Thursday, January 31, 2008

And...we're back!

After trolling through a bunch of Blogger discussion groups, at long last, I've finally discovered how to fix the strange header error that had been plaguing me here at D&R. That's the same error that compelled me to change the design of this blog for the last week or so. Anyway, I'm glad to be back to the look I've come to know and love for D&R, and I hope you are, too.

While I'm pretty sure everything's fixed now, I'm not all that confident in my html abilities. So if perchance you find that certain aspects of D&R aren't displaying properly in your web browser, please drop me a line.

One last thing: I still find it disconcerting that I have no idea how, exactly, my template spontaneously(?) changed. What's the saying? Deus ex machina...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Now that's what I call...democracy?

From today's New York Times:
Republican candidates were traveling to California for a debate Wednesday evening at the Reagan Presidential Library. While most of the attention in Florida was on the Republicans, Democratic voters gave Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton a victory in a virtually uncontested race. The Democratic Party had stripped the state of its delegates as a punishment for moving its primary earlier in the year, and the leading candidates refrained from campaigning there.

To be clear, I'm not a fan of all the primary-upping shenanigans. This sort of calendar game produces its own set of undesirable political effects. Nonetheless, it seem to me that stripping states of their convention delegates is an awfully undemocratic response for a society that so champions, and persistently wages war in the name of, democracy. And I gather this response isn't confined to Florida. It happened in Michigan, too, which similarly moved its primary forward. Between uncounted ballots, malfunctioning voting machines, so-called superdelegates, and an increasingly shady primary system, I'm genuinely worried about what's happening to democracy in these United States.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I recently left a comment on Sivacracy responding to a post about Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling book, The Tipping Point. My remark was pretty snarky, admittedly. I said this: "Isn't The Tipping Point a readerly, if watered-down, version of Everett Rogers' The Diffusion of Innovations--a book that's been out for decades?" I still stand behind the spirit of comment, at least, insofar as I believe Rogers said essentially what Gladwell is now often credited with saying (and Gabriel Tarde before Rogers....You can see where this is going.). By the same token, I regret having too quickly dismissed Gladwell's work and contributions.

Perhaps what impresses me most about Gladwell's writing is his ability to make the history of the idea of communication engaging to popular audiences. Take his piece on "The Spin Myth," for instance, in which he tells fascinating stories about the role the late public relations doyen, Edward L. Bernays, played in shaping perceptions about media influence. Then there's the video I've embedded above, in which Gladwell shares a series of parables about the food industry's discovery of diversity-in-taste (spaghetti sauce is the operative example). This is no small matter. What Glaldwell is addressing are the epistemological assumptions individuals and groups bring to bear when making judgments about right and wrong, good and bad, tasty and displeasing, and more. He is also offering some intriguing commentary on personal influence and group dynamics, two longstanding issues in communication theory.

All that to say, having taught about the intellectual history of communication, I can appreciate the work that must go in to making his stories and lectures as captivating as they are. And while I wish his work were more critically inclined, I can't really hold that against him. After all, who am I to criticize an apple for being an apple, and not an orange?

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In other news, after weighing the decision, I've decided not to join Facebook after all. I still may sign up one day, but as I said earlier, it's hard enough for me to keep the lights on here at D&R. Another online commitment (to whatever extent Facebook is a commitment) would just be too much right now. I'm not sure if anyone had designs on friending me, but if you were, sorry to let you down.

Also, in case you're wondering, I'm going to leave the design of D&R as it is for the foreseeable future. Ron tells me it's a bit busy, and I agree. But until I can get the issue with my old design template resolved, I don't want to change the site again. I worry that folks might come looking for D&R and think they've stumbled on some other blog.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Attn. grad students: How to get published

The following essay, which has been posted to the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), is perfect for graduate students and anyone else trying to break into the world of academic presentation and publishing. It discusses all the ins and outs of getting book reviews, conference papers, and articles accepted, but in a way that's neither pedantic nor condescending. It's a must read, at least, as far as I'm concerned. You can download the pre-print by clicking on the link below. Enjoy!

Publishing Advice for Graduate Students
University of Newcastle upon Tyne (UK)
Newcastle Law School

Graduate students often lack concrete advice on publishing. This essay is an attempt to fill this important gap. Advice is given on how to publish everything from book reviews to articles, replies to book chapters, and how to secure both edited book contracts and authored monograph contracts, along with plenty of helpful tips and advice on the publishing world (and how it works) along the way in what is meant to be a comprehensive, concrete guide to publishing that should be of tremendous value to graduate students working in any area of the humanities and social sciences.

A quick shout-out to Siva Vaidhyanathan over at Sivacracy for alerting me to the paper.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A new look for D&R...for the moment

Just a quick note to let y'all know that I've changed the look of D&R--temporarily, for now. There seems to be some sort of issue with the template I've been using. You may have noticed that the header wasn't displaying properly, which made it difficult to read the title and description. Until I can figure out what's wrong, I'm going to stick with the new look. And because I'm not opposed to change, I'd be curious to hear which you like better--the old template (pictured above-left), or the new one.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A new business model for videogames?

From today's New York Times:
Ever since John Riccitiello took over last year as chief executive of Electronic Arts, the video game industry bellwether, he has promised to revitalize the company with new games and new ways of reaching consumers. Now, that may be happening.

In a major departure from its traditional business model, E.A. plans to announce Monday that it is developing a new installment in its hit Battlefield series that will be distributed on the Internet as a free download. Rather than being sold at retail, the game is meant to generate revenue through advertising and small in-game transactions that allow players to spend a few dollars on new outfits, weapons and other virtual gear.

I know this sounds a lot like the business model for Second Life and other such games, yet in some ways, it seems to me something of a departure as well. For those of you who may know more about gaming than I, is this "buy to get ahead" ethic something common? To me it's always a sad day when more skills-oriented competition is complicated by economics. Invariably these situations produce what economists call a "race to the bottom," in which those who think they want to succeed must spend and spend and spend simply to keep up.

You can read the full article here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Midwest Winter Workshop

Wow, what a weekend it's been! This Saturday, a great group of graduate students in my department hosted the third-annual Midwest Winter Workshop (a.k.a., MW3--you know something's significant when it warrants an acronym). The event brought together faculty and grads from some of the most stellar communication programs across the region. This year the participants hailed from the University of Illinois, Indiana University, the University of Iowa, the University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, and the University of Wisconsin. In years past, the event attracted folks from as far away as Pittsburgh and North Carolina.

The MW3 began with three back-to-back plenary addresses on Saturday morning, which focused on the theme of publics. The featured speakers were U of I's Cara Finnegan, who made the case for better historicization of "visual culture"; UMN's Ron Greene, who stressed the analytic importance of the category "communicative labor" in discussions of public activism; and IU's Phaedra Pezzullo, who explored the rhetorical processes through which deadly environmental hazards in and beyond the workplace have been rendered normal or everyday, and hence not worth publicizing. Needless to say, all three talks sparked lively discussion that lasted throughout the day.

Lunch was followed by the first round of break-out sessions, in which groups of 20 or so gathered to talk about specific themes. I had the good fortune of landing in the "Media and Counterculture" group, where I was joined by U of I's James Hay and Spencer Schaffner, U of W's Rob Howard, and by a talented group of grad students from across the six participant institutions. I talked about The Century of the Self, one of my favorite documentaries (and something I've posted about previously), as well as some books I've been reading that have provoked me to begin digging deeper into the intellectual-historical roots of oppositionalist discourses in cultural studies. (If you're interested, the books are Rachel Bowlby's Carried Away, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter's A Nation of Rebels, Preston Shires' Hippies of the Religious Right, Joseph Turow's Niche Envy, and Fred Turner's absolutely brilliant tome, From Counterculture to Cyberculture.) As a whole, the group tried to get at what it means to be "counter" and whether or not the term is politically serviceable in contemporary times.

Thereafter, even smaller groups convened to workshop graduate student writing and research. These break-outs, which were student-led, gave each participant the opportunity to receive feedback on his or her work from a cohort of grad students, in dialog with two faculty members. Personally, I enjoyed not only learning about Erik Johnson (NU), Michael Lahey (IU), Kim Singletary (NU), and Jeff. St. Onge's (IU) work, but also learning, through it, more about the kinds of questions their respective graduate programs are focusing on right now. We covered everything from Google Street View and the racial politics of high fashion to audience labor and emergent constraints on political activism in the United States. Whew!

Practically every faculty member I spoke to during the weekend commented on how much she or he enjoyed every aspect of the MW3. Especially welcome was the opportunity to interact with incredibly bright students from outside of one's home institution. I also heard several colleagues mention how much they appreciated the opportunity to get to know fellow faculty in a smaller, more personable setting than your usual large-scale academic conference. I couldn't agree more.

The MW3 was real gem, and that was due to all the students who made it happen. They're a remarkable bunch who deserve heaps of praise. And here I feel compelled to single out the IU Department of Communication and Culture's own Jeff Motter. He helped conceive of the first MW3 three years ago, when it was hosted at U of I, and both this year and last, he shouldered a major share of the responsibility in organizing the event here at IU. Kudos, Jeff, and thank you for such a memorable weekend.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Saturday night's Presidential debate

It was enlightening to watch the ABC News/Facebook/WMUR Presidential debates this past Saturday night, for many reasons. I was aware of Obama and Huckabee's having won the Iowa caucuses, but honestly, I hadn't kept up much in terms of who-stands-for-what. The Indiana primary (where I live) doesn't occur until May, which is about two months after the Democratic and Republican nominees will have all but been determined. (The states with primaries later than ours are Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, and West Virginia.) I lived in New Hampshire many years ago, home of the nation's first primary, and was I born in New York, a state teeming with electoral votes. It's strange now living somewhere that barely registers in Presidential elections, other than as a place that can be counted on to go red literally within minutes of the polls closing.

Two things struck me most about the debates themselves. First, I appreciated seeing former Libertarian Ron Paul mix it up with the Republicans. His presence there changed the whole tenor of things, try as the other candidates might to stay "on message" and stick to their don't-let-them-seem-rehearsed sound bites. Though I have no intention of voting Republican, it was still refreshing to hear someone, finally, talking about the implications of the massive devaluation of the dollar that's occurred under Bush 43's watch. My only regret was that ABC News excluded Dennis Kucinich from the Democratic half of the debate. No doubt his presence there would have broadened the scope of the conversation and made it much more interesting.

Second, I was flabbergasted, as was the studio audience at New Hampshire's St. Anselm College, by a comment made by the debate moderator, ABC News' Charlie Gibson. He premised a question to the Democratic candidates about tax cuts by saying, "If you take a family of two professors here at Saint Anselm, they’re going to be in the $200,000 category that you’re talking about lifting the taxes on." Huh? Did I miss something here? Since when did it become routine for professors to make $100,000 per year or more? Apropos, there's a story in today's Inside Higher Education that talks about the public's misperception of the nature of, and compensation for, academic labor by full-time faculty. No wonder folks still can't manage to shake the myth of the ivory tower. Heck--most of what's in my office is made of plastic.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Should I join Facebook?

I'm undecided on the issue, personally, which is why I'm asking all of you to weigh in. On the one hand, it's enough for me simply to maintain this blog, let alone to contribute to Sivacracy (oh--and earn a living). On the other hand, a recent peek at a friend's Facebook page showed me that, well, essentially everyone I know in the universe belongs. No one's directly pressured me to join, yet I feel compelled to be a part of something so many people seem to be engaging in. (Yes, I succumb fairly easily to peer pressure.)

In other news, I've made a few minor changes to add further interactivity to D&R. Each post now contains a footer with email, Digg, and subscription links. I've also changed my site syndication, which is now handled through FeedBurner.

Happy 2008, everyone, and let me know what you think about Facebook.

P.S. For more on this thread, see my post from May 2008, "Why Did I Join Facebook?"