Special Issue of Chinese Journal of Communication: The Platformization of
Chinese Society

Extended Abstract Submission Deadline: July 1, 2017
Full Paper Submission deadline: February 28, 2018

Guest Editors: Jeroen de Kloet, Thomas Poell, Zeng Guohua

Full text: http://jeroendekloet.nl/the-platformization-of-chinese-society/

We are currently witnessing a fast process of platformization of Chinese
society. Social media, as well as platforms for collaborative consumption,
are emerging as new power players that challenge older institutions and
disrupt economic sectors like news, hospitality, and transport. Yet, in the
light of omnipresent government regulation and intervention,
platformization presents us with a very different set of problems and
questions than in the West. In the same way, we need to critically
interrogate the seemingly ‘natural’ connection between online platforms and
‘global capitalism’, which has been theorized through the notion of
‘platform capitalism’ (Smicek, 2016). Again China presents an odd case, as
it is hard to read China as a capitalist society (Nonini, 2008). Against
this background, the aim of this special issue is to critically engage with
the platformization of China, using China as a method (cf. Chen, 2010) to
interrogate, complicate, and complement current research on the global rise
of the platform society (van Dijck & Poell 2015). We thus ask in this
special issue: what does the platform society mean for China, but also,
what does China mean for our thinking about the platform society?

This special issue aims to empirically scrutinize different platforms that
are currently popular in China. The Chinese process of platformization
appears to differ on at least three crucial dimensions with developments in
the US and Europe. First, there are vital differences in the political
economy of platforms: the ownership structure and business models of
Chinese platforms are different from those in the US. This also has
implications for the ownership of data, raising issues of surveillance,
control and marketing of data (Couldry & Hepp, 2017; Dyer-Witheford, 2014).
Second, vital differences need to be taken into account in terms of the
architectures and affordances of platforms: user and programming interfaces
(and its semiotics), algorithms (what is made visible and invisible), and
infrastructures (how are third parties plugged into the platform ecosystem)
(Hookway, 2014; McVeigh-Schultz & Baym, 2015; Plantin et al., 2016).
Finally, Chinese online platforms appear to be characterized by particular
types of user practices and cultures, which differ from those in other
parts of the worlds (Poell, de Kloet & Zeng 2014; Qiu, 2016). Given that
the societal impact of new technologies is for an important part shaped by
how these technologies are integrated in social practice, these differences
greatly matter.

The contributions we solicit for this special issue will each focus on one
specific type of platform, following a typology based on a preliminary
inventory (see below). We envision contributions that analyze a particular
platform and its role in societal relations through the three dimensions
sketched above. These contributions are expected to build on the fields of
media and cultural studies, software studies and/or platform studies, in
their investigation of one of the following types of platforms:

1.     Public social media (e.g. weibo and douban)
2.     Private social media (e.g. weixin).
3.     News and search platforms (e.g. baidu)
4.     E-commerce services (e.g. taobao)
5.     Media sharing platforms (e.g. youku and tudou)
6.     Transport platforms (e.g. taxi didi and mobike)
7.     Food services (e.g. meituan and eleme)
8.     Dating platforms (e.g. tamtam and blue’d)

Evidently, we will welcome strong paper proposals, focused other types of
platforms as well.

Timeline

1200-word extended abstracts should be submitted by mail to Jeroen de Kloet
(b.j.dekloet@uva.nl) and Thomas Poell (Poell@uva.nl) by July 1, 2017. The
abstract should articulate: 1) the issue or research question to be
discussed, 2) the methodological or critical framework used, and 3)
indicate the expected findings or conclusions. Decisions will be
communicated to the authors by July 15, 2017.

Full papers of the selected abstracts should be submitted by February 28,
2018. All submitted manuscripts will be subject to a rigorous blind
peer-review process. All accepted manuscripts will be published online
first. The planned printed publication date is an issue of CJC in 2019.

Submissions should conform to the editorial guidelines of the Chinese
Journal of Communication found at http://www.informaworld.com/cjoc under
“Instructions for Authors.”

How exciting does this look?

Call for Papers: Special Issue on Computational Propaganda and Political Big Data

We welcome manuscripts from scholars across the social and computer sciences, and are particularly interested in research from teams of authors from both domains of inquiry. Please submit your papers online to our web-based manuscript submission and peer-review at www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big<http://www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big>.

http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/2017/01/17/call-for-papers-special-issue-on-computational-propaganda-and-political-big-data/

Computational propaganda—the use of information technologies for political purposes—is on the rise. Many different kinds of political actors use a wide range of computational systems, social media platforms, and big data analytics to understand and manipulate public opinion. The political use of algorithms over platforms like Twitter and Facebook has received much journalistic attention, but it can be difficult to relate the dissemination of content over social networks to changes in public opinion or voter preference. The firms behind these platforms, however, increasingly acknowledge that politically motivated algorithms and automation can have deleterious outcomes for public life. How does big data get used for political purposes? Can the behavioural impact of politically-motivated big data manipulation be measured? How does the structure, function or affordances of computational propaganda vary across platforms, issue areas, or country cases?

This Big Data special issue on Computational Propaganda and Political Big Data, scheduled for publication in December 2017, aims to advance our understanding of how the Internet can be used to spread propaganda, engage with citizens, and influence political outcomes. We welcome submissions that utilize big data or engage with methodological, theoretical, practical, and ethical issues associated with politicized use of big data. The special issue seeks to describe and discuss:

– the effects of computational propaganda, automated social actors and bots on Internet platforms, Internet users and political processes.
– measurement of the distribution and impact of fake news;
– linking, sharing, and citation structures across large numbers of voters or supporters;
– the political economy of big data mining;
– the political inferences that can be made by reverse engineering de-personalized data, analysing relational data, or assembling shadow profiles on people not represented in political data;
– the path from exposure to computational propaganda to behavioural change;
– the use of the drones, smart city sensor networks, the Internet of Things or proprietary device networks for gathering politically valuable big data.

The editors also  seek research on the computationally creative ways of mitigating the impact of computational propaganda: alert systems for identifying algorithmically-based political manipulation or high levels of automation over device networks and social media platforms;  big data driven systems for source verification or fact checking that might raise trust in computing; ways of detecting the origins of manipulative content on massive social network platforms.

The deadline for manuscript submission is June 1, 2017. We welcome manuscripts from scholars across the social and computer sciences, and are particularly interested in research from teams of authors from both domains of inquiry. Please submit your papers online to our web-based manuscript submission and peer-review at www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big<http://www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big>.

A disturbing scenario from John Urry’s What is the Future? From loc 2996-3045:

The final scenario involves the development of the Fortress City. Rich societies break away from the poorer into fortified enclaves. Those able to live in gated and armed encampments would do so, with much privatizing of what were, in many societies, public or collective functions (Davis 2000; Graham 2011; Leichenko, Thomas, Baines 2010: 142). Outside the enclaves would be ‘wild zones’ which the powerful would pass through as fast as possible. Systems of long-range mobility would only be available for the super-rich. Bauman maintains that one key technique of power is: ‘escape, slippage, elision and avoidance, the effective rejection of any territorial confinement’ –to have the power to avoid being trapped by others, to escape into ‘sheer inaccessibility’ (2000: 11). There are many examples of such elites exiting from where obligations would be extracted. The elite, we can suggest, are increasingly ‘absentee landlords’ with potential for exit mobility, if and when the ‘going gets tough’ (Bauman 2000: 13; Urry 2014a).

This future involves ‘fortressed’ walled cities and an extensive ‘security-ization’ of populations, similar in some ways to cities in the medieval period which provided protection against raiders, invaders and diseases. Those outside the enclaves would be unable or unwilling to travel far. Long-distance travel would be risky and probably only undertaken if people or machines were armed. The rich would mainly travel in the air in armed helicopters or light aircraft, a pattern already prefigured in contemporary Sao Paulo, as noted above (Budd 2013; Cwerner 2009). Futurists Gallopin, Hammond, Raskin and Swart thus argued: ‘the elite retreat to protected enclaves, mostly in historically rich nations, but in favoured enclaves in poor nations, as well …Pollution is also exported outside the enclaves, contributing to the extreme environmental deterioration induced by the unsustainable practices of the desperately poor and by the extraction of resources for the wealthy’ (1997: 34). 

Such an energy-and knowledge-starved city would entail falling standards of living, a greater focus upon the ‘products’ of the increasingly privatized security industry, probable re-localization of mobility patterns, towns and cities built for visitors deteriorating into ghost towns, and an increasing frequency of resource-related ‘new wars’ (Kaldor, Karl, Said 2007). These would involve private mercenaries as well as statist military forces; de-professionalized armies (sometimes made up of ‘boys’); the use of cheap weapons bought through the market/ internet; an asymmetry of military force with no fixed ‘fronts’ or treaties and peace processes; the military targeting of civilians through, inter alia, suicide bombing and drone attacks; the role of warlords combining entrepreneurial and military skills; and the tendency for such wars to last interminable periods of time. Lives in the Fortress City would be conducted with the continuous spectre of warfare, the militarization of young men and the raping of women and girls as constant threats to a decent life. 

This is a ‘neo-Mediaevalist’ vision of cities of the future. As in the Middle Ages, there would be little democracy, limited state power to govern legitimately, many non-state bodies with a mix of military and ideological powers, much illegal movement of peoples across borders, various empires, many new wars and intense conflict over scarce resources. City lives would be as in Hobbes’ Leviathan: ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. Lovelock points to the ‘peaking’ of oil, gas and water, as well as ‘western life’ more generally. Shortages will make economic production and social lives more local than appeared likely during the increasingly mobile twentieth century (see Chapter 3 above).

From I Hate The Internet: A Novel pg 189-190:

Like Ray Kurzweil, who Christine identified with Dolos, the Greek spirit of trickery and guile. Ray Kurzweil was the king of technological liberation theology. Or, in other words, he was king of the most intolerable of all intolerable bullshit. He believed in a future where computers would reach a moment of technological singularity. The technological singularity was a bullshit phrase invented by the Science Fiction writer Vernor Vinge. 

The technological singularity was the name for a theoretical moment in the future when computers would achieve a critical mass of artificial intelligence and wake up and change everything. The way that computers would change everything is by emerging into consciousness and telling people like Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge that they were fucking awesome. The computers and Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge would hang out and kick back and rule the universe forever. 

This is not an exaggeration. This is what Ray Kurzweil believed. This bullshit was reported by major American media outlets. This bullshit was taken as gospel by cub reporters who did not understand regular old intelligence, let alone intelligence crafted by man. So Ray Kurzweil was the god of lies. Who would deny the puissance of a man who thought that his computer was going to wake up and hang out with him and tell him he was awesome? Everyone in Silicon Valley loved Ray Kurzweil. He was their High Priest of Intolerable Bullshit. He was the Seer of Pseudoscience. He worked for Google. He was a director of engineering.

Reluctantly cut from my digital sociology paper

Indeed, as Srnicek (2016) argues, this dynamics is integral to the nature of the platform itself, as a business model premised upon maximising opportunities for data extraction through situating itself as an intermediary between the interactions of existing actors. Each platform has an epistemic privilege in relation to the transactions taking place though it, the potential financial value of which encourages maximal data extraction from existing users and continued efforts to expand the user base. The more a platform grows, the more useful it is to its users and the greater the range and value of the data collected. The logic of platforms generates an ambition towards monopoly, which might manifest itself in a choice to pull out of areas where this seems impossible to achieve e.g. Uber in China (Stone 2017).

The explanatory challenge posed by platforms rests on the confluence of social, economic and technology factors within a rapidly changing environment, the intensification of which is being brought about in part by the platforms themselves. Srnicek’s (2016) work offers an account of how such an analysis could proceed, identifying the generic characteristics of platforms and the different forms they take. In the case of something like the ‘sharing economy’, we can see a clear business model: find a social interaction which already is or could be monetised, develop a digital platform which can be inserted as an intermediary within that interaction and rely on network develops to scale the new model in a way that will ultimately squeeze out any instances of the interaction which are unmediated or reliant on an older form of mediation. The precise character of these dynamics, as well as the changing situation of those caught up within them, is probably best pursued as a multi-disciplinary endeavour (Scholz 2016). But sociological thought offers powerful resources for making sense of the broader context within which this is taking place: how are the platforms scaling in this way? To what extent are they reliant upon declining social integration and to what extent are they contributing to it? How are social relations being transformed by increasingly large tracts of human activity being governed by the technical architecture and social imperative of large corporations based many thousands of mile away, whose local operations are concerned at most with recruiting new workers & safeguarding the platform against regulatory pushback? These questions are offered by way of example of the intellectual resources sociology offers for making sense of these changes.

 

In Solar, by Ian McEwan, we encounter the weary figure of Michael Beard, the nobel laureate and serial womaniser who has long lived off his early contribution to theoretical physics. By the time he approaches his 60s, he is a chaotic and directionless man, nonetheless ubiquitously affirmed within the academy and beyond:

He held an honorary university post in Geneva and did no teaching there, lent his name, his title, Professor Beard, Nobel laureate, to letterheads, to institutes, signed up to international ‘initiatives’, sat on a Royal Commission on science funding, spoke on the radio in layman’s terms about Einstein or photons or quantum mechanisms, helped out with grant applications, was a consultant editor on three scholarly journals, wrote peer reviews and references, took an interest in the gossip, the politics of science, the positioning, the special pleading, the terrifying nationalism, the tweaking of colossal sums out of ignorant ministers and bureaucrats for one more practical accelerator or rented instrument space on a new satellite, appeared at giant conventions in the US – eleven thousand physicists in one place! – listened to post-docs explain their research, gave with minimal variation the same series of lectures on the calculations underpinning the Beard-Einstein Conflation that had brought him his prize,awarded prizes and medals himself, accepted honorary degrees, and gave after-dinner speeches and eulogies for retiring or about-to-cremated colleagues. (pg. 14)

This is a man who enjoys celebrity, “in an inward, specialised world”, leaving him able to drift “from year to year, vaguely weary of himself, bereft of alternatives” (pg. 14). He remains blissfully ignorant of the post-docs who work with him, neither having the inclination nor the energy to learn to differentiate them. He reasons that it is “better to treat them all the same, somewhat distantly, or as if they were one person” rather than “insult one Mike by resuming a conversation that might have been with the other, or to assume that the fellow with the ponytail and glasses, Scots accent and no wrist string was unique, or was not called Mike” (pg. 20). It was only after half a dozen trips to his research centre that he realised that the same post-doc had acted as driver each time. As he awaits the end of his fifth marriage, he relies on the incoming mail to offer him escape from the peculiar turgidity that privilege has brought to his life:

After morosely clinging to stupid hopes, he began to watch the post and emails for the invitation that would take him far away from Belsize Park and shake some independent life into his sorry frame. About half a dozen a week arrived throughout the year, but so far nothing had interested him among the inducements to give lectures on the shore of a plutocratic north-Italian lake, or in an unexciting German schloss, and he felt too weak and raw to discuss the Conflation before one more colleague-crowded conference in New Delhi or Los Angeles. He had no idea what he wanted, but he thought he would know it when he saw it. (pg. 22-23).

He often felt he had “coasted all his life on an obscure young man’s work, a far cleverer and more devoted theoretical physicist than he could ever hope to be” (pg. 50). Ironically, it was this very talent and devotion which led him to become the middle man plagued by “a certain mental deficiency, an emptiness, a restless boredom” that could only be obscured “by the daily round or sleep” (pg. 49). His intellectual engagement now more often entailed flipping through the Scientific American, perpetually distracted by his “lifetime’s habit” of being “inconveniently watchful for his own name” (pg. 49).

I described myself as an ‘academic technologist’ for a number of years. During my part-time PhD, I’d drifted into a number of roles which felt connected but which were difficult to summarise: training people to use NVIVO, writing digital scholarship resources, advising on CAQDAS strategy for research projects, running workshops about social media and maintaining social media feeds. Since then I’ve ceased to use the description, in part because I got sufficiently sick of talking about NVIVO that I resolved never to approach the topic again, but also because the term didn’t really seem to have much purchase. I rarely felt people understood what I meant by it. But unlike ‘digital sociologist’, their lack of understanding wasn’t coupled with some degree of interest in finding out.

Perhaps research technologist would have been a better term. This is what Andy Tattersall uses in a thought-provoking essay at the LSE Impact Blog. He identifies a strange lacunae which has also long-fascinated me: a proliferation of digital tools emerging from outside the academy, increasing numbers of technology startups focused on the academy, strategic investment in tools and platforms by institutions but specific features of academic labour which are hindering uptake:

Whilst this work is a great help to those aware of it, the reality is a majority of academics are either unaware of or unwilling to engage with the myriad tools and technologies at their disposal (beyond social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, ResearchGate, etc.). There are several reasons for this: workload and deadline pressures; fear of technology; ethical implications around their use and their application, especially when it comes to third party software; or too much choice.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2017/03/27/following-the-success-of-the-learning-technologist-is-it-time-for-a-research-equivalent/

I’d add to this that their engagement with social networking sites is inevitably shaped by the conditions of academic labour in ways which can prove detrimental. The research technologist, on Tattersall’s account, emerges to mediate between different stakeholders in these transformations and to help academics negotiate these changes in an effective way:

But with so many tools available, how do academics navigate their way through them? How do they make the connection between technology and useful application? And who helps them charter these scary, unpredictable waters?

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2017/03/27/following-the-success-of-the-learning-technologist-is-it-time-for-a-research-equivalent/

The parallel he draws is with the learning technologist: “this group of centralised, university-educated professionals help drive teaching innovations that are underpinned by technology”. As he describes the practical activity performed in such a role:

It would support research and its dissemination in the use of video, animation, infographics, social media, online discussion, mobile device use, and social networks, to name just a few technologies. The learning technologist applies pedagogical reasoning for their technology choices, and the research equivalent would need to assess the same considerations. Not only that but good communication skills, information literacy, and an understanding of data protection, ethics, and what constitutes a good technology – and how it can be applied to a specific research setting in a sustainable and timely manner – are all essential. For example, the use of video to disseminate research around speech therapy would potentially be more useful than an infographic. In the same way, an infographic published in a blog post might be a better way of conveying the results of a public health project.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2017/03/27/following-the-success-of-the-learning-technologist-is-it-time-for-a-research-equivalent/

On this understanding, I could easily be described as a research technologist who specialised in disseminating sociology. I have a broad acquaintance with the discipline, understand its different intellectual currents and am very familiar with the sociological sensibility that unites much of them. Someone operating in this role might step in to do the dissemination work on behalf of an individual or a project. But the intellectual familiarity also facilitates their entering into the project, in a relatively narrow capacity, in order to support and guide this activity. The point is not only to undertake the activity, it’s the capacity to work with researchers as they do this and to understand the practical challenges they face over and above the technology itself:

The reason why in-house support could benefit the practice and dissemination of research is that researchers are very pressured for time, and often don’t know what they need regarding research technologies and especially dissemination. Secondly, when they do know what they want, they often need it “as soon as possible”. These two problems are more solvable within the department, especially as researchers often don’t know where to go for specific help. The research technologist would be a designated, focused role, embedded within the department. They’d be a signpost to new ways of working, problem solving and, most importantly, be able to consider all issues of ethics and/or compliance when passing on advice.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2017/03/27/following-the-success-of-the-learning-technologist-is-it-time-for-a-research-equivalent/

This involves a familiarity with the issues encountered in technology use, rather than simply the tool or platform itself. Andy’s example of guiding researchers through the experience of dealing with hostility and abuse on Twitter is an excellent example. I really like his vision of “a kind of ‘Swiss Army knife’ professional, who can exploit the burgeoning number of opportunities afforded by the many new technologies out there” but I suspect I’ll still continue to call myself a digital sociologist for the time being.

Here’s a really interesting presentation by Matthew Dovey about the emergence of this role and the purpose it serves:

From What is the Future? by John Urry, loc 2554-2570:

This car-based suburbanization is neither natural nor inevitable, and in the US partly stems from a ‘conspiracy’. Between 1927 and 1955, General Motors, Mack Manufacturing (trucks), Standard Oil (now Exxon), Philips Petroleum, Firestone Tire & Rubber and Greyhound Lines conspired to share information, investments and ‘activities’ to eliminate streetcars from American cities. They established various front companies, especially National City Lines, which during the 1930s bought up and then promptly closed at least forty-five electrified streetcar systems (Urry 2013b: ch. 5). These cities lost their streetcars and came to depend upon petrol-based cars, trucks and buses for moving about.

A really fascinating discussion between Kristi Winters and The Wooly Bumblebee (HT Philip Moriarty). The latter’s experience could be seen as a model for de-radicalisation in the more toxic spaces within social media. An important reminder that platform incentives might encourage this behaviour but they don’t necessitate it. Furthermore, just because someone has come to act a given way doesn’t mean they will always act that way.

From Making Sociology Public, by Lambros Fatsis, pg 240:

Having already introduced Cardinal Newman’s ivory tower conception of the university, and Minister Humboldt’s equally idealistic depiction of it as a hub of culture and academic freedom, Barnett’s (2013) anthology of epithets, each of which furnishes 240 a different vision of and for the university, is indicative of definitional pluralism as it is bewildering; there is the university as a feasible utopia, the entrepreneurial university, the commodified, the civic or public goods university, the accessible university, the university as a debating society, the anarchic, the borderless, the collaborative, congested, corporate, corrupt, creative, dialogic, digital, ecological, liquid, multi-nodal, performative, socialist, soulless, technologico-Benthamite, as well as the theatrical, translucent, imaginative, imagining, first class, edgeless, capitalist and even the university as fool (sic).

Alongside this admittedly fanciful parade of adjectives, as offered by Barnett (2013), stand other visions of the university as ‘global’ (Miyoshi, 1998), ‘postmodern’, ‘virtual’ (Smith and Webster, 1997), ‘enterprising’ (Williams, 2003), ‘corporate’ (Jarvis, 2001), ‘McDonaldized’ (Parker and Jary, 1995) ‘meta-entrepreneurial’ (Fuller, 2009), public (Holmwood, 2011), ‘without conditions’ (Derrida, 2002), ‘post-historical’, ‘in ruins’, conceived as a ‘community of dissensus’ (Readings, 1996), or a ‘site of activism’ (Lynch 2010), ‘in crisis’ (Scott, 1984), ‘for sale’ (Brown and Carasso, 2013), in need of ‘rescuing’ (Furlong, 2013), defined as a public agora (Nowotny et al. 2001), a cooperative (Boden, Ciancanelli, and Wright 2011, 2012), and even a ‘science park’ embedded in the life of the city (Goddard and Valance, 2013). Following this multiplicity of interpretations of what the university is, can be, may be, should be, or no longer is, reflections on its uses (what is it for) are equally varied and perplexing, making Derrida’s (2002: 213-4) overly confident view of the university as ‘autonomous, unconditionally free in its institution, in its speech, in its writing, in its thinking’ difficult to sustain pragmatically.

http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/51588/1/Fatsis%2C_Lambros.pdf

There’s a fascinating footnote in Radio Benjamin, loc 395-410, discussing Adorno’s description of Benjamin’s ideas as ‘radioactive’:

The full sentence reads, “Everything which fell under the scrutiny of his words was transformed, as though it had become radioactive,” … Although Adorno’s metaphor uses a different register of boundary crossing, the German radioaktiv, like the English radioactive, shares with Rundfunk, or radio, a connotation of atmospheric spreading, dispersal, and uncontrolled movement across and within borders and lines of containment; the airwaves, like the air or the atmosphere, represent a quasi-invisible scene or medium of transmission. While the German does not directly imply the coincidence of these two (roughly contemporary) modes of radiality, the notion of Benjamin’s gaze, and from there his work, effecting a radioactive transformation suggests the potentially dangerous, if also exciting and new, power of radio and its power to broadcast.

Radioactive ideas effect a transformation. Viral ideas simply pass through. The logic of social media platforms too easily inclines us towards a concern for virality. What we should aim for is to use their affordances to ensure radioactivity, even if this registers much less impressively on a numerical level.

Some cyber-optimists see the digitalisation of the archive as offering an endless abundance of cultural goods available to all. However this chapter takes a more gloomy view, arguing that the digitalised archive can in fact contribute in many ways to the disorientation and distraction of contemporary persons, rendering the process of ‘shaping a life’ more challenging than ever. Two often co-occurrent mechanisms are identified which generate this propensity towards distraction: the curatorial imperative and the algorithmic imperative. Through an analysis of their operation, profoundly conditioning the digital landscape within which ever increase tracts of social life are played out, this chapters maps the changing relation between personal reflexivity, collective agency and the cultural system under digital capitalism.

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-49469-2_8

Call for Proposals

BAAL Language and New Media Sig Annual Meeting

MINI-CONFERENCE

Language, New Media and Alt.Realities

April 21, 2017

University of Reading

Proposals are invited for 20 minute paper presentations as well as posters/web-based presentations addressing the theme of ‘language, new media and alt.realties’.

Possible areas of interest include:

·       New media epistemologies and ontologies

·       New media discourse and political polarisation

·       Algorithmic pragmatics and political debate

·       Authoritarian and populist discourses online

·       ‘Trolling’ as a form of political discourse

·       Agnotology (the cultural construction of ignorance)

·       The crisis of ‘expertise’

·       ‘Fake news’ and ‘clickbait’

·       Hacking and disinformation

·       Infotainment and spectacle

·       Conspiracy theories and memes

·       Journalism in the age of social media

Please send your proposals in the form of a 250-word abstract to Prof Rodney Jones, University of Reading r.h.jones@reading.ac.uk <mailto:r.h.jones@reading.ac.uk>.

Deadline for Submitting Proposals: April 5, 2017

Call for participation Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th May 2017 University of the Highlands and Islands, Inverness Campus

This two-day symposium arose out of a series of conversations and reflections on the nature of openness within Higher Education. It started with the observation that openness is increasingly seen as a technical question, whose solution lies in employing the low transaction costs associated with digital technologies with open licences to open up academic content to new groups of learners.

Where critical voices have engaged this partial reading they have often rightly critiqued the degree to which this is truly open, for example, drawing on older traditions of open to question the freedoms free content allows for those already distanced from education.

However, other questions also arise in a critical reading of open, and these include:

  • What does open mean beyond releasing content?
  • What is the role of open academics in dealing with problems ‘in the world’
  • How should staff and students become learners within community contexts, developing and negotiating the curriculum based on those contexts?
  • What would it mean for openness as a way to allow new voices into the academy, to acknowledge knowing and ways of knowing outside the academy, and where can and should our open spaces – both digital and physical – intersect?
  • If we are to advocate allowing learners’ experiences and organisations to inform the academy how open should academics be to the influence of private capital?

These are the kinds of questions, amongst others, that we want to explore in this symposium.

More Information: https://www.uhi.ac.uk/en/learning-and-teaching-academy/events/the-porous-university-2013-a-critical-exploration-of-openness-space-and-place-in-higher-education-may-2017

This New Yorker feature on Robert Mercer is a fascinating insight into what I’m come to think of as defensive elites: self-congratulatory yet paranoid billionaires who are prepared to use their wealth to stave off what they see as unwarranted social attack. The analysis offered by David Magerman, formerly a senior manager at Mercer’s hedge fund, seems particularly worrying:

Magerman told the Wall Street Journal that Mercer’s political opinions “show contempt for the social safety net that he doesn’t need, but many Americans do.” He also said that Mercer wants the U.S. government to be “shrunk down to the size of a pinhead.” Several former colleagues of Mercer’s said that his views are akin to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Magerman told me, “Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.” Magerman added, “He thinks society is upside down—that government helps the weak people get strong, and makes the strong people weak by taking their money away, through taxes.” He said that this mind-set was typical of “instant billionaires” in finance, who “have no stake in society,” unlike the industrialists of the past, who “built real things.”

Another former high-level Renaissance employee said, “Bob thinks the less government the better. He’s happy if people don’t trust the government. And if the President’s a bozo? He’s fine with that. He wants it to all fall down.”

In the excellent Lower Ed, Tressie McMillan Cottom reflects on the market-orientation of for-profit colleges, tending to seek a continual growth in student numbers. This growth imperative can manifest itself in marketing and recruitment outstripping teaching in institutional spending. From pg 20:

If budgets are moral documents, the fact that some financialized for-profit colleges reportedly spent 22.4 percent of all revenue on marketing, advertising, recruiting, and admissions staffing compared with 17.7 percent of all revenue, on instruction speaks to the morals of financialization

Since the previous Labour government kicked off the radical changes in higher education in the UK, I’ve been interested in the transformation of university marketing. The reforms created a pressure to differentiate but to what extent did that incentivise the growth of marketing and communications at the (potential) expense of investment elsewhere? I hadn’t thought about this issue for a while but it occurs to me that the extreme end of the US for-profit sector represents an exemplar of where the market logic now taking hold in the UK could lead, in so far as that linking financial performance to student numbers increases the structural importance of marketing and communication functions. How this logic plays out in practice depends on many organisational and sectoral factors which I’d like to understand better than I currently do.

How do we characterise the broader change in the sector? Cynics would see it as a distraction from the core functions of the university, with increasing resources being directed to marketing exercises with a possibly uncertain payoff in terms of recruitment. What concerns me is the competitive escalation that can arise in a (relatively) undifferentiated sector where actors compete for scarce attention: how can universities be heard above the din? One way is to accelerate the investment in marketing and communications, expanding into new arenas and further investing in staffing and systems. This is something which those staff are liable applaud, a message that might have particular force when their function is on the ascendency within the university and they can speak with authority gleamed from work outside the sector.

But others would argue that any uncertainty could be overcome by instilling a “marketing culture” in which “return on investment of each activity is carefully weighed up”. This is how Communications Management, ‘the education specialists’ report on findings of a project they were involved on:

Key findings

  • Over two-thirds (69%) of UK marketing directors have seen an increased investment in marketing over the past three years
  • Branding is often still not understood within the higher education sector
  • Modern students are ‘demanding customers’ looking for a response 24/7, meaning that a shift in marketing techniques is crucial
  • Social media must be handled in the right way to avoid “pushy communications” and encroaching on student space
  • Increase in senior strategic marketing appointments in Higher Education Institutions

However survey respondents – a third of the UK’s HE marketing directors – also stated that though budgets still rarely approach those in the private sector, they consider short term funding to be less important than moving to such a “marketing culture,” in which return on investment of each activity is carefully weighed up.

http://www.communicationsmanagement.co.uk/blog/he-marketing-has-become-more-credible/

There are many things to explore here. What particularly interests me is the role of professionalisation (within the sector) and external agencies (from outside the sector) in shaping the new common-sense concerning marketing in the digital university.

I just stumbled across an interesting report, Trends in Higher Education Marketing, Recruitment, and Technology, focusing on the United States context and would welcome any suggestions of reading that focuses more on the UK.