Friday, February 26, 2010

DIY danger

I've written about photosharing on a couple of occasions now, but I've never really addressed the issue of ethics. I suppose that's mostly because of an interest in the sharing process itself and how it fits with the more general Web 2.0 ethos, but also because it raises some thorny issues about ownership and even e-safety which aren't exactly top of my list, even though they are worthy areas of concern. But I adhere to my own ethical principles with respect to images of human subjects. I'll ask permission to use/share photographs of individuals and I've only once had an issue with that. On that occasion it was photographing a graffiti jam in Sheffield. I was taking pictures of the materials and the emerging wall art. I put these images up on Flickr, but in one of them I had inadvertantly captured the face of one of the artists. She mailed me through Flickr and politely asked me to remove the photograph because of the rather touchy legal issues. I obliged immediately and sent an apology. So, anyway, my unwritten ethical code doesn't cover inanimate objects, like the Victorian ford sign above. I've never asked a sign for permission! It never crossed my mind. But with this pic I encountered an onslaught of verbal abuse - not I hasten to add from the sign itself (roll over Saussure) but from the owner of the property whose outside wall the sign is on. 'What are you doing? What right have you got? What are you going to do with...? Let me see!' etc etc. I explained that I wasn't a spy, I meant no harm - and this is the embarrassing bit - I had to explain that I like taking photographs of signs! As often happens in such situations the social interaction surrounding the event slowly changed its tone as I learnt that the farm was continually harrassed by the local authority for allowing water and slurry on to the road and that that my photographing had been construed as an act of surveillence! And, as the day wore one, I learnt all about the farm, the ford, local history and so on. But in the end - damn it - I forgot to ask permission. Do visual researchers do sackcloth and ashes, or has the moment passed?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DIY media

Well I suppose this is DIY media - me introducing this paper on participation for students - and for that matter everyone else. It's another instance of the consumer becoming the producer on the read-write web. And in an attempt to blur boundaries just a bit more, here's Ruth's DIY media of last October/November in Paris!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Literacy in print

Here's Colin and Michele's 'DIY Media' from Peter Lang - out now! I have a chapter called 'Visual Networks' in it which explores Flickr (again!). The book looks like a great addition to the series, and to emerging work on new literacies - and I can't wait, as usual, until I get my own copy. Also just out is Debra Myhill and Ros Fisher's Special Issue of JRR 'Writing development: cognitive, sociocultural, linguistic perspectives.' It's good to have a feature on writing, but thumbing through I note a distinct absence of the digital - which is a shame, because that's where a lot of writing seems to be happening. A while back the latest RRQ dropped through my letter box. I was really impressed with 'A Review of Discourse Analysis in Literacy Research: Equitable Access', which has so many authors I'm not going to list them (sorry folks!). But it's an excellent review and I'm going to repeat myself, here, but these essay reviews are an extremely strong feature of RRQ. Long may they thrive!

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Old cars taken away from my brother’s house are material objects now emptied of their previous significance/use value and are about to become scrap. I wonder if anyone working in the field of material culture is looking at this trajectory of objects and the changing meanings that are involved as stuff becomes trash? Something about the topic reminded me of how the great Russian intellectual Bakhtin used his notes for 'The Novel of Education' as cigarette papers. The tragedy of the story is that this substantial work was lost when the publishing house was bombed. Unknowingly Bakhtin, who was heavy smoker, used his remaining notes in this way. Because of the wartime paper shortage he literally smoked his own greatest work! He began at the back, so that all that remains is the opening section on Goethe.

Friday, February 19, 2010

From down under?

It was great to listen to Barbara Comber at the University of Sheffield yesterday. Although developments in Australia with the NAPLAN testing regime and public scrutiny via myschool are not exactly what you'd calll good news, the careful and critical study of these sorts of innovations from their inception could be very productive in understanding how policy gets enacted and interpretted (and subverted and resisted). It might also open a useful space for comparison and critique. All through her talk walked the ghost of Foucault. But also the impact of a testing regime on conceptions of literacy was hauntingly familiar. Will it end up with this?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Well I finally got recognition of some of my multiple identities. How postmodern is that! So the doorplate saga rolls on, but it brought to mind all that stuff about anchored and transient identities which seemed to go down quite well. I want to revisit the ideas, particularly with respect to the data I have on teens’ online social networking. The original idea was really motivated by a need to underline the fact that whilst many were arguing for the levelling effect of the internet and suggesting that you could be who you wanted to be in an online community, the weight of one’s historical and social past is actually still present, and that performances of gender, class, and so on are still very much in evidence. Of course I was not arguing for an essentialist self, but merely suggesting that strong, structuring forces continue to exert an influence. These could be seen as discourses to which we are strongly anchored. On the other hand the kaleidoscopic identifications (often media-related) and more temporary I saw as transient identities, easier to remake and by definition easier to discard. Perhaps the division was too strongly made, because it has since become clear to me that the sort of things I referred to as transient could actually be closely related to or even expressions of anchored identities, the TV shows we like, the toys children choose, the sport we feel passionate about and so on. So I’ve shifted my ground in the direction of a particular kind of relational performativity. I particularly like Butler’s idea of interpellation but I am also still working with what the ideas of transience and anchorage might add. In the interim I’ll just mess around with doorplates.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hall of mirrors

My target for today is to write about targets. If this is successfully achieved then I can be safe in the knowledge that I have met my targets! This is the sort of hall of mirrors effect that the current fad of reducing learning to specific and achievable targets breeds. The setting and achieving of targets is foregrounded and there is little questioning of the appropriateness or the relevance of the learning itself, nor for that matter an openness to the unpredicted, incidental or otherwise unmeasurable learning that might occur. In schools children's learning (in all its vastness) is reduced to a target - a target which contributes to a sub-level - which in turn contributes to levelled progress, which somehow represents an education. I just marked a student assignment that identified a personal target of setting more targets! So a mindset is produced which is replicated with seven year olds in the school system. This has an insidious effect on literacy education when the targets themselves focus on things like knowing the difference between fiction and non-fiction, using a range of connectives in writing, and choosing more inteteresting words. Not that there is anything wrong with knowing these things of course, but the complete atomisation of lannguage, learning and literacy that can occur is a real cause for concern. I'm targetting this reductive view of learning. But I'm also interested in the provenance of 'target culture' and what the target metaphor itself invokes.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Critical media literacy

I promised a snippet from my writing on critical media literacy, so maybe this gives a sense of where I'm at .... As we move towards a reconceptualisation of literacy education there remain some important and unresolved dilemmas. The first of these concerns the various interpretations of the notion of criticality. In some ways this debate mirrors some of the complexities in critical theory and in literary criticism. We need to ask whether we want children and young people to re-discover the ideologies and biases that some adults have previously identified, whether we want them to be informed media critics, or whether we want them to be discerning consumers and producers of media. The second issue is whether or not we believe that the formal education system can be expected to bear the full responsibility of developing media literacy. Given that the major part of young people’s engagement with media is likely to take place outside of school contexts, there are good reasons to suggest that media literacy develops across a range of contexts and that parents, after-school clubs, community groups as well as producers and independent agencies have an important role to play. Thirdly, there are some contentious issues at stake in identifying what constitutes development in critical media literacy. For instance, in discussing literacy the MacArthur Report suggests that ‘Before students engage with the new participatory culture, they must be able to read and write.’ (Jenkins et al 2006b: 19). But given that young children are already immersed in media culture well before the start of their compulsory schooling there are powerful arguments to suggest that critical media literacy should be taught alongside traditional literacy. Finally, there is the question of how this kind of critical literacy can most profitably engage with some of the popular discourses about the harmful effects of media. These discourses often focus on the vulnerability of the young and the supposed dangers posed by early exposure to sex and violence; to manipulation through advertising; and to the possibility that they may become addicted to media. Although media education has contributed a degree of challenge to such views, they have re-surfaced in recent concerns about chatrooms, videogames and online social networking. An open-minded and critical approach to media regulation and safety issues will need to have a central place in critical media literacy as it responds to changing contexts. I think that's what I think.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Knowledge procured through doubt

In Galileo's last speech in Brecht's great play, he talks about the pursuit of science demanding a kind of courage: 'It deals in knowledge procured through doubt'. Well there's a distinct absence of doubt around as Krotoski strides around in her blue coat occasionally stopping to caress her Macbook. In episode two of the Digital Revolution we're treated to more of the 'triumph of freedom over control, thanks to the internet' rhetoric. Geeks show us how it's possible to get round state firewalls and we get a lot of swivelling eyeballs - for instance from an over-enthusiastic Clay Shirky (too much coffee?). But when Jeff Bezos from Amazon talks about freeing-up information, surely we must have one or two incklings of doubt. Don't get me wrong I love Amazon. I even like the way it tries to read my mind and tell me what I want to read - that's clever shopping. So Bezos runs an intelligent and very reliable bookshop that scares the hell out of traditional booksellers. If freedom is about being able to buy more or less what you want when you want it, that's OK; but I thought it was a bit more than that. For once I found myself in agreement with Andrew Kean, blogging here. The clips on Twitter in Iran and networked Climate Change camps were OK, but I want more searching analysis for my licence fee. A freedom to doubt.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Visual understanding

I was sent this YouTube link by a Twitter friend. A Ukrainian sand-artist, Kseniya Simonova. How’s that for unusual? Apart from the fact that it’s just a little bit too long, it’s pretty impressive. For me it played into that recurring debate about what the visual can and can’t do. Well for a start it’s pretty hard to work out the Ukrainian sand-artist thing without words; but then it is quite striking that as the images evolve and take shape they make a sort of narrative that holds our attention and engages us (maybe emotionally?). I suppose the meanings are quite open. The images invite us to reflect, but then they don’t direct our reflection in any way. Music and sound effects serve to thicken our interpretation of the visual. And since I’m now writing about media literacy, I started wondering about what sort of media knowledge you need to produce or consume something like this and then, to go further, what sort of reading a critical media literacy might yield. Well, I only wondered, but when I get just a little bit further on with this particular piece of writing I hope to share some of it before it reaches the full light of day.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Hypermediated selves

Upload your photo. I did. Again. And thought about how many images of me are splashed around the internet, on Flickr, my blog, my home page, allconsuming, wikispaces and so on. There's a sort of chronology, too. One of the oldest is my icon on allconsuming, taken in the Gaudi park in Barcelona on my fiftieth birthday, whereas one of the most recent was taken last year in Sheffield just below the bar in this blog. (And yes, if you're reading this through a Safari or Firefox browser you don't get my forehead; wheras if you're using Explorer you get some extra space. I blame Blogger.) I'm confronted with representations of myself on a regular basis. The headshot has become a very popular identifier. Here it is a hypermediated self located, as Bolter and Grusin would have it, in a shifting network of affiliations. Each self is differently defined, both constructing and constructed by those networked contexts in a different way. Maybe they are only tied together by a likeness. Which brings me back to the photo of my surrogate self on a skiing holiday that heads this post. Perhaps you didn't recognise me. I changed my mouth shape a bit (cosmetic surgery). I added hair (a wig). And although you can't see I went for an earpiercing (just because you could). It's one of those quirky little things you can do online. But it's interesting because it hybridises the icon-headshot and the start-from-scratch avatar - the sort of thing you develop in Second Life. I wonder if I'm any different as a hypermediated self, but I guess one of me already knows I am.