[Im]mobility in the age of [im]mobile phones: Young NEETs and digital practices (New Article)

We just published, along with Helen Thornham, the article [Im]mobility in the age of [im]mobile phones: Young NEETs and digital practices in New Media & Society. I’m very happy with this paper for two reasons: it is the first paper we publish based on that fieldwork and it is also the first time I publish in NM&S. But I’m mostly happy because I see it as a critical intervention into some common assumptions (that uncritically claim positive “impacts”) about the use of digital technologies, a criticism that comes straight from our ethnographic data. This is the abstract:

This article draws on research with young NEETs (not in education, employment or training) in Leeds in order to contest the assumption that technological qualities informing new media devices (here mobile phones) simply or transparently translate into social or ontological categories. We draw on a long-term ethnographic study of NEET individuals to argue that one of the underpinning principles of mobile phones – that they pertain to mobility and that mobility is positive and agential – is called into question. Our aim is not only to unpack a number of concepts and assumptions underpinning the mobile phone but also to suggest that these concepts unhelpfully (and even detrimentally) locate mobile phones in relation to the technological possibilities on offer without taking into account what is simultaneously made impossible and immobile, and for whom. Finally, when we set the digital experiences of NEETs alongside the discourses around mobile phones, we find that mobility is restricted – not enabling, and that it is forged in, and articulated as part of an everyday life that is dominated by the social and economic horizons set by the groups status as NEET.

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

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.

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