Reframing Media/Cultural Studies, University of Westminster, 19-20 June

This was originally posted on the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research blog.

On 19 and 20 June I attended the Reframing Media/Cultural Studies in the Age of the Global Crisis conference at the University of Westminster. It was held by the university’s Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI) in partnership with Fluminense Federal University in Brazil.

The conference included a lot of high profile speakers from the field including Dave Morley, David Gauntlett and Paddy Scannell, who told me this is the first time he has attended a UK conference in nine years, because he currently works at the University of Michigan.

It was Paddy who began the first plenary, which set the tone for the rest of the conference. The panel laid out the state of media and cultural studies at the moment, and he commented that the field is trapped in ‘presentism’ and that history needs to be considered in current media and cultural studies. This was echoed by Dave Morley who added Eurocentrism, media centrism and technological determinism to the list of ‘isms’ media studies is currently trapped in. Annabelle Sreberny from SOAS, University of London mentioned a need to reassemble ourselves in order to deal with the complexity of modern times, through embracing interdisciplinary approaches. David Gauntlett agreed a non media-centric media studies is required, and argued that his focus on making things is one approach, and he also mentioned Nick Couldry’s focus on practices (which he talked about at Kings College London last week) as another possible approach, among others. It was a thought provoking panel which asked some important questions.

Many of the other panel sessions applied theory to modern technological and social conditions, such as Heidi Herzogenrath-Amelung’s use of Heidegger’s ideas of a rationalised approach to being-in-the-world to characterise technology and ICT as a mode of revealing reality. Federica Frabetti talked about software theory as an attempt to shed light on culture and philosophy, claiming that software can be constitutive of our consciousness. The second plenary offered a break from theory to talk about the global crisis. Jeremy Gilbert argued that we have always been living through a crisis, but that we need to understand the role of digital media in contemporary capitalism. For example, how corporations are capturing co-creative practices and commodifying them, and where precarity and hypermobility spur from and are increasingly signs of capitalism itself. A lot of what Jeremy says resonates with what I’m looking at in my own work about social media, expertise and creative work. Neoliberalism was talked about a lot throughout this panel, and the conference.

The plenary on the second day talked about ‘new/old theory in media/cultural studies’ and included input from Christian Fuchs, whose work I have drawn upon a lot in relation to social media and laboutr. He described a need for critical social media studies that includes a consideration of the economy. Much of what he talked about is in his recent book Culture and Economy in the age of social media, including his application of Raymond Williams’ cultural materialist approach to understanding social media. I’m still not entirely sure about this approach for my own work, but Christian does provide much needed insights into social media as situated within the wider cultural and economic context.

My own presentation went well and I received very helpful feedback, particularly regarding consideration of the audience and their reception of the performance of expertise on social media, and also considerations of power, which is what I am currently thinking about. The final plenary, about internationalising media/cultural studies, brought many interesting perspectives from speakers around the world. Jaeho Kang talked about area studies and national identity in Korea, and argued that Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ requires further interrogation rather than being dismissed as technological determinism. He said that instead, the medium is the methodologywhich is exactly how i’m approaching social media – I see it as a medium or close analysis, rather than a source of data.

On the whole, this conference was very interesting and inspiring, and has prompted me to think more about theory for my research.

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About Karen Patel

PhD candidate in social media and cultural work at Birmingham City University.
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