In The Mediated Construction of Social Reality, Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp take issue with the primacy of face-to-face interaction that has so often been assumed within social thought. Our embodied interaction is taken to be primary, often assumed to be unmediated, with the mediation of interaction through technology seen as additional to it. From loc 697:

Berger and Luckmann, as was common in sociology for a long time, wrote as if there is first face-to-face ‘everyday life’ and then there is a supplement: what we do, technologically, to mediate that everyday life. This was hardly true through most of human history, at least since the discovery of writing, but today it would simply be bizarre to ignore how the reality of everyday life is inseparably linked with media, when supermarket checkouts read our credit cards with our personal data, when our everyday communication happens to a high degree via mobile devices, platforms and interactive systems, and when children learn to play through the means of internet-connected tablets. Under these circumstances it makes no sense at all to think of everyday reality as a ‘pure experience’ that can be contrasted with a (somehow secondary) ‘mediated experience’. Everyday reality, from the beginning, is in many respects mediated, which means that the complex social world of interconnections constructed from everyday life’s foundations is mediatized.

Much rests on how we conceptualise face-to-face interaction. If we demarcate it as a sphere of interaction which is in some sense given, it obscures the role of media in shaping such interactions and how these interactions in turn contribute to the shaping of media. As they write on loc 632:

We cannot analyse the social world via a simple division between ‘pure’ face-to-face communication and a separate presentation of the world to us ‘through’ media. Many of the communicative practices by which we construct our social world are media-related ones. Our daily communication comprises much more than direct face-to-face communication: mediated communication –by television, phones, platforms, apps, etc. –is interwoven with our face-to-face communication in manifold ways. Our face-to-face interaction is continuously interwoven with media-related practices: while we talk to someone, we might check something on our mobile phones, get text messages, refer to various media contents.

The challenge lies in conceptualising such interweaving. If we see interaction as constituted through its mediation, it becomes difficult to unpick how particular interactions might be shaped in particular ways by particular media. This is why I think a causal powers approach to media could be so valuable, even if it’s currently rather underdeveloped. This is what I think Couldry and Hepp do, albeit using a different terminology, in their analysis of longer term processes of mediatization. Each of these four changes, discussed on loc 918, make specific claims about how the causal powers of media facilitate the emergence of new dynamics in face-to-face interaction:

But, unimaginably for Schutz or anyone writing up to the 1980s, even our mediated communication can have enhancements which make them closer in specific responses to the face-to-face communication; for instance, video calls with simultaneous text messaging and email stream, enabling two parties to share simultaneous focused attention on the same external communicative stream, that is, an email attachment or website (contrast the simple phone call). A second deepening is the embedding not just of particular communicative streams into everyday life, but of the inputs from past communications (continuous streams of information from both Mitwelt and Umwelt): think of the feedback loop that operates when, while communicating with somebody else face to face, we are also checking information on earlier interactions on our smartphone, involving other communication partners. We are involved in a ‘multi-level’ construction of the social world, acting on various ‘levels’ of communication at the same time. Third, and also unimaginable to Schutz, is the already discussed continuous availability of media as a current resource in face-to-face communication, from showing pictures on one’s digital device to the use of video even in the most intimate of settings. And fourth, we are living through an integration of all these three shifts into the habits and norms of all communicative behaviour, both face to face and mediated. Increasingly we expect that our comments and gestures can be mediated for future commentary, circulation, etc., unless, that is, we insist they should not be re-circulated (Tomlinson, 2007, pp. 94–123).

An interesting insight from This Town, by Mark Leibovich, pg 278-279. It would presumably be near impossible for a website like Politico to maintain its level of output without resorting to processes like this:

Sure enough, a few days later, Politico’s founding editor, John Harris, went on a new enterprise called “Politico TV” and revealed that that is exactly how the “stupid” story came about. “A lot of people’s stories generate from people’s rants,” Harris explained. “Alex Burns wrote up one of my rants.” Burns made some phone calls to prove—or “explore”—his boss’s premise that voters were stupid. Lo and behold, the premise came back rock solid.

This is just weird. I can only assume that the EastLovesWest company hires underpaid freelancers to produce content for their blog, who have in turn typed keywords into Google and written an article without ever clicking on any of the links:

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.28.44

It seems likely to me that this will become a more common occurrence with time. It happens in a less pronounced way in journalism, as stressed journos increasingly look to newly identifiable academics to provide quotes in advance of impending deadlines. My sense is that on such occasions, there’s very little substance to the engagement, there’s just a hole in an article which the journalist hopes an academic will fill. But the growth of content factories and vast ranks of freelance writers, with little to no commitment to professional standards, risks that academics who engage online will have what they say drawn upon in a manner up to and including complete fabrication.

A few years ago I wrote a short article about the relationship between academic blogging and journalism which received a pretty positive reaction online. My suggestion was that academic blogging increasingly constitutes a ‘third space’ between the academy and journalism which facilitates translation between the two institutional spheres. It becomes easier for journalists to find relevant academics when their research is expressed in a few blog posts as well as articles in scholarly journals. However might we increasingly see academics become journalists? Not necessarily in the sense of individual career transitions (though this does happen) but rather in a blurring of the two activities that has important consequences for those working at the intersection.

Part of me likes this: I want critical social scientists* to ‘occupy debate’ in a way that gets social scientific ideas out of the academy. However in a way it’s also rather sinister if we look at the broader transformations underway within both spheres. Is there a risk that junior academics, keen to differentiate themselves and demonstrate a capacity for impact as they strive to move beyond precarious contracts, come to be seen as a reserve army of well-educated quasi-journalists who may write badly but will work for free?

*Maybe even ones who aren’t critical, at least if they write reasonably well.

Call for Papers: Media Sociology Preconference, ASA 2014

Venue: Mills College (Oakland, CA)
Date: August 15, 2014

We invite submissions for a second preconference on media sociology to
be held at Mills College (Oakland, CA) on Friday, August 15, 2014.
(This is one day before the start of the annual meeting of the
American Sociological Association in San Francisco.) To encourage the
widest possible range of submissions, we have no pre-specified theme
again this year and invite both theoretical and empirical papers on
any topic related to media sociology. Submissions from graduate
students and junior scholars are particularly welcome.

Media sociology has long been a highly diverse field spanning many
topics, methodologies, and units of analysis. It encompasses all forms
of mass-mediated communication and expression, including news media,
entertainment media, as well as new and digital media. Outstanding
research exists within the different subfields both within and beyond
the discipline of sociology. Our aim is to create dialogue among these
disparate yet complementary traditions.

This preconference is also linked to a campaign to form a Media
Sociology section of the ASA that is theoretically and
methodologically agnostic and aims to support sociological work
related to any and all media. A petition supported by signatures from
over 200 current members was submitted to the ASA Council in November
2013, and we are optimistic that Media Sociology will become a
Section-in-Formation in 2015.

Papers may be on a variety of topics including, but not limited to:
-production processes and/or media workers
-political economy (including the role of the state and markets)
-media and the public sphere
-media content
-the Internet, social media, cellular phones, or other technology
-the digital divide
-new uses of media
-media globalization or diaspora
-media effects of media consumption
-identity, the self, and media

Invited Speakers

Last year’s inaugural preconference, held at NYU’s Institute for
Public Knowledge and Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, was very
well-attended and featured an invited keynote by Dhiraj Murthy
(Goldsmiths, University of London) and a plenary panel addressing the
theme, “Mapping the Field of Media Sociology” with additional
participants Rodney Benson (NYU), Andrea Press (University of
Virginia), Michael Schudson (Columbia University), and Eleanor
Townsley (Mount Holyoke College).

This year’s keynote speaker will be Clayton Childress (University of
Toronto – Scarborough). A special plenary session on “Media Sociology
as a Vocation” will feature a panel discussion on careers in media
sociology. We will announce further invited speakers in due course.

Submissions

Submissions should include:
-Separate cover sheet with: title, name and affiliation, and email
address of author(s).
-Abstract of 150-300 words that discusses the problem, research,
methods and relevance.
-Also include at least three descriptive keywords. Note: DO NOT put
identifying information in the body of the abstract; only on cover
sheet.
-Use Microsoft Office or PDF format.

Send abstracts to casey.brienza.1@city.ac.uk. Please write “Media
Sociology Preconference” in the subject line.

Abstract deadline is March 31, 2014.

Notification of acceptance will occur sometime in mid-April.

Contact Casey Brienza (casey.brienza.1@city.ac.uk) or Matthias Revers
(mrevers@albany.edu) for more information about the preconference.

I find it more than a little disturbing that these two explicit threats to press freedom have been issued by the government in the space of 24 hours. Note that Cameron’s statement about the Snowden leaks comes at the same time as prominent NSA loyalists are breaking ranks in America to call for a ‘total review’. Much like ‘compassionate conservatism’ and ‘vote blue, go green’, it seems that any pretence of a commitment to breaking with the creeping authoritarianism of the New Labour era has now been abandoned:

The BBC could face a cut in the TV licence fee or have to share it with other broadcasters unless it rebuilds public trust, a Tory minister has said.

Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps told the Sunday Telegraph the broadcaster must be “more transparent” and change its “culture of secrecy”.

The current £145.50 annual fee would be “too much” without reform, he said.

A BBC spokesman said transparency and freedom from political pressure were key to the BBC’s future.

Mr Shapps’ comments come after negative publicity over pay-outs to top executives and the handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Numerous allegations against Savile, who presented programmes including Jim’ll Fix It during a long career at the BBC, emerged after his death in 2011 and police have since described him as a “prolific, predatory sex offender”.

Mr Shapps also mentioned the case of former BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a series of sexual assaults on young girls.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24690002

In a statement to MPs on Monday about last week’s European summit in Brussels, where he warned of the dangers of a “lah-di-dah, airy-fairy view” about the dangers of leaks, the prime minister said his preference was to talk to newspapers rather than resort to the courts. But he said it would be difficult to avoid acting if newspapers declined to heed government advice.

The prime minister issued the warning after the Tory MP Julian Smith quoted a report in Monday’s edition of the Sun that said Britain’s intelligence agencies believe details from the NSA files leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden have hampered their work.

The Sun quoted a “top surveillance source” as saying that terrorists have “gone quiet” after the publication of details about NSA and GCHQ operations.

Cameron told MPs: “We have a free press, it’s very important the press feels it is not pre-censored from what it writes and all the rest of it.

“The approach we have taken is to try to talk to the press and explain how damaging some of these things can be and that is why the Guardian did actually destroy some of the information and disks that they have. But they’ve now gone on and printed further material which is damaging.

“I don’t want to have to use injunctions or D notices or the other tougher measures. I think it’s much better to appeal to newspapers’ sense of social responsibility. But if they don’t demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/28/david-cameron-nsa-threat-newspapers-guardian-snowden

Nick Cohen wrote a fantastic post on this last night which gets to the crux of the issue:

I don’t see how any reasonable person can argue that a British newspaper should not break a story about a foreign power spying on another foreign power, when there is no threat whatsoever that the revelation will help terrorists groups or organised crime. That criticism persists shows that the Guardian’s enemies are suffering from an advanced case of what Orwell called “transferred nationalism” : though nominally British they have transferred their loyalty to the United States, and react to any threat to American interests as if it were a threat their own.

In any case, the Guardian – for whose parent company I work, I should add – is not only bringing us foreign news. On Saturday, its correspondent James Ball answereda question that has baffled everyone who has hung around the criminal justice system: why do the police and security services refuse to present intercept evidence in court? The answer is that they feared that the public might realise the scale of state surveillance – and protest. Hence, the intelligence services lobbied furiously to hide the fact that, in their words, telecoms firms, had gone “well beyond” what they were legally required to do to help intercept communications. For good measure, GCHQ admitted in private to fearing a legal challenge under the Human Rights Act if its surveillance methods became better known.

The concerns about the failure to produce bugged evidence do not always fall within the standard arguments between liberal doves and national security hawks. Juries acquit guilty men because prosecutors cannot reveal the full case against them. In a free society spies should accept – must accept – that we need an open debate on intercept evidence involving the judiciary, the legal profession, parliament and – for we are meant to be a democracy, after all – the public. We need it even more, when, by its own admission, GCHQ may be breaking the law.

But open debates aren’t the fashion in Britain. We don’t do that kind of thing here.
Tonight, David Cameron warned the Guardian that if it did not “demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act.”

No one should have been surprised. The ground for his threat to the free press had been well manured by none other than the free press itself.

A friend of mine with time on his hands read all the comment in blogs and columns the Daily Telegraph had run on the Guardian and the security service leaks. His weary eyes surveyed 20 pieces in total. All damned the Guardian, he found. Not one defended the right of newspapers to hold the state to account, even after agents of the state went into the Guardian’s office and supervised the destruction of a computer with copies of Edward Snowden’s documents on. The idea that you defend the freedom to publish – regardless of whether you agree with what is published or not – never occurred to its writers.

The only exception in the wider Telegraph stable was Janet Daley of the Sunday Telegraph, an American expat, significantly. She described her astonishment at the unwillingness of the British to stand-up for basic liberties. “An editor of the US National Review wrote last week of those ‘who steadfastly refuse to express anxiety unless they can actually hear jackboots,’,” she said. “Note: once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.”

The editor of the Mail, meanwhile, came as close as he dared to demanding that the police arrest the editor of the Guardian. Earlier this month, Stephen Glover, his in-house columnist, reported that Oliver Robbins, Britain’s deputy national security adviser, had said that the Guardian has ‘already done real damage’ to Britain by its revelations, and that information still held by the newspaper could lead to a ‘widespread loss of life’. Suitably primed, Glover thundered:

The Guardian is being accused of putting at risk not only the lives of agents but also potentially the lives of ordinary British people, whom MI5 will now find it more difficult to protect. Divide the accusations in two, and then halve them again, and they are still mind-boggling.

This is the language of a treason trial; words that justify any action by the state to silence the journalist. The reason the Mail deploys them goes far beyond disagreements over one story. Foreigners will not understand the circular firing squad the British media have formed unless they understand that the British Right has its own version of the Marxist myth of false-consciousness.

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/nick-cohen/2013/10/british-journalists-lock-each-other-up-and-throw-away-the-key/

I find myself increasingly convinced that Owen Jones is right that British politics could get very nasty in the run up to the next election (and perhaps beyond).