Wednesday, December 02, 2009

"Beneath the University, the Commons"

Looks A-M-A-Z-I-N-G...

"Beneath the University, the Commons"
A conference at the University of Minnesota
April 8-11, 2010

// Antioch 05.08 // Rome 10.08 // Athens 12.08 // New York City 12.08 //
Helsinki 03.09 // Zagreb 05.09 // Heidelberg 06.09 // London 06.09 //Santa
Cruz 09.09//…

Seemingly discrete struggles over the conditions of university life have erupted around the world within the past year. These struggles share certain commonalities: outrage over precarious and exploitative conditions, the occupation of university spaces, and goals of reclaiming education from state and corporate interests. It is becoming increasingly apparent that recent struggles over the university are not merely discrete events. They express a wider collective desire for direct control over the means of production and forms of life; a desire to create relationships of learning, collaboration, and innovation beyond the university’s attempts to quantify
and discipline them.

Although the modern university has served the interests of the state and capital since its inception, the past thirty years have witnessed tightened ties with corporate, financial, and geopolitical interests. The subsumption of higher education under capital-driven business models has intensified the expropriation of the products of cooperative labor. With the proliferation of student-consumer and scholar-manager subjectivities, we increasingly find ourselves uncomfortably and often unwittingly occupying the role of active participants in these trends. As the global struggles over the past year have illustrated, however, opposition to these mechanisms of capture is mounting, as are creative strategies for alternatives and exodus. Struggles against the corporate university are linking up across borders; the slogan of the International Student Movement, “One World – One Struggle : Education is Not for Sale,” and the slogan of the Anomalous Wave, “We Won’t Pay for Your Crisis,” appear in actions across Europe, the Americas, and South Asia.

“Beneath the University, the Commons” builds on the work accomplished by activists, organizers, artists, and academics at the “Re-thinking” and “Re-working” the University Conferences of 2008 and 2009 (, while expanding the scope of our discussions and bringing together more international scholars in order to address an increasingly volatile global situation. Our goal is to aggregate and accelerate our knowledge of university conditions and our collective acts of resistance to them, including alternative forms of engaging with each other and with the world. To this end, the 2010 conference will draw together a diverse set of people committed to exploring how we can understand, create, and experiment with the commons beneath the university. Our questions include but are not limited to:

//How do we enact and sustain occupations of the university in the exceptional times and spaces of the everyday?

//How do we generate an international “undercommons,” maintaining subversive positions as actors within, rather than of, the spaces of the university?

//How can unionization projects and occupation struggles learn from and collaborate with one another?

//How do we negotiate the line between stability and revolutionary effectiveness?

//How do we open up sustainable and livable spaces for radical research, education, and scholarship without being subsumed by the publish-or-perish disciplinary apparatus?

//How can we collaboratively map and share research, information, tactics, and cultures?

//In recognition that our conditions are a part of a larger set of global occupations and injustices, how do we link with social movements outside of and across the university?

This four-day event will consist of two days of conference sessions bracketed by two days of workshops, writing collaborations, skill shares, and plenty of time for sustained conversations among participants. We are accepting proposals both for formal papers and for non-conventional forms of participation.

-- If you would like to present a paper, please submit an abstract and a CV or brief biographical statement.

-- If you would like to participate in another way (by leading a workshop, facilitating a roundtable, presenting media, etc), please submit a brief (1-2 pages) description of the proposed activity and include what kind of resources we would need to provide, along with a CV or brief biographical statement.

All proposals should be addressed to, and must be received by January 1, 2010.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

CFP: Gilbert Simondon Conference

Gilbert Simondon: Transduction, Translation, Transformation
A Two-Day International Conference at the American University of Paris
May 27-28, 2010
Paris, France

In recent years, the work of Gilbert Simondon has received greater attention both in France and internationally following the re-publication of his work over the past decade. The importance of Simondon’s thought to the work of French philosophers including Gilles Deleuze and Bernard Stiegler has become increasingly discussed and analysed both in France and in the English-speaking world. At the same time, Simondon’s work has been taken up on its own terms, recognized for the unique contributions that he made to the philosophy of technology, phenomenology and social philosophy. Forthcoming translations of his major works into English will surely instigate a long-overdue introduction of his work within a much broader international community of scholars.

We are currently accepting submissions that examine how Simondon’s work has intersected with other projects in critical theory, cultural studies, contemporary social theory and beyond. Thus, in keeping with the theme of “transduction, translation and transformation,” we are not looking for papers that merely rehearse the writings of Simondon, but projects that transform and translate his concepts and thoughts into new areas of work and new forms of engagement. We equally invite participation from experts on Simondon's work, as well as those interested in discovering it for the first time.

Confirmed Keynote: Mark Hansen (Duke University)

Possible presentations could engage with Simondon's work connected with various themes including:

- Media, technology and technics;
- Information, its history and futures;
- Theories and practices of individuation and affect;
- Bio-social ontologies;
- Post-representational philosophy;
- Phenomenology and materialism;
- Systems Theory;
- Simondon and other thinkers (Deleuze, Merleau-Ponty, Baudrillard,
Stielger, Stengers...)

The conference format will primarily consist of paper presentations, roundtable discussions and keynotes, but interested participants are welcome to propose alternative forms of involvement. Those interested in participating are asked to submit at 300 word abstract, outlining the subject of their contribution. Please send these abstracts to the attention of the conference organizers by January 30th, 2010 via email to the address, Accepted proposals will be considered for inclusion in a future publication drawn from the conference proceedings.

Conference Organizers: Bernard Geoghegan (Northwestern University, USA), Mark Hayward (American University of Paris, France), and Robert Mitchell (Duke University, USA)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Deleuze: Ethics & politics conference CFP

Looks great...

Call for Papers: "Deleuze: Ethics and Politics"

4th Biennial Philosophy and Literature Conference at Purdue University
April 9-10, 2010
Purdue University, West Lafayette

Deadline for Paper Submission:
January 15, 2010

The philosopher Michel Serres once described Gilles Deleuze as “an excellent example of the dynamic movement of free and inventive thinking.” Without a doubt, Deleuze was one of the most singular and prolific philosophers of the 20th century. It is no surprise then, that the impact of Deleuze’s thought continues to reverberate throughout a host of diverse disciplines including Philosophy, Literature, Political Theory, Law, Visual Arts, Film Studies, and Education. With recognition of Deleuze’s influence in these various fields, and in the spirit of Serres’ assessment, this conference seeks to motivate an exploration of Deleuze’s inventive thinking in the particular areas of politics and ethics.

Thus, this conference will serve as a platform, bringing together graduate students and faculty interested in engaging, developing, or critically examining the political and ethical dimensions of Deleuze’s work. Possible topics include, but are not limited to: immanent vs. transcendent criteria in ethics, political theory, law and jurisprudence; the role of the State in relation to capitalism; the possibility of social forms of organization radically exterior to the State forms; the positive or productive function of desire as a creative force directly invested in the social field; the problem of micro-fascism with respect to individual and collective processes of subjectivation; the forms of resistance enabled by minor literature and other processes of becoming-minor; the conception of cartography as a critical and transformative social analytic of power relations. This two-day conference will consist of four panels, each with three to four accepted graduate students presenting, three keynote addresses, and a wine and cheese reception.

Keynote Speakers
We will host three preeminent Deleuze scholars as keynote speakers: Daniel Smith and Arkady Plotnitsky, from Purdue University, and Eugene Holland, from Ohio State University. Dr. Smith is known for national and international projects including translations of Deleuze and Klossowski and several works on Deleuze leading up to the forthcoming publication of his book on Deleuze’s philosophical system. Dr. Holland specializes in social theory and modern French literature, history, and culture. He has published widely including a 1999 volume on Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and a forthcoming book on Nomad Citizenship. Dr. Plotnitsky has contributed numerous publications on Deleuze and on the topics of science, literature, and philosophy. He is currently working on a book entitled Space-Time-Matter-Thought: Non-Euclideanism from Riemann and Deleuze, and Beyond.

Conference Eligibility and Submission Process
We welcome submissions from graduate students of any discipline working on the political or ethical facets of Deleuze’s philosophy. Submissions will be accepted via email at The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2010. Authors should attach both the paper and an abstract (500 word limit) as a Word document. The author’s name and affiliation should be omitted from the body of the paper. In addition, the author should include the text of the abstract in the body of the message. Be sure to include the following information in the email: full name, departmental affiliation, degree program, and the title of your paper. Accepted authors will receive notification no later than February 15, 2010.

Contact Information
For updates, please visit All additional questions can be directed to Erin Kealey or Rocky Clancy via email at:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Deleuze & activism conference


The Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory, School of English, Communication & Philosophy in cooperation with Culture, Imagination and Practice Research Group, School of Social Sciences

12-13 NOVEMBER, 2009

Post-identity - The political Deleuze - The Commons - Activism-s - Geo-activism - Micro-interventions

For more information, please contact Marcelo Svirsky: DELEUZE@CF.AC.UK


Keynote: Ian Buchanan (Cardiff ); Jeremy Gilbert (East London); Paul Patton (UNSW); Nathan Widder (Royal Holloway)

Ronnen Ben-Arie (AVIG, Israel/Palestine); Simone Bignall (UNSW); Hywel Bishop (Cardiff); Steven Brown (Leicester); Christoph Brunner (Montreal); John Cromby (Loughborough); Andrew Dornon (Southwestern); Brad Evans (Leeds); Jan L. Harris; Gašper Kralj (Radical Education Collective, Slovenia); Bryce Lease (Kent); Ioulia Mermigka (Athens); Keir Milburn (Leeds); Rodrigo Nunes (Turbulence); Karl Palmås (Chalmers, Sweden); Dimitris Papadopoulos (Cardiff); Ofer Parchev (Haifa); Bojana Piškur (Radical Education Collective, Slovenia); Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (Cardiff); Remy Robertson (Southwestern); Stevphen Shukaitis (Autonomedia, Essex); Sian Sullivan (Birkbeck); Laurent de Sutter (LSTS, Belgium); Marcelo Svirsky (Cardiff); Vidar Thorsteinsson (Reykjavik Academy)

For registration and programme, visit: WWW.CARDIFF.AC.UK/ENCAP/NEWSANDEVENTS

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

CFP -- "The Archive & Everyday Life" Conference

Call for Proposals:

“The Archive and Everyday Life” Conference
May 7-8, 2010
McMaster University

Proposals due 15 October 2009 to

Confirmed Keynotes: Ann Cvetkovich (An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures), Angela Grauerholz (At Work and Play: A Web Experimentation), Ben Highmore (The Everyday Life Reader; Everyday Life and Cultural Theory), Michael O’Driscoll (The Event of theArchive)

This conference will bring together academics, advocates, artists, and other cultural workers to examine the intersecting fields of archive and everyday life theory. From Simmel through Mass Observation to contemporary Cultural Studies theorists, the objective of everyday life theory has been, as Ben Highmore writes, to “rescue the everyday from conventional habits of the mind…to attempt to register the everyday in all its complexities and contradictions.” Archive theory provides a means to explore these structures by “making the unfamiliar familiar,” hence opening the possibility of generating “new forms of critical practice.” The question of a politics of the archive is critical to the burgeoning field of archive theory. How do we begin to theorize the archive as a political apparatus? Can its effective democratization be measured by the participation of those who engage with both its constitution and its interpretation?

“Archive” is understood to cover a range of objects, from a museum’s collection to a personal photograph album, from a repository of a writer’s papers in a library to an artist’s installation of found objects. Regardless of its content, the archive works to contain, organize, represent, render intelligible, and produce narratives. The archive has often worked to legitimate the rule of those in power and to produce a historical narrative that presents class structure and power relations as both common-sense and inevitable. This function of the archive as a machine that produces History—telling us what is significant, valued, and worth preserving, and what isn’t—is enabled through an understanding of the archive as neutral and objective (and too banal and boring to be political!). The archive has long occupied a privileged space in affirmative culture, and as a result, the archive has been revered from afar and aestheticized, but not understood as a potential object of critical practice.

Can a dialogue between archive theory and everyday life theory work to “take revenge” on the archive (Cvetkovich)? If the archive works to produce historical narratives, can we seize the archive and its attendant collective consciousness as a tool for resistance in countering dominant History with resistant narratives? While the archive has worked to preserve a transcendental, “affirmative” form of culture, bringing everyday life theory into conversation with archive theory opens up the possibility of directing critical attention to both the wonders and drudgeries of the everyday. Archiving the everyday—revealing class structures and oppression on the basis of race and gender, rendering working and living conditions under global capitalism visible, audible, and intelligible—redirects us from our busyness and distractedness, and focuses our attention on that which has not been understood to be deserving of archiving. The archive provides the time and space to think through a collection of objects organized around particular set of interests. If the archive could grant us a space in which to examine everyday life, rather than sweeping it under the carpet as a trivial banality, we could begin to understand our conditions and develop the desire to change them.

How can we envision the archive as a site of ethics and/or politics? Does the archive simply represent a place to amass memory, or can it, following Benjamin, represent a site to make visible a history of the present, thus amassing fragments of the everyday, which can in turn be used to uproot the authority of the past to question the present? In short, what happens when we move beyond the archive as merely a collection and begin to theorize it as a site of constant renewal and struggle within which the past and present can come together? Furthermore, how then does the archive as an everyday practice allow us to understand or change our perception of temporality, memory, and this historical moment?

Areas of inquiry for submissions may include, but are not limited to, the following topics and questions:

• The archive both includes and excludes; it works to preserve while simultaneously doing violence. Are the acts of selection, collection, ordering, systematizing, and cataloguing inherently violent?
• The question of digitization: the internet as digital archive and the digitization of the physical archive. Digitizing the archive renders collections invisible and distant, yet increasingly searchable and quantifiable. Does the digitization of the archive reveal new ways of seeing persistent power structures? Or does it hide them?
• National and colonial archiving: questions of power and national identity.
• The utopian, radical potential of the archive as well as its dystopian possibilities.
• Indigenous modes of archiving.
• Visibility and pedagogy: while the archive often works to hide, conceal, and store away, it can also reveal and display that which otherwise remains invisible. Do barriers to access restrict this emancipatory function of the archive?
• Questions of collective memory and nostalgia (for Benjamin, a retreat to a place of comfort through nostalgia is not a political act).
• The archive as revisionist history.
• The archive as a form of surveillance.
• The role of reflexivity with respect to the manner in which the archive is constructed/produced/curated.
• Function of the narrative form for the archive: how does the way in which the archive reveals its own constructedness unravel the concept of the archive as “historical truth”?
• The future of the archive: preservation and collection look forwards as well as into the past. How should we understand the hermeneutic function of the archive and the struggle over its interpretation?
• The relationship between the archive and the archivist/archon.
• Mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion in the archive: who speaks and who is spoken for?
• The affective relationship between the archive and the body.

Following the conference, we intend to publish an edited collection of essays based on the papers presented at the conference to facilitate the circulation of ideas in this exciting field of inquiry.

“The Archive and Everyday Life” Conference will take place 7-8 May, 2010, sponsored by the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (John Douglas Taylor Fund). The conference format will be diverse, including paper presentations, panels, round-table exchanges, artistic performances, and exhibitions. We encourage individual and collaborative paper and panel proposals from across the disciplines and from artists and community members.

Paper Submissions should include (1) contact information; (2) a 300-500 word abstract; and (3) a one page curriculum vitae or a brief bio.

Panel Proposals should include (1) a cover sheet with contact information for chair and each panelist; (2) a one-page rationale explaining the relevance of the panel to the theme of the conference; (3) a 300 word abstract for each proposed paper; and (4) a one page curriculum vitae for each presenter.

Please submit individual paper proposals or full panel proposals via e-mail attachment by October 15, 2009 to with the subject line “Archive.” Attachments should be in .doc or .rtf formats. Submissions should be one document (i.e. include all required information in one attached document).

Conference organizing committee:
Mary O’Connor, Jennifer Pybus, and Sarah Blacker

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CFP -- Canadian Journal of Media Studies



2009 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. “[I}t is common knowledge,” he wrote, “that the miniaturization and commercialization of machines is already changing the way learning is acquired, classified, made available, and exploited” (1984, org. 1979: 4). In 2010, "Connected Understanding" will be the theme of the Congress of Social Sciences and Humanities in Montreal ( The Canadian Journal of Media Studies announces a special issue on Media, Knowledge and the Network University edited by Bob Hanke, York University, and David Spencer, University of Western Ontario.

The massification and informationalization of the university has transformed not only the content of teaching and research but also disciplinary processes of knowledge production and the technological form of academic life and culture. The integration and normalization of ICT's raises many questions about the university, academic labour, scholarly communication and collaboration, and academic technoculture. In 1957, Marshall McLuhan invited us to reconsider the education process by announcing that, with the advent of television, the “classroom without walls” had arrived. A half a century later, we are working in the university without walls and the ICT “revolution” is over. In “Universities, wet, hard, and harder,” German media theorist Friedrich Kittler reviewed 800 years of university-based media history to observe that “universities have finally succeeded in forming once again a complete media system.” Yet media scholars have rarely chosen to study their own universities as media systems. This special issue of the CJMS is an invitation to reflexive, critical media studies. Established and emerging scholars are invited to address continuities and transformations in new media and the network university and to set the agenda for future study and debate.

Possible questions and areas of research and critical inquiry include:

  • What is unthought, unrepresented and unquestioned in discussions of the public university and the ‘neoliberal turn,’ technologically-mediated post-secondary education, and institutional initiatives in the virtualization of the educational process?
  • What is the impact of the cybernation of the university? What is happening in information technology (IT) infrastructure, planning and governance? What IT strategies are pursued by specific institutions in different jurisdictions? What is the role of IT professionals as intermediaries between IT industries, intermediating organizations, private-sector partners and the university? What is the faculty experience of ICTs, and IT “solutions,” services, and support?
  • What are the networks of possibility and affordances of technology, and what are the obstacles and limits? the unintended, unanticipated consequences?
  • What hybrid methodologies, research techniques and software enhance our capacity to map the wireless campus and network condition of the university?
  • What philosophers of technology and politics are relevant to sharpening our thinking on the question of technology? What scholarly perspectives on invention, innovation and the process of emergence enable us to break the habit of instrumentalist thinking and discard the “tool” metaphor? How can we take technical artifacts, from small, portable technology to entire campus networks, out of their “black boxes” in order to study them? How does the technical substrate matter to our thinking? Our reading and writing of “texts”? Our notions of “research”? How is the university embedded in the network society and cognitive capitalism? What are the drivers of IT change in universities? What are the consequences of the disjuncture between the digital culture and practices outside the university and IT (planning, procurement/evaluation/implementation, support and services) inside universities?
  • How can we move beyond user-centric approaches to Web 2.0 based software applications and learning management systems, peer-to-peer networks, and small tech in academic settings? In the new network culture, how can we grasp the relations between what is “given” and what is unlikely, surprising, unexpected and unrealized?
  • How can we move beyond debates over “student centered” learning and faculty deskilling to new models of reskilling and organized research networks, technological literacy and technologies of the common? How can we articulate scholarly “collaboration” and student “engagement” with a politics of knowledge (commodified knowledge, open scholarship and knowledge within the social sciences and humanities, popular knowledge, indigenous knowledge, etc.) that will strengthen the public mission of the university after the recession? How can we turn away from the “knowledge economy” and towards knowledge cultures? What does the prototype of the Canadian Institute for Health Research’s Knowledge Broker Model portend for the social sciences and humanities?

We also invite investigations of:
  • computerization, campus networking strategies, and ICT-related organizational change since the advent of distributed computing, the Internet and the WWW
  • space, time, speed and rhythm in the network university
  • the production and operativity of networks and archives, scholarly journals and portals, web-based learning environments and objects, research cyberinfrastructure, critical cyberpedagogy, technological literacy, copyright/left, intellectual property rights
  • open access movement, open access research, open educational resources, open courseware, institutional repositories, ‘Do it Yourself’ education or edupunk
  • tropes of factory, ecology, network, mobility, common
  • articulations and destabilizations of oral/written, actual/virtual, bureaucratic records/institutional memory, off-line/on line, knowledge creation/information sharing, formal learning on campus/informal learning off campus, amateur/professional, artist/researcher
  • ideology of convenience, ethos of performativity, immaterial academic labour, general intellect, circuits of knowledge and struggle
  • technological “progress,”“knowledge economy,” knowledge “transfer” or “mobilization,” creativity, innovation, academic freedom, academic capitalism
  • the coming network university, knowledge futures, ecoethical perspectives on the university’s inputs and outputs and the discourse of “sustainability”
Since intellectual innovation may be engendered at the intersections of disciplines, contributions are welcome from outside of Communication and traditions and trajectories of media studies outside of Canada. Solo or collaborative work that provides a comparative, international perspective on the network university in different countries is especially welcome.

Submission Guidelines

Authors should submit papers of about 25 pages (or 8000 words) in MLA style with abstract and keywords electronically to David Spencer, Editor, With the exception of the title page, please remove all indications of authorship.

The deadline for papers is February 28, 2010. Peer review and notification of acceptance will be completed by March 31, 2010. Final manuscripts accepted for publication will be due April 30, 2010.

Comments and queries can be sent to Bob Hanke, Guest Co-Editor,
For more information about the Canadian Journal of Media Studies, visit

Friday, September 18, 2009

A belated fourth birthday

I'm feeling a little like a deadbeat dad these days, given my neglect of D&R. I've been having a blast over on my book blog, The Late Age of Print, but unfortunately that's taken up a bit too much of my attention. Case in point: Monday, September 14th was the fourth anniversary of the launch of this blog. I've been pretty good about marking the occasion in the past, but this year I'm ringing in the new year belatedly. As any deadbeat dad worthy of the name would say, "Hey, at least I remembered." Sigh.

Anyway, it's nice to have an occasion in which to reflect a little here. I've missed D&R, honestly. Late Age is wonderful in that it gives me ample opportunity to explore issues relating to books, publishing, and reading. Nevertheless, I miss the eclecticism that has come to characterize D&R over the last four years. I wouldn't say that anything has been fair game for me to address here, but as the tag cloud appearing below and at right shows, this little blog of mine does indeed have quite a range. Sometimes I just prefer broadcasting over narrowcasting.

I've been puzzling over something of substance that would be interesting for me to share on this, the belated fourth birthday of D&R. Mostly I have half-formed thoughts about monism and dualism, inspired in part by my reading of Lionel Trilling's The Liberal Imagination, which I reviewed here this past summer.

Much of my philosophical training in graduate school was spent reading, studying, and discussing the work of Gilles Deleuze. In this I learned to abhor the negative ontology characteristic of dialectical philosophies and to celebrate monism, whose principles of singularity, affirmation, and holism at the time resonated strongly with me. They still do.

Yet, as I myself grow older, and as I grow older with this blog (whose name I cherry-picked from Deleuze's masterwork, Difference and Repetition), I find myself becoming less patient with monism. I am beginning to see its cracks. Mostly I am concerned with its penchant for disengagement, for its tendency toward monologue, for its unwillingness to let itself be shaken to the core by some other. I see in monism a profound insularity or desire to turn inward (what Deleuze would call "involution"), whereas in dualism I increasingly perceive a desire to experience the world outside of oneself. Could it be that monism is a kind of philosophical agoraphobia?

Again, as I said, these are only half-formed thoughts--significantly a result of my not having given D&R its due this year. Hopefully I'll be able to get back on course in the coming weeks or months. For now, thanks to everyone for your contributions here over the last year. Your comments and questions challenge me, your readership inspires me.

Friday, August 28, 2009

My life as a Turk worker

In the midst of revising my ever-evolving essay on the Amazon Kindle e-reader, I stumbled upon the company's Mechanical Turk website. I was riveted.

The name “Mechanical Turk” pays homage to a faux automaton whose chess playing prowess captivated audiences throughout Europe in the late 18th century. Secretly, the robot’s skill derived not from any type of artificial intelligence but from a human chess master hiding inside the machine, who manipulated levers, pulleys, and magnets to create the illusion of self-directed game play. So too it is with Amazon Mechanical Turk, which the company refers to as “artificial artificial intelligence.”

The service is essentially a marketplace for 21st century piecework, the core of which are things called "human intelligence tasks." These are, in Amazon’s words, “questions that need an answer,” or rather data processing tasks that the present generation of computers is ill-equipped to handle (e.g. writing product reviews, performing rudimentary research, identifying and tagging images, and more). Collectively, Mechanical Turk workers comprise a flexible, on-demand labor force whose job it is to respond to these questions. Compensation depends on the complexity and duration of the task. Typically it consists of micro-payments ranging from a few pennies to a few dollars per job, paid for by the party who has issued a specific information request.

Today I decided to take Mechanical Turk out for a spin, having registered a few weeks ago as a Turk worker. I made seven cents in about five or ten minutes, having chosen four separate tasks that could be completed in two minutes or less. Either way you count in, that translates into less than a dollar per hour.

One of the jobs I initially accepted involved image tagging. Basically, I was asked to type in what I thought might be an appropriate search term for a photo appearing on screen. I got rather squeamish when I was presented with a shoulders-up image of what appeared to be a teenage girl looking coyly over her shoulder. I wondered then about what might be the end-result of my work and ended up rejecting the task.

I gather from the transcript of a recent Berkman Center forum that Jonathan Zittrain has already expressed similar concerns about Mechanical Turk. With traditional piecework or even assembly-line labor the worker, however estranged he or she may be from the end-product, nonetheless typically has at least some sense of the resulting whole. But as Zittrain has pointed out, the same doesn't generally apply to Mechanical Turk. There, laborers are so disaggregated that there's virtually no sense of what one's small contribution might ultimately result in.

I need to ponder this more carefully, as there seem to me some intriguing research applications were the Mechanical Turk service approached ethically. Without any type of ethical filter in place, however, I worry about its economic and political implications.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More bad copyright news for academic authors

Off and on throughout the years I've been reporting on instances in which academic authors were prohibited from doing their jobs as a result of unreasonable intellectual property regulations -- or the perception thereof. Here's the latest case: composer and Bard College Music professor Kyle Gann, whose latest book, about the music of the avant-garde art group Fluxus, will be without some important material. Gann reports:
Apparently I've just broken copyright law. I can't believe what's holding up my Cage book: you are no longer allowed to quote texts that are entire pieces of art. This means I've been trying to get permission simply to refer to Fluxus pieces like La Monte Young's "This piece is little whirlpools in the middle of the ocean," and Yoko Ono's "Listen to the sound of the earth turning." And of course, Yoko (whom I used to know) isn't responding, and La Monte is imposing so many requirements and restrictions that I would have to add a new chapter to the book, and so in frustration well past the eleventh hour, I've excised the pieces from the text.
You can read the complete post over on his blog PostClassic, which is hosted on the ArtsJournal website.

Odd, isn't it, how you can pay a relatively small fee to license the rights to cover an entire song, yet you can't get permission to do the same thing in a different medium for academic purposes? Something's gotta give. Really. This is getting ridiculous, and it is an affront to academic freedom.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Late Age of Print -- the video

After a series of delays (I hear this is how things go in Hollywood), I'm pleased to debut The Late Age of Print video at long last. It's no "Thriller," admittedly, but hopefully you'll get a kick out of it anyway.

Here's a little back-story for those of you who may be interested. Last fall my editor at Columbia informed me that the Press had begun promoting some of its books using short videos. He then asked me if I'd be interested in shooting one for Late Age. Since I'm not someone who believes that electronic media are out to kill books -- I'm quite confident in their ability to help books out, in fact -- I decided I'd say yes.

I was a little daunted by the prospect of shooting the video, mostly because I'm a methodological writer who's unaccustomed to speaking in sound bites. I reflected on this a bit last December on Differences & Repetitions. In hindsight, that should have been the least of my worries.

In chapter 2 of Late Age I touch on how the campus bookstore at Indiana University (where I teach) was designed by Ken White, the architect who went on to create the big-box bookstore template. What better location for the video shoot, I thought, than at ground-zero of the big-box bookstore phenomenon?

Unfortunately, IU decided in 2007 that it would be a good idea to outsource campus bookstore operations to Barnes & Noble -- about whom I write rather approvingly in Late Age. The long and the short of it is that Barnes & Noble denied my requests to shoot the video there.

I still find it difficult to fathom how a private sector company would -- or even could -- refuse the use of public property for a purpose such as this. In any case, I'm sure I could have complained to the University, but by then so much time had elapsed that I just needed to get on with the shoot.

I settled on the IU Lilly Library, which houses rare books and manuscripts. It's a truly lovely location, though I fear that it may inadvertantly up the "book fetishist" quotient that I try so hard to mitigate in Late Age. The videographer also had me harp on the "books aren't going away anytime soon" theme, which, though appropriate, doesn't quite get at the substance of the book, which focuses on e-books, book superstores, online bookselling,, and Harry Potter.

Anyway, despite all the drama I'm still pretty pleased with the result. I hope you like it, too. Please share it, rate it, and comment on it. I'd love to hear what you think!

Now that I've entered the video age, would it be asking too much for Colbert to call?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Gladwell: Free is pretty expensive

Malcolm Gladwell's review of Chris Anderson's latest book, Free! The Future of a Radical Price (Hyperion), is out in this week's New Yorker. As with all things Gladwell, it's smart and insightful. Above all it stresses the practical and conceptual limits of "free," as in this pithy excerpt about how Anderson misunderstands the economics of YouTube:
So how does YouTube bring in revenue? Well, it tries to sell advertisements alongside its videos. The problem is that the videos attracted by psychological Free—pirated material, cat videos, and other forms of user-generated content—are not the sort of thing that advertisers want to be associated with. In order to sell advertising, YouTube has had to buy the rights to professionally produced content, such as television shows and movies. Credit Suisse put the cost of those licenses in 2009 at roughly two hundred and sixty million dollars. For Anderson, YouTube illustrates the principle that Free removes the necessity of aesthetic judgment. (As he puts it, YouTube proves that “crap is in the eye of the beholder.”) But, in order to make money, YouTube has been obliged to pay for programs that aren’t crap. To recap: YouTube is a great example of Free, except that Free technology ends up not being Free because of the way consumers respond to Free, fatally compromising YouTube’s ability to make money around Free, and forcing it to retreat from the “abundance thinking” that lies at the heart of Free. Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube will lose close to half a billion dollars this year. If it were a bank, it would be eligible for TARP funds.
You can find the review -- which is indeed worth reading in its entirety -- here. Chris Anderson responds to Gladwell on his blog, The Long Tail. Seth Godin (siding with Anderson) chimes in here.

I'm still gathering my thoughts on the subject, though I'm quite persuaded by Gladwell's infrastructural (as opposed to Anderson's artifactual) orientation. I suppose that's why The Guardian recently labeled me a "distribution nerd." Anyway, more to come....

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A new CFP from Culture Machine


Special issue of Culture Machine vol. 11;
edited by Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska (both at Goldsmiths, University of London)

This is a call for papers and non-papers alike. It is open to artists, intellectuals, writers, philosophers, analysts, scientists, journalists and media professionals who have something to say about the media that extends beyond the conventional forms of media analysis. It is also a call for enacting a different, creative mode of doing ‘media studies’. Taking seriously both the philosophical legacy of what the Kantian and Foucauldian tradition calls ‘critique’, and the transformative and interventionist energy of the creative arts, we are looking for playful, experimental yet rigorous cross-disciplinary interventions and inventions that are equally at home with critical theory and media practice, and that can make a difference – academically, institutionally, politically, ethically and aesthetically.

This creative media project arises out of an attempt on our part to work through and reconcile, in a manner that would be ‘satisfactory’ on both an intellectual and artistic level, academic writing and creative practice. This effort has to do with more than just the usual anxieties associated with attempts to breach the ‘theory-practice’ divide and negotiate the associated issues of rigour, skill, technical competence and aesthetic judgment. Working in and with creative media is for us first and foremost an epistemological question of how we can perform knowledge differently through a set of practices that also ‘produce things’.

‘Creative media’ functions as both a theme and a methodology for us here then. Our aim is to produce an issue ‘about creative media’ by means of a variety of creative media. We are therefore seeking works which are situated across the conventional boundaries of theory and practice, art and activism, social sciences and the humanities. Such works can take a variety of forms – essays on, polemics with regard to, and performances of what it means to ‘do media’ both creatively and critically. They can also incorporate a variety of media, from moving and still images, through to podcasts, wikis and tweets, to creative writing and traditional papers. (And yes, language also counts as a medium.)

Executive summary (of sorts)
We are looking for surprising, inventive and original work on media that does something different, is equally at home with critical theory and media practice, and plays with the medium of the media.

Deadline for submissions: 15 October 2009

Potential contributors are encouraged to contact the editors prior to this date to discuss their possible submissions.

Please submit your contributions by email to:
Joanna Zylinska & Sarah Kember: &

All contributions will be peer-reviewed.

Established in 1999, CULTURE MACHINE ( is a fully refereed, open-access journal of cultural studies and cultural theory. It has published work by established figures such as Mark Amerika, Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida, Henry Giroux, Mark Hansen, N.
Katherine Hayles, Ernesto Laclau, J. Hillis Miller, Bernard Stiegler, Cathryn Vasseleu and Samuel Weber, but it is also open to publications by up-and-coming writers, from a variety of geopolitical locations.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Whose search engine is bigger?

Fred Vogelstein over at Wired has been turning out some great material about Facebook over the last couple of weeks. His first piece, "Great Wall of Facebook," and his follow-up interview with company CEO Mark Zuckerberg are compelling in what they portend for the company's future.

The gist of the matter is this: Facebook began as a social networking site, and indeed it very much remains that. However, it's also in the process of re-imagining itself as a new type of search engine, one that prioritizes human social connections over abstract computer algorithms. And it's a move expressly designed to pit Facebook against its archrival, search engine giant Google:

Today, the Google-Facebook rivalry isn't just going strong, it has evolved into a full-blown battle over the future of the Internet—its structure, design, and utility. For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google's algorithms—rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg's vision, users will query this "social graph" to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire—rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search. It is a complete rethinking of how we navigate the online world, one that places Facebook right at the center. In other words, right where Google is now.

Two things are intriguing to me about Facebook's foray into search. First, I'm fascinated by Zuckerberg's rhetoric. He describes Google as a tool of the "surveillance society" -- as if Facebook had no interest whatsoever in paying attention to what its users are doing. He also describes Google's approach to search as "top-down," suggesting not-so-implicitly that Facebook's approach is more bottom-up. Why is it that every technology company is the authentic champion of grassroots democracy until the next new hotshot comes along? It's getting old...really, really old. Didn't Apple beat that one to death with Microsoft?

More compelling to me is Vogelstein's discussion of Facebook and Google's respective philosophies of search. Prior to reading his article and interview, it hadn't dawned on me that there could be such radically different search architectures -- much less that there would be a struggle over them. And that make these times we're currently living in all the more interesting.

There's a lovely moment near the beginning of Michel Foucault's The Order of Things, in which the late philosopher shows how living creatures used to be classified prior to the advent of the modern kingdom-phylum-class-order-family-genus-species system. There was a radically different order of things, as it were, and reshuffling that order involved a tremendous redistribution of power throughout society.

Perhaps it's overblown to pitch the impending Facebook-Google showdown in such world-historical terms. All the same, the struggle over how best to bring order to knowledge and information isn't just about one company's desire to triumph over another -- it's about how, where, and among whom power will be dispersed in society.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Worth checking out...

...Lawrence Lessig, responding to Kevin Kelly, explaining why "free culture" is liberal-capitalist, and not socialistic:

The comments are especially interesting and fruitfully extend the debate. For my part, I'm not convinced that socialism is "coercive" as much as it is "compulsive," but really that's a side matter....

P.S. The debate continues. Here's the link to the latest update from Lessig on free culture, liberalism, and socialism.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On Trilling's The Liberal Imagination

I'm beginning a new project that explores the relationship of religious book publishing to mid-century (i.e., the 20th) liberalism in the United States. What better way to begin, I thought, than to read Lionel Trilling's The Liberal Imagination (1950)? There he makes the controversial claim that liberalism was "not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition" prevalent in the United States at the time that he was writing. That much I expected to find in the book; what I got was so much more -- an education, really, and a glimmer of one of the paths-not-taken of U.S. cultural studies.

One of Trilling's themes is untimeliness, and indeed the term aptly describes his own work. He perceptively anticipated many theoretical developments whose "discovery" most would attribute to English and French intellectuals working decades later. Take his definition of culture, for instance: "Culture is not a flow, nor even a confluence; the form of its existence is struggle, or at least debate--it is nothing if not a dialectic" (p. 9). Sounds a lot like E. P. Thompson to me. Or consider this passage, which almost could have come from Michel Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge:
Yet another thing that we have not understood with sufficient complication is the nature of ideas in their relation to their development and in relation to their transmission. Too often we conceive of an idea as being like the baton that is handed from runner to runner in a relay race. But an idea as a transmissible thing is rather like the sentence that in the parlor game is whispered about in a circle (p. 191).
Trilling also argues that literature produces ideas, or philosophy, an argument that brings him within shouting distance of Deleuze. There's more: he was anti-relativist, believed in the activity of audiences, and understood well the relationship of knowledge production and social control.

But it's not enough simply to locate Trilling as an unacknowledged forebear of some of our more contemporary theoreticians. It's also crucial to understand his intellectual style. Trilling could say more in a single, pointed sentence than most highly skilled writers can say in an entire essay, maybe even a volume. What's more, he did so with the barest minimum of theoretical terminology or jargon.

So, for example, while it's clear that he drew near to what, two decades later, would become the Foucauldian understanding of discourse, never did he long to coin a phrase to describe self-propagating communication. Trilling insisted that we engage not with catchy theoretical words that one could either "use" or "reject" depending on one's allegiances. Instead, he demanded that we engage with the full substance of his arguments and reasoning.

Is his having done so a cause of the present abandonment of his work? Did Trilling expect too much of us, his readers and interlocutors?

A partisan of liberalism Trilling may have been, but in all affairs of the heart, mind, and politics he seems not to have been an ideologue. This is reflected, for example, in his discussion of literary criticism, where he deftly navigates the Scylla of historicism (or conditionalism) and the Charybdis of New Criticism. Ultimately he upholds the value of both, but in a masterfully dialectical way in which the one exposes the weaknesses in the other, ultimately opening up both to repair.

Trilling worked at a time when academics, for better or for worse, still were able to write "without apology or self-consciousness" (p. 253). There is evident in his work a deference to tradition and a sense of accountability to what others may hold dear, culturally or politically. Yet there remains a boldness to his work, even a brashness, that would seem almost unimaginable in academic discourse today.

In Trilling's worst moments, as in his discussion of homosexuality and the Kinsey Report, the change of tone is a welcome one. But in Trilling's best moments, which are far more numerous, one can register not only the tenderness with which he approached those with whom he disagreed, but also the lack of graciousness endemic to our own critical conversations today.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Remix & fair use...

...a primer, courtesy of the good folks at the Center for Social Media at American University.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Download The Late Age of Print

One of the defining attributes of the late age of print is the erosion of old publishing certainties. Among them is the notion that the free circulation of book content leads inevitably to lost sales. Another is the belief that strong, proprietary systems are the best way for publishers and authors to secure value in their intellectual properties. Maybe it's too soon to let go of these notions completely. It's fast becoming clear, however, that they cannot be taken for granted any longer.

There are two ways of responding to the erosion of old certainties like these. One way is to dig in your heels, hoping to keep familiar ground from shifting under your feet. The other is to allow the erosion to expose opportunities that may have been buried underfoot all along. With the latter you risk coming up empty, but with the former you risk something worse -- inertia.

I'm pleased to report that my publisher, Columbia University Press, isn't one of those digging in its heels. It's taken the bold step of releasing The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control not only as a copyrighted, bound physical volume, but also as a Creative Commons-licensed electronic book. You can download the e-edition by clicking here. The file is a "zipped" .pdf of the complete contents of Late Age, minus one image, for which I was (ironically) unable to secure electronic publishing rights.

I thank Columbia University Press for releasing my book electronically under a Creative Commons license. In doing so, it's embraced the extraordinary spirit of openness that is beginning to flourish in the late age of print. Mine is the first book the Press has decided to release in this way. Here's hoping that many more will follow.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


1944 was the year in which the world we inhabit today was born.1

I arrived at this hypothesis in the course of the conversations I've had with the bright group of graduate students enrolled in the seminar I'm teaching this term, "The Social Matrix of Mass Culture." The class is about many things, but lately its focus has been the "countercultural" response to mass culture in the United States during the second half of the 20th century. (For more on this theme, check out this post from a few months back.)

So why 1944? It was the year in which two path-breaking books were published--one from the left, the other (ostensibly) from the right. The first was Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. The second was Friedrick von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. Though operating at different ends of the ideological spectrum, and though arriving at rather different conclusions, both share a surprising amount of common ground. Of particular concern for this odd group of authors are the social, economic, and political problems stemming from centralized mass production. It's no surprise that the horrors of Nazi Germany loom large in both works.

What's fascinating about Dialectic of Enlightenment and The Road to Serfdom is that they are also touchstone works in the "revolt" against mass culture. Put differently, in rejecting centralized mass production, Horkheimer/Adorno and Hayek collectively helped set the stage for the highly individuated mass culture that has emerged today--a culture supposedly populated no longer by estranged "cultural dopes" but by "active" and "empowered" consuming subjects.

Clearly there's much more to say about the consonance of Dialectic and Road. More to come anon as I continue gathering my thoughts.

1 Clearly it's hyperbole to say "the world"; really I mean, the United States.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Gimme some liquid theory

This is probably one of the most intriguing developments in academic book publishing to happen in a long time....


Culture Machine
is seeking open collaboration on the writing and editing of the first volume of its online Liquid Books series, New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader:

The first provisional version of this volume -- New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader (Version 1.0) -- has been put together by Gary Hall and Clare Birchall as a follow-up to their 2006 "woodware" edited collection, New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory (Edinburgh University Press and Georgia University Press).

From here on in, however, the idea is for this new online "liquid book" -- to which everyone is invited to contribute -- to be written and developed in an open, co-operative, decentralised, multi-user-generated fashion: not just by its initial "authors," "editors," or "creators," but by a multiplicity of collaborators distributed around the world.

In this way, the New Cultural Studies Reader will be freely available for anyone, anywhere, to read, reproduce and distribute. Once they have requested access, users will also be able to rewrite, add to, edit, annotate, tag, remix, reformat, reinvent and reuse this reader, or produce alternative parallel versions of it, however they wish. In fact, they are expressly invited and encouraged to do so, as the project relies on this intervention.

It is hoped that the New Cultural Studies: Liquid Theory Reader project will raise a number of important questions for ideas of academic authorship, attribution, publication, citation, accreditation, fair use, quality control, peer review, copyright, intellectual property, content creation and cultural studies. For instance, with its open editing and free content the project decenters the author and editor functions, making everyone potential authors/editors. It also addresses an issue raised recently by Geert Lovink: why are wikis not utilised more to create, develop and change theory and theoretical concepts, instead of theory continuing to be considered as the "terrain of the sole author who contemplates the world, preferably offline, surrounded by a pile of books, a fountain pen, and a notebook"? At the same time, in "What Is an Author?", Foucault warns that any attempt to avoid using the concept of the author to close and fix the meaning of the text risks leading to a limit and a unity being imposed on the text in a different way: by means of the concept of the "work." So to what extent does users’ ability to rewrite, remix, reversion and reinvent this liquid "book" render untenable any attempt to impose a limit and a unity on it as a "work?" And what are the political, ethical and social consequences of such ‘liquidity’ for ideas that depend on the concept of the "work" for their effectivity: those concerning attribution, citation, copyright, intellectual property, academic success, promotion, tenure, and so on?

To find out more, please go to:

For a quick and easy-to-read guide on how to collaborate on the writing and editing of New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader, please visit:

Clare Birchall and Gary Hall

Friday, February 20, 2009


Over the last year or so I've been thinking a great deal about countercultures, or more specifically, the countercultural legacies of the 1960s. What first prompted me to do so was Fred Turner's outstanding book, From Counterculture to Cyberculture (University of Chicago Press, 2006), which I blogged about here back in January 2008.

Since then I've had the good fortune of reading a number of books, all of which explore the persistence of countercultural practices and sensibilities from the 1960s. These include: Preston Shires' Hippies of the Religious Right: From the Counterculture of Jerry Garcia to the Subculture of Jerry Falwell (Baylor U.P., 2007), a wonderful book that I just finished, about the meteoric rise of evangelical Christianity in the late-20th century and its roots in the 1960s counterculture; and Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter's Nation of Rebels: How Counterculture Became Consumer Culture (Collins Business, 2004), a provocative look into how an anti-establishment, "rebel" ethos has come to pervade what used to be called mass culture.

Most recently I broached Thomas Frank's The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (University of Chicago Press, 1997). I'd been putting it off for some time, mostly because I know Frank looks unfavorably on cultural studies (my primary intellectual identification). Rightly or not, he claims that cultural studies, in its concern for "resistant" readings and uses of mass cultural artifacts, mis-recognizes the politics of culture. Since the late 1950s, Frank shows, advertisers have been touting not only their own anti-establishment sensibilities but infusing them into their advertising campaigns. Advertising, he argues, is a principal--and unusually effective--site where the critique of mass culture has been waged. Of course, this critique exists not for the sake of tearing down "the system," as it were, but rather for encouraging ever more consumption vis-à-vis product and consumer differentiation.

Frank may caricature cultural studies, but the larger point he makes is a compelling one. The so-called "creative class" about whom Richard Florida has written so much in recent years has its origins in the late-1950s and early-1960s, when (in the case of Frank's book) upstart ad men and women lashed out against the stultifying organizational and scientific structures within which they worked.

But what's also intriguing to me is how it wasn't simply advertising per se that led the way. Indeed, there was something of a countercultural, "creative revolution" happening in any number of other industries at the same time. Last summer I blogged about Gerard Jones' history of the comic book industry, Men of Tomorrow. I didn't realize it then, but Jones tells a story similar to that of Thomas Frank. Before the 1960s or 70s, most comic book companies employed writers and artists whom they treated like hacks. A good deal of the material was formulaic and dictated from on high, and the "creatives" were meant merely to execute that vision. And though I'm less familiar with the music industry, I gather that there's a similar story to be told there as well. If Tom Hanks' silly little movie That Thing You Do! (1996) is any indication, record producers of the 1950s pretty much ran the show, subordinating talent to what they knew--or thought they knew--they could package and sell. Is it any surprise that, at the end of the film, the character Jimmy (Jonathan Schaech) breaks from Mr. White's (Tom Hanks) Playtone record label to pursue a successful solo career making serious rock 'n roll? He's the film's embodiment of the creative revolution that was about to happen in music.

I'm not sure where all this reading is going, honestly. Nevertheless, all of the books I've mentioned suggest that we now live, as it were, in the long shadow cast by the 1960s. That makes me wonder: what, if anything, will be the unique contribution of this moment in which we're now living? How does one create, let alone "rebel," when the dominant ethos is already "anti-establishment" and throw-out-the-rules "creative?"

Monday, February 09, 2009

Introducing The Late Age of Print blog

I'm pleased to announce that my new blog, The Late Age of Print, is now up and active. It's a companion to my book of the same name, which will be published by Columbia University Press in the next month or so. (You can learn more about the book by clicking on the link on the D&R sidebar at right.) This isn't the new site's grand opening, which I've planned to coincide with the release of the book. I'm still adding pages, links, and features, so it's best to describe this as the site's "soft opening."

The Late Age of Print blog will certainly have some thematic and conceptual overlap with D&R, but the former has a much more specific focus on the past, present, and future of books and book culture than does the latter. The new blog's tagline is “Beyond the Book,” which is something of a pun in that it both extends the arguments I introduce in Late Age and provides a forum for reflecting on the purpose, meaning, and value of books at a time when, according to some, the medium has had its heyday.

So where does the new blog leave D&R? My intention is to continue posting here, albeit a bit less regularly. I'll try to keep cross-posting to a minimum, although from time to time I imagine there will be appropriate material for me to do so. I may also try to solicit more guest posts for D&R, which in the past have generated some impressive response.

In any case, I do hope you enjoy The Late Age of Print blog. Please spread the word about it, link to it, comment on it, etc. And thank you for your continued readership of D&R.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The recession and Hayek (it's not what you think)

It's been awhile since I've written something "academic" here on D&R. I'm not altogether sure why this is the case, given the title and origins of this blog. In any event, I thought it might be nice to close out the month with a more thoughtful post, or really to audition an idea.

Some time ago I read Mark Andrejevic's wonderful book iSpy: Surveillance and Power in the Interactive Era (University Press of Kansas, 2007). Ever since I've been preoccupied with an idea he introduces there: "the recession of causality." Mark borrows the phrase from Thomas L. Haskell, who uses it to describe the experiential change in scale that accompanies the rise of indistrial socieities. In a nutshell, as populations grow and spread out, and as socieities become increasingly complex, it becomes ever more difficult to determine why something happens. In other words, the causes of something happening here always seem to come from some generalized--perhaps unascertainable--elsewhere. Causality recedes, as if with the outgoing tide.

I've also been doing some reading on the topic of "self-organizing systems." From my sniffing around I gather a major proponent of the idea was the economist Friedrich Hayek, who coined the term "catallaxy" decades ago to characterize the self-organizing properties of markets. More recent books, ranging from James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds to Pierre Lévy's Collective Intelligence and beyond, build upon and extend the idea, whether paying homage to Hayek or not. (Of course there are other lines one might follow here as well, from Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, Gabriel Tarde's The Laws of Imitation, or Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class.)

My question is this: do "systems"--be they markets, traffic patterns, the internet, or what have you--truly self-organize, or come togther orginically, emergently? Or do claims such as these actually evidence the accuracy of Haskell's insight, namely, that today causes seem so remote that many researchers have simply given up looking for them?

I'm intrigued by, but increasingly doubt, the idea of self-organizing systems, for reasons implicit in the latter question. I should add that this is only speculative doubt at this point, as I haven't undertaken the sort of research that would disprove the supposedly self-organizing properties of social, economic, or communicative systems. But that does raise a further, methodological question: how would one go about undertaking that type of research? How, in other words, would one chronicle causes in an age of diffuse, recessive causality?

My initial response is to begin thinking along the lines of symbolic interactionism, but that will have to be a post for another time.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Just wanted to alert D&R readers to a great new blog called Money/Speech. Its author is my good friend Ron Greene, a leading researcher in the areas of rhetoric and cultural studies who teaches at the University of Minnesota. Ron's been at it for less than a week, and already he's posted more than I have in 2009. Looks like M/S (as I'm calling it) will be one of the more active additions to my blog roll.

Ron hasn't yet composed a "manifesto" (or whatever you may call it) for his blog. But given the title and the first few entries, it's pretty clear that M/S will develop ideas and themes Ron's been advancing over the last several years in his (paper) published research. Much of it revolves around the notion of communicative capitalism, so I suspect D&R readers will find the site to be of great interest. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

New issue of Culture Machine and...

Before getting down to business with the TOC for the latest issue of Culture Machine, I thought I'd put in a plug for Gary Hall's latest effort. It's called Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now (U of MN Press, 2008). The text is something of a manifesto for why Gary does what he does as editor of Culture Machine. It's also so much more. I'd recommend the book highly to anyone navigating their way through the academy and its atavistic publishing apparatus.

We are pleased to announce a new edition of the open-access journal
Culture Machine:


Tenth Anniversary Issue, edited by Gary Hall

This tenth anniversary issue of Culture Machine explores how the development of various forms of digital culture and ‘internet piracy’ is affecting notions of authorship, intellectual property, copyright law, publication, attribution, citation, accreditation, fair use, content creation and cultural production that were established pre-internet. Contributors address the theme of piracy in the content and/or by playing provocatively with the form of their texts.

The ‘Pirate Philosophy’ issue features:
  • Gary Hall, ‘Pirate Philosophy (Version 1.0): Open Access, Free Content, Free/Libre/Open Media’
  • Adrian Johns, ‘Piracy as a Business Force’
  • Jonas Andersson, ‘For the Good of the Net: The Pirate Bay as a Strategic Sovereign’
  • Don Joyce, Negativland, ‘Vapor Music’
  • Kembrew McLeod, ‘Crashing the Spectacle: A Forgotten History of Digital Sampling, Infringement, Copyright Liberation and the End of Recorded Music’
  • Alexander R. Galloway, ‘Debord’s Nostalgic Algorithm’
  • Mark Amerika, ‘Source Material Everywhere: The Alfred North Whitehead Remix’
  • Gary Hall, Clare Birchall and Pete Woodbridge, ‘Liquid Theory TV’
  • Gary Hall and Clare Birchall, ‘New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader’


The Culture Machine journal publishes new work from both established figures and up-and-coming writers. It is fully refereed, and has an International Advisory Board which includes Geoffrey Bennington, Robert Bernasconi, Sue Golding, Lawrence Grossberg, Peggy Kamuf, Alphonso Lingis, Meaghan Morris, Paul Patton, Mark Poster, Avital Ronell, Nicholas Royle and Kenneth Surin.

Culture Machine welcomes original, unpublished submissions on any aspect of culture and theory. All contributions to Culture Machine are refereed anonymously. Anyone with material they wish to submit for publication is invited to contact:

Culture Machine c/o Dave Boothroyd and Gary Hall
e-mail: and

Culture Machine is part of Open Humanities Press:

For more information, visit the Culture Machine site at:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ode to the outgoing POTUS


good luck,

good riddance.

You've left our Constitution a pittance.

We the people, GWB?

More like an imperial Presidency

suborned by your muscle, Dick Cheney.

May yours not be an enduring legacy.

So goodbye,

good luck, and

good riddance

as you exit the stage,

having roused us at last from our complacence.

(Okay, so I'm not much of a poet, but you get the drift.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lessig on Colbert

Perhaps the only thing more daunting than squaring off in front of the United States Supreme Court is having to go head-to-head with Stephen Colbert on his television talk show. Lawrence Lessig handles things beautifully in discussing his latest book, Remix: Making Art & Culture Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (Penguin, 2008). Bravo, Professor Lessig.

Be sure to check out Lessig's Blog for some creative remixes of the segment.

P.S. Happy 2009, y'all!