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
For each chapter please include the title, and a paragraph of description (at least half of the full the length of a journal abstract) about its content and coverage. If an edited volume please provide contributor affiliations and up to three sentences biography including their most significant and relevant publications. The chapter plan should include a proposed length for each chapter as well as total length inclusive of notes and apparatus and details of any appendices.

Readership and how to reach it
Please detail core readership and subject areas the book would appeal to and cover, and details of any tertiary audiences either in terms of general interest or other academic fields. Please indicate how readers in your field are best reached. What factors do you think are most relevant in terms of ensuring the book makes an impact? Where in particular in terms might specialist reviews or coverage be sought? Lastly identify any other important aspects relating to marketing coverage including conferences, proposed events that might be organised or email or social media channels that could be utilised.

Competing and related books
Offer an account of competing titles and books closest resembling that in your proposal. Where competition is not relevant indicate any books serving as role models (or anti role models) or what in the absence of a competing title is available to read in the field.

Additional requirements
If relevant please indicate any presentation preferences for typesetting or any production requirements for the book including use of illustration, data, specialist typography or colour printing. Any thoughts on presentation/book format that are important and specific to the project including use of copyright material of any kind including imagery or supplementary files.

Series proposals are peer-reviewed in accordance with standard university press practice via the series editor, editorial board members and additional external referees where appropriate.

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

 

Network ideologies and the myth of the Internet

Network ideologies and the myth of the Internet

UWP‘s latest title The Internet Myth by Paolo Bory has just been released, available in print and open access. Below we have extracted the concluding paragraph from an enlightening Preface by Gabriele Balbi explaining why research like Bory’s is so important in a contemporary setting in understanding digital culture and what the internet has come to mean. And how.

Internet imaginaries, ideologies, narratives, and myths (all terms used and explained by Paolo in his book) take time to be built, spread, accepted, and maybe then killed by society. They all have effects in the long term, they need long periods to be metabolized, and their effects are persistent even if often unnoticed. This book uses history, one of the few disciplines able to grasp long-term changes and continuities, in order to understand crucial issues in the relationships between contemporary societies and the Internet. It is an attempt to retrace how the digital culture today is based on forgotten ideas, to revitalize the powerful and persistent narratives behind failed projects, and to understand how the Internet was built with a mix of mythologies, human needs and limits. Every technology of communication is a byproduct of the society that created it. And in every society, imaginaries, ideologies, narratives, and myths play a crucial role in establishing a taken-for-granted and yet powerful system of looking at the world. This book ultimately aims to study the habitus where the Internet was created and, in the end, to better understand the ways in which contemporary societies decide to imagine, show, and limit themselves

The Internet Myth is the second of our Critical and Digital Social Media Studies series titles looking at digital and internet history in 2020, the other Incorporating the Digital Commons by Benjamine Birkinbine. Robert Hassan explored the conceptual shift to the digital too since 1989, in The Condition of Digitality (also 2020).

WPCC new issue on Viral Media released

WPCC new issue on Viral Media released

WPCC’s latest issue edited by Ansastasia Denisova is all about messages, audiences and wildfire social media.

Reflections on:

toxic platforms and black cyberfeminism
nostalgia and radio
journalistic autonomy in the digital native press
virulent anti-communism
play, outrage and cricket
making memes
the viral media metaphor

Open access as always. Editorial concludes that it may be ‘reasonable to limit the expanse of the viral flows and to question the algorithmic patterns of digital platforms’. As in the media, so in society – one could say.