Creeber and Martin (2009) Digital Cultures

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Ch 1. Digital Theories

Argument – Creeber and Martin 2009 trace the history of Critical Media Studies as a precursor to the study of digital media.  They situate New Media studies within post-structuralist theories of media that emphasize multiple layers of meaning that are actively produced by users.  There is no established method or theoretical framework for studying New Media.  Rather, there are a variety of theoretical issues and methodologies that are appropriate.

Note – Good reading for students in survey course

The Traditional Study of Media

Modernist Period 1850-1970

Communication technologies spurred by the industrial revolution such as the telegraph, grammaphone, telephone, radio etc were the focus of popular discourse which typically focused on themes of science, modernity and the arc of progress.  Modernism is a revolt against this industrialized, mass culture and the modernist period is typified by abstract art and the avant-garde.  Modernists endeavor to discover truths that will lead to Utopian society (ex. anti-capitalism will save the world)

  1. The Frankfurt School (1940s) developed during WWII (when they were exiled to America) where they observed that media was a standardized product of industrialization connected to Fordist mass-production.  But instead of cars, the media produced a “culture industry.”  Frankfurt School Methodology – “Audience research carried about by The Frankfurt School was clearly part of this ‘effects’ tradition, simply aiming to validate its pessimistic claims about media indoctrination. In terms of textual analysis the school pursued a similar trajectory, critiquing the means by which mass culture disseminated the dominant ideology of the bourgeoisie. Adorno’s (1941) work on popular music, Lowenthal’s (1961) studies of popular literature and magazines and Hertog’s (1941) studies of radio soap opera, all revealed similar preoccupations with the ‘standardization’ of mass culture and the media” (pg 13).
  2. Structuralist (1950s – 1960s) – the individual is shaped by sociological, psychological and linguistic structures over which they have little control.  Semiotics (Barthes) focuses on reading texts by decoding the signs that were manipulating the audience.  Particular social groups construct reality and those realities are privileged over others.  The audience is powerless against mass culture.  McLuhan’s early work The Mechanical Bride (1951) falls within this framework.

Postmodernist Period (1960s-today)

Post modernism developed as society shifted from an industrial, Fordist economy to white collar, information-based economy.  In this model “consumption and leisure now determine our experiences rather than work and production.”  Post-modernists see audiences as active in producing meaning and therefore there is no singular universal truth and no point searching for the grand narrative that will create a Utopian society.

  1. Post-structuralist (1970s) – Less deterministic and excitement for media (McLuhan).  Althusser and Gramsci theorized that ideology is more complex than the Modernists thought and there than can be polysemic/multiple meanings to texts.  Thus, meaning is always situated and contextual and the audience even has power and is able to resist.  Hall (1973) places the emphasis not on the encoder (media producers) but on the decoder (audiences).  Uses and Gratifications research seeks to understand how audiences produce their own meaning.

The Study of New Media (1990s-present)

A theoretical approach to New Media must be sophisticated enough to capture both the positive and negative aspects.  The field is so complex that there may never be a methodological and theoretical approach that will be regarded as definitive.

Positives – emphasis on audience participation, creative involvement and democracy.  Active, participatory audiences use new media to create their own identities and their own realities.  Users (fans) select, generate an disseminate their own content and give others license to reuse and remix.  Manovich points out that we need a new theory to understand this new relationship between media and audiences.  There is a focus on increased democratization compared to old media.  Citizen journalism allows audiences to become producers however due to the digital divide, some citizens have more power than others.

NegativesDigital Divide (mentioned above). Consumerism – Corporations still have greater power than citizens (Jenkins), the illusion of choice limits real choice; reducing everything to exactly the same commodified product.  Globalization actually decreases local and cultural difference and reduces everything to the same McDonaldized product (Ritzer 2000). Collapse of the public and private spheres where employers can access everything their employees do online.  The internet can be seen as a dangerous unregulated medium that gives a voices to extremists views (Jodi Dean) and human relationships are shallow and superficial (Turkle, Nicholas Carr).

Ch 7. Participatory Culture

Convergence – not related to the delivery technology.  Convergence is a paradigm shift.  Content is not tied to one medium but flows across many mediums.  These systems are independent and content, texts and audiences can be added and accessed from any point in the system.

Ch 8.  The Digital Divide

Digital Democracy – the use of digital and mobile devices to access and contribute to a “democratic” digital public sphere.  The concept of the public sphere was identified by Habermas (1989) who observed that newspapers allowed the general public to gather together in coffee houses to read, discuss and rationally debate news, politics, and economic matters.  This public sphere is more democratic because it created a space for citizens – regardless of class – to contribute to political and economic matters.  However democratic aspects of Habermas’ concept has been critiqued since the public sphere generally excluded women and the working class and solidified/promoted bourgeois interests.  Nancy Fraser suggests that there were actually multiple alternative public spheres in operation at the same time.

Is the Internet an ideal public sphere?  Not everyone can participate due to censorship and lack of access, but the internet is a relatively open public forum where practically anyone cay say practically anything.  While analogue media are one-way, top-down locked-in mediums, the Internet is lateral and users can share, remake, respond and otherwise interact with texts.

Critiques of “digital democracy” – 1). Convergence leads to a concentration of ownership and power is still held by the priviledged which reinforces ruling ideology instead of promoting new ideas.

2). The digital divide –  characterized by “social exclusion due to poverty, prohibitive costs of cutting-edge technologies, shrinking public and individual access due to corporate profiteering, counter surveillance technologies, poor connectivity, poor technologies, lack of relevant content, technophobia, commercial intrusions like pop-up adverts and virus attacks.”

Ch 9. After New Media

Technology impacts the human experience: “what we do with media and what it does to us is an essential part of understanding the human condition.”





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