Selfies beyond self-representation: the (theoretical) f(r)ictions of a practice (article)

This is a paper that Helen Thornham and I wrote for a workshop in Sweden earlier this year. It is open access which is always a good idea. Just follow this link.

Abstract

Drawing on a wide corpus of ethnographic research projects, including on photography practices, young filmmakers and writers, and current research with young unemployed people, we argue that contemporary understandings of selfies either in relation to a “documenting of the self” or as a neoliberal (narcissistic) identity affirmation are inherently problematic. Instead, we argue that selfies should be understood as a wider social, cultural, and media phenomenon that understands the selfie as far more than a representational image. This, in turn, necessarily redirects us away from the object “itself,” and in so doing seeks to understand selfies as a socio-technical phenomenon that momentarily and tentatively holds together a number of different elements of mediated digital communication.

In praise of HT

Bourdieu, in his Homo Academicus, presents a comprehensive panorama of how the elites are reinforced by the hierarchical system, where “academic capital is obtained and maintained by holding a position enabling domination of other positions and their holders” (1988, p. 84). In this sense, the academic career could sometimes be perceived as an “obstacle race and a competitive examination” (Bourdieu, 1988, p. 87). There are plenty of scary and frankly disappointing stories about how power is held (and performed) in academia. Nobody seems to be free from those stories and I even have one (or two) friend that had left the academic career for some of those reasons; they were tired of banging against the wall of authoritarianism or following the path of deception. They simply gave up because they lacked support, mentorship, trust or resources.

IMG_0216There are, nevertheless, other kind of stories that are always important to be told. Mostly to remind us why we are here, why we keep doing this against all odds and why we are still in love and engaging with the academic world. This is not a very British thing to do but my Mexican self allows me to do things “unquiet and non-soberly”. This is my small and humble homage to one of the most amazing friends and colleagues I’ve ever had as a Homo Academicus. Continue reading “In praise of HT”

Vignetthnographies. A DIY visual technique for fast ethnographies

<intro> With Helen Thornham we have been thinking and experimenting with concepts, methodologies and techniques (what we like to call methodological prototypes). One of our projects, in the last couple of years, comprised a series of “fast ethnographies” in hackathons, hacklabs and apps-development companies. We have addressed the concepts of fast innovation and creative thinking in the staging of these events, trying to think about them in terms of disruptions. The second stage of this project consisted in funding, through the Communities and Cultures Network +, a series of events to intervene critically in the configuration of these events (by not setting a goal for example or prioritizing collaboration rather than competition). I did participant observation in one of these events in Sheffield, a Wreckshop organized by Alex McLean from the University of Leeds and Jake Harries in the interesting space he leads: Access Space. Besides my notes and audio interviews. I did a 10 minutes video interview with Paul Granjon on the concept of Wreckshop and then edited a 5 minutes video with some images from the event (see below)…. Continue reading “Vignetthnographies. A DIY visual technique for fast ethnographies”

Raw Talent in the Making’: Imaginary journeys, authorship and the discourses of Expertise (new paper)

The paper ‘Raw Talent in the Making’: Imaginary journeys, authorship and the discourses of Expertise, co-written with Helen Thornham, was just published on Convergence: the journal of research into new media technologies. This paper is part of a Special Issue on Expertise and Engagement with/in Digital Media that we edited (along with Caroline Bassett).

This is the link to the journal’s version

This is the link to the preprint version

And this is the abstract:

In the digital age, it seems that participation has been conflated with literacy; content with engagement; novelty with innovation; and ubiquity with meaning (see for example, Thornham & McFarlane 2014, Gillespie 20010, Dean 2008, Livingstone 2009, van Dijck 2013) and encapsulated in terms such as ‘digital native’, ‘digital divide’, or ‘born digital’. In turn, these conflations have done something to technology, which is constructed as malleable, a supportive facilitator; and the user, who is constructed as active agent. Neither of these, account for mediations, or – crucial for us – the notion of the imaginary, which emerges in our research as so central to expertise. Drawing on ethnographic work carried out in Studio 12, a media production facility for young people with disadvantaged backgrounds in Leeds, UK, we propose that the concept of expertise emerges through a bigger array of social capital as well as traditional structures of power such as class, gender and race. Expertise is claimed, evidenced, and generated. For us, however, expertise emerged not only as elusive, but also because it was premised on a disjuncture between lived and everyday youth, and the promises of becoming in a future orientated (technological, imaginary and creative) landscape.

On ethnographies, documentaries and collaboration

(UPDATED)

The three films produced by Studio 12 and Left Eye Blind are online at the BBC Three Fresh Website:

Writing Britain: Mandlenkosi Maposa
“Live how you sleep. Live how you dream.” Ma reflects on the power of dreams in this uplifting
Writing Britain: Saph Holden
Addressed to Mr Cameron and Michael Gove the film is an agonizing tale of her teenage self and how she coped with the death of her sister at this time.
Writing Britain: Hassan Abdullahi
This film provides a poetical perspective on growing up in Leeds.

I strongly recommend that you watch them. As part of my ethnographic work with Studio 12, we did a supporting documentary for the films (below). There are multiple and interesting ways to explore collaboration between academia, third sector organizations, government and, upon all: people. Engaging in media production is one of them. As Sarah Pink states in her text: “Applied, activist and public uses of (audio)visual anthropology allow, in a very direct way, the experiences of those who are normally invisible to be seen and their voices and feelings to be heard”

  Continue reading “On ethnographies, documentaries and collaboration”

Ethnography and the Field in Media(ted) Studies: A Practice Theory Approach (new article)

I can’t help it, I’m extremely disappointed by the times and forms of academic publishing. I won’t complain about it but I want to point to the fact that a paper that we wrote two years ago has just see the light. What we do is a labour of love and I’m sure that what many colleagues in open access publications do is exactly the same. We’re all in the same boat and we have to fight together but we definitely have to improve as much as we can on our endeavors to create open but professional-standard scientific product that can cope with the fast-changing times of our objects and our ideas.

Anyway, the article is called Ethnography and the Field in Media(ted) Studies: A Practice Theory Approach (coauthored with Elisenda Ardèvol) and it’s published in a Special Number of the Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture: Media Ethnography: The Challenges of Breaking Disciplinary Boundaries. Here is the link to the full journal and here the abstract:

The aim of this article is to reflect upon the concept of field when doing ethnographies related to digital technologies of communication in everyday life. Following the example of ethnographic fieldwork carried out by one of the authors with a group of highly mediated photographers in Barcelona (Gómez Cruz, 2012), we reflect on the conceptualization of fieldwork in digital ethnographies and discuss how ‘Practice Theory’[1] could be useful as a basis for media and digital ethnographies.

Finally, I want to thank Andrea Medrado for her editing labour and her “religiously” patience with our constant mails about the publication.


[1] Although more than a single theory or group of theories, ‘Practice Theory’ stands as an approach to the study of the social. For an in-depth introduction see Warde (2005) and Reckwitz (2002).

Co-creation and Participation as a Means of Innovation in New Media: An Analysis of Creativity in the Photographic Field (new article)

It is not always easy to co-author a paper with someone. I’ve come to understand that the process of writing is indeed a process of dialogue and learning about other’s points of views (and yours as well). I’m really proud that a paper I participated in (I have to say that the soul of the paper is based on her effort and interesting ideas) has just been published. In my career I’ve published with many colleagues and it has always been inspiring and a great lesson so, thank you for sharing this dialogue with me, Gemma. The full text is here and this is the abstract

This study endeavors to shed some light on the notion of co-creation in the global context of new media user participation and its relationship with innovation. First, the different discourses surrounding the notion of co-creation will be discussed, which are mainly addressed to industry-oriented projects. Alternatively, a nondirected case study focused on digital photography will be presented, enabling an analysis of co-creation through the lens of the theories of creativity. Consequently, through connecting creativity with our fieldwork, we suggest that the transformation of a cultural field by means of co-creation can lead to innovations that affect the entire field.

Call for articles. Special Issue on Expertise and Engagement with/in Digital Media (Convergence journal)

 

Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies

Special Issue on Expertise and Engagement with/in Digital Media’

Vo1 21, no. 3 (August 2015)

Editors: Caroline Bassett, University of Sussex; Edgar Gómez Cruz, University of Leeds; Helen Thornham, University of Leeds

In an digitally saturated environment digital media users of all kinds, engaged in diverse areas of activity, are increasingly categorized in terms of their ability to use – they are regarded as natives, non-users, experts, literates, for instance. In these contexts the question (1) of how various forms of digital expertise develop, and (2) of how understandings of expertise come into being and come to operate, become increasingly important. Digital expertise might appear to be simply descriptive (of a particular capacity to use), or unproblematically normative (indicating an elevated level of engagement that may be viewed as desirable), however there are multiple understandings of what digital expertise ‘is’ (what kind of skilled engagement with digital materials it delineates/demands/entails), and multiple ways in which it is judged and valued. Our contention is that these conceptions of expertise are contextually produced; they intersect with various social categories and discourses, and they come to operate in social contexts with some force. Our starting point is that digital expertise is at once material and a social construction. Continue reading “Call for articles. Special Issue on Expertise and Engagement with/in Digital Media (Convergence journal)”

“Performing photography practices in everyday life” (New article)

My paper: Performing photography practices in everyday life, written with Elisenda Ardèvol, has just been published in Photographies. It is a small paper that was presented at the Helsinki Photomedia Conference last year (2012). I want to thank Martin Lister for the invitation to submit it and to Sarah Kember for her wise comments and recommendations for the paper.

It is kind of strange that someone publish two papers in the consecutive numbers of the same journal but I’m honored and happy for that. Here’s the abstract:

This paper presents a number of examples from an ethnographic fieldwork with a group of amateur photographers in Barcelona. Based on Practice Theory approach, as a theoretical framework, the article stands as an example of the study of photography that moves away from a representational or semiotic approach towards a performative one. The examples described show how different practices enable and enhance mediations that are material, visual and digital at the same time and how these practices are performed by the group while they shape their collective identity.