Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Last of May

shopwindow doll
Today is Duan Wu Jie - the Dragon Boat Festival (Penny explains). In the general absence of celebration in Nether Edge we went to see Down in the Valley at the Showroom. A strangely arresting film in which American myth confronts American reality (at least that’s how I read it). The upshot is predictably violent, but the film is not without merit. Perhaps the high points are the skilful jump cut edits and, of course the music (Mazzy Star, particularly). Also showing is Flavela Rising, but this will have to wait till next time.

Monday, May 29, 2006


In the bush

This is Lesley’s photograph of the beautiful Bird of Paradise flower – apparently South African in origin. Anyway, this is a brilliant photograph with a “Where’s Wally” dimension to it. This is probably best viewed by clicking on the photograph itself and viewing it large on my Flickr photostream! Please give it a go and let me know what you see.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


As an outsider to Japanese popular culture I’m wondering how visual-kei is positioned in relationship to kawaii culture. Kawaii (sometimes kawairashii), or “cute culture” is well-documented. In 1995, Sharon Kinsella showed how kawaii crossed many domains including handwriting, fancy goods, clothes and food. More recently there’s Hjorth’s paper on the intersection of kawaii and mobile phone culture “Textperts and other Thumbomena: Mobile phones and Japanese cute culture.” - this traces the origins of kawaii culture and shows, in a similar way to Ito’s work, what happens when new technologies adapt to local socio-cultural practices. Visual-kei seems to be drawing from a different set of influences including anglo-american popular music and traditional kabuki. It seems comparatively hard-edged - so I’m curious to know if it defines itself in opposition to kawaii?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Visual Kei

The wonderful hybrid world of Visual Kei is a paradise for commentators on popular culture. This Japanese glam-rock phenomenon is marked by lots of cross-dressing, hair dye and lurid make-up and broad range of musical styles. The visual impact, and tie-in merchandising is every bit as important as the music itself. Here’s some stuff on the influential band Kagrra and this is their official website. Dir en Grey look pretty cool too. This is Tattered Cloth – a shrine to the group. Clicking on “Soup of sexual desire” takes you to pictures of the group which show their visual look. Cross-dressed glam-punk – what do you reckon? “Sweet curry with kidney” takes you to lyrics. They’re great fun. I liked “Deity” from the album “Macabre”.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Naughty men

Delving further into the archive of English radicalism, I came across the wonderful words of the sermon that John Ball preached to the rebels on Blackheath. This was in the summer of the the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. I quote:

“From the beginning all men by nature were created alike,
and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of
naughty men”

The full text is here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Thousands of More

I had a wonderful time singing on Sunday evening, and particularly liked doing “Thousands of More” - the lyrics are here. This is one of those great traditional songs collected by the Copper family. I was attracted to the idea of happiness that isn’t dependent upon wealth, but this set me thinking about a particular strand in British culture that adopts a stoical, or even generous, acceptance of material inequality, poverty and wealth. Despite the easy appeal of David Cameron’s emphasis on general well-being, I am left feeling uneasy on two counts. One is precisely that: the complexity of the relationship between well-being and cultural capital (or cultural amnesia); the other is that Cameron is, after all, a Tory. So what of the spirit of English radicalism? Was it snuffed out in 1649 by Fairfax? Goodbye Diggers, now consigned to youthful protest (the Levellers), latter day strummers (Billy Bragg) and dewy-eyed romantics (Dick Gaughan). Writing this, I wonder about our own struggle as academics, as we attempt to claw back our status through union action. Wealth is always relative…so Thousands of More? Are we radical or just backing the wrong cause?

And finally, what about Sir Andrew Steer – outraged by gangsta rap, he wants schools to ban it. After all, he argues, teenagers are understandably drawn to the “delights of the forbidden”. So would it really be a good idea to forbid gangsta rap? Assuming that were at all possible, doesn’t it rather undermine his argument? Perhaps it would be better on the curriculum, accompanied by a regular regime of testing.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Post where you are

Street-life in Morocco. It’s not raining in Casablanca but, despite the drought here in the UK, the rain has been insistent for at least a fortnight. As in Sheffield so in Cleethorpes. Anyway, I was thinking about storing meeting notes online, discovered this (which is really just for personal use) and this which has collaborative potential. Dr Joolz who’s a digital native picked it up straight away! It's possible here to construct notes that are joint-authored. And if you're trapped in doors and that's not your bag, what better than to think about food – that’s where Hsinwei’s other blog comes in.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Citizen doll

citizen doll
OK, so it’s true, the way in which you can quickly update your webspace and publish offers all sorts of new possibilities for participatory or ‘citizen’ journalism. Instances of this have been well-documented in the blogging literature. But let’s face it, most of the time it’s more likely to be about social networking, impression formation and maintaining a narrative self. We know there are journalist blogs and that’s good, but a far greater proportion operate in a niche, serve a specific affinity, network or recycle information or opinion. The big media-players do, however, seem edgy about how new developments in the digital world could de-stabilise them and mostly this is about the threat of narrowcasting and consumer power. The rush to add new media content isn’t always such a great idea. For example, The Observer’s idea of making the video evidence of the “sex-for-asylum” available doesn’t seem to add much to the story. Do they think it is more credible as a result of this, or what? Wouldn’t it be better to provide add-on information or, where appropriate alternative voices…or interaction?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Back online

I'm back online! It was so strange to have no connection at home - I literally felt cut off (does that suggest some sort of dependency?). I called in the computer shop this morning and the guy said "Do you want the good news or the bad news?". "Well I'd like the bad news first." I replied. "There's nothing wrong with it." he said. "The good news is that we charge you £15 for checking it over." I was OK about that. He suggests my blue screen may have been caused by a device conflict. Anyway, it seemed at that point that there was no alternative but to buy a new monitor - illogical, I know, but there you go. Anyway, everything's fine and dandy now.

So my good friend, my chauffeur took me to Mr Straw’s house this afternoon. In an unlikely location on a back street in Worksop, middle class Edwardian life is perfectly preserved. The house is like a time capsule, full of the everyday life of the era from its furniture and fireplaces to its newspapers and novels. The cupboards are stuffed full of abandoned products: Cerebos Salt, Bovril in jars, tincture of iodine, Oxo tins, Lux powder and jars of preserves, goose grease and so on. Visiting the house is to fall into a vortex of abandoned ephemera through a portal of cultural archaeology headlong into starched middle class morality and petit-bourgeois aspiration. That’s before you stumble unexpectedly in the back-story that seems to hang like fog in the atmosphere of the place. William Shaw who abandoned a teaching career in London to return to that small town of his birth to keep house, to become a substitute mother, whilst his elder brother grimly maintained the family business - his brother Walter, grocer, seed merchant, blender of high quality tea. The National Trust has preserved the Straw’s house as it was found – or to be strictly accurate not quite as it was found – offering up as a result a manicured social history. An archive haunted by an uncomfortable, restless presence. To me it felt like an empty context, as if the subjects of this life drama, the Shaws had been torn away from it. Like a photographic negative of these digital spaces which are so powerfully alive and populated by the ghost-like force of their dispersed subjects.

Friday, May 19, 2006


I was posting the other night and my machine kept on crashing each time I got to the Flickr site. Nightmare! But even worse was to follow...I re-booted and got the blue screen full of error messages. I've had to take my computer in for 'them' to look at, so I'm offline at home which is a really strange experience. Anyway, I'm pleased to report the appearance of new blogs in the mean time. We have Whitney's, Penny's, Kostas's and Shirley's! Yay! What about Foster, I wonder? Anyway, I hope they all continue to post. This made me think again about blog statistics. Having already started up a few myself that didn't take off but didn't get killed off either, I wondered if the blog ranks were rather artificially swollen by those that aren't exactly active?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blogs blossom

apple blossom
...and here's another blog. This is for the Critical Literacies project, supported by ALEA and UKLA (I must say I rather like the minimal look of the design!). The project is investigating the dynamic pedagogical interactions and curriculum designs underpinning critical literacy in selected school classrooms in Australia, Britain, South Africa and the United States of America. The central research question is: "What do teachers working in different social, political and cultural contexts understand by critical literacy and how do they design and enact their curriculum and pedagogies in actual classroom situations?" Case study and collaborative practitioner inquiry methods will provide detailed close-up accounts of critical literacy as it is constructed in elementary and secondary schools in different nations. The project particularly focuses on critical literacy practices in communities in poverty, as these children are over-represented in the groups who are failed by standard approaches to school literacy. Promise to keep you posted!!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

New student blogs

Hsinwei's enthusiasm for her blog (vlog) has led her into a project which involves peer-tutoring other students on our international Masters programme. So this has resulted in new blogs from Leanne, Geraldine (who?), Yuan He and Maria - with the wonderfully-titled "A Greek in England". I wish them well and look forward to lots of new posts!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

On shoes

Ruth's shoe

This is one of my favourite photographs because I’m fascinated by the appeal of shoes. Perhaps predictably, Ruth has a wardrobe full of different styles. Whilst I’m not indifferent to the aesthetic of shoes myself, I must confess to being completely boring - not to say typically male - in my preference for functionality over style when it comes to my own footwear. Comfort and fitness for purpose are more important than the look. My Meindl Borneo boots could be classed as anti-style footwear - but they’re all-terrain and oh-so comfortable! It’s not just a simple gender thing though, men’s footwear from brothel-creepers to winkle-pickers and on to various styles and brands of trainers are important identity markers. In today’s big sporting event (the FA Cup), Liverpool’s Djibril Cisse began the match with odd-coloured boots, changing at half-time into a bright yellow pair. Wonderful! By all accounts it was a good game, but the boots and the zig-zag razor-cut hairstyle certainly do add to the spectacle.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Did you say Hasidic reggae?


1. Identity mash-up
Hasidic reggae from Matisyahu – an orthodox Jew - is a bit of a culture mash-up. The reggae rhythms are sharp, the lyrics have that authentic Old Testament ring favoured by Rastafarians, and American-born Matisyahu has a passable Jamaican accent, but does it all add up? Does it have to? The identity is full-on Orthodox Judaism, but I’m not clear after listening to the track “Jerusalem” how this aligns with Zionism (if at all).

2. Identity and Henry James
Madame Merle says “There’s no such thing as an isolated man or woman: we’re each of us made of a cluster of appurtenances. What shall we call our ‘self’? Where does it begin? Where does it end? It overflows into everything that belongs to us – and then it flows back again. I know a large part of myself is in the clothes I choose to wear. I’ve a great respect for things ! One’s self – for other people – is one’s expression of one’s self; and one’s house, one’s furniture, one’s garments, the book one reads, the company one keeps – these things are all expressive.” (The Portrait of a Lady, p.253) Well, that could almost be Ricouer!

3. YASNS database
I came across this database which provides a useful listing of social software, but was rather disappointed to find out how little useful information it can actually generate. Maybe if you log in and participate you get more out of it....(?)!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Competing for attention


Central to the attention economy is the idea that multiple media are competing for our (scarce) attention. Web 2.0 and micromedia are accelerating this trend. Bubblegen suggests : “By networking digital media, the incentives for prosumers to produce a huge plethora of forms of micromedia pop into existence; blogs, podcasts, vlogs, machinima, fan films, and cosplay are just a few examples. The relationship between technology and media relationship has undergone a phase shift: from one to one, to many to one.” Well, yes, I’m OK with this - and the sentence that concludes. But as well as this, I’m interested in juxtaposing these ideas with what it’s actually like to consume/produce in different environments. My attention rests most easily with web-based materials that hold relevance or interest - and they’re not necessarily the visually exciting or densely linked ones. But, my inability to read screen text in a sustained or detailed way continues to surprise me (I’ve posted about this before). So I’m taking an experiential approach – regularly reading (and writing) around the blogosphere, alongside reading Henry James (why James, because I recall that the entry-cost attention was pretty high) and interspersing with Helen Simpson - who has a writing style that’s really immediate. I suppose if everything’s competing for my attention, I want to understand something about the characteristics of that attention.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Metaphor shift


The idea of digital natives and immigrants evokes a world of nationhood defined by a territory to which you either belong or don’t. Similarly the notion of insiders and outsiders draws a geo-spatial map of our lifeworlds, suggesting a boundary that separates or divides. In contrast Web1.0/Web2.0 evokes the creation of a different environment or the development of new services. All these ideas seem like rather simple models of digital practice if we think instead in terms of repertoire across multiple domains of use. If we shift from a socio-political metaphor to a linguistic one perhaps we can more clearly identify how confidence, competence and fluency in a variety of digital contexts relates to emerging structures of power and status and where, and how they are contested. Questions that then arise are: What are the high status practices and who defines them? What explicit and implicit messages are communicated in education curricula and pedagogic routines? Whose practices are valued? Who are the winners …and so on. This view also helps us to show how certain practices function as identity markers, and how our digital accents are an index of our personal and social history, and how what we do digitally relates in more complex ways to other meaning-making practices in our lives.

Saturday, May 06, 2006



The man from the Strategy came to talk to our UKLA meeting in London, today. He talked about literacy teaching (a bit) - but mostly he talked about "frameworks", things being "built in", "steps", "structures" and "paths", what it was like "in the field" and so on, and it made me wonder what he thought he was constructing. Clearly he was excited about the idea of an electronic framework, yet it was difficult to see the real difference between that and a ring-binder (apart from the obvious economies of distribution) - old wine in new bottles as Colin and Michele would say. When he spoke about the renewed framework (an interesting turn of phrase) - that's the electronic one - he talked about "teachers going into it", "just clicking on", "downloading", "scrolling down now", "seeing years" and "having links". ICT, of course will be central - but what kind of technology will be used to develop what kind of literacy? That wasn't quite so clear. Will the medium be the message? It seemed to me that teachers would be subject-ed to one particular version of technoliteracy in which they would be required to passively click and download a lot (and maybe even cut and paste) but that genuine participation would be limited. What would an alternative version look like? What would a wiki literacy curriculum be, I wondered as I fought back the urge to yawn loudly?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Hot and sunny


“Begin with the weather, and then write about something interesting you’ve done.” Mrs Charlton, our infant school teacher, used to say. That’s how we were taught to begin in our half-size school diaries with their dark greeny-blue covers. A picture of the weather. A neat stylized picture, almost spoilt by colourful embellishment with crayon. The date followed by a caption (that was the easy bit). Now working out what was interesting, or worse still trying to figure out what Mrs. Charlton thought was interesting, was a different matter altogether. But still, I liked the slow passage of time in my diary – the “news book” I think it was called. The gradual accumulation of words, each pressed on to the page with my own hand. I enjoyed writing myself into existence. That like this, a slow building up of things. So in some ways this is very similar, and of course in other ways very different. I peer across the room. Kate’s started doing story. Jennifer’s testing out the ratio of comments to posts. And Dr Joolz has got real news…and here I am, writing about the weather.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dead wood

dead wood

Politics. It’s Polling Day tomorrow and the whole thing’s hotting up. Bernard Little is after my vote – I saw the posters. I thought they were promoting the Little Green Party (a small local branch?), but I read it wrong. Tony wants my vote, of course. He wrote to me this morning. The Lib Dems think they’re the only reasonable alternative. I feel it’s important to use my vote, but we don’t have a candidate for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Loony Party. What should I do?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

First quarter


I bought the Guardian today, which is a thing I rarely do these days. It’s useful for such things as finding out that the moon is in its first quarter on Friday – but as for the news, well its usually already happened - so that just leaves comment and opinion. Today William Davies is interviewed. He’s new to me. He’s a sort of neo-digital-conservative, interesting when he asks why technology…and slightly less so when he suggests “There’s greater convenience for the public at large, but not necessarily greater efficiency for society as a whole.” Then I found his moan about individualization rather tedious. We already know about the trend to networked individualism, and at the same time we know that technological determinism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but still he tries to persuade us that new technologies “enforce a quite radical individualization.” Where’s the evidence? Is listening to an iPod really radical individualization? Still at least the Guardian is pretty blog-friendly – you can hardly turn a page without some cross-media reference. Today there’s a feature on green blogging which cityhippy describes as a sort affinity space with a hierarchy (Treehugger = top blog)….or maybe it's a foodchain.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Movie stars

Last year I posted about going to see a really awful movie - "The Life Aquatic", which we thought was a complete waste time. It was written by Noah Baumbach. Standing in the queue for "The Squid and the Whale" we noticed that we were about to see another offering from the very same Baumbach. We nearly changed our mind as we bought the tickets…but were pleasantly surprised at the sensitive telling of a domestic breakdown. The gentle humour was a good counterpoint to the more emotional moments. The father figure was rather two-dimensional for my liking and there was a bit of a so-what factor to the narrative. The movie worked - not as well as Capote - but it worked. Baumbach is redeemed. Not so Roger Ebert. I checked his appalling review of the movie. Who is this airhead who writes: “I would have loved to have two writers as parents, and grow up in a bohemian family in Brooklyn, and hear dinner-table conversation about Dickens. These kids have it great. Their traumas will inspire them someday.”and then concludes that the movie is really about “how we grow up by absorbing what is useful in our parents and forgiving what is not”? Did he fall asleep during the movie - or what?