New Law for Intellectual Commons Needed – Broumas

New Law for Intellectual Commons Needed – Broumas

Released this week the latest title in the CDSMS series edited by Christian Fuchs by lawyer and activist Antonios Broumas makes the case for a new body of law to harness the potential and social value of the intellectual commons. Using case studies of cultural commons initiatives it clearly articulates why the commons have intrinsic value deserving of legal protection. At the heart of these new proposals is a recognition and expansion of the public domain and the need for greater personal and social rights and freedoms for individuals to properly participate in the realms of culture and science.

Extracts from the book titled Intellectual Commons and the Law: A Normative Theory for Commons-Based Peer Production follow:

[T]he intellectual commons are suppressed by the dominant value system of commodity markets and its universal equivalent of value in the form of money upon the intellectual commons. Such pressure, which may even lead to the extinction of intellectual commons communities, comes into contradiction with the overall conclusion regarding their social value and potential. Even though such communities may as a rule not be as productive as corporations in terms of money circulation, profits, jobs and taxes, this does not make them unproductive in terms of social value. On the contrary, the communities of the intellectual commons contain and emanate a wealth of social values, which ought to be protected through legal means.

***

Rather than proposing reforms within the property-oriented framework of contemporary expansive intellectual property laws, the current book advances a normative line of argumentation in favour of an independent body of law for the regulation of the intellectual commons, i.e. both the open access commons of the public domain and any other type of regime oriented towards the shared use of intellectual works. The appropriate protection and promotion of these two sectors of our intellectual commonwealth aspires to construct a vibrant non-commercial zone of creativity and innovation in parallel to intellectual property-enabled commodity markets of intellectual works.

***

Following the above, it is held that states are morally committed to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the freedom to contribute to the intellectual commons, thereby abstaining from its restriction through intellectual property laws, which are not compatible with international human rights treaties. In addition, the critical normative theory of the intellectual commons holds that the freedom to contribute to the intellectual commons ought to acquire statutory content substantive enough to give commoners the ability for its meaningful practice.

UWP has published several book titles all available open access including Peer to Peer (Bauwens et al), Incorporating the Digital Commons by Benjamin Birkinbine, The Commons: Economic Alternatives in the Digital Age (Vangelis Papadimitropoulos). Communication and Capitalism: A Critical Theory also discusses the ‘Communication Society as a Society of the Commons’.

Intellectual Commons and the Law was published on the 25 November 2020.

Democracy without Shortcuts Debated

Democracy without Shortcuts Debated

A new special issue of the Journal of Deliberative Democracy is out now. A star line up of scholars considers the arguments of Christina Lafont’s new book Democracy without Shortcuts: A Participatory Conception of Deliberative Democracy discussing topics such as minipublics, assemblies, blind deference, everyday publics and several others in the fields of public participation and deliberative democracy. Christina Lafont responds. Contents follow.

CONTENTS

Democracy without Shortcuts: Introduction to the Special Issue
Nicole Curato,  Julien Vrydagh,  André Bächtiger, University of Canberra,Vrije Universiteit Brussels, University of Stuttgart

Commentary on, Cristina Lafont, Democracy Without Shortcuts
Jürgen Habermas, University of Frankfurt

A Citizen-Centered Theory
Jane Mansbridge, Harvard University

Between Full Endorsement and Blind Deference
Robert E. Goodin, Australian National University

Towards a More Robust, but Limited and Contingent Defence of the Political Uses of Deliberative Minipublics
André Bächtiger,  Saskia Goldberg University of Stuttgart

It’s Not Just the Taking Part that Counts: ‘Like Me’ Perceptions Connect the Wider Public to Minipublics
James Pow,  Lisa van Dijk,  Sofie Marien, Queens University Belfast, KU Leuven, KU Leuven

The Derailed Promise of a Participatory Minipublic: The Citizens’ Assembly Bill in Flanders
Ronald Van Crombrugge, KU Leuven

Citizens Without Robes: On the Deliberative Potential of Everyday Politics
Simone Chambers, University of California, Irvine

Participatory Deliberative Democracy in Complex Mass Societies
Mark E. Warren, University of British Columbia

Another Way for Deepening Democracy Without Shortcuts
Tetsuki Tamura, Nagoya University

Against Anti-Democratic Shortcuts: A Few Replies to Critics
Cristina Lafont, Northwestern University

What Are the Commons? What Could They Be?

What Are the Commons? What Could They Be?

Vangelis Papadimitropoulos in a new open access book just published (The Commons: Economic Alternatives in the Digital Age) surveys theories of the commons: liberal, reformist and anti-capitalist. Discussing these three viewpoints, the book contributes to contemporary debates concerning the future of commons-based peer production (see also UWP’s Peer to Peer) and makes the case in the conclusion for a post-capitalist commons-orientated transition that moves beyond neoliberalism.

This title is the in the University of Westminster Press‘s Critical Digital and Social Media Studies series. All previously published titles are available open access via a variety of channels including OAPEN, JSTOR and DOAB. Other titles discussing the Commons published by UWP include Incorporating the Digital Commons by Benjamin Birkinbine and Communication and Capitalism by Christian Fuchs.

IT professionals – a pervasive lack of control?

IT professionals – a pervasive lack of control?

In an extract from a new book that looks at Marx’s theory of alienation and Information and Communication Technologies, author Mike Healy outlines an agenda for future research on the key occupation of IT professionals and why it would need to consider workers’ alienation, not narrow job satisfaction. Marx and the Digital Machines: Alienation, Technology, Capitalism was published on 16th October, available open access.

Issues such as the application of project methodologies, the control the professional (and indeed the profession as a whole) has over the industry, the rapid commodification of skills such as programming, software maintenance and testing, and business processes, could all benefit from using Marx’s theory of alienation. Research that takes as its focus the role of the ICT professional in promoting the ethical use of ICT could benefit from a shift of perspective that sees the professional as one in command to a view of the professional as someone who is powerless and who cannot determine what they make, nor for whom or how it gets made. Research could also investigate what coping and resistance strategies they employ to deal with their alienated condition. Further research using theories of alienation and PAR [Participatory Action Research] would provide deeper insights into the problems ICT professionals face such as, for example, the contradiction discussed … between what they feel about their occupations and what they would do if given the opportunity to quit their jobs. Research on ICT professionals vigorously embracing Marx’s theory of alienation would enable it to move beyond the straitjacket of, and the inadequate categories associated with, job satisfaction thereby offering a greater explanation for, rather than a description of, the conditions in which ICT professionals work.
(From Chapter 8: Critique and Conclusion p. 126)

Bad Culture, Sick Music: Fairness and Wellbeing in Cultural Work –14 October free online event

Bad Culture, Sick Music: Fairness and Wellbeing in Cultural Work –14 October free online event

Discussing two new books …

Can Music Make You Sick? Measuring the Price of Musical Ambition
Culture is Bad for You: Inequality in the Cultural and Creative Industries

Why does understanding cultural work matter so much?
What does Covid-19 mean for musicians and cultural workers?
What do you think is next for the creative recorded and live arts industries? What themes unite both books?

Sally Anne Gross, George Musgrave, Orian Brook and Mark Taylor discuss their books and issues behind them.

DJ Paulette chairs the panel discussion.

Register at Eventbrite.

‘The best guide to what being a musician, and what “the music industry” actually are that I can remember reading…’

‘The best guide to what being a musician, and what “the music industry” actually are that I can remember reading…’

CAN MUSIC MAKE YOU SICK? Measuring the Price of Music Ambition
Sally Anne Gross and George Musgrave

OUT NOW
“The best guide to what being a musician, and what “the music industry” actually are that I can remember reading… it manages to capture and quantify so much about how we value emotion, creativity, labour, relationships, time, other people, [and] ourselves, in the information economy” Joe Muggs  (DJ, Promoter, Journalist [Guardian, Telegraph, FACT, Mixmag, The Wire])

“Musicians often pay a high price for sharing their art with us. Underneath the glow of success can often lie loneliness and exhaustion, not to mention the basic struggles of paying the rent or buying food. Sally Anne Gross and George Musgrave raise important questions – and we need to listen to what the musicians have to tell us about their working conditions and their mental health.” Emma Warren (Music Journalist and Author)

“Singing is crying for grown-ups. To create great songs or play them with meaning its creators reach far into emotion and fragility seeking the communion we demand of music. The world loves music for bridging those lines. However, music’s toll on musicians can leave deep scars. In this important book, Sally Anne Gross and George Musgrave investigate the relationship between the wellbeing music brings to society and the wellbeing of those who create. It’s a much needed reality check, deglamourising the romantic image of the tortured artist.” Crispin Hunt (Multi-Platinum Songwriter/Record Producer, Chair of the Ivors Academy)

“A critical and timely book which is sure to kick start further conversations around musicians, mental health and the music industry” Adam Ficek (Psychotherapist [Music and Mind]/BabyShambles)

“This book should be mandatory reading for every label, booking agent, manager and tour manager in the business of music and touring so we can all better understand what’s really involved in living the life of a professional musician and the role we all have in making that life as liveable as possible” Grant Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit)

It is often assumed that creative people are prone to psychological instability, and that this explains apparent associations between cultural production and mental health problems. In their detailed study of recording and performing artists in the British music industry, Sally Anne Gross and George Musgrave turn this view on its head.  By listening to how musicians understand and experience their working lives, this book proposes that whilst making music is therapeutic, making a career from music can be traumatic. The authors show how careers based on an all-consuming passion have become more insecure and devalued. Artistic merit and intimate, often painful, self-disclosures are the subject of unremitting scrutiny and data metrics. Personal relationships and social support networks are increasingly bound up with calculative transactions.  Drawing on original empirical research and a wide-ranging survey of scholarship from across the social sciences, their findings should be provocative for future research on mental health, wellbeing and working conditions in the music industries and across the creative economy. Going beyond self-help strategies, they challenge the industry to make transformative structural change. Until then, the book provides an invaluable guide for anyone currently making their career in music, as well as those tasked with training and educating the next generation.

Contents
1. Introduction: Special Objects, Special Subjects
2. Sanity, Madness and Music
3. The Status of Work
4. The Status of Value
5. The Status of Relationships
6. Conclusions: What Do You Believe In?
Appendixes| Notes | Bibliography

AUTHORS
Sally Anne Gross is a Principal Lecturer at the University of Westminster and the course leader of the MA Music Business Management. She is also a music manager and music business affairs consultant, and has worked in the music industry for over three decades.

George Musgrave is an academic based at both the University of Westminster and Goldsmiths, University of London. He is also a musician who has been signed to Sony/EMI/ATV.

Open Access
PDF, ePub and kindle versions available free from https://www.uwestminsterpress.co.uk/site/books/m/10.16997/book43/

Subjects
Popular Music  |  Media Industries  | Cultural Studies  | Communication Studies

Is the Price of Musical Ambition Too High?

Is the Price of Musical Ambition Too High?

It is often assumed that creative people are prone to psychological instability, and that this explains apparent associations between cultural production and mental health problems. Sally Anne Gross and George Musgrave in their book CAN MUSIC MAKE YOU SICK? turn this view on its head. By listening to how musicians understand and experience their working lives, they show that whilst making music is therapeutic, making a career from music can be traumatic.

Listen to Sally Anne Gross discuss the authors’ findings on Robert Elms BBC Radio London, 11.00 Saturday 26th. Jason Solomons stands in.

‘Active Travel Studies’ journal open for submissions.

‘Active Travel Studies’ journal open for submissions.

Active Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal launched today for submissions a venture based at the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy. Editors Tom Cohen and Rachel Aldred here discuss the thinking behind the journal and outline below the range of published material to be expected and context of current debates on active travel in 2020.

Active Travel Studies will provide researchers with a natural home for new findings on all aspects of active travel, including but not limited to walking and cycling. As an open-access journal, charging no fees to either authors or readers, it will reduce barriers between those who are producing knowledge on active travel and those who wish to benefit from it.

‘We’re very excited about the journal,’ explains its editor, Dr Tom Cohen. ‘It marks an opportunity for research on active travel to reach a wider audience and to do so without the delay common in academic publishing. The journal will welcome a range of submissions (debates, reviews and interviews, as well as more familiar research articles) and we plan to allow multi-media output as well as more conventional formats.’

‘Another way in which we hope to differ from many journals is in remaining approachable – we welcome the opportunity to discuss with authors their ideas concerning possible submissions. But this will not be at the expense of academic rigour: all submissions will be subject to peer review.’

The journal is launching at what may be an auspicious time, as COVID-19 has provoked both a sharp increase in active travel and heated debate about whether and how that increase can be made permanent. As Cohen puts it, ‘our hope is that the journal can provide sound evidence to inform both this policy transition and others in the future.’

About the Journal

Active Travel Studies is a new, peer-reviewed, open-access journal intended to provide a source of authoritative research on walking, cycling and other forms of active travel. In the context of a climate emergency, widespread health problems associated with inactivity, and poor air quality caused in large part by fossil-fuel transport, the journal is relevant and timely. It will perform the critical function of providing practitioners and policy makers with access to current and robust findings on all subjects relevant to active travel.

We live in times of climate crisis, with illegal levels of air pollution in many cities worldwide, and what has been called an epidemic of physical inactivity. Technological change alone will not solve such problems: we also need major growth in active travel (primarily walking and cycling, but also other active and semi-active types of travel, such as scooters) to replace many shorter car trips. Active modes could even (e.g. through electric assist trikes) help make urban freight much more sustainable. Journals within many fields cover active travel, but literature remains highly segmented and (despite high levels of policy interest) difficult for practitioners to find. Established, mainstream journals are not open access, another barrier to policy transfer and knowledge exchange. Thus, while many towns, cities, and countries seek to increase active travel, the knowledge base suffers from a lack of high-quality academic evidence that is easy to find and obtain. This reinforces practitioner reliance on often lower-quality grey literature, and a culture of relying on ad hoc case studies in policy and practice. This journal provides a bridge between academia and practice, based on high academic standards and accessibility to practitioners. Its remit is to share knowledge from any academic discipline/s (from bioscience to anthropology) that can help build knowledge to support active travel and help remove barriers to it, such as car dependency. Within this normative orientation, it is rigorously academic and critical, for instance not shying away from analysing examples where interventions do not lead to more active travel. It goes beyond immediate policy imperatives to share knowledge that while not immediately change-oriented can contribute to a deeper understanding of, for instance, why people drive rather than walk. As well as publishing relevant new research, the journal commissions both commentary pieces on such research, and critical reviews of the existing literature. Reflecting the diversity of its audience, its content is varied, including written work of different lengths as well as audio-visual material.

For more information on submissions see the journal page ‘About’ and drop down menu for information on editorial team, editorial policies and submissions.

Supporting Open Access Monographs: Ingredients for a Prototype?

Supporting Open Access Monographs: Ingredients for a Prototype?

With the UKRI consultation on Open Access deadline imminent UWP’s Press Manager, Andrew Lockett wonders out loud what kind of additional pilot project to further encourage OA monographs might be worth considering. 

Calls to support public publishing infrastructure, ‘new’ ‘business’ models and alternative approaches to monograph publishing are popular. With the work of COPIM progressing well and building on established ventures like the Scholar-Led consortium, OBP and OLH (in journals) here are some thoughts about what a ambitious pilot scheme could look like. Caveats abound. Agreement between parties, governance and practicalities would be difficult in context. But could it be useful to think of values in the sector and consider the merits of a carrot- rather than stick-based approach? 

I have called it COUL after a long search for an upbeat acronym. 

Collective Open University Library – ­UK (Monographs Publishing).

Participating members based in UK universities should agree to match or add to new funding from UKRI/RLUK. The scheme should be based on a mixture of the best elements of the US TOME scheme (see https://www.openmonographs.org) which is a venture organised between the Association of American Universities (AAU), Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and Association of University Presses (AUPresses) and the Lever Press idea: https://www.leverpress.org. The latter is a useful warning of dangers inherent. The premise is a good one but its outcomes in terms of published outputs have been modest in number, considering. For the scheme to work to optimum levels, experienced publishers should be paired with librarian experts and publishing-orientated academics to work towards lean governance and structures, each of whom should already be aware of the standpoint of the others and not just be ‘batting’ for their side. All three expertise groups being fully engaged in the project design would be vital for success. 

The basis of the scheme would be to encourage the following three elements:

I) Non-profit low cost monograph publishing at a local and small scale level that could be undertaken by any participating members.

II) Dissemination of open access monographs and awareness raising within the members.

III) The scheme would financially support publishing at those institutions that produce monographs working with a rubric that rewards activity in several ways:

  • based on the numbers of titles published to a maximum of 10 titles per imprint in the first instance but expand thereafter
  • based on the success in reaching audiences in views and downloads and other relevant metrics that may be developed 
  • recognise publications that go beyond tick-box equality, diversion and inclusion and demonstrate progressive orientation in the research or publication procedures, whether that be student co-creation, commons orientation, ethics aware citation practice, a focus on human well-being, and communications or impact strategy or outcomes that truly serve to educate
  • as the above implies the scheme should include a small element of research-into-teaching titles that focus on the communication of new research to undergraduate and graduate students in this author’s belief that bridges need to be built between research and teaching in scholarly communications that are being lost under current REF orientations

As a result a proportion of funding say 70% would be up-front based on submission. With 30% to follow reflecting delivery so that stronger projects are incentivised. The funding should be competitive (but not too competitive as to be greed-inducing) and be expressed over a period of a minimum of 5 years with the expectation that it could and would be renewed. I would recommend funding in the region of up to a maximum (depending on project scope) of£6000 per monograph to start with;£2500 for retrospective recognition. The idea would not to be to cover entirety of all costs of a publication in form of a ‘pure’ subsidy (though these sums can be sufficient) but to get publishing initiatives off the starting blocks with ‘seed and support funding’ on the basis of lists of titles not individual books. This weighting would bake in a degree of realism and discourage support of too long, ill-considered, very marginal publications that OA should not be considered the answer for – i.e. The ‘vanity’ publication or the ‘impractical’ monograph. Experimental publishing should be approached separately and via separate means: the ‘vanilla monograph’ hugely valuable as it is, poses enough challenges.  

The funding allocations would be agnostic about where it would be directed (to allow for local circumstances but also efficiency of existing providers). It would not include funding elements for research but would permit:

  1. Publication by traditional and new university presses
  2. Spending on publishing services by cost-effective third party private providers 
  3. Spend on in-house resources for the projects 
  4. Use of self-publishing services in conjunction with any of the above
  5. Non-intrusive monitoring of readership patterns of monographs funded for research purposes

The following priorities should be kept in mind:

  1. Encouragement of low-cost monograph production at all suitable sites with UK university libraries and those they work with or via scholarly associations and scholar-led groups. 
  2. High standards made visible, transparent, flexible but consistent. These should not necessarily just be concerned with technical or workflow orientated but also about the practice of wider ethics and community-building and based around ideas of a knowledge commons and aimed at the reduction of existing inequalities in the system across the university sector being considered a priority. 
  3. Raising of awareness of scholarly communications within specific academic communities as a prime objective of the scheme: those benefiting from funding could work with Jisc (perhaps?) on publication and marketing of specific tool kits to libraries and specific academic groups explaining merits to individuals and groups of publishing this way. 
  4. Directed support as a priority to humanities and social sciences and those STEM topics that do not receive grant support from funders. 
  5. Encouragement of publishers or groups who publish well, who use the opportunities afforded by open access and the internet proactively and not just to shore up existing workflows, sunk costs and unexamined overheads; operations that seek to keep costs and prices low with mission based motives and who do not seek to trade on exclusivity, elitism, ring-fencing and prestige; the scheme should look to encourage established operations willing to look at a different future as well as the new kids on the block.

The aim should be to create a vehicle with long term potential that learns from a variety of experiences and adjusts accordingly and build momentum over years. The starting point I would suggest might be 100-200 titles could be supported using collective subscription mechanisms similar to or building on those/working with those established by Open Book Publishers, Knowledge Unlatched (in its early days), Jisc, Open Library of Humanities or in the future by the COPIM project. It is important not to proliferate too many schemes rather focus on a maximum of 2-3 that could seriously and reliably build capacity. Perhaps one has to take the view in the light of the complexity and actors involved there is the risk ‘the perfect could be the enemy of the good’. But a bigger risk is that the ‘timid is the enemy of any improvement’ and might lead to further decades of OA monograph trench warfare, unintended consequences and heightened, even dangerous scholarly communications inequalities and resource concentration. The question for myself reconsidering whether COUL is possible, is at once, it is too ambitious or just not nearly ambitious enough?

ANDREW LOCKETT
Press Manager, University of Westminster Press
The views expressed are those of the author only and not the University of Westminster or agreed policy of the University of Westminster Press.

(Image blue sky, facing London)

Communication and Capitalism: A Critical Theory (2020). An interview with Christian Fuchs …

Communication and Capitalism: A Critical Theory (2020). An interview with Christian Fuchs …

about his new book published by the University of Westminster Press. UWP’s Press Manager and commissioning editor, A. Lockett asks the questions.

UWP: Thanks for sparing a few moments to discuss your new book COMMUNICATION AND CAPITALISM for the UWP blog. I think the first thing that might strike a few of your readers is the unambiguous commitment to Marxist Humanism. A few decades ago a dominant strand in Marxism was anti-Humanist in tone. It is clear here that you are defending and advocating humanism and Marxism within the book and criticising various anti humanist strands of thought such as posthumanism to actor network theory. Is 2020 a moment when this feels especially necessary? Has it been difficult until recently to make the argument that these two traditions are compatible, could indeed be one?

Christian Fuchs: Anti-humanism is a tendency that is immanent in capitalism itself. There are new forms of fascism, racism, nationalism that deny groups of humans such as refugees and migrant workers their humanity and implicitly or explicitly make the false claim that there are more and less important groups of humans. But there is just one humanity. There are also many tech-utopias and tech-dystopias that assume that digital technologies and automation will completely replace the human being by robots. They claim that this either will create a paradise or hell. They disregard that technology can never be completely independent of humans. A better society in which technology makes the lives of humans easier and is not a means of capital accumulation and domination has to be obtained through praxis, through humans’ social struggles. Visions of all of us becoming robots, cyborgs, posthumans, etc. are not just techno-deterministic and naïve, but also overlook that fostering the cyborgization of humans might result in new forms of fascism, eugenics, social Darwinism, etc.

Humanist socialism is a political counter-perspective and alternative vision to the anti-humanist potentials of contemporary capitalism. Marxist humanism is a theoretical approach that stresses human practices, the dialectic, the commonalities of humans, the critique of alienation, ideology critique, social struggles for democratic socialism, and the importance of the entire body of Marx’s works. Starting with [Louis] Althusser, postmodernism and poststructuralism has fetishized structures. In its later versions, it has forgotten that there is an economy and that there is capitalism and class. It is not helpful when various versions of postmodernism claim that there is the death of the human subject and advance a hatred of the human being. Anthropocene theory is one of the latest developments in anti-humanist thought. It often blames the human being and not capitalism for contemporary crises. Postmodernism contributed to the decline of Marxist theory in an age when class contradictions have been exploding. But today postmodernism is itself in decline. And today Marx is as important as ever or even more important. Marxist humanism is a counter-narrative, counter-theory, and counter-politics to practical and theoretical anti-humanism. The book Communication and Capitalism tries to renew Marxist humanism and situates the notion of communication in society and capitalism based on Marxist humanist theory.

UWP: Picking up from that, the book reflects a growing concern over the ways in which invasive and exploitative digital technology is being applied and made to serve the purposes of a very familiar set of capitalist imperatives. Have you in recent years become more techno-sceptic in your writings or is it just the stakes are higher and that alternative means of deploying technology are urgently required for example commons media or a public service internet?

CF: I have never been either a techno-optimist or a techno-pessimist, but have always stressed and continue to stress the dialectical character of technology, including digital technologies, in capitalism and society. In Communication and Capitalism I both analyse the class and dominative character of communication and communication technology in capitalism as well as transcendental aspects having to do with class struggles for alternatives, including alternative media, commons-based culture and communications, public service media/Internet, etc.

UWP: In early chapters of the book significant attention is paid to Aristotle, matter and the dialectic? How much would you say that the foundations of the thinking in the book look over Marx’s shoulders to first Hegel and then Greek philosophy?

CF: Marxist humanism is strongly grounded in Hegelian Marxism, it stresses the importance of dialectical philosophy for the analysis of society. Aristotle has had huge influence on Marx’s thinking, but this is often rather implicit and has not been clearly enough stressed in lots of analyses of Marx’s. I am – in this book and in general – interested to explore the connections between Aristotle, Hegel, and Marx. In Communication and Capitalism I for example do this by interpreting work and production as what Georg Lukács in his overlooked and forgotten second opus magnum Die Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins (The Ontology of Societal Being) † as ‘teleological positing’. Aristotle’s notion of telos plays an important role here and has both influenced Marx’s and Lukács’ concepts of work and the economy. Work is the model of action in society, including communicative action. Communication has a purpose. In capitalism, it is a form of instrumental action, it serves the logic of capital and domination. So communication is being instrumentalised. The task is to strengthen the logic of the commons and cooperation where all benefit. That’s what humanist Marxism is all about. What I try to add to Marxist humanist theory, based on thinkers such as Marx, Lukács and others, is that I situation the notion of communication as a dialectical and materialist feature of humanity and society.

UWP: Another striking feature of the book’s contents is a chapter on ‘Death and Love: The Metaphysics of Communication’. It feels strangely unfamiliar but somehow refreshing to read a Marxist thinker talk so openly and directly about love in particular. Are these emotional topics areas the post-Marx Marxist tradition has somewhat ignored? And are you considering working further on these larger existential matters in the future?

CF: I agree that the chapter on ‘Death and Love: The Metaphysics of Communication’ is a particular feature of this book that is worth reading. In a sense, it is maybe unconventional for a critical theory book because topics such as ethics and religion are mostly missing from most such books. I wrote this chapter in the weeks after the death of my father in 2018, which made me think a lot about existential questions of humanity.

In general, lots of Marxist theory deals with the nuts and bolts of the capitalist economy and considers culture, communication, emotions, love, ethics, morality, etc. as unimportant ‘superstructures’. My point is based on Raymond Williams and others that all of these phenomena are material features of humanity and society. Love and communication are part of the nuts and bolts of humanity and society.

Death and fears of death are very existential facets of life that we all are confronted with. The coronavirus crisis for example has broken into humanity suddenly and reminds us all that life is the most existential, the most material if you will, feature of us all and of society. Much of Marxism has not been good at dealing with such existential questions. But to be fair, there are interesting works on Marxism, love and death, for example in the study of Marxism and religion. Erich Fromm’s works are an important example. Reading Fromm has influenced Communication and Capitalism, which is quite evident in the book. The traditional Marxist critique of religion is that it is the ideological opium of the people. Distraction and fetishism are two features of all ideology, including the ideologies that celebrate capital, the market, money, etc. In a way, ideologies such as neoliberalism and consumer capitalism have become the religions of the 21st century.

Fromm stresses that there are socialist and humanist elements in certain religions that deal with existential questions that humanity faces. So religion is not just and not always and not exclusively ideological, which Marx himself stressed in the famous Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

I am also interested in the dialectic of love and death in capitalism. In the last instance, humanist socialism is the generalisation of the principle of love to society. This principle exists as the counterpower to instrumental reason in our everyday life. But it does not exist as society’s principle.

I continue to be interested and to work on metaphysical aspects of humanity and society. For example, I am interested in certain humanist versions of religious socialism, such as the works of Paul Tillich and Emil Fuchs. I have recently published an essay on Aristotelian-Marxist ethics and the digital commons. I also have recently worked on Sartre’s existentialism. I am not really interested in the idealist Sartre of Being and Nothingness, but in the Marxist-humanist Sartre of Critique of Dialectical Reason. Most people claim it is an unreadable book. My experience was that it is worth reading it and I am interpreting Sartre as another contributor to Marxist humanist approaches to communication. The issue of how love and death are communicated on social media and what roles the commodification of love and death via social media plays, where corporations make profit from it, is also important.

UWP: Every chapter tackles a big topic, in some course structures almost a module. Can the book be usefully read at all (to use a musical analogy) on a track-by-track basis or would you see the book’s careful structure (dialectical perhaps?) as vital to appreciating what is more to you a totality, a ‘concept album’ for the critical mind?

CF:
The book forms a dialectical totality in itself so it is worth reading it as a whole in order to get the big picture. But I wrote it in such a manner that each chapter forms a moment of a larger whole. And you can also read each chapter independent from the others if you are interested in a particular theme. It is quite evident from each chapter’s title what exactly the focus is. The chapters are also suited for use in the classroom. But the book is not a textbook that outlines a variety of approaches. It is my own critical theory of communication approach that I present in it. I make use and further develop thought that I find helpful. As a starting point, I am especially interested in forgotten, neglected, hidden works in or elements of Marxist theory that focus on communication. These are mostly not full-fledged communication theories, but elements of Marxist theory that can inform a Marxist-humanist theory of communication and capitalism. I take such elements and further develop them.

UWP: The book’s account of accounts of types of communications theory I imagine will be helpful to students as well as researchers. At one level it feels that empirical and material changes have been so rapid since the turn of the century that scholars have struggled to keep pace, adjust models for which new data or information might surface on a daily basis. Are there fields in critical communication theory that are ripe for some fresh philosophy or theoretical perspectives?

CF:
The most well-known and most influential critical theory of communication is Jürgen HabermasTheory of Communicative Action. On the one hand, I find Habermas an inspiration because he is a universalist, a humanist and a public intellectual who has made important interventions into many public debates. In late 2019, the year Habermas celebrated his 90th birthday, he published another opus magnum titled Auch eine Geschichte der Philosophie (Also a History of Philosophy). It’s a two-volume book, in which Habermas over 1,700 pages comments on the history of Western philosophy.

One aim of Communication and Capitalism is to transcend some of the inadequacies of Habermas’ theory of communicative action. Habermas is a Kantian humanist. His theory of communication is not dialectical enough, which results in a dualistic concept of communication. Habermas furthermore tends to ignore the rich history of Marxist theory and engages with all sorts of approaches from outside this tradition. What I try to do is to work out the dialectics of communication. And in doing so, I do not, like Habermas, take the likes of Max Weber, Talcott Parsons, George Herbert Mead, John Searle, etc. as the starting point. Rather, I start with and based on the tradition of Marxist humanism and see myself as contributing to the development of this strand of Marxian theory.

So Habermas is both an influence and my negative starting point in developing a critical theory of communication. We need to go beyond Habermas and at the same time preserve and transform some aspects of his theory such as his concept of the public sphere. Communication and Capitalism operates at a meta-level, the level of society and capitalism in general. It does not discuss and analyse the newest trends in capitalist communications, such as big data, influencers on social media platforms, platform labour such as Uber and Deliveroo drivers, industry 4.0, etc. It rather operates at a level that is more general and operates above specific expressions of digital and communicative capital. I use specific examples and data, but these are intended to outline more aspect of general critical theory. I outline more concrete analyses of specific technologies, platforms, working conditions, etc. on other books such as Social Media: A Critical Introduction, whose third edition I just finished writing and that is now in production.

Given that the world of digital capitalism changes rapidly at the phenomenological and empirical level of appearances, there is a rush of analysts to keep up and always engage with who outline the latest trends. Often such trend-following, reactive research lacks engagement with more fundamental questions such as: What is capitalism? What is the role of communication and technology in capitalism? What’s wrong about capitalism? How can communication and technology strengthen the public sphere? What is alienation in general and in the context of communicative capitalism? What is a good communication society and how can it be achieved? etc. Positivism is the result of the neglect of more fundamental questions. The outcome of neglecting such questions is positivism.

I do not oppose conducting concrete empirical analyses. I conduct such analyses myself. But I make a plea for engaging with both fundamental questions about society and using them as foundation for the analysis of concrete phenomena of everyday life. So one of the aims of Communication and Capitalism is to inspire the engagement with Marxist theory when studying communication and society.

UWP: The book was finished and edited before the onset of COVID-19 so it is unfair to ask but I imagine readers would be interested to know what kind of capitalist crisis this particular moment looks like becoming to you? The phrase the ’new normal’ mentioned ubiquitously in the media suggests a declared imperative to move towards a yet further deepening of existing capitalist logics: surveillance, big tech, widening inequalities, covert authoritarian control. Do you see on the other hand fresh opportunities in the crisis for alternatives and a society of the commons?

CF:
The coronavirus crisis is a crisis of humanity.It includes an economic crisis as its consequence. The crisis shows that those countries that have the purest forms of capitalism, such as the UK and the USA, have the highest death rates because they lack investments into public services, including health care. It is no accident that neoliberalism had one of its practical-political starting points in these two countries in the form of Thatcherism and Reagonomics.

The coronavirus crisis is a critical point, a so-called bifurcation point, where more fundamental change is likely to occur. But how the future will look like is uncertain in such situations and depends on human practice. It has become obvious that neoliberal capitalism and capitalism in general don’t work. So post-capitalism is one alternative in such a crisis. Or some new form of Keynesian capitalism might emerge that gives more weight to state intervention into the economy and the welfare state. Or the situation could escalate, for example if Donald Trump stays in power and starts a war with China. Nuclear annihilation or a Third World War might be the consequence. Right-wing authoritarianism has already (before this crisis) been strengthened in lots of countries. The two ends of the continuum of possibilities are, to quote Rosa Luxemburg, also today socialism or barbarism. The logic of public services and the commons could be strengthened if there are practical movements that strengthen their importance in society. But it could also very well happen that we will face more nationalism, violence, war, and death. The antagonism between instrumental reason and the logic of the commons and cooperation polarises in foundational crises of society.

What I find particularly striking in this crisis is that there are those who as quickly as possible want to open up society because they want to safeguard profits, not taking into account that COVID-19 means a deep public health crisis. The anti-humanists who put profit before human lives are in this crisis constantly talking about consequences for the economy, that we need to open up businesses and schools, etc. They do not care if tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands more will die. In this crisis, it becomes evident who is a humanist and who is an anti-humanist. We need measures such as the introduction of a universal basic income instead of letting workers lose their jobs, starve, etc. In the realm of higher education, it has become evident that a system funded by student debt does not work. It collapses in a crisis such as the COVID-19 crisis. It is silly and short-sighted to now argue that students should pay lower fees or that universities have to make cuts, etc. The only solution is to demand that universities are publicly funded, as is the case in many countries, and not by a student market and the accumulation of debt that destroys young people’s lives. I heard a debate about exactly this issue last night on LBC, where this perspective of transitioning to a system of public funding was simply missing from public discourse. The larger implication is that a crisis such as the COVID-19 crisis reminds us of the importance of public services.

I am interested in how the coronavirus has changed everyday life and everyday communication. As all of us know, the importance of communication technologies such as video chat, e-learning systems, online collaboration systems, etc. has because of the nature of the virus massively increased. I wrote an article titled ‘Everyday Life and Everyday Communication in Coronavirus Capitalism’ about this issue. It applies, so to speak, the analysis of Communication and Capitalism to the COVID-19 crisis.

UWP: As this is not a zoom recorded interview we can’t see your bookshelves but would you like to highlight 2-3 publications that have really interested you recently and supported in interesting ways some of the conclusions and theories of some of the work in the book?

CF:
A recent book I highly recommend reading is the collection For Humanism: Explorations in Theory and Politics, edited by David Alderson and Robert Spencer. It outlines the foundations of Marxist humanism and why a renewal of this approach is need today. The four books that have most influenced the thinking of Communication and Capitalism are Hegel’s Encyclopaedia Logic, Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Herbert Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, Georg Lukács’ Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins (The Ontology of Societal Being; in English excerpts are available in the form of three short volumes titled Ontology of Social Being: Volume 1: Hegel, Volume 2: Marx, Volume 3: Labour). These books are always worth reading, so I recommend them.

UWP: Lastly most authors have a chapter they might have liked to include in addition to the final line-up of a book. If as I expect there may be a second edition one day, what might you like to consider including in several years’ time, if anything?

CF: For me, a book is an open-ended concept and process. I always find it silly that the majority of book reviews discusses not what is in a book but what is not in a book, as if a book is a closed universe and not part of a larger oeuvre that is open, complex, evolving, etc. I am sure you’ll sometime in the future find one or another book review of Commmunication and Capitalism discussing what the book is not about. Writing such book reviews is a waste of time and indicative of a mechanical and closed understanding of the book.

Capitalism and society change dynamically. As long as there is a class society, there is a need for critical theory. Society evolves. Thought evolves. Critical thought evolves. In my own work, one book often leads to or is the starting point for the next book. So I am not so much thinking about revising books but more about what is important to focus on next.

At the moment, I am interested in the concept of everyday life and how to make use of Henri Lefebvre’s thought to critically theorise the critique of everyday life in digital capitalism. It has become evident to me that Lefebvre is the French Georg Lukács. There is much in his thought that is relevant today, including for a critical theory of communication.

French theory has been so much dominated by anti-humanism and postmodernism, which is a shame. Althusser was one of the root causes of this tragedy called postmodern thought. I am interested in thinkers such as Lefebvre, Lucien Goldmann, Sartre’s late phase in which he wrote Critique of Dialectical Reason Volume 1 and 2. These approaches are counter-narratives to French structuralism and poststructuralism. They focus on Marxist humanism, alienation, praxis, dialectical reason, etc.

UWP: Thank you. 

† Discussed in Chapter 2 ‘Georg Lukács as a Communications Scholar: Cultural and Digital Labour in the Context of Lukács’ Ontology of Social Being‘ in the author’s Critical Theory of Communication: New Readings of Lukács, Adorno, Marcuse, Honneth and Habermas in the Age of the Internet.

New theory of Communciation and Capitalism from Christian Fuchs

New theory of Communciation and Capitalism from Christian Fuchs

UWP‘s latest open access book title in the CDSMS series, Communication and Capitalism: A Critical Theory by Christian Fuchs has just been released. Below a short extract from the introduction where the author explains’s his approach in the book.

I have become convinced that an update of Marx’s theory and Hegelian philosophy in the 21st century is a viable approach for critical theory and that this approach does not need to borrow from complexity theory in order to be consistent and offer convincing explanations. Hegelian Marxism has a rich and diverse tradition and history that is today often forgotten, but possesses an immense intellectual and political wealth that 21st century critical theory can build on. There is a rich tradition of Marxist theory that can inform the critical study of society, communication, and culture. Because of the neoliberal turn and the postmodern turn, many Marxist approaches to the study of society, communication, and culture have been forgotten. I build on Marx and theories inspired by Marx in order to ground a Marxist theory of communication. […]

By working through a multitude of analyses of concrete societal and communication phenomena I have over the years developed a range of theoretical insights. These insights, concepts, and analyses have never been static, but have developed. Critical theory is itself dialectical. By working through various critical and bourgeois theories and working out analyses of a range of social phenomena (including privacy, surveillance, digital labour, social media, the Internet, authoritarianism, nationalism, protest, advertising, globalisation, imperialism, nature, sustainability, participation, democracy, the public sphere, culture, communities, etc.), I have established in different places and my mind some elements of a critical, dialectical theory of capitalism and communication.’ 

PUBLISHING, CULTURAL STUDIES AND THE EARLY CAREER RESEARCHER

PUBLISHING, CULTURAL STUDIES AND THE EARLY CAREER RESEARCHER

Inspired by panel discussions at the Cultural Studies Association of 2019 in New Orleans regarding publishing experiences of early career researchers, Andrew Lockett, Press Manager of the University of Westminster Press asked CSA President Toby Miller for his thoughts on the topic.

Toby Miller is Stuart Hall Professor of Cultural Studies, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana—Cuajimalpa and Research Professor of the Graduate Division, University of California, Riverside. Prior to Riverside, he was a Professor at New York University for eleven years. The author and editor of over forty books, his work has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Turkish, German, Italian, Farsi, French, Urdu, and Swedish. His most recent volumes are How Green is Your Smartphone? (co-authored, 2020), El Trabajo Cultural (2018), Greenwashing Culture (2018), Greenwashing Sport (2018), The Routledge Companion to Global Cultural Policy (co-edited, 2018), Global Media Studies (co-authored, 2015), The Routledge Companion to Global Popular Culture (edited, 2015), Greening the Media (co-authored, 2012) and Blow Up the Humanities (2012). The Persistence of Violence: Colombian Popular Culture (2020) is in press. He is President of the Cultural Studies Association (US). Toby can be contacted at tobym69@icloud.com and his adventures scrutinized at www.tobymiller.org. Andrew Lockett prior to working at University of Westminster Press, has worked at BFI Publishing, Oxford University Press and Routledge and in trade publishing in a variety of editorial and management roles. 

AL: A great pleasure to talk in New Orleans and now digitally. Can I ask whether you think (and lets predate this to before COVID-19 to simplify) whether you feel the current publishing environment is uniquely difficult for early career researchers in Cultural Studies. Why might that be so?

TM: I think it is complicated because of several factors. First, in the English language Cultural Studies never succeeded—rarely tried to succeed—as an undergraduate major, the critical pathway to parthenogenesis and recognition. Its publishing salad days derived from its uptake by US literary studies and British media studies, both of which had solid undergraduate channels—at one time! So the exciting early days of self-publishing, followed by an uptake by for-profit houses and university presses, and so on did not lead to a welter of impact beyond grad school. Second, in other major sites, where Cultural Studies existed before it did in that Anglo world, such as Latin America, people did not publish in English and were rarely translated. Nowadays, everyone there is under pressure to publish in English, which is weakening the field and sliding the outcome into the world of mindless grant-getting and evaluation that scars UK higher education, for example. So if you’re a really radical Cultural Studies person, publishing in or beyond English, the prospects are not as they once were.

AL: One senior scholar made the argument that Cultural Studies has always felt embattled and that it was tough back in the day to find secure employment and will continue to be so within a university system that has yet to really institutionalise Cultural Studies in its structures: in many disciplines its presence is felt but with no power base as such in many universities. But it feels the casualisation of academic labour is of a different order taking us beyond that. Publishing in this context can feel like an additional chore on top of everything else, notably teaching. What encouragement do you find to counter these gloomy views?

TM: People who elude the granting world of obeisance to state and capital still do great work; Cultural Studies continues to appeal to those traditionally excluded from academic circles and who wish to become subjects as well as objects of knowledge; there are still interesting pockets in the Anglo countries, though diminishingly so; and loads of interesting material emanates from Hong Kong, India, Mexico, Singapore, and Colombia. The tired struggle between political economy, ethnography, and textual analysis has largely been resolved—do all three or you’re not doing interesting things; but few actually manage that.

AL: Hierarchies and league tables are everywhere in Higher Education and journals are ‘ranked’ often by systems and managers who are not familiar with every discipline. Many journals pride themselves on rejection rates, yet the economics of publishing favour journals who publish a lot. These are some issues I see but what advice would you offer ECRs in considering which journals to publish in? And if the top journals seem out of reach for whatever reason, how important is to publish per se, and how important to hold back and not rush ahead for the speediest solution?

TM: I think it is ill-advised to follow the logics of states, which dominate these things, because they are creatures of fashion and illogic. The best guide is this: (1) do at least the minimum to satisfy your immediate bosses (2) do at least the minimum to satisfy the state (3) understanding that what both those hegemons announce as essential may be irrelevant in their or their successors’ eyes two minutes or years later (4) do what the discipline where you are likely to find or continue employment and your favourite writers do; and (5) never allow any of the first two points in particular to overdetermine things, most importantly, your passion and what made you become an academic in the first place.

AL: Cultural Studies generally prides itself on inclusiveness, diversity and anti-elitism, yet many ECR’s feel they have not choice for career reasons to play the prestige game when it comes to publishing. Would you advise looking at working with major university presses and nimbler commercial outfits to spread the risk and reach different audiences? Or is it best to go for the bigger fish and (in some cases) their greater capacity to reach readers and impress on CVs?  What about textbooks, that seem not to get in the UK system any official recognition via funding or normal promotional criteria; should an ECR without a permanent post allow any time for writing a teaching text (short or long) with time at such a premium? 

TM: See my answer above, really. Challenge the idea that textbooks and research monographs are entirely separate (think of and cite the old ‘Critical Accents’ series from Methuen) but if forced to write things with essay questions etc included, don’t bother to include original research. Regarding journals, get your senior faculty to challenge lists and rankings, form solidarity groupings across your country against that, and cite instances where such rankings nonsense has flopped and been dropped (such as Cultural Studies in the Research Excellence Framework of the UK and Australia’s Research Council).

AL: A thesis remains a prime manifestation of intellectual labour for any young scholar but the steps to publishing a book based on one can seem for some as tortuous as the thesis completion itself. Is it sometimes best to move on would you say?

TM: This depends a lot on two factors—the first is tenure, and in the US humanities, a Research One school generally still requires the publication of a monograph; the second is the market. Too many books on too many trivial topics are produced, for which publishers have my sympathy. That will end.

AL: I was struck in New Orleans by the power some in the discussions felt was wielded by publishers with little alternative to waiting very long intervals for decisions sometimes rather arbitrary seeming. Do you think multiple submission of a book title is a reasonable thing for an ECR to do? And to chase editors if delays seem too long even though the fear is that this will rile or discourage editors from accepting a title when so many other submissions are under consideration?

TM: Yes, I do. Multiple submission of mss was once essentially banned, but now that only really applies with journal articles.

AL: In certain contexts I have argued for the inevitability of some self publishing options being needed in the humanities (Lockett 2018 ‘Monographs on the Move’) in part to come to terms with a perceived declining library market and in part to open out the work of Cultural studies to wider audiences from other disciplines and the wider public. Do you have any hopes for DIY initiatives, self-publishing or wider structures that could support a public commons for publishing in the progressive humanities?

TM: Yes, and people need start-up packages from schools to assist with that, from printing enough copies for your loved ones and tenure committees to providing proper editing and distribution on line on a not-for-profit basis.

AL: Is the CSA able to look at initiatives of its own in advising ECR’s on publishing or offering support for other key elements in early career stages beyond that excellent panel in New Orleans 2019?

TM: We are a relatively small, artisanal body. We often have workshops for job seekers at our conferences and also have ongoing working groups covering particular fields of endeavor plus lots of people ask for and give advice, but this is not done at the level of larger entities.

AL: What does interdisciplinarity mean in 2020? And in publishing specifically?

TM: It means doing more than drawing on other humanities people to make your point—it means welding science, the social sciences, and the humanities together, through auto-didacticism and collaboration. It means looking to publish in three venues: one’s disciplinary housing; social-movement spheres; and the bourgeois media.

AL: One last question. Over the time we’ve known each other you have added Spanish to your intellectual armoury. This I imagine has been the work of many years: would you outline some of the benefits for you as a scholar in terms of collaboration and enlarging your understanding of key research fields such as television studies or the media and the environment? 

TM: I went to language school for a week many years ago and had the benefit of many hours of people patiently speaking to me while I floundered, but most of my learning was done in the street or by the hearth rather than in the classroom or language laboratory. I have been fortunate to meet numerous open-hearted and brilliant researchers across the Americas whose example has taken me beyond many assumptions that come from my time in the Anglo world. Because it’s hard to survive on a salary here, people often hold multiple jobs, run not-for-profits, write for money, and so on; they blend things in forms that traditional norms eschew; and they keep mixing the social sciences and humanities in ways that the Global North claims to do, but fails to do very fully.

AL: Speaking of Latin America I can’t forgo mentioning that many of us in the Global North only recently became fully aware that the continent has led the way in Open Access for many years with open, simple but effective public infrastructures such as SciELO, CLASCO, Redalyc and AmeliCA(1) . And that I’ve seen some signs in our longstanding media journal Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture from contributors in the region citing interesting theory that should probably be better known in the North. It might be nice for you to sign off by suggesting a few writers or publications from Latin America you think today’s ECR’s and older scholars in Cultural Studies should be paying attention to but maybe aren’t yet. What or who do you recommend first? 

TM: Akuavi Adonon, Enrique Uribe Jongbloed, Jorge Saavedra Utman, Rosalía Winocur, Daniel Mato, Nancy Regina Gomez Arrieta, Bianca Freire-Medeiros …

AL: Thank you Toby.

  1. See Sam Moore’s and Janneke Adema’s recent discussion of open access governance infrastructures.
CDSMS series board expands

CDSMS series board expands

University of Westminster Press flagship series Critical Digital and Social Media Studies today announces new editorial board members Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, Arwid Lund, Safiya Noble , Sarah Roberts, Bingqing Xia and Mariano Zukerfeld joining the established board as the series grows with its fourteenth title The Internet Myth: From the Internet Imaginary to Network Ideologies  by Paolo Bory published on 29 April 2020 and the fifteenth title Communication and Capitalism; A Critical Theory by series editor Christian Fuchs published on 20 May 2020.

The CDSMS series board now comprises: Thomas Allmer, Mark Andrejevic, Miriyam Aouragh, Charles Brown, Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, Eran Fisher, Peter Goodwin, Jonathan Hardy, Kylie Jarrett, Anastasia Kavada, Arwid Lund, Maria Michalis, Stefania Milan, Vincent Mosco, Safiya Noble, Jernej Amon Prodnik, Jack Qiu, Sarah Roberts, Marisol Sandoval, Sebastian Sevignani, Pieter Verdegem, Bingqing Xia, Mariano Zukerfeld. Series Editor: Christian Fuchs. Titles (all published open access) already available in order of publication in the CDSMS series are:

Critical Theory of Communication: New Readings of Lukács, Adorno, Marcuse, Honneth and Habermas in the Age of the Internet
Christian Fuchs 
https://doi.org/10.16997/book1

Knowledge in the Age of Digital Capitalism: An Introduction to Cognitive Materialism
Mariano Zukerfeld
https://doi.org/10.16997/book3

Politicizing Digital Space: Theory, the Internet, and Renewing Democracy
Trevor Garrison Smith
https://doi.org/10.16997/book5

Capital, State, Empire: The New American Way of Digital Warfare
Scott Timcke
https://doi.org/10.16997/book6

The Spectacle 2.0: Reading Debord in the Context of Digital Capitalism
Edited by Marco Briziarelli and Emiliana Armano
https://doi.org/10.16997/book11

The Big Data Agenda: Data Ethics and Critical Data Studies
Annika Richterich
https://doi.org/10.16997/book14

Social Capital Online: Alienation and Accumulation
Kane X. Faucher
https://doi.org/10.16997/book16

The Propaganda Model Today: Filtering Perception and Awareness
Edited by Joan Pedro-Carañana, Daniel Broudy and Jeffery Klaehn
https://doi.org/10.16997/book27

Critical Theory and Authoritarian Populism
Edited by Jeremiah Morelock
https://doi.org/10.16997/book30

Peer to Peer: The Commons Manifesto
Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis, and Alex Pazaitis
https://doi.org/10.16997/book33

Bubbles and Machines: Gender, Information and Financial Crises
Micky Lee 
https://doi.org/10.16997/book34

Cultural Crowdfunding: Platform Capitalism, Labour, and Globalization 
Edited by Vincent Rouzé 
https://doi.org/10.16997/book38

The Condition of Digitality: A Post-Modern Marxism for the Practice of Digital Life
Robert Hassan
https://doi.org/10.16997/book44

Incorporating the Digital Commons: Corporate Involvement in Free and Open Source Software
Benjamin J. Birkinbine
https://doi.org/10.16997/book39

 

Journal of Deliberative Democracy relaunched

Journal of Deliberative Democracy relaunched

UWP is delighted to announce a new open access journal within its roster, the Journal of Deliberative Democracy. In the journal’s own words:

‘This journal was previously published as the International Journal for Public Participation (2007-2010) and, in November 2010, merged with the Journal for Public Deliberation as a joint venture between the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and IAP2. This initiative aimed to extend the discourse in the field benefiting from firsthand experience of public participation practitioners. In 2020, the journal was relaunched as the Journal of Deliberative Democracy. Funding for the migration of back content was provided by Åbo Akademi and Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance.

The journal has a truly global team of editorials and editorial board including scholars from Brazil, Japan, Lebanon, Ghana as well as leading universities in Europe, USA, New Zealand and other countries. The lead editors are Nicole Curato, University of Canberra, Kim Strandberg, Åbo Akademi University, Finland, Graham Smith of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster and André Bächtiger of the University of Stuttgart.

THE DIGITAL COMMONS MEETS BIG TECH

THE DIGITAL COMMONS MEETS BIG TECH

Just out from UWP is Benjamin Birkinbine’s compelling book account (Incorporating the Digital Commons) of how corporate actors first tried to close down then started to work with the community of open source software producers. As interest and debate in the knowledge commons grows the book is a timely reminder of the history of the internet and tech sector and the need for a political economy analysis of such developments.

The fourteenth title in our CDSMS series book is now out open access in three digital formats and in paperback.

Critical Digital and Social Media Studies: New Call for Book Submissions

Critical Digital and Social Media Studies: New Call for Book Submissions

Critical Digital and Social Media Studies is an established book series edited by Professor Christian Fuchs on behalf of the Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies and published by the University of Westminster Press (UWP). We invite submissions of book proposals that fall within the scope of the series.

CALL DETAILS After the publication of twelve titles in the series (and several others commissioned for 2020) we invite submission of book proposals (adhering to the guidelines set out below) as one document with one full chapter for book titles in the range of 35,000-80,000 words. The books in the series are published online in an open access format available online without payment using a Creative Commons licence (CC-BY-NC-ND) and simultaneously as affordable paperbacks. We are able to publish a number of books in the call without any book processing charges for authors. Potential authors are welcome to contact the series editor outside of the initial time frame of this call for book proposals but should note that priority for funding support for suitable projects will be given to those proposals meeting the deadline. There is a preference for the submission of proposals for books whose writing can be finished and that can be submitted to UWP within the next 6-15 months. In the event of a surplus of strong proposals preference will be given to single-authored book proposals over edited volumes.

Outside these time frames authors are welcome to submit to the publisher a.lockett[at]westminster.ac.uk but will be notified if funding has already been allocated and the prospective date for the next call for publication. Authors who have access to open access fee-funding (e.g. covered by research project funding, universities or other institutions) that can cover the fees for layout and production are welcome to contact the publisher outside of the submission dates, but should note selection is based only on grounds of quality and suitability for the series notwithstanding that the series wishes to welcome as many suitable titles as possible. We welcome submissions to our submissions system with one (exactly one) uploaded sample chapter. We can only accept suggestions for books written in English. For further details see the Proposal Guidance below or if you have questions about the publishing process email a.lockett[at]westminster.ac.uk.

SUBMISSION DEADLINE Monday 20 January 2020 23:59 BST. Submissions should be made via UWP’s book proposal submission system at https://uwp.rua.re

Any prior queries may be sent by e-mail to Andrew Lockett (University of Westminster Press Manager), A.Lockett[at]westminster.ac.uk. Submissions will no longer be accepted by email. Regardless of other contact, all proposals for consideration have to be presented via https://uwp.rua.re.

CRITICAL DIGITAL AND SOCIAL MEDIA STUDIES: AIMS AND SCOPE
The book series “Critical Digital and Social Media Studies” publishes books that critically study the role of the Internet, digital and social media in society and make critical interventions. Its publications analyse how power structures, digital capitalism, ideology, domination, social struggles shape and are shaped by digital and social media. They use and develop critical theories, are profoundly theoretical, and discuss the political relevance and implications of the studied topics. The book series understands itself as a critical theory forum for Internet and social media research that makes critical interventions into contemporary political topics in the context of digital and social media. It is also interested in publishing works that based on critical theory foundations develop and apply critical social media research methods that challenge digital positivism. It furthermore is interested in digital media ethics that are grounded in critical social theories and critical philosophy. The book series’ understanding of critical theory and critique is grounded in approaches such as critical political economy and Frankfurt School critical theory.

TOPICS
Example topics that the book series is interested in include: the political economy of digital and social media; digital and informational capitalism; digital labour; ideology critique in the age of social media; new developments of critical theory in the age of digital and social media; critical studies of advertising and consumer culture online; critical social media research methods; critical digital and social media ethics; working class struggles in the age of social media; the relationship of class, gender and race in the context of digital and social media; the critical analysis of the implications of big data, cloud computing, digital positivism, the Internet of things, predictive online analytics, the sharing economy, location- based data and mobile media, etc.; the role of classical critical theories for studying digital and social media; alternative social media and Internet platforms; the public sphere in the age of digital media; the critical study of the Internet economy; critical perspectives on digital democracy; critical case studies of online prosumption; public service digital and social media; commons-based digital and social media; subjectivity, consciousness, affects, worldviews and moral values in the age of digital and social media; digital art and culture in the context of critical theory; environmental and ecological aspects of digital capitalism and digital consumer culture. Of particular interest is new work in the area of critical media/communication studies in the context of digital media and authoritarianism/populism, feminist political economy, critical perspectives on digital industries and digital labour, Marxism and AI, digital commons/digital public services/public service Internet.

PROPOSAL GUIDANCE
If you would like to know if UWP is interested in a proposal you will receive the swiftest answer if you submit via the RUA system (https://uwp.rua.re). Authors/editors need to register and complete a questionnaire. Authors submitting to this call for the CDSMS series must upload one sample chapter to their submission. The following indicates in general terms what will be requested:

UWP proposals are to be presented in response to a questionnaire

Preview of UWP Book Proposal Questionnaire

Book Title     

Subtitle          

Submitting Author/Editor              

Title and subtitle of book   

Contact email          

Email of submitting author or editor only         

Institution/affiliation of submitting author or editor only

Full author and editor details and short biography (120 words maximum) 

Anticipated Completion Date       

Total wordlength    

Sample chapter        

Sample material is always useful to receive. Please attach to/upload with contents and chapter plan

Case for the book
Relation to wider academic fields and disciplines; this may also include author/editor’s detailing relevant previous publications and history of research underlying the book.

Longer summary
Overview of the book’s aims, maximum 500 words.

Contents and chapter plan
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PUBLISHED and FORTHCOMING IN THE SERIES (to early 2020)
Critical Theory of Communication: New Readings of Lukács, Adorno, Marcuse, Honneth and Habermas in the Age of the Internet Christian Fuchs

Knowledge in the Age of Digital Capitalism: An Introduction to Cognitive ­Materialism Mariano Zukerfeld

Politicizing Digital Space: Theory, the Internet, and Renewing Democracy Trevor Garrison Smith

Capital, State, Empire: The New American Way of Digital Warfare Scott Timcke

The Spectacle 2.0: Reading Debord in the Context of Digital Capitalism Edited by Marco Briziarelli and Emiliana Armano

The Big Data Agenda: Data Ethics and Critical Data Studies Annika Richterich

Social Capital Online: Alienation and Accumulation Kane X. Faucher

The Propaganda Model Today: Filtering Perception and Awareness Edited by Joan Pedro-Carañana, Daniel Broudy and Jeffery Klaehn

Critical Theory and Authoritarian Populism Edited by Jeremiah Morelock

Peer to Peer: The Commons Manifesto Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis, and Alex Pazaitis

Bubbles and Machines: Gender, Information and Financial Crises Micky Lee

Cultural Crowdfunding: Platform Capitalism, Labour and Globalization Edited by Vincent Rouzé

Forthcoming

The Condition of Digitality: A Post-Modern ­Marxism for the Practice of Digital Life ( Robert Hassan

Incorporating the Digital Commons: Corporate Involvement in Free and Open Source Software Benjamin J. Birkinbine

Communication and Capitalism: A Critical Theory Christian Fuchs

EDITORIAL BOARD:
Dr Thomas Allmer, University of Innsbruck, Austria.
Prof Mark Andrejevic, Pomona College, USA
Dr Miriyam Aouragh, University of Westminster, UK
Charles Brown, University of Westminster, UK
Dr Eran Fisher, Open University of Israel
Dr Peter Goodwin, University of Westminster, UK
Prof Jonathan Hardy, University of East London, UK
Dr Kylie Jarrett, Maynooth University, Ireland
Dr Anastasia Kavada, University of Westminster, UK
Dr Maria Michalis, University of Westminster, UK
Dr Stefania Milan, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Dr Vincent Mosco, Queens University, Canada
Prof Jack L Qiu, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Dr Jernej Amon Prodnik, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Dr Marisol Sandoval, City University London, UK
Dr Sebastian Sevignani, Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena, Germany
Dr Pieter Verdegem, University of Westminster

Critical Digital and Social Media Studies
www.uwestminsterpress.co.uk

Evacuation from Regent Street: All in it Together?

Evacuation from Regent Street: All in it Together?

In an extract from Mark Clapson’s new book The Blitz Companion: Aerial Warfare, Civilians and the City Since 1911 the experience of Regent Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster) students leaving London for the countryside are described. The book is available open access in all digital formats.

The illustration marks another theme of the book – the belated recognition of the sacrifice of women within the UK’s war effort; the monument in Whitehall to ‘Women of World War Two’ unveiled in 2005.

“The declaration of war on Germany by Chamberlain on 3 ­September 1939 was preceded by a mass evacuation of children from London and other large cities. Over four thousand children went overseas, but most were moved elsewhere in Britain to so-called ‘reception towns’ in safe areas away from bombing routes. In all over 3.5 million people, most of them children, were dispersed from the largest cities. From 1–2 September already rehearsed plans for evacuation were put into place across the country. Local authorities were responsible for organising this mass movement, coordinated from schools and other places of education.

The experiences of young men and women at the Regent Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster) in the heart of London provide a fascinating case study of evacuation, and glimpses into the everyday perceptions of evacuees. The auxiliary Secondary School and Craft Schools at the Poly, located in other sites close to the base at Regent Street, provided occupational training and apprenticeships for children and teenagers. A breezy report in the Polytechnic Magazine for September 1940 on the evacuation of the Craft Schools was both proud and relieved at the safe removal of children, but it was clear the process was not as straightforward as it could have been:

From various sources, chiefly the wireless, the staff and pupils of the Craft Schools heard that at last it had happened, and that the once hypothetical evacuation was to be carried out. We duly assembled at the Great Portland Street Extension on Friday, September 1st, completely equipped with luggage and gas masks, the boys having been previously well informed as to the amount of luggage, etc., required. The boys were very cheerful and there were obvious signs of disappointment when we learnt from the LCC Evacuation Officer that it would be impossible to move us on that day. We were therefore told to go back home and return on the morrow at the same hour—8.30 a.m. The next day, Saturday, the numbers in our ranks had increased, and we moved off in earnest by bus from Oxford Circus to the Holborn Underground entrance. There were a few mothers to see the boys off, but the partings seemed quite cheerful, and in spite of the serious international situation quite a holiday spirit prevailed. At Holborn we were compelled to wait for some time, and in order to avoid congestion at the railway station we spent this time at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in Southampton Row. We eventually entrained for Ealing Broadway, and on arrival, were speedily transferred to the train for ‘somewhere in England.’ We had a comfortable journey with plenty of room and you can imagine our delight when we learned that we were going in the vicinity of the famous Cheddar Gorge and right into the ‘Heart of Mendip’. We got out of the train at Cheddar Station, and after waiting some considerable time were conveyed by buses to our destination—Winscombe, a beautiful village nestling at the foot of the Mendip Hills.5

A later report on the experiences of the boys and girls coming to terms with life a long way from London, while generally upbeat, admitted that some schooling time was being lost. Young people in country towns or urban areas had more to stimulate them in common with the types of lives they had led in London, while those in small villages or hamlets had to make their own fun, and become more self-reliant, something viewed as a positive consequence of evacuation. The report then made a claim about social class mixing that became a key theme in the so-called ‘myth of the Blitz’:

Some of the boys are billeted in palatial homes, whilst others may be living in homes not quite up to the standard of their own, but all are fortunate in having comfortable dwellings with fairly modern conveniences. This will have the effect of showing how different classes of people live, and should be invaluable to them in later life, whether or not they become leaders in industry, professional men, or members of the working classes.5

Denied a normal full-time education, this was a kind of ‘Polytechnic of Life’ experience, increasing sensitivities across class divisions, while preparing the young for their future occupational roles in the British class system.

The nationwide evacuation scheme was voluntary, and ­working-class parents such as those of the young students at the Poly took advantage of the local authority educational schemes and the arrangements offered by the Poly itself. Middle-class parents, by contrast, sent their offspring to live with friends and relatives elsewhere in the country. The lack of compulsion in the evacuation process was symptomatic of the strength of democracy but also an internal weakness. By December 1939 many young people from all across Britain, not only from the Poly, had returned home for Christmas, often to the annoyance and frustration of the authorities who wished to keep them in the relative safety of the reception areas. The so-called ‘Phoney War’, a distinct lack of military action on the Home Front, explained why many people wanted to go back home. So too, of course, did homesickness and a longing to be with family and friends in the old neighbourhood. During the early months of 1940 many evacuees trickled back home. It would take the sea-borne heroics at Dunkirk in May, and the Battle of Britain in the spring and summer of 1940, to shake them out of their complacency”.

The Blitz Companion – here 3rd April

The Blitz Companion – here 3rd April

A new title by Mark Clapson is to be published on Wednesday the 3rd of April. We are welcoming its arrival at the University, 309 Regent Street, Boardroom from 18.00. The work of a number of years teaching and research, the book is uniquely comparative in looking at the experience of civilians in a number of countries. A fuller description is below.

The Blitz Companion offers a unique overview of a century of aerial warfare, its impact on cities and the people who lived in them. It tells the story of aerial warfare from the earliest bombing raids and in World War 1 through to the London Blitz and Allied bombings of Europe and Japan. These are compared with more recent American air campaigns over Cambodia and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, the NATO bombings during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s and subsequent bombings in the aftermath of 9/11. 

Beginning with the premonitions and predictions of air warfare and its terrible consequences, the book focuses on air raids precautions, evacuation and preparations for total war, and resilience, both of citizens and of cities. The legacies of air raids, from reconstruction to commemoration, are also discussed. While a key theme of the book is the futility of many air campaigns, care is taken to situate them in their historical context. The Blitz Companion also includes a guide to documentary and visual resources for students and general readers. 

Uniquely accessible, comparative and broad in scope this book draws key conclusions about civilian experience in the twentieth century and what these might mean for military engagement and civil reconstruction processes once conflicts have been resolved. 

Mark Clapson was Professor of Social and Urban History, at the University of Westminster and is the author of Working-Class Suburb: Social Change on an English Council Estate, 1930–2010 (2012) and An Education in Sport: Competition, Communities and Identities at the University of Westminster since 1864 (2012). 

Event March 21st – Peer to Peer: A Commons Manifesto, book launch seminar

Event March 21st – Peer to Peer: A Commons Manifesto, book launch seminar

There is another way. Peer to peer and the commons …

A forthcoming CAMRI Research event this Thursday, for Peer to Peer: A Commons Manifesto by Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis and Alex Pazaitis researchers and activists in the world of P2P (Peer to Peer). Participants will discuss what is needed to create the transition to a commons economy and society and how it relates to the past and present as the book’s description outlines:

Not since Marx identified the manufacturing plants of Manchester as the blueprint for the new capitalist society has there been a more profound transformation of the fundamentals of our social life. As capitalism faces a series of structural crises, a new social, political and economic dynamic is emerging: peer to peer. What is peer to peer? Why is it essential for building a commons-centric future? How could this happen? These are the questions this book tries to answer. Peer to peer is a type of social relations in human networks, as well as a technological infrastructure that makes the generalization and scaling up of such relations possible. Thus, peer to peer enables a new mode of production and creates the potential for a transition to a commons-oriented economy.  

Peer to Peer will be available open access from the 21st of March on the University of Westminster Press website – DOI: 10.16997/book25. It is the latest title in the Critical Digital and Social Media Studies series from UWP.

To register for the event and view details see eventbrite.

Social Media Counters and Metrics: Measurement at all Costs?

Social Media Counters and Metrics: Measurement at all Costs?

‘The one question I keep returning to is whether we can dispense
with social media counters entirely’.

 Kane X. Faucher’s new book Social Capital Online (available open access in the CDSMS series from UWP) considers the dominant role of quantification in social media environments and how we end up competing for dubious forms of digital ‘social capital’. He explains:

An obsession with metrics pervades much of the private and public sector, and is paralleled on popular social media. It is the promise of metrics that see so many place an inviolable faith in their ability to increase efficiency, effectiveness offer ready tools for benchmarks and box-ticking. Worse still is the promise that metrics will facilitate better prediction and can be used as a directional planning tool. There is no doubt that measurement is indispensable in the sciences and engineering. There measurement is essential. The problem arises when metrics are applied widely to domains such as social media. When it comes to metrics, what we measure, how we measure, and why we measure it are equally essential questions. With social media, we have an abundance of metrics – some visible, others requiring some digging, and still others entirely invisible to the public.

A quick rundown makes this clear:

  1. Visible Metrics: On Facebook or other networks, it may seem easy to assign a value to any user by the number of friends or likes accumulated. It can be an easy way of determining popularity or relevance in a socially competitive field – a process not dissimilar from casting ballots regularly. Motives for why users assign a ‘like’ will vary widely as the reasons why people support a politician in elections. And yet, because of the presence of these visible metrics there are notable behavioural changes in the way some people operate on social media, being conspicuous in their online production, reputation management, and effectively campaigning for the most ‘votes’ on their content. But, unlike an election, there is no end date to the campaign; any sense of victory is fleeting. Users’ behaviour may adopt more risky behaviour in order to garner more attention, a higher ‘score.’  Businesses, try to increase their social media score believing that this will convert to customers, then sales. As a metric, this may be flawed or merely correlation.
  2. Less Visible Metrics: Services (some free, others paid) will provide loads of metrics on number of impressions, clickthroughs, etc. Google Analytics provides a welter of data on the demographics of visitors to a site, what operating systems they use, the flow-through of the pages users visit, and for how long. This quasi-cybernetic affordance can provide a website operator guidance by which to reconfigure parts of the website to optimize visits, longer stays, and improve the ‘experience.’ YouTube provides similar metrics notably CPM (clicks per thousand).Other metrics can also be calculated such as providing a dollar value on a social media account. Klout and other companies may tell us how much a person’s tweet is ‘worth’ and the overall value of the account itself. These are potential values, but it is unclear what they mean. Assigning a dollar value to a collectible item is usually a reflection of the market and what others are willing to pay; on social media, there is no sense of true exchange value whereby a user can sell their account or tweet. Sure, there are plenty of celebrities like Kim Kardashian who will charge a set fee for promoting a product or service on their social media accounts, and so perhaps that lip service endorsement can result in sales. But this is little different from traditional forms of celebrity endorsement in other media venues apart from it being digital and potentially reaching a wider audience.
  3. ‘Invisible’ Metrics: Facebook is able to automate the process of counting interactions and drill down into data that compares what you mention to your demographic information. These result in the creation of ‘buckets’ that businesses can access for money to better refine their target marketing. Algorithms simplify this process, but it is not an exceptionally sophisticated one despite the conspiratorial chatter about how we are being ‘controlled’ by social media. Obviously there are behaviour-shaping elements on social media that strongly resemble conditioning. There is also a strong availability heuristic at play in how these social media sites decide on our behalf what content we will see in the newsfeed, which may keep us sequestered in our filter bubbles. It was not long ago when Facebook conducted its own behavioural experiment in selecting a number of users (without their knowledge or explicit consent) and showing them positive or negative posts while observing the behaviour of those users.

Figures – Donald Trump to name one – may have tens of millions of followers on Twitter, but it would be a mistake to believe every one of them endorses his views or supports him. A good number may follow his tweets out of public interest, for comedy, to troll him, or because their job (such as being in the media) requires it. Sentiment analysis on engagement may help to understand if those followers are supporters or not. Despite all of this assigning a value on the basis of a raw score is flawed because there is no consensus on what we mean by value. It is as rough and ready as saying another human being can be given a value on the basis of how much money they have in her or his bank account.

Algorithms: Mystery but no magic

As a predictive tool, social media counters are far from perfect. What is popular now will not necessarily remain so. At one point #Kony2012 was the top trending hashtag on Twitter, but the fortunes of that organization changed quickly. And yet metrics are considered an essential ingredient in recommender systems to get us to purchase similar products based on the purchasing habits of those who have been placed in a similar data bucket. When the term social media algorithm is mentioned there is a kind of magical understanding, that it occurs in a black box heavily guarded by complex streams of code.

Worse, it isn’t even scientific, but a kind of pseudoscience. The sorcery involved is really covering the fuzziness of the operation. It also completely disregards the old GIGO principle (garbage in/garbage out) as it does not measure or produce anything all that meaningful. There is absolutely nothing mysterious or magical about algorithms. Running your finances through a spreadsheet would quality as an algorithm. A simple Turing Test is an algorithm. A good algorithm is a feedback loop that does not require human intervention. It would be an exercise in futility to task a human being to calculate on the fly the trajectory of a missile in order to shoot it down. GPS operates as a feedback system, whereas the ABS on your car is a feed-forward system using actuators.

The algorithms in use by those like Facebook are not feedback loops, but feed-forward. They will assume some models of human behaviour, but they cannot fully calculate the variance between groups. What they sell in terms of data is limited and not a feedback tool for making useful predictions. As such, it is unstable and its results hit and miss. The dream of predicting the behaviour of crowds is an old one, and it continues to thrive in excitable statements such as Google’s that human beings are programmable. Our behaviour can be shaped through persuasive techniques, but the outcomes are not foolproof.

At best, these algorithms aim to recognize patterns, and then take action on the basis of those patterns. This is little different than actuarial tables to determining insurance premiums on the basis of past data where someone who is of a certain age, gender, location, etc., is matched against comparative mortality statistics. Such tables require frequent adjustment, but they assume in advance a set of conditions in order to calculate the premium. In the case of social media assumptions are applied to groups who share some characteristics but the process is akin to throwing something at the wall to see if it will stick. If, say, the algorithm detects a pattern where 20 year old females are more likely to purchase a Mac as opposed to a Microsoft computer, the ads in the sidebar will aim to reflect that pattern in order to produce that result by increasing its probability. It is a little like adjusting the controls of an experiment to arrive at the result one desires.

One analogy that may serve to illustrate this operation would be an assembly line where, for example, every 10th widget is inspected for quality control. There is a ‘model widget’ that is applied, and if a defective one is found the assembly line is shut down and then the cause of the defect is investigated. Applied to social media, if the ad is not resonating with the targeted group, the algorithm is reconfigured. This process can be better refined by getting user input, such as with Google Ad choices where we have the opportunity to say whether the ad was relevant to us. The algorithms at play on social media assume we conform to the model widget, pending which bucket we’ve been placed in. There is nothing sinister or spooky about this kind of machine learning. What is objectionable is how all our interactions are logged, tabulated, and then syndicated across our networks behind a gamified environment where our labour is obfuscated as leisure activity in a high trust milieu. Rather than a McLuhan ‘global village,’ the glowingly optimistic pronouncements about social media in its shining ubiquity is more aptly viewed as a Potemkin Village where so much social activity and connectedness obscures the very real power dynamics of capitalism, data capture, and cutthroat competition for attention and value determined by sheer numbers alone.

Only a Numbers Game

The one question I keep returning to is whether we can dispense with social media counters entirely. As much as it may provide a temporary ego-boost, jockeying for more ‘points’ seems to undercut the true value of generating online social capital: the ability to organize, mobilize, share, and connect with others in a social venue.  To run up our scores is really to do the work of social media sites, with these scores as the token payment for our labour. Can we not appreciate the intrinsic value of sharing our content without judging it by the number of people who clicked or tapped their approval? Can we make use of social media without so quickly rushing to commodify and brand ourselves? The answer to those questions is certainly yes, but it is something we would have to elect to do while putting pressure on popular social media platforms to simply remove these counting features.

Whenever we engage in the games of online social capital on a purely numerical basis, we may be feeding egos with token scores, but we are also feeding the machines to better refine its pattern recognition to restrict our choices and persuade us to support particular viewpoints or purchase a product or service. It becomes clear that the incentive for including these counters serves the purpose of increasing the time we engage in social media, while masking the labour we perform behind a kind of competitive game.

Dr Kane X. Faucher teaches at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University, Ontario, Canada

 

UWP, #openaccessweek2020: a raincheck

UWP, #openaccessweek2020: a raincheck

At the end of #openaccessweek2020 honoured to reflect that since September 2015 open access imprint @UniWestPress has published 254 unique editor/authors in our journals and books from 34 countries. That’s 32 books (incl. edited), 6 policy briefs and 5 distributed titles; 131 new journal articles also making available 719 archive journal articles.  

Today we have just had certain confirmation that we have hit over 750,000 views and downloads for our publications already, close to a 50% increase in less than a full year. Over 20% of UWP’s unique authors are University of Westminster authors with on the other hand 58% of contributions originating from outside the UK. Many authors (75) have worked with us more than once. One of our journals Silk Road is based at Westminster International University in Tashkent.

It’s not all about quantities. Our books have been translated into Spanish, Chinese and (shortly) Turkish; one has won a Latin American prize. We’re proud of our diverse range of authors from the global south, Europe, from all corners of the English-speaking world, feminist writers and early career research authors, the academic stars of the future as well as – Jurgen Habermas, Antonio Negri and Jean-Luc Nancy contributors to our list.   

It would not have been possible without support of our authors and editors @UniWestminster @UniWestLib @ubiquitypress the Research Environment and Knowledge Exchange Team at Westminster and the UWP editorial board.