Category: Critical Digital and Social Media Studies series

Anthropocenes journal is live!

UWP is delighted to announce the first articles of the new open access journal Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman are now published.

ANTHROPOCENES – HUMAN, INHUMAN, POSTHUMAN
Editors-in-Chief
David Chandler (Professor of International Relations, School of Social Sciences, University of Westminster)
Jane Lewis (Principal Shetland College, University of Highlands and Islands)
Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (Professor of Law and Theory and Director of the Westminster Law & Theory Lab, University of Westminster).

CONTENTS
Research Articles
The Anthropocene Eel: Emergent Knowledge, Ontological Politics and New Propositions for an Age of Extinctions   Casper Bruun Jensen
Constructing Human Versus Non-Human Climate Migration in the Anthropocene: The Case of Migrating Polar Bears in Nunavut, Canada   Julian Reid
Walking with a Ghost River: Unsettling Place in the Anthropocene   Tricia Toso, Kassandra Spooner-Lockyer, Kregg Hetherington

Commentary
Frontier Technologies and Digital Solutions: Digital Ecosystems, Open Data and Wishful Thinking   Jessica McLean

Interventions
Making a Case for an Environmental History of Dunes   Joana Gaspar de Freitas
In Terms of Meaning   Roswitha R. Gerlitz

Visual Essays
The Afterlife of Extraction in the Coal Region: An Exploration into the ‘Land of the Living Dead’   Andrew Long
Floating in Quarantine: Where Colourless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously Luigi Russi, Katarina Rothfjell

Practice
Encouraging Discussion of Science and Technology Futures through Practice-Led Research   Sean Fitzgerald

Interview
Hyperobjects, Hyposubjects and Solidarity in the Anthropocene: Anthropocenes Interview with Timothy Morton and Dominic Boyer   Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman

Review
Unlearning as Moving Towards Dehumanism and Decolonial Entanglements – Singh, Julietta (2018): Unthinking Mastery: Dehumanism and Decolonial Entanglements. Durham, NC: Duke University Press   Monika Jaeckel

About the Journal
The journal engages our contemporary epoch of the Anthropocene on the basis that its importance goes far beyond the popular and scientific concerns of global warming and climate change. As well as new problems, the Anthropocene offers new opportunities: questioning and disrupting established disciplinary silos and assumptions, calling for innovative, experimental and new interdisciplinary approaches. The choice of title reflects the editors’ understanding of the Anthropocene as a plural concept that is radically transformed when seen from different disciplines, different geographical and social positions, and different ontological categories (human, inhuman, posthuman). Anthropocenes welcomes submissions not so much on the basis of the ‘what’ of the topic covered but rather the ‘how’. The journal’s core readership fields are the social sciences, arts and humanities (broadly construed), although often social and political thought will also be applied to aspects of the natural or ‘hard’ sciences. We are interested in the creative, disruptive and transformative potentials of thought and practices in the Anthropocene.

E- ISSN 2633-4321 https://www.anthropocenes.net

Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman is published by the University of Westminster Press.

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.’ 

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).

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