terms? I think the potential work on the Congo referenced earlier is one version of this, as well as studies that looked into how spaces change as a result of what media is being broadcast in them. The experiential qualities of space hinge very directly on personal encounters and feelings, so the process of altering spaces through media seems very obvious. An easy example would be the modification of public places through the broadcasting of sports events or political debates - what is the interplay between viewer and broadcaster in the creation of a mediated public place? Additionally, the discursive quality is there as well, and the way in which geographic areas are represented in the media presumably plays a big role in how they are perceived and subsequently experienced. Historians like Robert Beauregard have dealt extensively with the discourses surrounding urban decline, and I am interested in how representations of crime influence tourism and industry creation in urban centers. It seems hard to separate mass communications and geography when thinking about the representations of geographic areas. This then has implications in tourism, economic development, urban renewal, and countless other categories.

I am also interested in the ways in which the logic of communications technology dictates new attempts at theorizing. I think Castells is the most obvious example of this, but Downey's piece on network science is another. Communications networks have a metaphorical power, and the study of Information Technology, by way of geography and mass communications, seems to influence broad theoretical frameworks. I am interested in the network as a distinctly spatial metaphor, and it seems as though both geography and mass communications are needed to properly understand the way in which the metaphor works. I'm not sure where mass communications segues into peer-to-peer communications, but my guess is that the two departments should lay claim to networks as both geographic and communications-based. The humanities can keep post-structuralism.

Ultimately though, I think it is hard to distinguish the two disciplines, which points to both the strengths and weaknesses of both departments. Geography is so unstructured that it is almost impossible to find anything that is not geographic, and there is a severe lack of a canonical focus in the discipline. Key Texts in Human Geography was actually a very helpful book in terms of solidifying my own grasp of the historical progression of the discipline, but ultimately I was left with more questions than answers. The same could be said for mass communications, I would imagine, and I think this speaks to some of the limitations of hugely interdisciplinary work. I would love some thorough engagement with what makes up Geography and where the disciplinary boundaries begin and end, as I imagine that would help geographers to situate their work outside of the discipline. Historically, geographers were able to map icy lakes while advocating against economic polarization using the same methodology, and I think that there is something missing when geography lacks a methodological or substantive foundation. At the same time, there is a strong virtue to interdisciplinary work, as demonstrated by this class, so I'm not entirely comfortable advocating for stronger geographic methodology and focus. We could be in the ideal middle ground at the moment.

In the end, it is somewhat difficult to determine the positive qualities of collaborative work between the two disciplines when it is so hard to determine what the disciplines actually do. I think this class pointed in very useful directions, and I would be interested to see how a strengthened disciplinary focus could either help or harm interdisciplinary work.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, by Paul Willis

Willis’ study in Learning to Labor is a study of 12 boys "the Lads" attending the “Hammertown Boys School” from 1972-1975. The book is divided into two sections, ethnography and analysis, which Willis uses both to illustrate and analyze his observations through the lens of Cultural Theory and Marxism. As I read the study, I was intrigued by Willis’ understanding and explanation of how the counter-school culture at Hammertown was created and reproduced and how that same culture went on to be useful in the factories and shop floors of the industrialized world.

Willis’ aim in his research was to look at the way the working class cultural pattern of educational ‘failure’ is achieved. Willis believed that this class pattern was not neutral; it wasn’t a mental category or a set of variables pressing in on the school from the outside. What it was… according to Willis, was a set of experiences, relationships as well as what he termed “systematic relationships,” which set particular choices and decisions at particular times. Willis was interested in how these events are structured--really and experientially--and how these choices came to be defined in the first place (p.1).

We can view the process of cultural reproduction among young, working class boys as a network process of meaning-making and penetration, which Willis defines as containing, “…a certain cruciality in context, embedded and lived insights with respect to their own conditions of existence (*Willis 2004 p. 172).” The Lads understood that the promise of education to lift them out of the working-class world was largely hollow.

As a result of this understanding or penetration “the lads” felt they knew something that other kids [and adults] didn’t know, and were therefore superior to them. They understood that credentials and qualifications didn’t matter in their world, so why try to conform to what teachers and school administration wanted? As a result, “the lads” developed an opposition to authority and rejected conformists. Willis writes, “The Lads specialize in a sort of caged resentment, which always stops just short of outright confrontation” (p. 12).

“The lads” exercised their feelings of superiority through a variety of activities from, “having a laff,” to sexism and racism. Having a laff, occurred whenever the Lads were bored, and consisted of humiliating anybody they could and usually consisted of what we would consider sophomoric pranks, but these pranks could also be cruel and violent. For “the lads,” girls are seen as both sexual objects and domestic comforters. They must be sexually attractive, but not sexually experienced (p.43.) Racism was exercised against the minorities in the Hammertown Boys School and, “racial identity to “the lads” supplanted individual identity (p. 48) According to Willis, “the racism in the counter-school culture is structured by reified though somewhat differentiated stereotypes” (p.49).

The second half of the book focuses on the analysis of Willis’ study and takes a decidedly Marxis approach. Willis writes, “The working class is the only group in capitalism that does not have to believe in Capitalist legitimations as a condition of its own survival” (p.123). The working class exemplifies this belief through labor power and patriarchy i.e. selling one’s labor in exchange for a living and following the rules, about what it is to be a man, handed down by their fathers.

Willis reveals the plight of the working class struggle through his analysis of Learning to Labor. He writes, “Many aspects of “the lads” culture, for instance, are challenging and subversive and remain threatening. There are many breaks, lags, antagonisms, deep struggles and real subversive logics within and behind cultural processes of reproduction which fight for outcomes other than those which satisfy the system for the moment”(p.176).

If you are at all interested in cultural production and reproduction, educational policies, class issues and the notion that we all play a role in the various aspects of society, Learning to Labor is worth the read.
* Willis, Paul (2004) Learning to Labor in New Times. Dolby, Nadine and Greg Dimitriadis (Eds.), Twenty five Years On: Old Books New Times. (pp.167-196). New York, NY: Taylor and Francis Books, Inc.

Summary: Jefferson Cowie, 'Capital Moves'

Cowie, Jefferson. Capital Moves.

Jefferson Cowie’s Capital Moves is a challenging, engaging, and most importantly, readable look into the history of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). It is primarily a historical work, but Cowie is well couched in the language of geography, and the book functions as an expose of the conflicts between localized place and the fluidity of space. He articulates this conflict by looking into the history of labor at RCA Plants, noting, “The core of the problem is that the wielders of capital have far greater ability than workers to transcend and use space…Command of spatial relations, therefore, becomes a crucial weapon in management’s arsenal” (185).

Cowie begins his story in Camden, New Jersey, hotbed of industrial unionism and the first plant site for RCA. Emerging from the wireless communications industry around WWI, RCA set up their Camden plant in 1930, and by 1936 employed almost 10,000 people. Looking to avoid industrial conflict through hiring supposedly docile workers, RCA attempted to hire primarily female workers. In 1936, 75% of the workforce was female (17), and this trend continued through most of RCA’s history. In Cowie’s analysis, the search for a docile workforce largely characterized RCA’s entire attitude towards labor, and the constant geographical movement of the company represented a search for increasingly needy labor. In 1936, Camden’s RCA workers walked off their job, and won serious gains after an extremely volatile and violent strike. The strikes were short lived, however: new plants opened in Indiana in 1936, 1940, and 1942, and by 1952, there were only 700 consumer electronics jobs remaining in Camden (33,34). Almost all the RCA jobs moved to Bloomington, IN, in what Cowie refers to as a Regional Division of Labor, a parallel precursor to the New International Division of Labor characteristic of globalization. It is also a sexual division of labor, and Cowie makes this clear when he notes, “Having betrayed their ‘cheapness’ by endorsing a union contract and having undermined their ‘docility’ by partaking in street battles during the strike, Camden women would be replaced with female workers from rural Indiana” (36).

Workers in Bloomington, including women, would prove to be anything but docile. Union activity and workplace activism was a major component of Bloomington workers’ eventual relationship to the plant. RCA set up their plant in 1940, when Bloomington’s two major industries, limestone production and furniture making, were practically nonexistent. There was a palpable desperation for work, and RCA attempted to take advantage of this. At first they were successful, but the company was unable to keep activism out of their plants as time progressed. To Cowie, this is a process that occurs in all RCA plants, as “the simple facts of stress, fatigue, and swollen hands” (4) helped to articulate a “staccato beat of social transformation” (4) that spans the contingency of place. He notes, “As wage earners punched in and punched out over the years, their feelings evolved from a sense of gratitude to the company to one of possession that allowed them to stand up for an expanding notion of their rights” (4).

The result is further movement. As RCA workers began to feel more entitled to certain conditions, and as a shortage of workers rather than jobs allowed RCA workers to organize and strike, management moved production again. This time, the move was to Memphis, TN, a city facing a very similar labor situated to the one in Bloomington before RCA showed up. By the time RCA showed up in 1965, however, the terrain of global capitalism had shifted dramatically. Forced to compete with increased competition from foreign companies, RCA pushed Memphis workers hard, and the result was a dramatic increase in workplace activism, especially in the context of the civil right struggles that were raging in the city. The result was that RCA closed down the plant five years after opening it, and began the long process of moving production to Ciudad Juarez, right over the Mexican border from El Paso, TX.

The move to Juarez follows the same logic as the previous moves: the search for cheap, female labor. RCA found this in droves in Juarez, and soon began to shift all production to Mexico. This is the part of the narrative that is largely commonplace at this point, but Cowie uses it to explicate his broader questions of space and place. Mexican workers make attempts at unionization and workplace activism, much like workers in Camden, Bloomington, and Memphis, and the labor is never as docile as hoped. Like all the other sites though, workers are unable to organize in interregional or international ways. Cowie states, “As the new labor history has shown, the pull of place and community has been a powerful force in labor relations, but the limitations of local identity also create constraints on a more expansive notion of working-class politics in an era in which capital transcends boundaries with complete ease” (182). The result is the same conflict between space and place that has characterized Cowie’s historical narrative. Cowie, as a labor historian, is primarily concerned with the possibilities of international solidarity, yet his work raises questions about place and space in a broad sense, and the ability to find a suitable interaction between the two. Like urban governments caught in transnational capital flows or individual musicians trying to navigate the fluid networks of music consumption, the intersection between locality and fluidity is a hugely important question for scholars of all disciplines.

Cowie ends the book with a story that hints at international solidarity, albeit in a limited and macho sense. Before the 1998 shutdown of the RCA plant in Bloomington, workers received a truckload of chassis with a note attached to the front, addressed to “our RCA Compadres” (201). Inside were a few marijuana joints. In return, RCA workers went taped some copies of Playboy Magazine, and shipped them to their Mexican counterparts. Transnational solidarity, indeed.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Maps and networks

Okay, so this is my contribution to maps in this class. I was quite surprised... and I'm not sure why...when I received a link from the Obama folks about making a difference and getting together for a house party to talk about change. Okay... so deliberation is part of democracy. I get that. What amazed me was the fact that deliberation now comes with MAPS.

The network that was established during the campaign appears to continue to thrive and the map and invitations to various house parties appear to be an attempt at inclusion of the network and inclusion of voices that are typically not heard from. This will be interesting.

So, click on the link and give it a look. I'd love to hear people's comments on this strategy. Has any other president-elect done this?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

REVIEW: Ordinary Cities: Between Modernity and Development

Jennifer Robinson gets right to the point in the first sentence of Ordinary Cities: “It is the argument of this book that all cities are best understood as ‘ordinary’” (1). By that, she is calling for a post-colonial shift in urban studies and “a form of theorizing that can be as cosmopolitan as the cities we try to describe” (3).

Robinson points out that US and European cities are typically used as the standard for comparison for all cities. This, she argues, limits imaginations of what a city is or can become in academia as well as urban planning. She divides her book into two main ways in which the old dynamics of urban studies are found: “celebrations of urban ‘modernity’ and the promotion of urban development” (2).

Robinson argues that modernity can be understood as the West’s self-definition, which is problematic because 1) it is exclusionary (focuses only on Western cities) and 2) it is illusionary (doesn’t even reflect the dynamic and complex realities of Western cities). This understanding of the city comes from the Chicago School, which focused on the end of kinship ties in and the rationality of the city. Simplified, this literature constructed two sets of modern/traditional dichotomies: urban vs. rural and Western urban vs. non-Western urban. Robinson complicates these attributes of the city by looking at the Manchester School’s research on the Copperbelt cities of Zambia. This research found that tradition was a crucial component of the city: “revising ethnic identity, making connections and forming associations was central” (49). Their research demonstrated that African cities were dynamic (urban studies had traditionally situated non-Western cities as static) and noted that tribalism exists in Western cities as well as non-Western cities.

Robinson then rejects the global cities approach, which focuses on the economically “successful” cities or regions of cities, and the development approach, which focuses on poor cities or economically disadvantaged parts of cities. She wants to take a middle-ground approach and conduct city-wide analyses that account for multiple dynamics within a single city. She cites a City Development Strategy in Johannesburg as an example of inclusive urban development that prioritized policy formations across the city. From a policy perspective, she argues that all cities need to be seen as creative and dynamic and even wealthy cities can learn from poor cities. Viewing all cities as containing unique attributes and networks of relationships allows us to view all cities as ordinary.

Ordinary Cities is an interesting read and makes some useful arguments about modernity and the colonial underpinnings of urban studies, but I do have a few initial criticisms. First, on the policy end, she argues for taking a city-wide approach to urban development, but then indicates that cities are already doing so. If this is the case, why is her call-for-change necessary? Also, I wonder how you include city-wide analyses in comparison without essentializing cities as a whole. Is there still some way that we can organize, if not categorize, cities or parts of cities that have similar or different attributes without creating a typology that gets us away from the “ordinary.” If we accept that all cities are ordinary, then what next?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Book Review Summary - Play Between Worlds (T. L. Taylor)

Play Between Worlds examines video game culture through a four year experience playing EverQuest. Taylor describes culture creation in virtual worlds and the overlap of real world and gaming cultures. This is both a case study and a first-step discussion; it addresses many topics but does not fully flesh out many.

Taylor breaks her chapters into considerations of virtual worlds; high-intensity gaming; women gamers; and ownership of game culture. Throughout, she incorporates ideas on gaming economics, games in mass media and games in the legal system. She argues that game research needs a non-dichotomous framework for considering in- and out-of-game space to fully understand games and technology in society. She is right – unfortunately, her work did not really reflect this proposed frame.

She asks numerous questions about how serious gamers are altering definitions of work, play and fun; how women gamers experience gender identity through gaming; and how developers (and gamers) consider demographics in creating games. Taylor does not, however, follow her argument through to any real life impact of these considerations, leaving gamer social relations and organization separate from the rest of lived experience.

Taylor broadens the focus in considering ownership in a collectively created culture. While corporations assert legal rights to brand and identity, gamers increasingly demand spin-off and ownership rights to characters, avatars and virtual worlds. Taylor passes on specific legal questions of intellectual property and free speech, asking instead if culture is something that can (or should) be regulated.

Play Between Worlds was fun and interesting, but Taylor seems hesitant to make any strong argument and asks an infuriating number of rhetorical questions. While she is concerned solely with culture studies, I would like to expand a few of her topics to address how video games, as an integrated piece of society, are and will shape our understand and negotiation of life.