Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Facebook, grandparent generation edition

I am one of the early Facebook users, and over the years I have used it in a lot of different ways. First, to stalk the students who invited me and discuss with other scholars how to use it as teachers, later - and for a very long time - to follow those other scholars and catch their news and their links, a mix of playful and serious, like a lunch table at a huge, international university.

Over the last year this has changed though. Facebook has seen a shift, and my personal past is suddenly also there. It started very nicely and casually: people I had missed showed up, we connected on Facebook, and it was just great. Then this group started to play games - innocent games, but surprisingly emotional. One of them was called "you know you are from XXX if..." - and then they started posting things only people from our part of the world, at a specific time, would know. It was surprising how painful that game turned out to be. Pictures of people and places once so important to me opened something I never though was so sensitive. I started to remember how deeply unhappy the girl who walked those streets was. Oh, I remember laughter and friends and fun - that was how I got into that circle of conversations in the first place. But underneath that was fear, loneliness and grief, loss and impotent anger. The Norwegian group Dum-Dum boys says it better than me:

To translate: Walking with a hand/ in each pocket/ the streets here have been longer/ one of the turns is the last one. // This neighbourhood is full of ghosts/ have never moved I escaped/ this neighbourhood is full of ghosts/ have never moved I escaped/ I was another way back then/ slinking along the hedges and gardens.

And now I find myself carefully wetting each invitation. Do I want more of that? How do I deal with  those who think of me as a person they can easily approach, a friend lost to them, while to me they are part of a landscape of ghosts? Also, it's not that simple, I do long for some of those connections, to keep in touch with a past which is both slipping away and coming closer. And some of those people; I know that my presence on their feeds, that very tentative connection, is extremely important to them. While I may never be able to be what they would like me to be - a loving friend, a warm presence in their lives - I can give them this, a little sliver of closeness through digital media. Is it that much to ask?

I am starting to see how the popularity of Facebook may be its end. There is a point too close to the bone for me. The more people who connect with their ghosts, the more people reach that point. If I am suddenly absent from Facebook, that is what happened. I was eaten by the ghosts - or escaped, again.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

PhD course at ITU: Citizenship in the Digital Republic 2014 - call

Citizenship in the Digital Republic 2014:
Mundane counter publics in the digital age

March 12-14, 2014, at the IT University of Copenhagen

Lecturers: Prof. Klaus Bruhn Jensen, Copenhagen University; Prof. Peter Dahlgren, Lund University, Prof. Maria Bakardjieva, University of Calgary, Associate Prof. Bjarki Valtysson, Copenhagen University; Associate Prof. Lisbeth Klastrup, IT University of Copenhagen; Assistant Prof. Jun Liu, Copenhagen University; Christina Neumayer, Postdoctoral Fellow, IT University of Copenhagen.

Organiser(s): Christina Neumayer, Maria Bakardjieva

Date(s) of the course: March 12-14, 2014

Course description:
This course is the second edition of the ‘Citizenship in the Digital Republic’ course with a focus on ‘Mundane counter-publics in the digital age’. Citizenship, broadly defined, includes any form of democratic participation in social systems – political, technological and expert. The digital republic, for its part, is understood as a political community where the governance of the people is performed by creative utilization of communication networks. How is such governance realized and how can it advance participatory democracy? What opportunities for involvement do citizens have in a densely mediated polis? Can technological development itself be democratically steered? The goal of the course is to critically explore the new forms of democratic participation that the pervasive presence of digital media in contemporary societies affords and requires. The course aims at attracting and giving a forum to students whose interests focus on participatory forms of design, political and civic engagement, counter-publics and social movements, technological politics, regulation and education. The themes comprising the course take up the concept of citizenship and counter-publics in four distinct contexts:

first theme: counter publics in the digital age
second theme: civic activism, participation, and digital media
third theme: mundane citizenship, digital media, and everyday life
fourth theme: co-creation and participation in policy development and technology design

Counter publics in the digital age
The focus of the first theme is on counter publics in a society characterized by the thorough penetration of digital information and communication technologies (ICTs). Counter publics refer to the individuals or groups marginalized or excluded from the mainstream public sphere who contest, negotiate, and struggle against the hegemonic discourse, form spaces of political opposition, or establish alternative forms of community and identity. With the growing presence of digital technologies in all areas of social life, the internet, mobile phones, and social media are transforming the way people express themselves, interact with each other, engage or form communities, and perceive the world. How are digital communication technologies generating and facilitating opportunities that allow for the establishment of alternative political and cultural identities and communities that define themselves in opposition to established norms? What are the characteristics of the counter-publics in the digital age and how do they differ from those of the past?

Civic activism, participation, and digital media
The second theme will look at the uptake and appropriation of digital media technologies for the purposes of civic action and political participation. It will review the advances made by social movements and civic activists in rallying support and making an impact on political life and the political establishment through the creative use of digital media. The new civic cultures emerging from these processes and their relation to digital technologies and uses will be examined. This theme includes notions of media practices, media-based agency, web journalism and civic cosmopolitanism, which are according to Dahlgren essential elements of civic cultures in the digital age.

Mundane citizenship, digital media, and everyday life
The third theme will be centred on the notion of ‘mundane citizenship’ and ‘mundane counter-publics’. So far a relatively large amount of research is devoted exclusively to use of new media in particular moments of alternative or antagonistic mobilization, failing to associate these specific uses with a larger living context—the mundane, everyday experiences of new media users. In particular, current approaches largely neglect the power dynamics in the mundane use of new media technologies. Consequently, the heavy emphasis on the role of new media in specific eruptions of contentious politics overlooks the cumulative changes in civic agency associated with the mundane use of new media. Accounts narrowly focused on specific events fail to capture, reflect, and assess the political potential embedded in the new practices of civic engagement furnished by new media (e.g., "subactivism") that are submerged in everyday life.

Co-creation and participation in policy development and technology design
The fourth theme takes the notion of citizenship to the terrain of cultural and educational institutions, and cultural practices. It discusses the liberating and repressive forces at play in the way users co-produce culture online both within and outside formal cultural spheres. Co-creation and participation became buzzwords in policy development, technology design and use of digital media, in particular the so-called ‘social web’. Despite the creative potential and the possibility for engagement, a critical perspective on these developments also needs to take unintended consequences such as privacy issues, surveillance and limitations for the development of counter-publics and cultural practices into account.

By looking beyond “eye-grabbing” events (e.g., revolutionary moments), this course probes into the political implication of mundane use of new media in people’s everyday life. Addressing mundane use of new media in people’s everyday experience will help us to understand the cumulative effects of new media and their gradual evolution, but also shed light on the deeper impact of digital communication technologies on social and political changes both today and in the years to come.

How to sign up:
Sign up by sending an e-mail to Christina Neumayer (chne[at]itu.dk).
All students must submit with their application to the course a short abstract of their work as it relates to the course (not more than 500 words). Applications should be submitted by January 27, 2014. Enrolment is limited to 20 participants.

Please find more information about ECTS, etc. here: https://learnit2.itu.dk/course/view.php?id=1974436
and at the PhD school website.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Growing older

I am collecting links, quotes and references for a presentation in Leusden next week. Together with my scientific assistant I am off to the conference Games of Late Modernity, where we - or he mainly - will present a co-written presentation on play with identity. Now the games and play part - including the part about Huizinga - I am fairly confident about, but modernity isn't exactly what I have been spending the last 30 years on... I thought.

But here I am, letting myself sink into Giddens and Bauman, only to discover how familiar this is. No, I am still not an expert, and if I try to claim that the real modernity geeks will shoot me down like a sitting duck. But the more I read the more I realise how much of this development of paradigms I have lived. The seperation of space and time, disembedding and reflexivity - I have seen it happen, and the everyday reading, watching, writing, in general, living with eyes and ears open has led me to an understanding which is almost more like lived time - the argument becomes embedded in my lived experience, not disembedded and learned as mediated experience.

Or is it?

It is refreshing to sit and ponder the ambivalence of experience, and feel the contradictions like an ache in my bones, like the wrinkles of my skin. I feel both ancient (I have to be, in order to feel I have lived modernity), and surprisingly young (I feel transported back to the early eighties, as I try to figure out where I lost All that is solid melts into air. And the only reason I remember that phrase is because it is so poetic.)

Yes, I know, I write as if I am 80 years old. But the truth is that I feel like I am at a perfect age: old enough that I have decades of experience as a thinking, analysing being to draw on when I need to contextualise new knowledge, young enough to have energy, strength and an immediacy of presence needed to learn new things. At this point in life, growing older is still a good thing. At least as long as you have a really good hairdresser, and don't worry too much about having to wear glasses.