Category: Critical Theory

Digital Objects, Digital Subjects – event 30 January

Digital Objects, Digital Subjects – event 30 January

Are optimists or pessimists correct about the digital future? What are the best academic tools, approaches and theories that can assist in understanding the ‘digital’ of today and tomorrow?

Editors and contributors to a new open access book Digital Objects, Digital Subjects exploring all these controversial issues will discuss these and others arising at an informal roundtable with audience discussion. Confirmed participants include: David Chandler, Christian Fuchs, Joanna Boehnert, Robert Cowley, Paolo Gerbaudo, Anastasia Kavada.

All welcome. Free event. Drinks and nibbles. All welcome. Register at eventbrite.

Digital Objects, Digital Subjects: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Capitalism, Labour and Politics in the Age of Big Data will be published open access by the University of Westminster Press on the 30 January. Print copies to be available for purchase at the event.

Populism Under Critical Theory’s Microscope – new title.

Populism Under Critical Theory’s Microscope – new title.

What early Frankfurt School critical theory can tell us about contemporary far-right populism (including social media) in the United States and Europe is revealed in UWP’s new OA title Critical Theory and Authoritarian PopulismTheories, Foundations and Digital Authoritarianism form the sections of the book written by eminent international scholars with an editor’s introduction featuring a detailed historical outline of the Frankfurt Schools’s contribution to understanding populism. 


Rethinking ‘Freedom’ – a book launch event

Rethinking ‘Freedom’ – a book launch event

The Westminster Law and Theory Lab are inviting interested parties (all welcome to attend) a book launch and drinks reception for Riccard Baldissone’s new book, ‘Farewell to Freedom: A Western Genealogy of Liberty‘ Dr Elena Loizidou (Birkbeck Law School),  Profesor Saul Newman (Politics and International Relations Goldsmiths College London) and Professor Nathan Widder, (Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway College, London) will consider the vocabularies and history of the idea of freedom at the  event: Friday 21 November 18.00 – 20.00.

VENUE: University of Westminster, The Pavilion, 115 New Cavendish St W1W 6UW. Register here to attend.  For free open access download of the book navigate to here.

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Communications and Geography: An Ever-Closer Union?

Communications and Geography: An Ever-Closer Union?

Here in an extract from his editorial Doug Specht in the latest issue* of Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture  reflects on how space has not gone away or been ‘annihilated’. He considers how communication theories may help understand a world in which maps of all kinds are being reconfigured with the aid of the users and suppliers of Big Data  as space in all dimensions is being mediated and reshaped. 

Late twentieth century communication and information technologies have produced such a blurring of what is real and what is representation that the two can no longer be distinguished (Corner, 1999), leading to persistent questions over how human behaviour is constituted through space and time, and within specific social contexts (Dear, 1988). Our mappings of the world, be they through cartographic representations and data visualizations (Space-in-media), or mediated senses of place (Place-in-Media, and Media-in-Place), are in-between the virtual and the physical. A distinction not to be confused with a distinction between real and fake, ‘as we would not claim that our bodies are real while our minds are fake’ (Smith, 2017: 30). Did you find the world or did you make it up? asked Winnicotts (cited in Corner, 1999), a salient question indeed. The information super-highway agenda of the 1990s was designed to change the very fabric of society (Robins, 1997), to create a homogenized flow of communications transcending geography (Greig, 2001). This post-modern condition of ‘space-time compression’ (Harvey, 1989) would annihilate space. Yet, space has not disappeared, but has re-established itself in new spheres, created of ever larger data, and increasingly mediated, and must then be understood through the use of semiotic and communication theories, such as the Marxist spatial frameworks of Castells and Lefebvre, or the Ideologiekritik of the Frankfurt School (Lagopoulos, 1993). The postmodern creates tensions between all theories in an attempt to best understand the conditions of existence, at its core, perhaps, lies the dialectic between space and society; a geographical puzzle in which structures, institutions and human agents operate on different scales to define spatial patterns in any given locale (Dear, 1988). The individual does not disappear in the midst of the social effects caused by the pressures of the masses, but is instead affirmed (Lefebvre, 1991). It is seeing that establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it, as Fuchs (2018) states: ‘means of communication are (just like social space) means of production through which humans produce social relations and therefore also social space’ (p. 19). The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know than the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight (Berger, 1972/2008). While human geography has always been a maze of diverse interests (Dear, 1988), the use of Geographic Information has changed dramatically in the past decade, and continues to do so; increasingly it is used in mediated practices, to shape stories, to transcend boundaries, to develop new ethereal networks, as well as to produce maps. But even in those maps, users themselves are being encouraged to crowdsource data, be that to add to the ‘usefulness of the map’ or to create counter maps. Data has become the standard way in which the world is ordered (Thatcher and Dalton, 2017), with those that link location and temporal information being seen as fixes for capitalism’s tendencies towards over-accumulation (Greene and Joseph, 2015). As the scholars in this issue demonstrate, there is much to be gained from the combining of communications theories and those from the geographic disciplines. Bringing the two together allows for an alternate, nuanced, and a spatially grounded approach to envisioning the myriad ways in which the digital age mediates social, economic and political experiences and, in particular, in the increasingly technologically informed media and communications sector.

[*’GEOGRAPHY AND COMMUNICATIONS‘  the full open access issue can be viewed or downloaded at the WPCC website ]

REFERENCES

Berger, J. (1972/2008). Ways of Seeing, . London: Penguin UK.

Corner, J. (1999). The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention. In: Dodge, M., Kitchin, R., & Perkin, C. (eds.), The Map Reader: Theories of Mapping Practice and Cartographic Representation, 213–252, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. 

Dear, M. (1988). The postmodern challenge: Reconstructing human geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 262–274. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/622990  

Fuchs, C. (2018). Henri Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space and the critical theory of communication. Communication Theory, 1–22. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ct/qty025  

Greene, D. M., & Joseph, D. (2015). The digital spatial fix. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique, 13(2): 223–247. DOI: https://doi.org/10.31269/triplec.v13i2.659 

Harvey, D. (1989). The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Social Change. Malden, MA: Blackwell. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1191/030913298669028680

Lagopoulos, A. P. (1993). Postmodernism, geography, and the social semiotics of space. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 11(3): 255–278. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1068/d110255

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space. Blackwell: Oxford

Robins, K. (1997). The new communications geography and the politics of optimism. Soundings 5, 191–202.

Smith, T. G. (2017). Politicizing Digital Space. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book5

Thatcher, J., & Dalton, C. M. (2017). Data Derives: Confronting Digital Geographic Information as Spectacle. In: Briziarelli, M., & Armano, E. (eds.), The Spectacle 2.0: Reading Debord in the Context of Digital Capitalism. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book11.h

Propaganda Model of Herman and Chomsky reassessed in new title

Propaganda Model of Herman and Chomsky reassessed in new title

Still relevant, useful and controversial after 30 years,  Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Propaganda Model is considered afresh in the age of Trump, digital media and social media manipulation. Published within UWP‘s Critical Digital and Social Media Studies series edited by Professor Christian Fuchs the book is a wide-ranging examination of the topic.

Including a new interview with Edward S. Herman before his passing in 2017 the book reassesses the model’s strengths and relative limitations, offers applications to the internet and world of digital media, to sport and screen entertainment in addition to which presents specific case studies on topics as diverse as the 2008 financial crisis and austerity in Britain, Cuba and the use of nuclear weapons. It suggests that there may be a case for considering new filters and outlines reasons for the model’s continuing explanatory power.

In 2009 Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture analysed the PM after 20 years.

Much has changed but has much also stayed the same?

The ruthless pursuit of online ‘likes’ gives you nothing – UWP author says.

The ruthless pursuit of online ‘likes’ gives you nothing – UWP author says.

So declares Kane X. Faucher in a new Conversation post. With social media ‘we are presented with a digital Potemkin village, a constructed sham, where sharing and being social is secondary to numerical proof of social interactions’.

The post has made its way to Australia readers via ABC and to Canada’s National Post attracting readership now upward of 20,000 views – somewhat ironically for a post that argues we should pay far less attention to automated counters.

For more on the topic and positive steps that can be taken to counteract the harmful effects of approbation markers and social media status chasing see Social Capital Online recently publishing in UWP‘s CDSMS series.