Annual Report of the Collaborative on Communication and Culture

This year, I formally launched a Collaborative on Communication and Culture, sponsored jointly by the Creative Inquiry program and the Department of Communication at Clemson University. The Collaborative functions as my research hub for undergraduate and graduate students to collaborate in small teams or individually with me to develop research studies and critical writing around timely matters of concern.

The Collaborative reflects the land grant mission of the University in that a majority of the projects we develop must in some way relate to the lived experiences of individuals in the state of South Carolina. It also stems from the projects of Cultural Studies, and is devoted to a conjunctural, contextual analysis of how communication, technology, representation, and more are articulated to culture, and vice versa.

We have had, by I think any reasonable measure, a very successful first year given we were operating in a pandemic that forced the spring iteration of the class to move online very quickly, and kept the fall iteration entirely on Zoom.

In 2020, my research collaborations with students yielded the following results:

One published manuscript

James N. Gilmore and Bailey Troutman, “Articulating water to infrastructure: Agri-culture and Google’s South Carolina date center,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 23, no. 6 (2020): 916-931.

A study of Google’s successful three-year process of securing a permit to extract water from an aquifer to help power its data center, indicating how Google trades on its economic investments to secure access to natural resources from local and state governments.

One manuscript which has been favorably reviewed and is currently in revision:

James N. Gilmore and McKinley DuRant, “Emergency infrastructure and location extraction: Problematizing Computer Assisted Dispatch Systems as public good.”

A study of the RapidDeploy CADS implementation in Charleston, SC, which focuses on how dataist conceptions of “data,” “cloud,” and “information” obfuscate the surveillant aspects of emergency response in favor of uncritically promoting computational location extraction via third party services.

One manuscript which is currently under review:

James N. Gilmore, Bailey Troutman, Katherine Kenney, Madeline DePuy, Jessica Engel, Katherine Freed, Sidney Campbell, and Savannah Garrigan, “Stuck in a cul-de-sac of care: Therapy Assistance Online and the remediation of mental health services”

A platform analysis of a telepsychology service currently being used by Clemson University and others, demonstrating how the platform is predicated more on data extraction than providing structured feedback and care, a problem that has become exacerbated during COVID-19 and a loss of access to face-to-face counseling.

Two manuscripts which are currently being finished, with aims of heading under review in January or February:

James N. Gilmore, Katherine Freed, Emma Shipley, Matthew Painter, and Decker Morrow, “Making do with Zoom: Rearticulating college experiences in the COVID-19 pandemic”

A multi-method interview and survey study of how upper-level Clemson undergraduate students have negotiated the transition to Zoom, with particular attention to how they conceptualize “the college experience” and social relationships. Our findings demonstrate students struggling to make sense of how their everyday lives have had to be reorganized alongside and against videoconferencing platform Zoom.

James N. Gilmore, Janeth Sierra-Rivera, Madeline Grumet, M. Patrick Hayes, and Scout Beddingfield, “Dismantling white supremacy and selling ice cream: Corporate performances of solidarity with Black Lives Matter”

A representational analysis of how four corporations used Twitter, public relations statements, and advertising to incorporate and respond to Black Lives Matter from 2016-2020; we argue for a spectrum demonstrating tensions between co-optation and authenticity in terms of articulating racial justice issues within corporate capitalism.

This is a total of five manuscripts with 14 different co-authors; certainly a testament to the desire of our graduate and undergraduate students to find more intimate and intensive research opportunities.

What’s next?

In the coming year, the Collaborative will continue to function online in Spring 2021 with the hopes of returning to campus in the fall.

Our goals for 2021 include:

  • Produce two more manuscripts
  • Develop an online presence on social media and/or a blog for more provisional analysis and writing from students and myself throughout the semester
  • Identify external grants to sponsor research assistants and support technical infrastructure

Our goals through 2022 include all the above as well as:

  • Identify other faculty and departments at Clemson University to participate in studies on a semester-by-semester basis
  • Build more connections with existing networks at other universities to partner with graduate students and faculty as possible
  • Pursue relevant grant-funding opportunities that allow us to develop more complex studies on critical inquiry in the southeast.

Clearly, much of this is contingent on the resolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has slowed our expansion even as we have been able to still perform studies and write manuscripts. I remain hopeful for and excited about the work we will be able to do this coming year and in the years ahead. My ultimate goal is to develop a thriving research center that embraces the complexity of Cultural Studies work in and for the communities of South Carolina and the broader southeastern U.S.

If you are interested in reading our papers or becoming a partner, please reach out. The best place to do so my e-mail, jngilmo@clemson.edu

Special Issue on Infrastructural Politics

Call for Papers:

Special Issue of Cultural Studies on Infrastructural Politics

Issue Editors:

Blake Hallinan
Department of Communication
University of Colorado Boulder
blake.hallinan@colorado.edu

James N. Gilmore
Department of Communication
Clemson University
jngilmo@clemson.edu

John Durham Peters’ 2015 book The Marvelous Cloudsdevelops the concept infrastructuralism to describe a fascination “for the basic, the boring, the mundane, and all the mischievous work done behind the scenes” that contributes to a sense of the unremarkable (p. 34). Classic studies explored electric power (Hughes, 1988)and transportation systems (Innis, 1950), while more recent academic work has explored the unremarkable systems that have been architected to help sustain and form information technologies, including Nicole Starosielski’s history of undersea cables (2015), Eden Medina’s history of cybernetic systems in Allende’s Chile (2011), and Benjamin Peters’ history of the Soviet Internet(2017). Relatedly, there have been a growing number of calls to recognize the centrality of data for forming subjectivities and organizations of the (Striphas, 2011; van Dijck, 2013; Andrejevic, Hearn and Kennedy, 2015; Pasquale, 2015; Beer, 2016; O’Neil, 2016; Cheney-Lippold, 2017; Tufekci, 2017; Vaidhyanathan, 2018; Bowker, 2018; Noble, 2018; Plantin et al., 2018). These and other studies demonstrate that significant attention needs to be paid to the design and implementation of material and immaterial data infrastructures, infrastructures that help make possible the production, dissemination, and circulation of culture.

Infrastructure is never simply a neutral conduit or platform; it always has a politics, shaping the arrangements of power and authority in human associations and the activities within those arrangements (Winner, 1986). Generally, the point of infrastructure is to be constructive and supportive, but what exactly is being constructed and supported is not always so readily apparent. As work on socio-technical systems has shown, understanding the significance of technology requires attention to the technology itself but also to the ways technology enrolls people, places, systems, and interests. This broader understanding of the politics of platforms has been adopted by academic researchers (Gillespie, 2010, 2017), while simultaneously animating the aspirations of many leading technology companies—consider Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of creating a global community atop the foundation of Facebook as a prominent example (Zuckerberg, 2017; Swisher, 2018). Understanding, for instance, the construction of social networking sites alongside communities connects arrangements of data to arrangements of power and draws attention to related issues of ownership, access, transparency, accountability, accuracy, justice, and control, and how these arrangements shift over time and across contexts (Bowker and Star, 1999; Couldry and van Dijck, 2015; Pasquale, 2015; Peters, 2015, p. 2; van Doorn, 2017).

We seek contributions for a special issue of Cultural Studies exploring the relationships between data, infrastructure, and politics, and how those relationships affect the study of culture. Cultural Studies can significantly address and engage the growing challenges of such a “constructive politics of infrastructures.” Cultural Studies’ investment in the articulation of politics, culture, and “everything that is not culture” (Thompson, 1961)provides an important—and, to date, underutilized—framework for analyzing the degree to which data, technologies, and infrastructures are rearticulating configurations of power and affecting lived experience.

Potential contributors to this volume should submit a 500-word abstract outlining their object(s) of study, their research approach, and how their potential article draws on and extends the traditions, approaches, and projects of Cultural Studies.

When submitting a proposal, please include name, affiliation, and contact information in the document, and send submissions as a PDF to co-editors Blake Hallinan (blake.hallinan@colorado.edu) and James N. Gilmore (jngilmo@clemson.edu).

Submissions should be received by November 15, 2018 for review. Authors will be notified if proposals are accepted within a month of the deadline. If accepted, full articles will be provisionally due to the special issue editors by July 15, 2019. In order to be deemed publishable in the special issue, all articles will undergo both editorial and blind peer review. All articles must adhere to the formatting requirementsof Cultural Studies to avoid rejection.

Please direct all queries or concerns ahead of submission to both special issue editors.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Infrastructuralism as a way of thinking, distinct from structuralism, post-structuralism, and other relevant intellectual movements
  • Infrastructure’s implications for state politics, elections, protest movements, and other modes of political activism
  • How marginalized groups utilize infrastructure to mobilize resistive politics .
  • How data-based digital technologies challenge the epistemology of media and cultural studies
  • The relationship between network infrastructures and colonization projects around the globe
  • Media ecological studies that position cultural politics alongside environmental issues
  • The infrastructures of emergent surveillance systems, such as Amazon’s facial recognition program
  • How the mundanity of infrastructure relates to larger operations of power and authority

Bibliography

Andrejevic, M., Hearn, A. and Kennedy, H. (2015) ‘Cultural Studies of Data Mining: Introduction’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(4–5), pp. 379–394. doi: 10.1177/1367549415577395.

Beer, D. (2016) Metric Power. doi: 10.1057/978-1-137-55649-3.

Bowker, G. C. (2018) How the West was Won by Data. Boulder.

Bowker, G. C. and Star, S. L. (1999) Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Conseqeunces. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Cheney-Lippold, J. (2017) We Are Data: Algorithms and the Making of Our Digital Selves. New York: New York Univeristy Press.

Couldry, N. and van Dijck, J. (2015) ‘Researching Social Media as if the Social Mattered’, Social Media + Society, 1(2), p. 205630511560417. doi: 10.1177/2056305115604174.

van Dijck, J. (2013) The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. New York: Oxford University Press.

van Doorn, N. (2017) ‘Platform labor: on the gendered and racialized exploitation of low-income service work in the “on-demand” economy’, Information Communication and Society. Taylor & Francis, 20(6), pp. 898–914. doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2017.1294194.

Gillespie, T. (2010) ‘The politics of “platforms”’, New Media and Society, 12(3), pp. 347–364. doi: 10.1177/1461444809342738.

Gillespie, T. (2017) ‘Governance of and by platforms’, forthcoming in Sage Handbook of Social Media, edited by Jean Burges, Thomas Poell, and Alice Marwick.

Hughes, T. P. (1988) Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Innis, H. (1950) Empire and Communications. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Medina, E. (2011) Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics In Allende’s Chile. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Noble, S. U. (2018) Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racims. New York: New York Univeristy Press.

O’Neil, C. (2016) Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. New York: Crown Publishers.

Pasquale, F. (2015) ‘The Black Box Society’. doi: 10.4159/harvard.9780674736061.

Peters, B. (2017) How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviety Internet. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Peters, J. D. (2015) The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Plantin, J. C. et al.(2018) ‘Infrastructure studies meet platform studies in the age of Google and Facebook’, New Media and Society, 20(1), pp. 293–310. doi: 10.1177/1461444816661553.

Starosielski, N. (2015) The Undersea Network. Durham: Duke University Press.

Striphas, T. (2011) The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control. New York: Columbia University Press.

Swisher, K. (2018) ‘Zuckerberg: The Recode interview’, Recode, 18 July.

Thompson, E. P. (1961) ‘The Long Revolution – Review’, New Left Review, May-June(9).

Tufekci, Z. (2017) Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Vaidhyanathan, S. (2018) Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Winner, L. (1986) The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Zuckerberg, M. (2017) Bulding Global Community, Facebook. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/notes/mark-zuckerberg/building-global-community/10154544292806634/ (Accessed: 12 April 2018).

 

Dissertation Abstract

Dissertation Title: Knowing the Everyday: Wearable Technologies and the Informatic Domain

My dissertation is available to read Open Access via ProQuest. You may access it here.

Abstract

 This dissertation investigates how wearable technologies have come to matter for a variety of individuals, companies, and governments in the decade from 2007-2017. In particular, this dissertation argues that these devices are part of larger efforts to capture, know, and quantify the mundane practices of everyday life through an array of computation-based technologies. In doing so, they implicitly suggest that everyday life is no longer defined by its traditional theoretical conceptions of a domain of “excess,” unknowability, and qualitative character. Through four different case studies that emphasize different elements of life and bodily activity, this dissertation analyzes how the interactions between technologies and bodies legitimate some forms of knowing—such as the supposed certainty of big data’s predictive analytics—at the expense of other forms of knowing—such as the memory-oriented “recall” of diary writing. Each chapter, though based on concerns of experience and routine, explores how power, control, and resistance manifest in the routines of everyday life, and how these devices are designed, implemented, and discussed in ways that encourage the transformation of living into analyzable information. In each of my case studies—the hearing aid (and in particular the Soundhawk smart hearing system), the fitness tracker (in particular Fitbit), the wearable camera (in particular GoPro), and the identification band (in particular Disney Magic Band)—I treat wearable technology as an idea. Looking at advertisements, online blogs, magazine features, interviews, popular culture texts, and other sites of discourse, I examine how different organizations have promoted or critiqued these technologies for different goals, explaining how wearable technology has served as a means for 1) generating knowledge about how people live, 2) turning that knowledge into information that can be automatically analyzed by algorithms and other computational programs, and 3) use information as the basis to arbitrate decisions on what constitutes a normal or productive way of living. In analyzing the relationships between technologies, cultural discourses, and everyday life, I argue that media studies should consider the ways in which such bodily technologies mediate the everyday, taken-for-granted experiences of environments and social relationships.

“Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital”

Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital, co-edited with Matthias Stork (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).
Buy the book: Amazon | R&L

Superhero Synergies is a collection of essays I co-edited with my colleague and friend, Matthias Stork, from 2012-2014. This collection takes a far-reaching, interdisciplinary, and intermedial look at the contemporary superhero genre from a multitude of unique perspectives. I wrote the chapter “Will You Like Me When I’m Angry? Discourses of the Digital in Hulk and The Incredible Hulk,” as well as, with Matthias, the Introduction, titled “Heroes, Converge!”

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