Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Academics who blog

It seems to me that there is potential in the burgeoning blogging networks for academics to reprise their roles as public intellectuals -- actually enaging in commentary and debate around key issues with people from a range of differing positions both inside and outside the academy. Bloggercon has posted an interesting discussion on this topic, led by Jay Rosen from NYU, on the impact of blogging for academic work (http://www.jzip.org/jzip/archives/001003.html). The interactive nature and open access to all-comers impacts on the kinds of discourses produced by blogs, for example: "Question: What changes for academics when they blog? What changes for universities? JR: The audience changes. Instead of student/professor, anybody can walk in".

This points to one of the clear tensions for academics and universities around blogging culture: control of information. As JR notes "Universities have always been about the control of knowledge. Blogging is almost an attack on the DNA of academia. You'll see great resistance to this". The forms this institutional resistance takes will be interesting to note. Already, employees of major corporations are sanctioned for blogging -- BBC News has reported on an airline employee suspended without pay for blogging (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3955913.stm).

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Some thoughts on risk discourses

Discourses of ‘risk’ have taken on a life of their own in contemporary culture. These discourses play a key role in repatriating the social, political and economic prioritization of modernist institutions such as nation-state and the church. Risk discourses are rampant in contemporary culture, ranging from terrorism through to juvenile crime and adolescent sexualty to the internet. These depictions are not stand-alone or disconnected from other flows. We are witnessing a case in point. The careful manipulation of this discourse of risk is evident in contemporary politics. The presidency of America’s George W. Bush and the Prime Ministerships of both Tony Blair (UK) and John Howard (Australia) have been predicated on the construction of ‘risk’. But not just any old risk. Risk has been shaded in a quite specific way in these portrayals—risk from terrorists, risk of economic instability, risk of physical harm to individuals and to property. As individuals and citizens, we are told we are all at individual risk of harm from terrorists. Australia’s entry into the Iraq War was announced in March 2003 by the incumbent Prime Minister, John Howard in a speech, which took fear and menace as its baseline:
Iraq has a long history of acting in defiance of United Nations resolutions. Iraq has chemical and biological weapons and an aspiration to acquire nuclear weapons. If Iraq does not have taken from it those chemical and biological weapons, other rogue states will think they can imitate Iraq and as more rogue states acquire chemical and biological weapons, so the danger of those weapons falling into the hands of terrorists will multiply. If terrorists acquire weapons of that kind, that would represent a clear, undeniable and lethal threat to a western nation such as Australia….We do live in a different world now, a world made more menacing in a quite frightening way by terrorism in a borderless world. And the possibility of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists and the need to take action to prevent that occurring is one of the very strong motivations for the actions that the Government has taken. (emphasis added - The Age 18 March 2004 Retrieved 27th October 2004)
Howard’s speech is laced with terms invoking fear and danger, describing a world at threat by weapons of mass destruction and rogue states. HIs use of "they" (rogue states and terrorists) and "we" (the innocents who are at risk of harm from 'they'). As a direct consequence of this sudden threat, governments must "take action" and more than this, they must take preventative action. This theme of fear and a world in turmoil runs through any number of political discourses, reaching their zenith in the 2004 US Presidential election. George Bush gave a speech in May 2004 to the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. His speech included the following:
In the last 32 months history has placed great demands on our country and events have come quickly. Americans have seen the flames of September 11, followed battles in the mountains of Afghanistan and learned new terms like orange alert and ricin and dirty bomb. We’ve seen killers at work on trains in Madrid, in a bank in Istanbul, in a synagogue in Tunis and a nightclub in Bali. And now the families of our soldiers and civilian workers pray for their sons and daughters in Mosul and Karbala and Baghdad. We did not seek this war on terror. But this is the world as we find it. We must keep our focus. We must do our duty. History is moving and it will tend toward hope or tend toward tragedy. Our terrorist enemies have a vision that guides and explains all their varied acts of murder. They seek to impose Taliban-like rule country by country across the greater Middle East. They seek the total control of every person and mind and soul. A harsh society in which women are voiceless and brutalized. They seek bases of operation to train more killers and export more violence. They commit dramatic acts of murder to shock, frighten and demoralize civilized nations, hoping we will retreat from the world and give them free reign. They seek weapons of mass destruction to impose their will through blackmail and catastrophic attacks (NY Times: Transcript From Bush Speech on American Strategy in Iraq Retrieved 27th October 2004).
Like Howard, George W. Bush’s choice of wording and positioning of himself as a wartime president weaves a fabric of fear and a vision of a rapidly destabilizing world where terrorism and violence are rife:
Our enemy
The return of tyranny
Death of democracy
Vile display
Contempt for all the rules of warfare
Bounds of civilized behaviour
Hope …or tragedy
Export more violence
Dramatic acts of murder
Demoralize civilized nations
Catastrophic attack
The political pay-offs of fear have been immense. In October 2004, the Howard government was re-elected to an historic fourth term in office. The divisive 2004 US presidential election was bitterly fought (between the Republican George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry) along lines of fear and risk, with a ‘war on terror’ and new patterns of ‘risk’ much cited. Just as these ‘new’ risks and their cause are simplistically painted in political discourses and reflected in the mass media, so are the solutions – armed force, pre-emptive defensive attacks and the reduction of individual liberties in the world’s largest democracies (e.g. The USA Patriot Act with its assault on civil liberties and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security with more than 180 000 employees making it the biggest bureaucratic institution in history). The waning of many industrial social institutions such as religion, family, gender, nation-state have left a sense of unrest that politicians have been quick to capitalize upon by attempting to rebuild modernist narratives of nation-state, strong leadership and national security. Not only is this unrest seen to come from external forces such as ‘rogue states’ and international terrorism, it also comes from within and the increasing fear of young people and the ‘Other’. This fear of the ‘Other’ can be seen in the rise of fundamentalist religions across the world, in the rise of neo-conservative political parties such as UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) and BNP (British National Party) in the United Kingdom and One Nation in Australia, in British resistance to the notion of a united Europe for fear of inundation by hordes of Eastern Europeans and in the increasingly high profile of concerns about asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in post-industrial and developing nations alike.

There are other outcomes of discourses of risk. The growth of NGOs and internet activism are also responses to perceptions of risk. Online activism –‘cyberactivism’—has become a boom industry, with large numbers of people engaging with and/or tracking local, national and global issues via weblogs and other ICTs. For example, the “Easy Online Activism” site called “Progressive Portal” (http://www.progressiveportal.org) directs viewers to information about upcoming demonstrations, posts information on a range of issues and links to a range of related information). Greenpeace, well-known for its environmental activism has embraced cyberactivism, with discussion groups, email campaigns, information and opportunities to take part in real-world action:
They go by aliases and real names: Echo. Bluplanet. Ann Novek. Tig3933.Chris99. They stop nuclear reprocessing plants, save forests and whales, hound corporations and hold the feet of bureaucrats to the fire. Who ARE these people? They're a non-violent army, a rowdy herd of mice, hundreds of thousands of web-savvy internet inhabitants who ask the question "Why just surf... when you can make waves?"

It's the Greenpeace Cyberactivist Community. On their list of targets right now is Icelandic whaling, and the topic of discussion is which of them is going to join a Greenpeace ship later this month to carry our message direct to the Icelandic government.

Numbering more than 300,000 people worldwide, our cyberspace activists hail from 228 countries and territories, including such unexpected bastions of international activism as Monaco and the Vatican. (Greenpeace, Of mice and whales, Tuesday 1 st June 2004 Available: http://www.greenpeace.org/international_en/features/
New communications technologies are a key aspect of life in Ulrich Beck’s theories of reflexive modernity, acting to both reflect and shape the practices and perceptions of individuals and groups in new and old ways. Access to information and the ability to create and distribute new forms of information to large, interactive audiences is one of the strongest and most positive responses to risk discourses we currently have.

For all the concern with digital technologies, particularly in relation to children and young people, it seem to me that the capacity to out-maneuvre institutional and mass media discourses is essential in the maintenance of strong civic societies and the encouragement of a critical citizenship. The role of digital literacies and digital technolgies is clearly going to become pivotal in the creation of skills and knowledge essential to a critical and informed citizenry. This is our ultimate goal as educators, right?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA) 2005 Research Day - Digital Literacies

The United Kingdom Literacy Association's 41st Annual Conference takes place July 8-10 in Bath. Already, a great programme is emerging which includes speakers such as Barbara Comber, Eve Gregory, Suaib Meacham and Eve Bearne.

Of particular interest to those of us researching and teaching in the field of digital literacies is the 2005 Research Day preceding the conference on the 7th July. This is titled "Digital Literacies" and will include as speakers - Mizuko Ito, Keri Facer, Carey Jewitt, Julian Sefton-Green and Valerie Walkdine. Each of these speakers is researching at the cutting edge of the implications of digital technologies for identity and literate practices. Registration and further information can be found at www.ukla.org

Looking forward to seeing you there in 2005.

Online games, digital literacy and identity

Digital texts and their particular affordances are fascinating. This is a screen capture of an online game called "Mucha Lucha" which is based on a hugely popular (but admittedly strange) Warner Brothers masked wrestling themed animation of the same name. While amusing, it is at the same time instructive of the ways in which young people can now understand themselves and their access to the world outside home, school and local community.

To play this small online game, one goes to the site, constructs a wrestler (in the same way that any avatar is constructed from a limited range of stylistic options) and then waits for someone else to enter the arena and agree to a wrestling match.

Out in the world beyond the computer screen, another person has also constructed a wrestler and chosen to enter the online wrestling arena. Although this person is anonymous and known only by their avatar and self-chosen wrestling name (i am known to my fans as "The Tick" -- a name sure to create terror in all adversaries) s/he represents a living, breathing person somewhere else in the world with which I can interact in a shared virtual space and shared enterprise. Suddenly, i am no longer limited to my loungroom or neighbourhood. I am a citizen of a wider world who shares skills, knowledge and practices with others outside my immediate sphere.

One of the consequences of the rapid shift to digital technologies has been the ways in which children and young people are increasingly able to gain access to other people across the world. Issues of time, distance and economic capacity are no longer the same kinds of limiting factors they once were. Children in Australia are able to engage with the young (and not so young) in Poland, Singapore, Ukraine, America and many places in between. This kind and speed of access was unimaginable even ten years ago.

This seemingly simple shift, represented here in this one online game, has profound implications for literacy educators, particulary those of us who work in primary and early childhood settings. Where once, childhood texts were easily monitored and regulated and interactions with those outside home and school were limited, this is no longer the case for increasing numbers of children. These children have new skill sets, new views of themselves as active participants in a range of virtual and physical social sites, and new expectations of how and why they might manipulate text. As educators, how are we to respond? The debates are ongoing.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Call for Papers - Digital Literacies

Digital technologies are increasingly of interest to those of us working in education, particulary those with an interest in young people and literacy. The journal "Discourse: Studies in the cultural politics of education" (Taylor & Francis) is publishing a special edition to foreground the best research, theoretical work and classroom practice related to digital literacies.

Here's the Call for Papers. If you're working in this area, you should consider submitting a paper. Note that the deadline for submission is the 21st December 2004.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Video Games in the Classroom?

Video/Computer games, and those who play them, are increasingly a topic of research across a range of academic fields including media studies, sociology and education. It is no longer automatically assumed that gamers are the stereotypical 80s male teenager, sitting alone in the dark. As well, it is no longer assumed that games require a limited set of hand-eye coordinations and rapid response skills. Instead, there is a rich and growing knowledge base around the complex blends of skills, knowledge and social practices involved in interactions with video/computer games. This growing awareness and interest can be seen in this online discussion run by The Chronicle.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

New textual landscapes - Victoria Carrington

In the 1950s, Harold Innes (1950, 1951) noted that changes in communicationstechnologies alter the structure of thoughts, the character of symbols and the nature of community. That is, changes in the ways in which we are able to communicateimpact what we think about, the tools we use to think, and the context in which we do this thinking, in effect changes how we see ourselves in the world and the waysin which that world operates. Importantly, Innes (1951) also described a link between the emergence of new communications technologies and the capacity forindividuals and groups to engage with and potentially reshape dominant discourses. In this chapter, I suggest that these shifts and the challenges created bythem are not the exclusive domain of adults. In fact, the more far-reaching consequences of changes in communications technologies are to be seen in theirimpact on children.


Texts and literacies of the Shi Jinrui - Victoria Carrington

In post-industrial societies saturated with the multimodal texts of consumer culture--film, computer games, interactive toys, SMS, email, the internet, television, DVDs—young people are developing literacy skills and knowledge in and for a worldsignificantly changed from that of their parents and educators. Given this context, this paper seeks to demonstrate the necessity of rethinking and extending traditionalnotions of text and literacy and, considering the social and cultural implications of such a shift.