New Material on Algorithmic Culture

A quick announcement about two new pieces from me, both of which relate to my ongoing research on the subject of algorithmic culture.

The first is an interview with Giuseppe Granieri, posted on his Futurists’ Views site over on Medium.  The tagline is: “Culture now has two audiences: people and machines.”  It’s a free-ranging conversation, apparently readable in six minutes, about algorithms, AI, the culture industry, and the etymology of the word, culture.

About that wordover on Culture Digitally you’ll find a draft essay of mine, examining culture’s shifting definition in relationship to digital technology.  The piece is available for open comment and reflection.  It’s the first in a series from Ben Peters’ “Digital Keywords” project, of which I’m delighted to be a part.  Thanks in advance for your feedback—and of course with all of the provisos that accompany draft material.

 

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Late Age On the Radio

Just a quick post linking you to my latest radio interview, with WFHB-Bloomington’s Doug Storm.  Doug is one of the hosts of a great program called “Interchange,” and this past Tuesday I was delighted to share with him a broad-ranging conversation about many of the topics I address in The Late Age of Print—the longevity of books, print (and paper) culture, reading practices, taste hierarchies, and more.  Toward the end, the conversation turned to my latest work, on the politics of algorithmic culture.

The program lasts about an hour.  Enjoy!

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Lawrence Grossberg Memorializes Stuart Hall

As you know, my last post was dedicated to Stuart Hall, likely the most significant international figure in the field of cultural studies, who died last week at the age of 82.

Lawrence (Larry) Grossberg, my doctoral advisor, has penned a moving tribute to Hall, his mentor, with whom he worked at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in 1968-1969.  Here is an excerpt from the piece, which appeared this past Saturday on Truthout:

When I think of Stuart, I think of an expanding rich tapestry of relations, not of followers and acolytes, but of friends, students, colleagues, interlocutors, participants in various conversations, and anyone willing to listen, talk and engage. Stuart Hall was more than an intellectual, a public advocate for ideas, a champion of equality and justice, and an activist. He was also a teacher and a mentor to many people, in many different ways, at many different distances from his immediate presence. He talked with anyone and everyone, and treated them as if they had as much to teach him as he had to teach them.

Hall’s work was as much about the interpersonal—his kindness, charisma, and generosity—in other words, as it was about the many influential writings and lectures he produced over the course of his career.

I wish I’d had the chance to get to know Hall better.  I had the privilege of sharing a meal with him once, in 1996, during my second year of graduate school. He was extraordinarily gracious and, indeed, patient, as I barraged him with what must have been dilettantish questions.  Afterwards we shopped for books at a nearby used bookstore.  I still have the copy of Erving Goffman’s Asylums that I happened to pick up that day; even now I  associate the book more with Hall than with its author.

I also got to know Hall indirectly, through a study of the Birmingham Centre annual reports, which I conducted with my friend and colleague Mark Hayward.  Hall’s imprint is all over those documents, and not only because he authored the bulk of them.  In their inventory of daily life at the Centre one can plainly see Hall’s emphasis on the interpersonal—in the way the Centre’s working groups were organized; in the spirit of sharing that so defined its (as well as his own) intellectual modus operandi, and that had more than a little to do with cultural studies’ success; in the way Hall empowered students to collaborate in the production of a serious academic journal; and certainly more.

Larry’s tribute to Hall is also a call, too: for the American mainstream media to pay heed to such an influential figure, one whose passing has not received the attention it deserves; and for the American Left to embrace Hall’s legacy, a legacy defined not only by his towering intellect but, equally important, by his luminescent being-in-the-world.

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Stuart Hall, 1932-2014

Stuart Hall, a founder of the field of cultural studies and one of my intellectual heroes, has died.  Two of his former students, David Morley and Bill Schwartz, have penned an obituary, published today in The Guardian.

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall

Here is my favorite passage from Hall, from his 1992 article “Race, Culture, and Communications: Looking Backward and Forward at Cultural Studies”:

The work that cultural studies has to do is to mobilize everything that it can find in terms of intellectual resources in order to understand what keeps making the lives we live, and the societies we live in, profoundly and deeply antihumane in their capacity to live with difference. Cultural studies’ message is a message for academics and intellectuals but, fortunately, for many other people as well. In that sense, I have tried to hold together in my own intellectual life, on one hand, the conviction and passion and the devotion to objective interpretation, to analysis, to rigorous analysis and understanding, to the passion to find out, and to the production of knowledge that we did not know before. But, on the other hand, I am convinced that no intellectual worth his or her salt, and no university that wants to hold up its head in the face of the 21st century, can afford to turn dispassionate eyes away from the problems…that beset our world.

Nothing sums up the project of cultural studies better for me and, indeed, the type of work I aspire to do.

Thank you, Stuart Hall, for your bravery, intellectual leadership, and resolve. The world is a better place for your having been a part of it.  You will be missed. Sorely.

 

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Books as Christmas Gifts

Did you know that books were among the very first commercial Christmas presents? That’s right—printed books were integral in helping to invent the modern, consumer-oriented Christmas holiday. Before then it was customary to give food or, if you were wealthy, a monetary “tip” to those who were less well off financially. (The latter might come to a rich person’s door and demand the “tip,” in fact.)  The gift of a printed book changed all that, helping to defuse the class antagonism that typically rose to the surface around the winter holidays.

You can read more about the details of this fascinating history in my post from a few years ago on “How the Books Saved Christmas.”  And if you’re interested in a broader history of the role books played in the invention of contemporary consumer culture, then you should check out The Late Age of Print.  At the risk of pointing out the obvious, it makes a great gift.

 

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I’ll Tumble for Ya

Because I know people inhabit multiple platforms online, I’m pleased to announce that I’m now on Tumblr.

Don’t worry—I’m not shutting down this blog.  But if it wasn’t obvious already, I’ve had difficulty  keeping up with The Late Age of Print over the last year or so, a result, mainly, of my academic workload.  Since I love blogging but have less time to deliver substantive content, I figured Tumblr would be the perfect place to engage in some of the work I do here, albeit in shorter form.  You can still expect to see extended meditations on book- and algorithmic culture on this blog, at least from time to time.  But if you’re looking for regular content, then my Tumblr’s the place for you.

I’m excited about Tumblr because, as I’m learning, it seems to be as much (if not more) about curation as my own commentary.  I like the idea of being a little less “bloggy,” as it were, and instead sharing a range of artifacts that say something about my disposition toward the world.  That’s largely how I’ve been approaching Twitter over the last few years, as it turns out, but sometimes I’ve felt too constrained by the 140 character limit.  I appreciate how Tumblr gives me an opportunity to say more, absent the compulsion to be overblown.

I should mention that my Tumblr is all about you, too.  Many of the stories I’ve shared on Twitter and elsewhere have been sent to me by friends/colleagues/acquaintances, and I’d like to keep the tradition alive as I move into Tumblr.  And of course, you can expect credit where credit is due. Always.

 

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Looks a Little Different Around Here

In case you haven’t noticed, The Late Age of Print blog is looking a bit different these days.  I changed my WordPress theme a week or two ago from the busier look you used to know to this—something cleaner and more stripped down.  Not only did I want to freshen up the blog, but I also wanted to make it more visually consistent with my professional website at Indiana University.  The new theme is considerably more mobile friendly, too, which seems prudent given all the talk about the post-PC era.  I hope you like it.  Feedback is welcome, of course.

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Call for Papers – EJCS on Data Mining & Analytics

 Call for Papers: The European Journal of Cultural Studies
Special issue on Data Mining/Analytics

Editors: Mark Andrejevic (University of Queensland, Australia); Alison Hearn (University of Western Ontario, Canada); Helen Kennedy (University of Leeds, UK)

The widespread use of social media has given rise to new forms of monitoring, mining and aggregation strategies designed to monetize the huge volumes of data such usage produces. Social media monitoring and analysis industries, experts and consultancies have emerged offering a broad range of social media intelligence and reputation management services. Such services typically involve a range of analytical methods (sentiment analysis, opinion mining, social network analysis, machine learning, natural language processing), often offered in black-boxed proprietary form, in order to gain insights into public opinion, mood, networks and relationships and identify potential word-of-mouth influencers. Ostensibly, these various forms of data mining, analytics and machine learning also are paving the way for the development of a more intelligent or ‘semantic’ Web 3.0, offering a more ‘productive and intuitive’ user experience. As commercial and non-commercial organisations alike seek to monitor, influence, manage and direct social media conversations, and as global usage of social media expands, questions surface that challenge celebratory accounts of the democratizing, participatory possibilities of social media. Remembering that Web 2.0 was always intended as a business manifesto – O’Reilly’s early maxims included, after all, ‘data is the next Intel inside’, ‘users add value’ and ‘collaboration as data collection’ – we need to interrogate social media not only as communication tools, but also as techno-economic constructs with important implications for the management of populations and the formation of subjects. Data mining and analytics are about much more than targeted advertising: they envision new strategies for forecasting, targeting, and decision making in a growing range of social realms (employment, education, health care, policing, urban planning, epidemiology, etc.) with the potential to usher in new, unaccountable, and opaque forms of discrimination, sorting, inclusion and exclusion. As Web 3.0 and the ‘big data’ it generates moves inexorably toward predictive analytics and the overt technocratic management of human sociality, urgent questions arise about how such data are gathered, constructed and sold, to what ends they are deployed, who gets access to them, and how their analysis is regulated (boyd and Crawford 2012).

This special issue aims to bring together scholars who interrogate social media intelligence work undertaken in the name of big data, big business and big government. It aims to draw together empirically-grounded and theoretically-informed analyses of the key issues in contemporary forms of data mining and analytics from across disparate fields and methodologies. . Contributions are invited that address a range of related issues. Areas for consideration could include, but are not limited to:

  • Political economy of social media platforms
  • Algorithmic culture
  • User perspectives on data mining
  • The politics of data visualisation
  • Big data and the cultural industries
  • Data journalism
  • The social life of big data methods
  • Inequalities and exclusions in data mining
  • Affective prediction and control
  • Data mining and new subjectivities
  • Ethics, regulation and data mining
  • Conceptualising big/data/mining
  • Social media intelligence at work
  • Social media and surveillance
  • Critical histories of data mining, sorting, and surveillance

Prospective contributors should email an abstract of 500-700 words to the issue editors by 9th December 2013 (to h.kennedy@leeds.ac.uk). Full articles should be submitted to Helen Kennedy (h.kennedy@leeds.ac.uk) by 12th May 2014. Manuscripts must be no longer than 7,000 words. Articles should meet with The European Journal of Cultural Studies’ aim to promote empirically based, theoretically informed cultural studies; essayist discussion papers are not normally accepted by this journal. All articles will be refereed: invitation to submit a paper to the special issue in no way guarantees that the paper will be published; this is dependent on the review process.

Details:
Abstract deadline: 9th December 2013 (to h.kennedy@leeds.ac.uk);
Decisions on abstracts communicated by 13th January 2014;
Article submission deadline: 12th May 2014 (to h.kennedy@leeds.ac.uk);
Final submission/review process complete: 13th October 2014;
For publication in 2015.

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Call for Papers – Rhetoric and Computation

If you’re interested in algorithmic culture, etc., then you might want to consider submitting to this special issue of Computational Culture—an excellent, peer-reviewed open access journal.


Call for Papers: Special Issue of Computational Culture on Rhetoric and Computation

Rhetoric has historically been a discipline concerned with the ways that spoken and written language shape human activity. Similarly, emerging work in digital media studies (in areas such as software studies, critical code studies, and platform studies) seeks to describe the ways that computation shapes contemporary life. This special issue of Computational Culture on “Rhetoric and Computation” merges these two modes of inquiry to explore how together they can help us to understand ways that our communication and computational activities are now constituted by both human and computer languages.

Coupling the analysis of rhetoric with computation provokes a number of questions: How is the rhetorical force of computational objects different from or similar to that of language, sound, or image? What new modes of communication open up when we view computation as an expressive medium? How does computation shape or constrain rhetorical action? What new tropes, figures, and strategies emerge in computational environments? How do programmers deploy rhetoric at the level of code and interface? These questions are not exhaustive, and we welcome papers or computational projects that pursue these questions and others like them.
Topics or projects might include:

  • Computational artifacts (such as video games or art installations) designed to make procedural arguments and model systems or phenomena
  • Analysis of multiple choice tests processed by computers as rhetorical artifacts, aimed at both human (citizens, students) and nonhuman (machine) audiences.
  • How computational strategies such as surveillance supercede more traditional spheres of rhetorical deliberation such as written law
  • The ways in which computational data interpellate individuals and define citizenship
  • Strategies of the “quantified self” as a way of shaping human behaviour
  • Rhetorical analysis of computational systems used by governmental, educational, and political entities
  • How computational systems are described for different audiences from groups of expert programmers to the general public
  • The use of software algorithms to simulate and evaluate various activities, such as writing and conversation
  • Rhetorical strategies deployed by communities of programmers and designers in marginal comments, online forums or physical workplaces
  • Analysis of computational machines as rhetors (i.e., understanding the actions of such machines in terms of the tropes, figures, and strategies they deploy)

300 word abstracts are due November 25, 2013. Abstracts will be reviewed by the Computational Culture Editorial Board and the special issue editors. Authors of selected abstracts will be notified by January 31, 2014 and invited to submit full manuscripts by April 1, 2014. These manuscripts are subject to outside peer review according to Computational Culture’s policies. The issue will be published Fall 2014.

Please send abstracts and inquiries to Jim Brown and Annette Vee.
James J. Brown, Jr., Assistant Professor
Department of English and Program in Digital Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Annette Vee, Assistant Professor
Department of English, University of Pittsburgh

Computational Culture is an online open-access peer-reviewed journal of inter-disciplinary enquiry into the nature of cultural computational objects, practices, processes and structures. http://www.computationalculture.net/

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Out from Under the Embargo

I’m delighted to report that my essay, “Performing Scholarly Communication,” is once again freely available on the open web.  The piece appeared in the January 2012 issue of the journal Text and Performance Quarterly but hasn’t much seen the light of day since then, subject to the publisher’s 18-month post-publication embargo.  You can now read and respond to the complete piece on my other website, The Differences & Repetitions Wiki, where I host a variety of open source writing projects.

By the way, if you’re interested in scholarly communication, the history of cultural studies, or both, then you might want to check out another piece appearing on D&RW: “Working Papers in Cultural Studies, or, the Virtues of Gray Literature,” which I coauthored with Mark Hayward.  It’s set to appear in the next issue of the journal New Formations.  A version of the piece has existed on D&RW since March 2012, and in fact you can trace its development all the way through to today, when I posted the nicely-formatted, final version that Mark and I submitted for typesetting.  Always, comments are welcome and appreciated.  If you’d rather cut right to the chase, then you can download the uncorrected page proofs for the “WPCS” piece by clicking here.

Take some time to poke around D&RW, by the way.   There are a bunch of other papers and projects  there, some, but not all, having to do with the history and politics of scholarly communication.

Lastly, a note of thanks to all of you who tweeted, Facebooked, or otherwise spread the word about the final days of the free Late Age of Print download.  I truly appreciate all of your support.

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