Where next in Digital culture & communication?

c20d3e7877Back from the festive Salzburg, where I co-organised the workshop of the Digital Culture and Communication section of ECREA, with the Department of Communication Studies, Center for ICT&S, University of Salzburg & partnered with the Centre for Research on Media Innovations (CeRMI) at the University of Oslo. Although initially I was sceptical about the theme Standards, Values and Disruptions, and had difficulty finding its relevance to my research, it turned out to be a good provocation – not only for me, but also for many of the participants. The workshop was a cosy two-days, with low key discussions and a few more challenging ones.

I enjoyed Helen Kennedy’s (University of Sheffield) keynote talk on Wednesday; she gave an overview of data visualisation initiatives (including hers and her colleagues’). When she mentioned interviewing people in businesses about their obsession with numbers and quantification, I couldn’t help thinking about my own auto-ethnographic experience using Fitbit – where my obsession and fetishisation of numbers and of diagrams hit an unfamiliar, to me, high. I write about this in detail in my peer-reviewed article ‘Training to self-care: Fitness tracking, biopedagogy and the healthy consumer’ (with Kate O’Riordan, under review at the moment). Helen linked numbers and quantification to proof of success; in my work, I link it to proof of my productivity, and drawing from Melissa Gregg’s key work, to a characteristic anxiety with productivity of the middle classes – particularly the academic middle class worker.

Helen also showed some examples of Stefanie Posavec’s creative work with data, which reminded me about how data means many different things to people and, like all things, they can be good, bad, ugly or beautiful.

The workshop was a good place to re-visit the scope of the Section. As Vice Chair of the Section, it was reassuring to hear the opinions of our Section members during the business meeting. It is true that social media is a thematic that pertains many ECREA sections (see for example the excellent Political Agency in the Digital Age workshop organised by the Communication & Democracy Section), and it is not a cutting edge development any more. So I agree with many who stated that the Section should maintain its cutting edge focus – currently around datafication & society – while at the same time maintaining its critical stance to all things that relate to digital culture and communication.

Looking forward to the next ECREA in Prague in November 2016!


I am excited to be presenting at the annual meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), 2015 in Denver, Colorado. I am part of an amazing panel with the title  Wearables, Self-Tracking and Quantified Selves: Embedding and Embodying Self-Tracking Technologies in Everyday Life.

My paper (co-authored with Kate O’Riordan) is called ‘Training to self-care: Fitness tracking and the knowledgeable consumer’ and is about self-tracking with the cloud-based fitness-tracking device Fitbit. Although devices such as Fitbit are at the leisure end of a health-to-leisure spectrum of medical devices, in the media the dominant frame is that they enable significant life quality changes. This paper focuses on new forms of self-training and new subjectivities relating to pedagogies of self-care with the use of wearable devices. Through a media analysis of the innovation imaginaries circulating in the media; and an analysis of the Fitbit interface, we discuss the wider context of digital health promotion, imaginaries of technoscience, and the shift from health care to health consumption.

Come if you can! Fri, November 13, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Denver Sheraton, Plaza Court 7.

Panel Abstract

The proliferation of technologies aimed at enabling self-knowledge and self-tracking – including wearable devices such as fitness trackers and mobile health and lifestyle applications – has recently attracted a great deal of both popular and scholarly attention. As a subset of the more general diffusion of mobile technologies, social media networks, widespread internet access, biotechnical developments and ‘ubiquitous computing’, this new socio-technical landscape raises new and important questions. Contexts such as workplaces, healthcare, home and social life are seemingly collapsing in their distinction from one another, and simultaneously centred (in devices) and decentred (in the cloud). Two interdisciplinary and international panels of presentations, comprising both theoretical and empirical contributions, have been organized to address some of these questions.
This first session explores the complex nature of self-tracking technologies as they are shaped by, and in turn shape, discourses of health, lifestyle, self-care and fashion. Focusing on the ways in which self-tracking technologies are embedded in everyday life practices, questions are raised about their design, promotion, governance and embodiment. Are they consumer products, medical devices or hybrids? How do they connect individuals to larger digital communities and health promotion initiatives? How do they shift normative conceptions of responsible bodies? How are assumptions about gender and age embedded in the design and promotion of devices and applications?

Expertise article published in Convergence

An article that we wrote with Caroline Bassett and Katie Howland when I was still working in the University of Sussex was published last week in http://con.sagepub.com/content/21/3/328.abstract.The article is called ‘Expertise: A report and a manifesto’ and it explores the stakes of digital transformation through a consideration of digital expertise. The article draws on empirical research undertaken in Brighton, as part of a RCUK Digital Economy Communities and Cultures Network+ project. The concept of expertise is deployed here as a heuristic for inquiry into questions of digital use.

CFP for the workshop of the Digital Culture and Communication Section in ECREA

Call for Papers: Standards, Disruptions and Values in Digital Culture and Communication

Organised by the Digital Culture and Communication Section of ECREA (DCC), and the Department of Communication Studies (ICT&S Center), University of Salzburg, 26-28 November 2015

Keynote speakers:

  • Prof Charles Ess (University of Oslo)
  • Prof Helen Kennedy (University of Sheffield)

In digital culture and communication, with the pervasiveness that characterises online media, standards and values are contested, whereas well-established paths in the production and circulation of information have been newly arranged or abandoned altogether. Technical and social standards are consistent, formal and informal norms, values or conventions of doing, operating, producing, and/or performing. As the basis of technical transmission, standards in media allow transferability and interoperability, reduce complexity, and facilitate communication across formats, platforms and boundaries. As a consequence of transformations and re-orientations that continuously happen in almost all fields of the media, new technological standards, ethical codes, narrative and visual tropes are being produced.

It is therefore crucial to critically evaluate the relationship between standards and values in their social, political, technological and creative dimensions. Who has the power to define, develop and implement standards? Which values are attached to standardisation processes in creative industries and how are they related to copyright and patents in technological development? Are peer-production, open-access publishing and free-culture movements different kinds of markets or disruptions to existing models of markets? What is the relationship between technological standardisation and cultural diversity?

This workshop aims to address such questions. We welcome papers on the following issues and topics:

– Technical and social standards in digital media: How do technical standards evolve in the media industry and how are they implemented? What kind of values shape this process? What modes of interventions exist (e.g. between players like platform operators and users?)
– Visual and narrative standards and disruptions in digital culture: How are visual standards and codes built and how do they influence the comprehension of data? How do visual media and narratives introduce new canons in forms such such as remix, memes or selfies?
– Professional and ethical standards in digital contexts: Who is responsible of implementing professional ethical standards? Are there emerging frameworks? How do ethical codes inform digital culture research? How do big data contribute or condition these developments?

Please send abstracts by May 25, 2015 to ecreadigitalculture@gmail.com
Conference website: http://dcc.icts.sbg.ac.at/   See also: http://wp.me/p2XXkX-6v

Full Call online here.

I am glad to have been elected co-chair of the Digital Culture and Communication Section in ECREA, after two years acting as Early Scholar Representative for the Section (YECREA). While I was on leave, my co-chairs have started organising the next workshop!