theorizing the web

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). See the conference website for information as well as event registration.

Last year, at the inaugural Theorizing the Web Conference many of the presentations and indeed conversations outside of the formal panels centered on attempting to understand the role of social media in political movements. Understandably many of these discussions were heavily informed by the events surrounding, for lack of a better term, “the Arab Spring.”

A year later criticism about the role of social media in political protests has matured, for the most part the conversation has moved beyond the reductive and simplistic, “Twitter and Facebook caused the revolution vs. Social Media was the least interesting thing” polarity, instead crystalizing on a more nuanced approach. While scholars have more or less come to terms with the notion that social media can play a role in social protest, contributing to a media ecology which empowers revolutionaries in a way not possible during prior struggles, the ensuing struggle has raised questions about the role social media can play in establishing a new power structure (not just in overthrowing an existing one). In short social media might be good for revolutions, but is it good for democracies?

Indeed a year out critics are now pointing out that the social media enabled protests in Egypt have yet to yield a stable democracy. And in another example critics are also quick to claim that while social media helped to drive the Occupy Protests, the digital network has not been as useful in helping the Occupy Movement produce any substantial policy change.

This session seeks to address these questions, examining the effects of social media on re-building power after a revolution, asking not only what effect has it had, but how might social media technologies be engineered to help with the moments after the revolt.

Panelists after the jump: more...

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). See the conference website for information as well as event registration. To the questions posed in the title of the panel “Whose Knowledge?  Whose Web?”, the answer has too often, and too simplistically, been “everyone’s.”  Among Web 2.0’s most strident enthusiasts, the rise of user-generated content is heralded as the reclaiming of knowledge production from entrenched institutions, allowing a brave new world of pluralist democracy to find expression online.  These digital evangelists speak of the emancipatory promise of the Internet in language usually reserved for that of markets.  In both cases, the prescription is the same: progress is a matter of access.  Hence, the “digital divide” has become a discussion about disparities in connectivity rather than one about the expressions and reproductions of social inequalities online.

This panel, featuring work by Emily Lawrence, Piergiorgio Degli Esposti & Roberta Paltrinieri, Andrew Famiglietti, and Martin Irvine*, problematizes the rosy picture of a digital public sphere in two critical ways.  The first problem is empirical: as Web 2.0 enters its second decade, how does its track record compare to its promise of producing pluralist knowledges?  The second is theoretical: are offline social inequalities merely mapped onto new digital platforms, or do social formations in digital space create new forms of discrimination?  Papers in this session examine how publics are formed online and what are their affinities, criteria for belonging, and methods of exclusivity.

Join us this Saturday at 2:30-4:00 for discussion—come as meat to Room B of the Theorizing the Web conference or watch via livestream and tweet your questions.

*Note: Due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict, Martin Irvine will not be able to attend the conference.

[Paper titles and abstracts after the jump.] more...

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). See the conference website for information as well as event registration.

Experiencing global events through social media has become increasingly common. For those in the West, the uprisings over the past few years in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere were especially striking because social media filled an information void created by the lack of traditional journalists to cover the dramatic events. By simply following a hashtag on Twitter, we tuned into those on the scene, shouting messages of revolution, hope, despair, carnage, persistence, misinformation, debate, sadness, terror, shock, togetherness; text and photos bring us seemingly closer to the events themselves.

But of course the Twitter medium is not neutral. It has shaped what we see and what we do not. Where is the truth in all of this? The intersection of knowledge, power, struggle and the radically new and transformative power of social media begs for intense theorizing. How we conceptualize, understand, define and talk about this new reality lays the path forward to better utilizing social media for journalistic and political purposes.

This is why the keynote for Theorizing the Web 2012 conference (College Park, MD, April 14th) features Andy Carvin (NPR News) and Zeynep Tufekci (UNC) in conversation. Carvin (@acarvin) has become well known for his innovative use of Twitter as a journalistic tool. Tufekci (@techsoc) has emerged as one of the strongest academic voices on social movements and social media and brings a theoretical lens to help us understand this new reality. Together, insights will be made that have impact beyond just journalism but to all researchers of technology as well as those outside of academic circles.

Who is Andy Carvin; and What Do We Call Him?

Without a deep background in professional journalism, Carvin’s actual title at NPR is “Senior Strategist.” However,  more...

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). See the conference website for information as well as event registration.

Jillet Sam

The panel  “Augmented Reality: Intersecting  Atoms and Bits” promises to be challenging and intellectually stimulating. The papers in this panel seek to add theoretical sophistication to the term augmented reality, by drawing on a diverse body of theoretical and methodological approaches.

James Witte proposes a new conceptual framework for exploring augmented reality, one which incorporates the differences between the communication patterns and behavior within analog as opposed to digital channels of communication. Significantly, within this model, Witte highlights the interaction between the researcher and the researched with regard to these channels, distinguishing between analog accounts (researcher as an interacting participant) and digital accounts (researcher is not an interacting participant). Jeremy Antley, through a case study, explores the interplay between digital dualism and augmented reality. Displaying a breadth of historical contextuality that is unusual in our field, Antley explores this interplay through a historical comparative analysis of the wave of textual augmentation in Russian history. Sally Applin and Michael D Fischer offer critical analysis of the term “augmented reality”, by incisively juxtaposing digital technology with the historical context of technological innovation and its effects on “reality”. Highlighting the need for a more precise theoretical vocabulary, Applin and Fischer propose PolySocial Reality as a conceptual model that is able to represent multiple networks of interaction as layers of independent yet partially overlapping networks, rather than as an extended network. Finally, Randy Lynn critiques the reductive essentialism through which digital dualism is reproduced within the literature by placing the explanatory focus on the essential nature of the medium itself, instead of the actors, settings, cultures, and social or technical structures involved. He then proposes a common theoretical framework which is based on a synthesis of microsociological principles of the cognitive, interactionist and ethnomethodological approaches.

While offering a critical analysis of the digital dualism inherent in the existing literature, all of these papers push for an extension and clarification of the visualization of augmented reality.

[Paper titles and abstracts are after the jump.] more...

The Cyborgology blog is again sponsoring this year’s Theorizing the Web conference. Here’s the info:

On Twitter: @TtW_Conf & #TtW12.

On Facebook: Community Page & Event Page.


“Social Media and Social Movements”

Andy Carvin (NPR; @acarvin) with Zeynep Tufekci (UNC; @techsoc)

Andy Carvin & Zeynep Tufekci

Deadline for Abstracts: February 5th

Registration Opens: February 1st


The Cyborgology editors were on the radio (WYPR, Baltimore’s NPR affiliate) talking about the Theorizing the Web 2011 conference. We discuss the Twitter backchannel and the notion of an augmented conference, and how Facebook is similarly a backchannel to our Face-to-face interactions. Also, conference attendee Bonnie Stewart is mentioned!

Listen to the full audio here.

There will be a special event the evening before Theorizing the Web at the important intersection of theory and art. Admission is open to all and is free of charge.

When? This Friday, April 8th, 6:30P
Where? Irvine Contemporary Gallery, DC, 1412 14th St NW
Why? Art plays a prominent role on this blog and also with this conference. The media-prophet Marshall McLuhan argues (see 10:58 in this video) that only the artist has the “sensory awareness” to tell us what our changing world is “made of.” While many of us are not willing to go this far, it very well might be the case that artists are uniquely prepared to give insight on this new, augmented reality that social media and other new technologies are creating. In a sense, artists sometimes precede theorists and academia. And in this spirit, Theory Meets Art literally precedes Theorizing the Web.

We begin with a brief performance by ambient musician Yoko K. Then, we will screen a feature film that we feel should be centrally important for thinkers on technology, art and society. The film is a Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning documentary called We Live in Public that chronicles the story of one Josh Harris while also making important theoretical points about privacy, publicity, capitalism, identity and much more through the lens of art. For more on the film, see my review in a recent edition of Surveillance and Society. After the film, we will have a discussion on art and social media with world-renowned street artist Gaia. The night will be hosted by Dr. Martin Irvine, who is giving a talk on street art and social media on Saturday. Last, there will be a social reception at the gallery.

We are very excited to start this conference at this wonderful gallery in the heart of DC. Away from the concrete spectacle of downtown, the gallery is situated in a beautiful section of the city, a short subway ride from College Park. We encourage everyone to come to this event and begin a wonderful weekend of Theorizing the Web! more...

This is the fourth panel spotlight for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference on April 9th. I’ll have the pleasure of presiding over a panel that focuses on how mobile web platforms are augmenting the world of bricks and flesh. Much more than an ethnography of Foursquare, this panel will explore our changing relationships to space and place, and the new ways public and private spaces are opening up as a result of this new augmented reality.

Presider: david a. banks

PJ and Nathan have done an excellent job on this blog of  articulating social media’s role in times of revolution, but this panel seeks to understand social media’s roll in a variety of instances. We will explore the cultural contexts that Social Networking Services (SNS) operate within, and what this does for old and new associations with (and within) place and society. From San Francisco hipsters to Chinese political activists, and from your local Starbucks, to the Second Life, social media is changing how we interact with our cities and our fellow citizens.

If anything unites these four panelists, it is their balanced perspective on the roll of digital media. Its easy to essentialize mobile computing platforms, or mistake computer mediated communication as anti-social. Without essentializing the technology, or romanticizing the past, these authors provide a balanced critique of what is happening in our cities and online. Read the four abstracts after the break  to learn more:


Presider: PJ Rey

This is the second panel spotlight for the upcoming  Theorizing the Web conference on April 9th.  I am presiding over an open paper session whose full title is  “Poets and Scribes – Constructing Fact and Fiction on Social Media.”  The title alludes to Susan Sontag’s On Photography in which she describes the evolution of thought surrounding our relationship to that earlier medium:

The photographer was thought to be an acute but non-interfering observer—as scribe, not a poet. But as people quickly discovered that nobody takes the same picture of the same thing, the supposition that cameras furnish an impersonal objective image yielded to the fact that photographs are evidence not only of what’s there but of what an individual sees, not just a record but and evaluation of the world.  It became clear that there was not just a simple, unitary activity called seeing (recorded by, aided by cameras) but “photographic seeing,” which was both a new way for people to see and a new activity for them to perform.

The parallel between photography and social media is that both produce documents that are mediated through the situated perspective of the actor.  Media production is never passive and it is never asocial (though, of course, such actors fall on a continuum between the ideal-typical poet and scribe).  However, when we accept that media products are embedded within a system of social relations (particularly, relations of power), we implicitly accept the idea that these products inextricably contain poetic or fictitious elements—angles or interpretations that reflect the historical moment in which they were articulated. All media, including social media, are expressions of what Donna Haraway calls “situated knowledge.”

The salient difference between the poet and the scribe is that the poet is self-aware the her work is always a half-fiction.  She embraces the fact that expression is always a process of fictioning and uses it to her advantage.  On the contrary, the scribe is faced with the paradoxical task of trying to legitimate her existence by saying her work is necessary but adds nothing.  Her unwillingness to acknowledge what she brings to the product leaves her vulnerable to both marginalization and exploitation because she is blind to the unique interests of her social position and to the value that is created in offering a concrete expression of these interests. No doubt, the average Facebook user is more like a scribe than a poet, faithfully documenting the “truths” of their existence without realizing any claim to the value of the information generated.

The four papers on this panel are joined by a theme of inquiry into the active, poetic practice of mediating our online interaction and documentation.  Abstracts are presented below: more...

The Cyborgology editors are throwing a conference on April 9th called Theorizing the Web. Leading up to the event, we will occasionally highlight some of the events taking place. I will be presiding over a paper session simply titled “Cyborgology” and present the four abstracts below. As readers of this blog already know, we view cyborgology as the intersection of technology and society. We define technology more broadly than just electronics, but also to things like architecture, language, even social norms. And the four papers on the Cyborgology panel offer a broad scope of what cyborgology is and how it can be used.

First, we have David Banks’ paper titled, “Practical Cyborg Theory: Discovering a Metric for the Emancipatory Potential of Technology.” David discusses what theoretical cyborgology is and what it can do. Bonnie Stewart offers a discussion of the social-media-using-cyborg as a sort-of “branded” self in her paper, “The Branded Self: Cyborg Subjectivity in Social Media.” Bonnie pays special attention to, in true cyborgology fashion, the way in which digital and physical selves interact and blur together. Next, Michael Schandorf argues that Twitter norms are akin to the non-speech gestures we make while talking (e.g., like moving our hands). What makes his paper, titled, “Mediated Gesture of The Distributed Body,” so appropriate for the Cyborgology panel is Michael’s focus on the physically and socially embodied nature of digital communication. Even digital communication does not exist alone in cyberspace but in an “augmented reality” at the intersection of atoms and bits. Last, Stephanie Laudone’s paper, “Digital Constructions of Sexuality,” empirically describes how sexuality is both affirmed and regulated on Facebook. This, again, highlights the embodied nature of Facebook while looking at how digital space operates differently than physical space.

Find the four abstracts below. Together, they will make for an exciting panel. We invite everyone to join us at the conference in College Park, MD (just outside of Washington, D.C.) on April 9th. And let’s start the discussion before the conference in the comments section below. Thanks! more...