LSE Media and Communications at 10

Storify for the Media and Communications Department's Tenth Anniversary conference which focuses on "New Trajectories in Media and Communications Research"

  1. Still a couple of days of to go, but everyone seems quite excited!
  2. Apologies, have been having wifi problems today, but able to copy and paste some notes from this morning.

    So not quite such a liveblog now. But I have added lots of things from other people over the course of the day. As ever, any misquotes are entirely my fault.
  3. Introductions

    Charlie Beckett, Head of Department

    Roger Silverstone's legacy is about adding an ethical dimension, as well as engaging with the real world. It has been a dizzying decade of media change. If you think about what we know and how we know about events in Turkey and Iran, it is impossible to think of it without the idea of mediation.

    Craig Calhoun, Director of the LSE

    The study of media and communications started in many different fields. So this is a really exciting field for seeing something new created. This is a relatively young department, but extraordinarily productive.
  4. Panel 1: Mediated public spheres: new publics in the age of austerity

    Craig Calhoun, Director of the LSE

    Mediation comes in many forms. Much of the work we do is selective. We might start with language. It is easy to forget face-to-face, when we focus on global communication. Public spheres are organised in terms of language, so we tend to forget non-English spaces. Forgetting is important because we tend to equate the public spheres we have access to, and equate it with the public. But this creates exclusivity.

    Excitement about new media should not blind us to the idea that new media is stratified. Mediation comes in non-linguistic forms ie. money. Money is a medium of communication.

    Meditation segments as well as connects. We are apt to focus on the latter, but we also need to recognise the segmenting capacity.

    It is important to think about other uses for technologies. Surveillance for example needs to be considered hand-in-hand with the development of new media public spheres. We leave traces that create non-direct links. For example, the forwarded email. Relationships can be formed without our knowledge. We also have indirect relationships through markets and bureaucracies. Big data will be put to many uses, creating relationships through the data, not necessarily linked to the original purpose of the mediation.

    The term public and public spheres has become imprecise. In French, it is a public space when translates from Habermas. The English public sphere implies a level of wholeness. Publics are first and foremost a form of connectivity among strangers. Space and a sense of participation is important. Performance as much as communication is important. Anonymity is also important.

    In contemporary Europe, publics have engaged have been national publics. The narrative of integration has shifted to a set of national stories. To is part of a self-fulfilling crisis, which will weaken the larger European project or the development of a more top-down project.

    In authoritarian countries, a subset of people claim to represent “the people” through the capture of space. The existence of public spaces is central to this type of protest. This is the long-term product of the struggle for public space going back centuries. We should not take that for granted.
  5. [By coincidence, at this point Craig's argument made me think of this article in the Guardian recently].
  6. Publics are both open and exclusive by their nature.

     

    New publics are not all spatial. New publics online go on locally, nationally and internationally. But it may be mobilisation and not organisation. It is much harder to get people to engage for a long period of time. Another basic feature of the European crisis is that despite its scale, there is no oppositional movement of any kind posing a threat to government.

     

    Mediated public spheres are thus tremendous power of connection, some level of exclusivity, good for short term mobilisation, and creator of illusions.

  7. Bart Cammaerts, Director of Media and Comms PhD Programme

    Turkish and G8 protests were framed very differently. The London protesters were portrayed as a anarchists, while in Turkey protesters were portrayed as fighting for secularism.

     

    So how is dissent portrayed in liberal democracies? News production is ideological, with it commonly being argued that news media leans towards capitalism and the status quo.

     

    Protesters are required to provide spectacle to get media coverage, and is part of a radical struggle for visibility. Data from the student protests suggests that violent protest gets more coverage.

     

    The media constructs a division between the “good” protester and the “bad” protester. These are binary alternatives.

     

    At the instrumental level, we find that the Internet can be used to distribute counter-hegemonic information. The Internet also allows for coordination during protest. Memification is the circulation of content online, giving it iconic status.

     

    We tend to look at the Internet through the prism of agency, rather than structure. But actually it is a dialectic of the two.

     

    The Internet is not a secure environment for organising political action. Total surveillance has now been adopted.

     

    An over-emphasis on the symbolic might lead to the false belief that this is success, rather than the actual effects they do or do not lead to. What remain invisible though are the publics that activists protesters claim to represent.

     

    Neo-liberal hegemony relies on making its own ideology disappear. Ideology has become a derogatory term.

     

    Neither Public sphere theory nor radical democratic theory have the answers for these issues. The focus on consensus in public sphere theory might aid neo-liberalism, while the focus on conflict in radical democratic theory does not render the invisible visible.

     

    If young people need to use violent symbolic protest to make their voices heard, then something is really wrong.


  8. Natalie Fenton, Professor and joint Head of Department of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths

    The problem of politics and the dream of democracy. On the Internet, these issues are invariably unaddressed. Is there a new meaning to being political?

     

    But what is politics in the age of austerity? In the UK six million older people are living in fuel poverty (ie. more than 10 per cent of their annual income); £14 billion bonuses paid to bankers; an Oxfam report showing that there are Dickensian levels of inequality.

     

    The glorious promises of liberal democracy has morphed into the agony of neo-liberalism.

     

    Global economic performance in the past 30 years has been pretty poor, compared to the 1945-1979 period. But the world has been convinced that there is only one viable political / economic system available. There is an ever increasing attempt to de-privatise everything.

     

    Most of the economic changes of the past thirty years make sense politically rather than economically. This is a change in the contemporary spirit of capitalism, by co-opting many of the critiques thrown at it. The new lefts desire for autonomy is co-opted into neo-liberal capitalism.

     

    Benkler (2006) argues that citizens can create online, changing the nature of democracy. But this is about autonomy, not collectivity. Castells talks about creative autonomy. Self-generated autonomy can create new politics, based on self-constituted, non-hierarchical groupings.

     

    We should not overlook the problems that raise crucial questions about how effective these new forms will be on creating new politics.

    But we need to remember that most people still get their news from the television. The Internet is largely fed by traditional media.

     

    We are told the Internet creates pluralism, bringing about democratic freedom. Lance Bennett's work is very instructive, as he argues that connective rather than collective action. Indeed, we might argue tht writing on the Internet offers an ideological shell.

     

    Horizontalism is a value embedded in the value system of Internet campaigning. But how scalable is it? Media theorists need to tackle the political. But politics is messy. Principles can backfire and have in unintended consequences. Politics needs to be reconsidered in a more critical way. Who are the political actors in a mediated age? How are our basic forms changing?

     

    Internet optimism might mean we don't face the real situation we are in.


Read next page