A nice article in the Journal of Politics by John Gerring, Strom Thacker and Rodrigo Alfaro reminds us of the value of looking at phenomena over time to gauge their effects. In the article “Democracy and Human Development” they test the controversial proposition that democratic states produce beneficial social outcomes for its citizens. Using infant mortality as a key measure and a 21 point scale that looks at features like checks and balances, the selection of an executive, etc., they find that year to year democratization matters little, but over time democratization is significantly associated with low infant mortality. Here’s a key passage:

Contrary to much recent work, this article argues that there is no strong or robust relationship between a country’s current regime type and its subsequent human development, as measured by infant mortality rates. In this respect, we agree with recent critiques of the received view (Gauri and Khaleghian 2002; McGuire 2004; Ross 2006; Shandra et al. 2004). However, we argue that a robust causal relationship does appear if democracy is considered as a long-run, historical phenomenon.

I like this research because it points to the limits of “snapshot” cross sectional data analysis. If we look at democratization at a point in time, its effects are bound to be constrained by what preceded it. However, if looked at more completely across time, it’s cumulative effect on a society is more likely to come into focus.


Democracy and Human Development

John Gerring,
Strom C. Thacker
and Rodrigo Alfaro (2012).

The Journal of Politics, “>Volume 74,
Issue 01, January 2012 pp 1-17

Kay Burley of SkyNews-UK, from NowMagazine UK

Crossposted on rhizomicon

More kerfuffle from the UK that’s spreading like wildfire on social media. The current top UK trending topic is “sack Kay Burley”, stemming from viewers wanting the Sky News journalist fired after a hostile interview with a protester. Here’s a video of the interview {apologies for the sound quality, the volume does goes up}::

Burley’s tactics make her appear bullying and clearly not impartial. She also has very flawed logic, but the facts and being knowledgeable aren’t her strong suit as she mistook Joe Biden’s Ash Wednesday ashes on his forehead for a bruise. She later apologized. So, Kay appears to be opinionated, a loudmouth, and not too bright—I think she’s angling for a career in American cable infotainment.

Burley is being obtuse on purpose in order to make her point. The protests are about the “first-past-the-post” or winner-take-all method of tabulating seats in Parliament, which has resulted in the current hung Parliament. Kay doesn’t see any point in that as it a fait accompli and that the current party negotiations are democracy in action. She asserts that the people chose a hung Parliament, while the protesters are complaining that the hung Parliament is a product of a “broken” system.

Given social media, the news of this spread virally and the video footage of her exchange was put on YouTube {above}. Adding fuel to the fire, hecklers are interrupting her interviews with chants of “sack Kay Burley, watch the BBC” and this is now making the rounds on YouTube, as part of the “sack Kay Burley” meme.

Ah, a facepalm moment, UK-style.

Song:: Elvis Costello and the Attractions-‘Lipstick Vogue’

Twitterversion:: “Sack Kay Burley” meme goes viral.@skynews journalist hostile towards protester, gets social media backlash.#ThickCulture @Prof_K

Screencap/Vidcap of BBC Website

The BBC just announced a hung Parliament, as the Conservatives with a plurality of seats are mathematically eliminated from obtaining a majority with 35 seats to declare. The last time this occurred was 1974. Let the party negotiations begin. Lib-Lab coalition likely to be negotiated and will Clegg’s Lib Dems push for parliamentary reform to do away with first-past-the-post {winner take all in a constituency}. While some say a “coalition of losers” won’t have legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate, Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman says the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown is constitutionally obligated to try to form a government.

Live coverage from BBC News is available here.

Song:: Killing Joke-‘Democracy’

Twitterversion:: BBC calls a hung Parliament, as Tories w/ an expected plurality of seats will be short of majority of 326. #ThickCulture @Prof_K

“There is ONE medium.”

Will that be the forthcoming declarative utterance to end all utterances?  If so, let me be one of the first few to coin it.

There has been a lot of buzz on web versus print with Clay Shirky  (Shoutout to Temporaryversion) discussing the business implications of old models struggling to deal with new ones.  (Here’s an example by Shirky on why newspapers cannot adopt a iTunes-like model).  I see one of the key challenges as culture, in that (North)American culture is one of what I call “quick cuts and remix.”  You see this in talk of convergence culture and Jenkins’s book, which describes instances of the modalities and materialities (Pfeiffer) of media combining.  We see in our everyday lives the Internet is taking over TV viewing time and also offering up viewing of broadcast TV/radio shows.  We can read books online or on handheld devices like Kindle hooked to databases.  Advertising and product placement are becoming more and more ubiquitous, so that this will be not so far-fetched.  [ThickCulture is brought to you by Contexts.  Cutting-edge content provided free of charge by the American Sociological Association]

We “scan” and read “at” things.  If we (or our attention spans) are pinched for time, we get information by reading the Yahoo headlines, not the article.  We are promiscuous in our media habits and don’t want to pay for things we don’t feel we should pay for.

Enter Walter Benjamin & Roger Chartier.  Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction   (full text here) in my opinion is central to understanding what’s going on.  If we look at media content as “art,” a pattern emerges:

“An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics.”

Two things.  I think that content isn’t emancipated from ritual, but rather that new rituals and culturally-driven patterns of praxis (i.e., drivers of meaning) are created, often in unpredictable ways.  Media content can now be taken and repurposed.  The mashup is a perfect example, along with user-driven meanings in Web 2.0.  The reference to politics as a basis is a nod to Benjamin’s Marxism.  I believe that media content and art now are squarely in the realm, not of politics, but of the political economy, specifically in terms of inter/actions in markets.  

Roger Chartier in The Order of Books notes that in studying print capitalism, in order to understand it within a cultural context, we need to address (1) the text (content), (2) the book (media), and (3) reading practices.  There has been a lot of attention on the first two, but less solid understanding on the reading of media.  What Jenkins teaches us through his thick description of the current media milieu is that the lines between media are blurring.  We see it in the modes and materialities, but also in the economics.  I feel we are moving towards a singularity of media.  For example, some will say print and broadcast TV are both dead, as both will soon be killed by the web.  That’s the wrong way of thinking.  This assumes a linearity akin to upshifting a manual transmission.

"Valentine: Lindsay's Adventures in Wonderland" (2007) --14
"Valentine: Lindsay's Adventures in Wonderland" (2007) --14

In terms of media praxis, success will often be about creating models of how media can be intertwined to create value.  Take any pop culture figure, such as Lindsay Lohan.  She’s in film, she’s a singer, a celebrity newsmaker and tabloid fodder, and the butt of the satirists’ joke (see left).  The Internet is moving towards collapsing all paths to Lindsay into a single LindsayÜberstraße, a vertitable autobahn of linked Web 2.0 content.

I think it is telling that the Journalism School at CUNY, which is earning a reputation for being on the leading edge, is no longer requiring students to commit to a media track.  Additionally, with integrated market communications (IMC), there will be increasing market-based pressures to view media as one.  A future post will grapple with the Deleuzean idea of singularity and how it applies to media.  I think we need to address how people are “reading” all media in this Web 2.0 age.  Why?  We finally might get a handle on figuring out how the new technologies will specifically transform culture, economics, and society.

Is print dead?  What about the demise of the Fourth estate, perhaps a linchpin of democracy?  Well, someone else said this, not me, but I’m more interested in good journalism than newspapers.  The problem is that newspapers and the  news media are often tied to economic imperatives, which is (in my opinion) a historical trajectory that is by no means set.  We need to think about content in the age of infinite replication, which makes Benjamin such an important figure.

My friend Mimi Zeiger at Loudpaper blogged about the state of print.  I think it’s important to think about the implications of the functions of journalism and publishing and how these will be manifested, as media goes singular.  I personally feel a certain fondness for actual printed work.  It may have more to do with the specific æsthetics of the medium than anything and possibly the tactile experience.

  • Do you think it’s useful to think of media as singular?
  • What is the future of print?

For those who feel they have something important to say, I’ll leave you with the following, a portrait of Miranda July.

"Portrait of Miranda July" (2008) Ed Templeton

Christian Welzel and Ronald Ingelhart have a provocatively titled article in the newest edition of the Journal of Democracy called The Role of Ordinary People in Democratization. Breifly, they argue that an emphasis on human development plays a larger role in democratization when you construct “democratic” as more than simply having free and fair elections (electoral democracy). They find that that when you construct democracy as “effective,” which they define as: preserving human rights/civil liberties while being anti-corrupt in addition to free and fair elections, the role of “ordinary people” matters. Here’s a key quote from their article:

Thus, the HDI (human development index) explains fully 60 percent of the variation in effective democracy. In other words, the HDI explains almost twice as much of the variance in effective democracy as it does in electoral democracy.

The upshot of this finding is that we need to figure out how you move from encouraging formal democracy (open electoral processes) to helping build political cultures of engaged, active citizens that expect and demand an active role in decision-making.