Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Importance of Unity in Approaching E-E Campaigns

The article by Dutta brings to mind many of the theories that we have covered in class regarding the flow of information and the tendency for western ideas to be promulgated to the developing world. I enjoy that Dutta takes offense to the current state of affairs regarding the EE campaigns but am surprised by the powerful and accusatory tone that he takes through the article.

I think that Dutta's assertion really comes down to the importance of E-E campaigners to be brought into the sub-altern world in order to gain a greater understanding and perspective of what they are charged with helping. By giving the sub-altern community an opportunity to participate (a word Dutta clearly emphasizes), they are then empowered to be part of a change and "buy-in" based on the notion that they created a stake in the result. The example of 35% of Indians not viewing overpopulation as a problem gives more credence to the seemingly obvious notion that the under-represented poor must have a stake in the solution.

While he provides many insightful comments and is generally on the right track in proposing a re-evaluation of value systems and objectives, Dutta paints an accusatory picture of USAID and other international aid organizations. While there may certainly be some issues with some past action, there have also been enormous successes that can be attributed to the work of such organizations. I do not think that blame can be based squarely on the shoulders of large international aid agencies but should be assumed by the community as a whole and set as a goal for working more closely together to accomplish a single, unifying objective.

Development Participation Anticipation

The writing of Mohan Jyoti Dutta offers a critical perspective on the aims and ideas that shape Entertainment Education campaigns (E-E). Although I agree that a dialogical process between underdeveloped communities and E-E planners is the most effective method for meeting the demands of subaltern voices, I find that Dutta underestimates the potential of the participatory approach in social change.

Dutta asserts that E-E, the primary form of health campaigns, has more greatly contributed to oppression of the ThirdWorld than its development. Often used to convey U.S. foreign policy, issues including international family planning reflect dominant western discourses to the contrary of subaltern voices. Rather than eliminating poverty by supporting local business production, Dutta claims that E-E only succeeds in securing viable socioeconomic environments for U.S. investment interests. Without participation from subaltern voices, E-E will continue to stress transnational capitalism.

Dutta, however, also recognizes the participatory approach to development communication as a false hope for subaltern voices. While Dutta states that the participatory approach fails to allow subaltern voices to set their own agenda for development, I believe that this method may promote grassroots participation. With the incorporation of different sectors of society in communication for development and social change, participatory ICTs are optimal for the encouragement of civil dialogue and bringing subaltern voices to the forefront of E-E campaigns.

Communication: Is it simple or complex?

Corman’s essay focuses on some of the constraints and deficiencies with the message influence model that is commonly used here in the U.S. He finds that a primary flaw with this model is that it is presumed that the receiver understands the message in the same manner as the sender and that communication will almost always be successful. Corman finds that this model fails to take into account the complexities of communication as a meaning making process. Meanings of messages cannot always be easily transferable and people often times interpret their own meaning to a message based on other non-related factors such as culture, history, education, and so forth. The author brings up a model he finds better suited to account for the true process of communication entitled the pragmatic complexity model. He encourages this model because it views communication as a relationship based on a simultaneous type of mutual interdependence where failure is to be expected and therefore viewed as the norm.

Dutta’s readings provided us with a negative stance towards entertainment education campaigns. He finds that they often times actually exclude the subaltern voice and promote transnational capitalism and western hegemony while causing even more poverty amongst subaltern populations by eradicating domestic forms of production. He argues that one of the constraints of the entertainment education campaigns is its focus on population control programs and states that by focusing in on only one single health issue entertainment education campaigns largely ignore other equally important health related issues. Although, I did find his piece to be a bit too harsh on USAID and its promotion of entertainment education campaigns, I agree that often times the subaltern voice can be ignored which I believe disregards the whole point of even having entertainment education campaigns in the first place.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Entertaining the Developing World For Social Change: Is it as effective as it was originally thought to be?

The readings this week pertain to communication for change. Srinivas R. Melkote, in his chapter titled “Theories of Development Communication” effectively outlines the overarching theoretical concepts pertaining to the practice of development. He discusses modernization, the critical perspectives, liberation or monastic perspectives, and empowerment, all under the presumption that communication theories in development are lumped under one of two umbrellas- the dominant modernization paradigm or the alternative paradigm. Melkote cites Daniel Lerner has exemplifying the early days of how mass media was thought to play out under the modernization paradigm. Lerner speculated that mass media help create a modern society or fostered urbanization and literacy. It was then that mass media exposure (radio and print in the 1960s) would lead to integration into modern participant society. Information, for modernization theorists, was thought to be the missing link in the development chain. While information is power, it’s also not everything. In order for change to come about there must be certain infrastructures in place that will ensure that the changes being made will be successfully received among the grassroots. Which is the reason why I believe the participatory approach to communication and development appears to actively incorporate the culture of the developing environment.

All the readings this week included text on entertainment-education strategies. Melkote articulates, “Entertainment-education programs represent a unique kind of social marketing where social pro-social ideas are marketed within media products” (Melkote, 112). Arivnd Singhal and Everrett M. Rogers, in their article entitled, “A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment-Education” seek to broaden the theoretical understanding behind the use of entertainment-education strategies. The theories originated within two sets of scholars- communication scholars at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health and the scholars at the non-profit organization called Population Communications International (PCI). Singhal and Rogers propose that theoretical entertainment-education programs need to take the role emotions more seriously. One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Mahatma Gandhi. He said, “Change occurs when deeply felt private experiences are given public legitimacy." Emotions can be extremely powerful and lead people to feel compelled to act based upon the emotion being felt. Like Singhal and Rogers, I believe entertainment education will go beyond the boundaries of its mainstay messages to produce social change on a myriad of other development concerns. The biggest challenge is creating an entertainment-education strategy that is culturally applicable to most people within the host population and one in which they will be engaged by whatever form of entertainment is offered to the community.

As I was reading I questioned whether or not entertainment-education strategies for development are a form of soft power (particularly if these programs are being created and produced by the West). While these development strategies are intended to benefit communities by informing them, for example, how to prevent HIV and AIDS, I would argue that these strategies are a form of soft power. Seemingly, if participants are entertained by something they will be less resistant to participating in entertainment-education interventions, especially if the education is coming across as being cool. I read Mohan Jyoti Dutta’s article, “Theoretical Approaches to Entertainment Education Campaigns: A Subaltern Critique” last, but he arguably provides some of the most interesting points about entertainment-education campaigns. He offers a cynical perspective in which he contends that entertainment-education campaigns often push biased and problematic problem definitions and subsequent solutions that can undermine the very people they are supposed to help (Dutta, 229). As with most discussions of the extremely impoverished, Dutta presents a compelling argument that must not be overlooked within the theoretical framework of entertainment-education strategies. He effectively illuminates that research should be focused on locating the agency of the subaltern peoples who are resisting the dominant paradigm. The irony in entertainment-education programs is that they are presumably participatory. However, if they are being resisted, then like Dutta suggests, the resistant voices need to be heard by the dominant one. It is unfortunate and downright depressing that basic communication skills are not being utilized as effectively as they should under the definition of this approach. Finally, this development strategy is an intriguing one. It is my strongest hope that, in the future, development programs will be more holistic, proactive, and socially conscious about the populations they intend on helping by integrating local voices into education programs.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

USAID and the Gumdrop Forest

Evidently this is one of those situations where punctuality does more harm than good, since I spent a good chunk of time on reading/blogging material that we don't actually need for class. On the bright side, I liked the second assignment a lot more than the original, but I'm still kicking myself. *sigh*

I took some issue with Dutta's assessment of E-E programs, although I did agree with the bulk of his argument, which I'll summarize as follows: (1) E-E programs tend to reflect the values of the designers (usually from wealthier, more politically dominant nations than the E-E recipients). (2) Participatory E-E programs reflect some bottom-up input regarding solutions, but (3) to be truly participatory and beneficial, they ought to include bottom-up input on identifying problems as well as solutions. This all makes sense.

My contention was with his characterizing USAID as a tool for Big Commercial Monoliths. I have no doubt that it's possible to find evidence of people extolling USAID's value for commercial development. I'm sure it's even more likely when the extollers are addressing people with commercial interests. But I've known quite a few people who have worked for USAID and I can promise you none of them spend their weekends stroking their villainous goatees and dreaming up new schemes to benefit U.S. corporations at the expense of underprivileged foreigners. Most of them have a genuine commitment to development for the sake of the people it benefits, and it's naive to pretend that development efforts--whatever their intentions--have black or white outcomes. They don't. Progress has benefits and disadvantages, and those benefits and disadvantages are often unequal. It's unfortunate, but that's how it works.

So what if USAID does open up the Third World for foreign investment? Foreign investment is not an evil unto itself. And altruistic motives are no guarantee of perfect development solutions. I'm all for bottom-up participation in the development process. But let's not idealize it. Development is a messy business. Some people are going to get hurt. Some people are going to mess up. But ultimately, it's the path progress takes and it has many benefits. By all means, include the "subaltern" community in the process, but don't expect bottom-up development to lead straight to the Gumdrop Forest and don't assume that top-down processes will necessarily lead to the perpetuation of core-periphery dynamics.

Friday, November 20, 2009

IC and Development

Can't say any of this week's readings filled me with the Spirit. In fact, if the writers had been preaching at an IC revival, I'm reasonably confident I'd have stayed planted on the bench. Melkote's was the most interesting, although I was already familiar with a lot of what he covered. The section on participatory interventions I really liked, because I haven't read anything about them and didn't know much beyond what I picked up from TW's presentation on Tuesday. The idea of using communication strategies to challenge power relationships really resonated with me, as did the idea of people developing methods of consciousness, collectively forming knowledge, and transferring this into social action. It reminded me of our readings from a few weeks ago -- Bennett, Castells, Juris, etc. -- and, oddly, of some research I'd done as an undergraduate Spanish major.

Some of you may be familiar with the controversy surrounding Rigoberta Menchu Tum, but I'll summarize here: Essentially, she's a Quiche indígena from Guatemala, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy on behalf of native Indians (meaning indigenous Americans, not Indians). Part of her outreach included an autobiography, which contained a large chunk of information--much related to abuses by the Guatemalan military--that was later proved to be inaccurate or false. The controversy around this revelation relates to concepts of absolute truths and narrative development and the question of whether Menchu could still be considered trustworthy and whether the text was deliberately misleading and on and on. I won't bore you with the details, but there have been a lot of interesting texts written about it.

Menchu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 -- before the Internet had become the interactive forum it has today, and it occurred to me that existing ICTs are much better adapted at (a) wide-scale disinformation and (b) advocacy, and I wondered how her story would have played out if the timeline had been shifted back a few years. Certainly her book would have been debunked much more quickly, and possibly before it had the opportunity to exert the positive influence with which it's been credited. Would it have mobilized a supportive online community? Or would the most passionate activists have been on the wrong side of a digital divide?

I think the real reason it stood out for me is that her story involves the all the aspects Melkote talks about when describing participatory action: In terms of consciousness, it's right there in the original title of her autobiography, which translates as My name is Rigoberta Menchu, and this is how my conscience was born. As for collective, democratic knowledge building, it's a main theme in the book, and relates to the controversy, as her supporters note that she empowers the community by creating a collective, public voice instead of simply reproducing her own personal story. And social action (also described in the text) is what she won the Nobel for. It's the story of an oppressed, and later empowered, community, which (as we all know by now) is an endless source of fascination for me.

As for the other writings, to some extent, the whole entertainment education field seems a little overly deterministic to me. I do believe that exposure to values and ideas can influence opinions and actions, but I don't think everybody who watches Fight Club starts stealing fat from liposuction clinics and bombing corporate buildings. Or that everybody that watches sexually responsible television actors will aspire to emulate them. But that's a fairly extreme oversimplification of EE research, and cranky as I am today, I still know it's an unfair description. Let's just say I think it's an interesting topic and I look forward to learning a little more about it, but none of this week's readings have got me singing in the choir just yet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Little MORE Conversation, A Little more Action: Public Diplomacy in the Information Age

James Glassman’s speech, Joseph Nye’s article entitled “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power”, and Monroe Price’s article called “Toward A Foreign Policy of Information Space”, are all exemplary pieces of work that vividly illustrate the importance of cultural power within the realm of international politics. The Internet is a technological discontinuity that offers users opportunities to form networks locally, domestically, and internationally in which diplomatic conversations can take place. Glassman calls “PD is an approach, not a technology” and the international community will need to use it. Applying an approach is free (assuming users have access to a computer). My point is that the PD train is moving and the only way to get on the train is to begin to integrate interactive media to project soft power. If not, Glassman clearly states that those governments who resist the Internet will be outwardly ignored.

Today, more than ever (especially after 9/11), “all activities work best by conversation rather than dictation [or coercion]”. In undergrad, I took an Anthropology class called “Religions in Africa”, which was fascinating. At one point, we read an article about American Christian missionaries going over to spend time with other self-proclaimed African Christians. This particular group of American Christians preached that word of God is how good Christians should live. In a neocolonial style visit to work with the Africans, the Americans brought them what they know to be the word of the Lord through by providing everyone with a Bible. What they did not take into account is that this community practiced oral religion- through songs and chanting. So when the Bibles were introduced to the Africans, they accepted them but did not use them as they were originally intended. Instead, because the Bibles had no cultural significance to them, the Africans began tearing out pages from the Bible and used them as toilet paper. This is one rather amusing example of how a lack of communication and/or preaching at people does not foster sound public diplomacy. It may seem like common sense, but what Nye argues is true when he writes, “effective public diplomacy is a two-way street that involves listening as well as talking”. Cross-culturally, this could not be more true. Language barriers can cause a loss in translation. Just as Nye expounds, “all information goes through cultural filters and declamatory statements are rarely heard as intended”. This ‘war on ideas’ is greatly affected by what, when, where, how, and who communicates, listens, and the languages they speak.

In short, governments, the global civil society, and individuals must continue this multidimensional use of technology to strengthen relationships between actors. Not one kind of power can be underestimated or taken for granted. This approach will hopefully allow each nation-state (or maybe culture is more appropriate?) to become more reflexive of its soft power and how it affects its public diplomacy.

Public Diplomacy and Soft Power

I really enjoyed the articles for this week and found most of the arguments regarding the relationship between public diplomacy and soft power to be logical, intuitive, and very relevant to the current administration's agenda. Given the opportunity of having heard Glassman's speech a few weeks ago, I enjoyed reading his elaboration as to the current state of public diplomacy and the importance of creating an image of America as a country that wants to have tough conversations. I agree with what is said in his current speech, but it brings me back to a point he made while on campus. A primary goal, he said, was to improve the image of America by teaching people about their own culture. I think this attitude, as we discussed last week, is difficult to implement based on the world's lack of recognition of America having a personal culture in the first place. There need to be primary steps to establish our own credibility, and I appreciate his acknowledgment of that in this speech.

Glassman also pointed out the the US international broadcasting system is a "tried and true" element of US culture. Glassman's implication of success in this area is widely disputed (especially in our classroom) and also somewhat refuted by Joseph Nye in his publication on Public Diplomacy and Soft Power. Nye refers to the reactions of international broadcasting with regard to bin Laden and and our blocking of his videos being counter-productive. I agree with Nye on this case and it seems that Glassman would too. If we are concerned with having "tough conversations" then we should not be afraid to broadcast tough topics.

Nye also presents three keys to the development of public diplomacy: culture, political values, and foreign policy. This topic speaks directly to the current administration's charge with regard to the international community. Upon taking office, Obama immediately assessed Guantanamo and also declared his openness to have conversations with Iran. Both of these are critical public diplomacy accomplishments and I appreciate the administration's willingness to take a stand on these issues. From a PD 2.0 perspective, it is imperative to continue making decisions to communicate the idea of the US as a member of the global community- perhaps the rest of the world will begin thinking of us in this favorable light as well.

A New Form of Public Diplomacy

  This week I found Nye's piece on Soft Power and Diplomacy and the Powers and Gilboa's article on Al Jazeera to be the most enlightening. Nye clearly demonstrates the importance of soft power and how its effectiveness can be measured by changing minds, its ability to attract others, and moving opinion. He also mentions that Americans really didn’t recognize the importance in investing in soft power until after September 11th. He defines the three dimensions of PD being composed of daily communication, strategic communication, and the development of lasting relationships. He concludes the piece by stating that smart PD requires the understanding of the role of credibility, self-criticism, and the role of civil society in generating soft power.

  The Powers and Gilboa piece focuses on the emergence of Al Jazeera as an important player in international politics and as a new form of public diplomacy. They describe that the main reason for its reputation is due to the poor standing of other Arab media systems and the perception that it is a reliable and honest news source. Nevertheless, they mention that one must remember that they are a news source with a clear agenda and represent the views of Pan-Arab citizenry and serve as a counterbalance to the predominance of western media.

   Lastly, Glassman's speech touches upon the emergence of public diplomacy 2.0. He defines PD as a war of the ideas and describes PD 2.0 as being facilitated by the emergence of the web, social networking sites, and technology. He describes the main characteristics of PD 2.0 as one where indirection works best, the State Dept. convenes and facilitates, speed is essential, and expertise lies in the private sector.

   All of the readings this week touched upon the emergence of a new type of public diplomacy. They describe an environment where soft power is vital, technology is a crucial component, and civil society can become much more engaged and taken upon a much more active role than in the past.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Joe Nye: Soft Power Guy

I liked Nye's essay—not in the warm fuzzies sort of way I get when I read a particularly starry-eyed idealistic communications essay, but more of the appreciative academic sort of way when an essay just makes sense. (Wow, just read that sentence back and I'm starting to think I may have spent a bit too much time reading today….) It seems so logical that bringing people around to your way of thinking works so much better when your values and actions are in line and you're actually willing to listen as well as speak. And that your culture, values and politics are only going to attract others if they're (wait for it) attractive! Please stifle your gasps of shock. OK I'm getting sarcastic here because I spent twelve hours today reading academic essays and didn't get out of my pajamas until about 3 p.m. but I sincerely did enjoy it.

One thing Nye emphasizes (and everyone else too, really) is the importance of multi-directional communication and establishing relationships. Actually, Glassman really expands on this point in a way that did give me the academic warm fuzzies, probably because he just seems so darn confident in PD 2.0. But he does have a point. New Internet trends are better suited to the Western culture of free discourse than to the rigidity of extremism, and they are particularly suited to interactive communication and idea sharing.

Price's essay, on the other hand, was a little too dry for me, although I did appreciate the whole Keystone Cop description of the US and Serbs duking it out in Kosovo for broadcasting control. As for Powers and Gilboa, the piece was interesting, but didn't really seem to fit in with the others quite as well.

But let's not beat around the bush here. I think we all know I'm just excited about these essays because they deal with my favorite topic (starts with a P, rhymes with Jack Bauer). Yeah, I know, I'm a sucker for the power essays. But I'm just fascinated by the idea of constructing reality and shaping relationships with actions and words. It's an English-major's dream come true: that words and ideas actually matter.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Price is Right

Monroe Price’s Toward a Foreign Policy of Information Space has caused me to ponder the work of governments to further their dominance and democratic values and control media for human rights advocacy.

Throughout Price's essay, I had difficultly discerning the ways in which policy and governments justify international information intervention. Although my confusion may be due to Price’s complex sentence structures, I believe my misunderstanding is due to the general flexibility of foreign policy concerning media space. While set practices in foreign media policy may not be practical, the gray area that envelopes the relationship between public diplomacy and regulation is disconcerting. The Bush Administration’s efforts to “win hearts and minds” proceeding the attacks of September 11, 2001 reflect the powerful role government directed media structures can play in war time information control. Whether international or domestic policy establish information intervention, elements of media management are apparent in war, trade and intellectual capital practices and hence, can be increased or decreased without examination or consequence.

Due to the ambiguous nature of information intervention procedure, motivations for the practice must be evaluated. While preventative intervention for the diffusion of conflict is an invaluable tool for human rights advocacy, empirical or market dominance should not be the objectives behind “peace broadcasting” initiatives. I am hopeful, however, that increasing participation from civil society and NGOs will bring more stability to the process of foreign information intervention and challenge the previously unchallenged interests of the state.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fired Up about the Media and Globalization

The readings this week provide an intersection of media, news, and conflict and highlight the importance of how information (written, oral, film and photography) can shape how a story about war is told. To be fair this week in my tourism class, we read about the relationship between tourism and terrorism. There was one particular article by Michael Grosspietsch, entitled “Can Tourism Provoke Terrorism?” that was particularly thought provoking and correlates to the notion of spinning information to sensationalize information. Grosspietsch argues that tourism development is perceived as threatening Islamic culture and traditions and not offering any benefits to local people. My question is why is it that tourism development is assumed to only create an intense resentment within Islamic cultures? Similarly, Robin Brown’s article, “Spinning the War: Political Communications, Information Operations, and Public Diplomacy in the War on Terrorism” illuminates that the day after 9/11/2001 the type of diction used by the media already used language to conclude that there was an attack and could lead to the declaration of war against US enemies. Therein lie areas of contention. I dislike the way Islam and Islamic Fundamentalism are lumped together by the media. While Brown writes that the US immediately emphasized that ‘Islam is peace’, the media framed the story, so as to reflect a negative connotation to be associated with Islam as a whole. Not only does this affect international politics but it also affects people on a grassroots level, both in the US and in the Middle East, to create perceptions about the each other as the “other”.

In an ideal world, there would be objective news- straight facts and no spin. But that is not way it is, so consumers of media, particularly of media relating to international conflict, must holistically evaluate each news story for its strengths and weaknesses. Being careless with how a story is framed could have dynamic implications, not just for the US, but other entities in the international system. Globalization of information is powerful as we have read, but what is scarier about its power is if the information that is being globalized is massively biased. These days, the average person (with access to the global media system) holds truth to what is being reported to them with little hesitation particularly because more and more information is at the click of a button. This is exemplified through Hansen’s chapter when she argues that new ICTs are undermining traditional diplomacy. In conclusion, we must be vigilant in analyzing media critically because the globalization of flows of information is only going to exacerbate this problem.

Global Journalism as a "Victim?"

Prior to reading articles by Kimmage, Hafez and Brown, I faultily focused on whether the media accurately report news as opposed to how power structures restrict media coverage. While I maintain optimism in the increasing globalization of participatory communication, I find global journalism to be the commercial driven victim of failed governmental transparency and limited pluralism.

It is difficult to brand journalism as a “victim” of circumstance in modern information society, but I refuse to believe that the media would rather continue to “follow” instead of “lead” in the market driven field of global agenda setting. Through examples of the news coverage proceeding September 11, 2001 and the framing of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is clear that the U.S. has devoted a lot of money to the shaping of global opinion in a manner reflective of national policy. By communicating messages of national interest the loudest and most immediately, power structures hinder journalism’s ability to follow news events as well as influence politics. Consumers demand up-to-the-minute reports that diminish journalistic integrity through the transfer of messages before multiple sources have been accessed and facts have been confirmed. In a media environment where every news event is framed as a crisis, nationalistic sentiments are more strongly conveyed, policy preferences serve as litmus tests for patriotism and the public discourse must be “suited for television” so as to even capture the attention of civil society.

This argument does not excuse the ignorance of global journalism, but instead, challenges them to “up the ante” if they desire market dominance in an increasingly participatory knowledge society. Unless journalism becomes more transparent, the global community will rely less on intermediaries and instead, convey news events to each other via mobile technology and source check by accessing their buddy lists.

The apparent flaws in International Reporting

   Similar to Nick, I found Hafez piece to be the most enlightening one of the readings chosen for this week. Hafez argues that international reporting often times tend to represent the interest of the reporting country (many times the U.S.) rather than the country that is being reported upon. Therefore, viewers are receiving biased information that really is being produced for a domestic rather than a truly international audience. Hafez finds that regionalism also is a more prominent feature of international reporting He states that international reporting focuses on elites rather than the overall general populace and rarely if ever presents any truly positive information. He concludes his piece by stating that in issues of foreign policy the media tends to follow rather than to truly lead.
    Brown's chapter was also interesting in that he depicts the war on terrorism as also being waged through the use of the media. He mentions how the United States has portrayed certain double standards since the beginning of the war by supporting press freedom in the Arab world until it was in their best interest to contain it. The U.S. has made several attempts to shape perceptions of conflict but he finds this has had a very small impact in the Middle East.
   From the readings this week we can conclude that the media definitely does play an important role when it comes to politics and disseminating information, but it can be limited to several constraints such as the presentation of biased information, a north-south information flow, and representation coming only from the elites.

Hey, Tessa! This one's for you.


International Reporting: Get Into It!

The readings all come to a central focus of media, its influence on foreign policy, and the current state of affairs in international reporting. It becomes clear, rather quickly, from both a public diplomacy perspective and an international reporting mindset that the "CNN Effect" is likely an unfounded myth. I find it interesting to see the differences in background ideologies between public diplomacy and international reporting as they are described in the different readings. I had all my thoughts outlined regarding the differences between the Hanson chapter and the Robin Brown article regarding diplomacy but, after reading it, I can't help but remark on the strength of emotion behind the Hafez article.

Hafez brings up some intuitive and heartfelt points regarding the shortcomings of international reporting that we have touched on in class. Namely, the failure of the media/international reporters to provide comprehensive, unbiased news to the public and, by the same token, the public's apparent desire for conflict-based and ego-centric news. Hafez notes that, within the same construct as the tendency for negative reporting, the relevancy of violence is a major factor in reporting. He introduces the DRC as an example of a war-torn country that is paid little attention by the German reporters. I think an example such as the ongoing war in Uganda or even, to an extent, the continuing atrocities in Sudan are other examples of violence that simply do not get the press that they should based on their lack of relevancy to the US public.

Hafez also notes the inherent problem with international reporting lies partly with the tendency to report "about" but not "with" the country being reported on. He goes on to say that the quality of the reporting is then in doubt based on the ego-centric character of the media system. The inclusion of journalists from the country being reported on would add a significant amount of credibility to the newscast and would enhance the public knowledge of what is actually occurring in the reported country. The current media representation does not give the public a globalized view and instead stays within the confines of established reporting habits and results in, as Hafez notes, the opposite of a multicultural world.

Both international reporting and the media in general have an obligation to report news to the public at-large. However, it is also essential that the consumers demand comprehensive, unbiased news instead of accepting the status quo. As all of the readings point out, the American media at the start of the Iraq war failed miserably at providing unbiased news and, instead, promoted the US government interests and followed the government agenda directly. This type of reporting is detrimental not only to the US public but also to the notion of global media in general. Hopefully, as we become more economically global, we are equally stout in our desire for true globalized media and can go beyond our relevant borders to view the world as one.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The drums of war

Hanson's description of how new ICTs are undermining traditional diplomacy caught my attention this week, possibly because I just attended a conference on cultural diplomacy. While I agree that ICTs have definitely challenged traditional diplomatic practices, I'm not entirely convinced that diplomats can't take advantage of ICTs to further their objectives--either by helping them to transmit their reports faster or to communicate more effectively with their networks at home and abroad.

The other aspect of this week's readings that I really responded to was the focus on war coverage. So exactly how much influence do the media have in determining the course of a war? After finishing this week's readings, I'm a bit muddled. It seems as though the media can't deter a war-bent country, nor can they persuade a government to intervene in foreign affairs if that government is not already so inclined (the one exception, noted by Kai Hafez, being occasional humanitarian crises). And yet, the media do play an important role in broadcasting, framing and legitimizing policy decisions. But what if the media were to fiercely oppose a government's intention to go to war? Hafez suggests that this is unlikely, as citizens of war-bound nations (journalists included) tend to rally around patriotic symbols and ideas, which is a little disheartening, as it suggests that such decisions are generally made before they are introduced to the public sphere.

As citizens, how much room do we have to hold our government accountable? The CNN effect has been widely debunked. And even Manuel Castells, who acknowledges how ICTs have been used by oppositional bodies notes that the people in power are equally adept at using them to perpetuate the status quo and further their own aims. I'd like to believe that war in Iraq wasn't inevitable, but it seems that once a government has decided on a foreign policy plan, it's difficult (and unlikely) for the press to sway them. As citizens, that increases our responsibility to stay informed--not just through the mainstream media, but through alternate sources--to question information and decisions and use what resources are available to promote the common good, both at home and abroad. Of course, there are many people who would agree with Sir Humphrey Appleby that the citizens of a democracy not to be informed, but rather "to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Global Social Movements: Does the collective activist exist?

Globalization and glocalization have created and continue to foster decentralized networks around the world. The readings this week exemplify this phenomenon. There were a few points that I found to be exceptionally interesting. Manuel Castells, in his article, “The Mobile Civil Society: Social Movements, Political Power, and Communication Networks”, states, “new avenues are open for autonomous processes of social and political mobilization that do not rely on formal politics and do no depend on their framing in the mass media”. These new avenues come in the form of ICTs- the Internet, SMS text messaging, instant messaging, social networking (in the form of Facebook and Twitter), and blogging. Castells uses examples from different countries to illuminate the differences of the impact of ICTs on social and political activism. As I was reading this, I noticed the vast differences in the case studies he selected. My only quam with this article is that each one of these places has vast social and political histories that greatly influence the success or failure of ICT diffusion for activism. These examples bring to light the varying levels of development internationally and depict the multiplexity and complexity of networks at the local, national, and global levels.

Jeffery Juris in his article, “Network social movements: global movements for global justice” argues that activists think of themselves as belonging to global movements, linking local protests to a greater global struggle. This raises questions of the collective global experience in pursuit of justice. Superficially, grassroots activists could be cognizant of their impact globally, but I think that local cultural values, and economic and political histories complicate the notion of the collective global activist given the examples sited in Castells’ article. Furthermore, Bennett also postulates about the collective identity that emerges from movement networks. He articulates, “individual activists are more able to identify with the experiences of the “other” classes, causes, cultures, and places.” If this is true, can ht idea of the global activist exist? Won’t there always have to be an “other” to compare against.

Castells mentions the March 11, 2004 Al Qaeda attacks on three suburban trains in Madrid, Spain. He discusses the political and social implications of the government’s control of information. The attacks were orchestrated with the use of low-cost prepaid phones. I studied abroad in Granada, Spain in the spring of 2007. Everyone from my program was instructed to buy one of these prepaid phones to be able to keep in touch with one another since we were sprawled across the city. I just recently went back to Spain this past summer to spend sometime with my grandparents who live in Valencia. When I got there, I found that I was unable to use my prepaid phone because the government had passed a law stating that all cell phones (regardless of the plan type) must be registered through their mobile carrier. My understanding of this law is that it would allow carriers and the government greater access to monitor cell phone use, particularly for maintaining national security. I, of course, registered my phone. This, too, also raises questions like if the government of Spain was willing to withhold information for the sake of a political party, what kind of Big Brother tactics are they employing? How much power is too much? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for national security but where is the line and is the line moving with the pace of globalization?

I found the readings to be enlightening containing fun IC jargon such as culture jamming, memes, and netwars, but also filled with compelling examples to illustrate the impacts of ICT diffusion to spark social and political change. These readings show that ICT use can do great things for having dissonant voices heard, but in the process, it also raise many compelling questions.

Transnational Activism

I personally found Castell's piece to be the most interesting and truly enjoyed the manner in which he formulated his argument demonstrating how ICT is being used to mobilize people in various manners from discontent in the government, to voting, to even mentioning political scandal. Another thing I truly appreciated about the piece was that he also mentioned cases where mobile communication has had less of a significant impact such as in the 2004 Republican National Convention, the 2003 SARS outbreak in China, and lastly in Japan. He also brings up an interesting point how mobile communication seems to have more of an influence when it is coming from person to person (horizontal communication )as opposed to a top down approach which he greatly demonstrated with Berlusconi's last attempt by sending a SMS the night before the election.

Juris piece was also important because he describes the emergence of movements for global justice as involving broad bands of networks opposing growing corporate influence in our lives. He defines them as being global in scope, informational, and organized around flexible networks. All of the readings this week seemed to touch upon the concept that due to the emergence of ICTs and new information a new form of transnational activism has flourished coming from the people, which I believe is definitely a positive thing.

Social Movements and the Ability to Enact Political Change

The readings for this week built upon some of the topics that we have already analyzed in this class regarding the international communication technologies and their ability to enact change. I enjoyed the use of concrete examples, mainly in the Castells piece, in analyzing the impact that ICT's have had within the last decade on high profile political movements. All of the readings point to the notion that these technologies have a strong impact and have given an unprecedented amount of power to people to enact change using autonomous modes of communication.

Castells utilizes a diverse set of examples to illustrate the power of mobilization through wireless means. While it is clear that the SMS technology certainly played a part, I think that Castells may overplay the wireless factor in some of the examples. He does come back to the audience and point out some other factors, especially within the case of Estrada in the Philippines, but I do think it is important to be realistic in all cases regarding the true role of mobile technology in these movements. All of the examples have extremely different contextual implications and to draw too strong of a correlation between the outcome and one level of the movement could be dangerous.

Hanson's article reaffirmed many of the previous assertions that we have discussed regarding the importance of international communication technologies in the realm of migration and transnational ethnic networks. I am particularly interested in the discrepancies between similar causes for ethnonationalist movements for the Tamil ethnic group and the ethnic Tibetans. Both groups have experienced unjust treatment and lack of recognition at the hands of the governments yet the worldwide audience is generally much more aware of Tibet's cause than that of the Tamils. Along with Bennett's "global activism," does the branding of an ethnonationalist cause have a strong effect on the global response? Hanson alludes to the "smiling Dalai Lama" as an image of Tibet's struggle for freedom yet most of the world has no reference point for the Tamil struggle. Perhaps the answer lies in the international NGO's ability to pick up the Tamil cause and run with it into mainstream media outlets in order to raise awareness.

The articles point to the importance of wireless technologies in the process of social change and it is important to realize that there will continue to be a shifting balance in the power structure as a result of the public opinion. The new modes of communication and proliferation of already established ICTs will undoubtedly continue to have a strong impact on political movements and work in conjunction with one another. The lasting impact will be in the level of power these technologies afford to all levels of the population in order to enact real change on an inclusive scale.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

People Power

The writings of Bennett, Castelles and Hanson make me optimistic of the increasing influence of popular risings prompted by communication technology (I know what you're thinking, Laura M, and yes, I did manage to become even more optimistic about ICTs and development from this week's readings!). In a mass media environment of less diverse political content, individually controlled, multifaceted and mobile communication tools allow for interactive networks of global activism.

Although I don’t think Rhengold’s “smart mobs,” Hunter’s “network army” or Arquilla and Ronfeldt’s “netwar” appropriately describe contemporary grassroots political organization, the concept of a wireless public space for the formation of counter-power is unquestionable. Whether analyzing the case of the Philippines’ President Estrada or the Korean presidential election of Rohn Moo-Hyun, I found that conjoined use of mobile phones and other new ICTs can be effective for decentralizing media monopolies and dominant institutions. Tools for autonomous communication reflect modern social dynamics of globalization, resulting in “collective individualization.” Activists, motivated by their discontent with existing powers, the universal production of content and interactive international networks, mobilize around shared ideologies and challenge the control of governments and the mainstream.

Bennett, Castelles and Hanson claim that if the digital divide closes, mobile technology gains credibility and varied mediums are employed, civic involvement will continue to be amplified. If current social, political and economic globalized dynamics continue, these obstacles will be overcome and speedy, political organization via wireless ICTs will become an increasingly real threat to more authoritarian institutions.

OK, I know I'm a nerd, but ...

... this amused me. It's a Washington Post article (in response to the recent Ethics security breach) on security breaches through the years, showing how various breakdowns occurred in a variety of communication technologies.

Once more into the breach: The latest in a long line of mea culprits

By Monica Hesse and Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 31, 2009

Shocking news just broke that more than 30 lawmakers are under investigation by the House ethics committee. Who was blamed for releasing the confidential sleuthing report? A low-level staffer, natch, the Official Scapegoat of Washington. ¶ The staffer had apparently stored the file on a home computer with file-sharing software used for downloading free music and movies. Ruh-roh! ¶ Accidents happen . . . and happen. . . . and happen -- and not just with computers. In fact, "Oops, my bad!" has long been the mantra of the government drone -- and the phrase translates in any means of communication.


A Confederate soldier accidentally drops Robert E. Lee's battle plans, wrapped around cigars, in a Maryland field. The plans are discovered by a Union soldier. Just in time for Antietam. 1862


Foreign Secretary of the German Empire Arthur Zimmerman telegraphs his ambassador in Mexico, instructing him to promise support for a Mexican invasion of the United States. Unfortunately, the telegram was sent on British cables (the German cables were wrecked). The Brits intercept it. The Americans declare war on Germany. 1917


CIA agent Bernard Barker leaves his address book in a hotel room with a little notation reading "WH HH." As in White House. And a White House consultant named Howard Hunt. Watergate ensues. 1972


The Treasury Department, in an effort to collect -- and thereby prevent -- computer viruses, instead makes the viruses available to the public on its Automated Information System bulletin board. 1993


New Jersey politician Mike Mostovlyan means to send a book to a Pennsylvania mayor who is convalescing in a hospital but mislabels the package; instead sends her the parcel meant for a friend. It contains dead fish. 1993


An IRS worker makes a typo when releasing the phone number for a free helpline. Confused callers to the IRS hear "Hi, sexy" and are encouraged to express their "phone fantasies" for up to $3.99 a minute. 1995


At a social gathering, Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau is photographed groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The pics appear on his Facebook wall . . . then on everybody's Facebook wall. 2008


The Pentagon fesses up to accidentally sending four fuses for intercontinental ballistic missiles to Taiwan. 2008


Soldier Stephen Phillips accidentally phones home during a pitched battle in Afghanistan, leaving a three-minute voice mail filled with the sound of gunfire and cussing. "I hope someone gives him more ammo," his stepfather tells ABC. 2008


Plans of Marine One, the presidential helicopter, are accidentally made available to the public when, it was speculated, a defense contractor downloaded a file-sharing service -- yes -- to share music. 2009


Maps showing precise locations of enriched-uranium stockpiles for nuclear weapons went public when the Government Printing Office accidentally posted them on its Web site. 2009


Dozens of medical providers in Tennessee send confidential patient records to a business in Indiana after being given the wrong fax number by the Tennessee Department of Human Services. 2009

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chips and dip and W.L. Bennett

In the fantastical IC cocktail party in my head (and yes, there's a fantastical IC cocktail party in my head) Elizabeth Hanson is the person who bounces around the room talking to everybody; Castells, et. al. is the circle of people having a heady, fascinating intellectual conversaation you can't quite break into; Jeffrey Juris is the guy who grabs your wrist and leans in a little too close when he talks to you; and W.L. Bennett is the guy you run into by the guacamole and end up talking to the rest of the evening. (For the record, Aronson and Cowhey are the guys you accidentally sit next to on the couch and try to politely ignore until your roommate notices your desperate eyebrow semaphores and comes to rescue you.)

I absolutely loved this week's readings, but Bennett's was my favorite by far. The idea of using ICTs for global/social protests was fascinating to me. Some of the examples were familiar to me (the Zapatista movement, the Madrid election, the Nike and Fair Trade Coffee campaigns) and some were totally new (the Estrada ouster, Korea election, the Coca-Cola campaign). What I liked about Bennett's essay was that he was able to examine the events without getting swept away by enthusiasm for the potential of ICTs or anti-globalization movements, which (in my opinion, at least) gave him leeway to reflect a little more on the implications.

Bennett says that governments and institutions and corporations use communication networks to perpetuate the existing political-economic regime -- a regime which, presumably, already benefits them. BUT, activists have also used the same technology to find creative and innovative ways to challenge that power, which is very similar to what Castells said. So, essentially, these new ICTs are benefitting both the status quo and the opposition. To what degree is obviously a contentious matter, which explains why Castells and co. think the Chinese government won the SARS PR situation and Hanson thinks the people did.

All of this ties nicely back to the idea of the "noosphere" (much as I hate the word, I like the concept) and the idea that political movements are heavily influenced by the stories and ideas people try to introduce into the public domain. OK, I realize I'm totally geeking out over these readings, but I really did enjoy them and now I've got all of these interesting ideas buzzing around in my brain. Or maybe that's just the cocktail party chatter...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Net Neutrality and a Comcast Shout-out

The selections from Cowney and Aronson bring up a lot of interesting points regarding the transformation of power within IC Technology but the point that resonates most is the importance of here and now in the realm of regulation. It becomes clear, through multiple lists and graphical evidence, that the United States will remain in the "pivot" of the inflection point for at least the next fifteen to twenty years. This being said, how will the US strive to continue this domination in the context of growing powers (notably China) as industry production and control mature?

The idea of network neutrality seems to make sense on a very intuitive level but I found it interesting that the evidence from the past ten years is conclusive that the original net neutrality framework was actually a bit counterproductive. The authors note data that indicates that the pricing controls on broadband actually promote discrimination either upstream or downstream. I find it interesting to note, on a personal level, that Comcast was found to be a guilty party "working" the system of net neutrality and, furthermore, followed it up with a shady maneuver at the FCC hearing. I am not surprised nor disappointed to hear that Comcast received a slap on the wrist from the FCC (the customer service gods should do that same) but it serves as a poignant example of the shortcomings of the original net neutrality pricing structure.

Although it has taken a couple of attempts to work out some major gliches in the net neutrality framework, Cowney and Aronson argue that there have been many successes as a result of continued efforts and an ability to maintain focus on the importance of unhindered innovation. A web platform has been created that allows for involvement of content producers and content owners for a stronger and more heterogeneous infrastructure. This platform and innovation ideology are two important factors that I look forward to observing as the new administration continues to look at the major issues facing the ICT governance community.

US ICT Dominance: How long can it really last?

Authors of the book, Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets: The Political Economy of Innovation, Peter Cowhey and Jonathon Aronson argue “the US is likely to be the single largest influence on the global policy agenda”. They argue that the US has the most consistent agenda setter for the global market, has a large lead in ICT stock, has the largest investment base for research and development, is the leader of software, will continue to be within the top three global markets across a full range of ICT markets, and is the leading producer of high value-added content. As I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think about how literally days before, while pumping gas, I was reading random trivia facts that were being displayed on a LCD screen. One of the facts, that came up was that Iceland is ranked the number one country that has the most households with broadband Internet access in the world. I later found out that the US is ranked eighteen. Cowhey and Aronson argue that US dominance of the ICT markets will stick around for a while yet, but if a country as small as Iceland is as connected into the global market, it makes me question whether or not there is more possibility for ICT market growth else where in the world? Globalization enables the existence of competition, so the thought is certainly not outrageous. My point is that this kind of growth could happen much faster than Cowhey and Arsonson propose.

Another issue of interest from the reading is net neutrality. Cowhey and Aronson give evidence to support net neutrality from the past ten years and regulatory bodies, like the FCC, to avoid the prioritization of information. The whole concept of net neutrality- not creating a multi-tiered internet for companies to profit- eliminates the space for yet another digital divide within civil society for those in developing countries to overcome. Thomas Friedman argues that we are in the age of democratization of information. But how democratic is it to control information that passes through the internet? There is not arguing that the internet is a technological discontinuity which has forever changed ICT markets. On a wide scale, maintaining a free and open internet in the public sphere is imperative to international communication, cooperation, and lessening the amount digital divides that exist domestically within the US and internationally.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who Owns Information?

Usually, I attempt to answer questions pertaining to IC in my blog but after reading selections from Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets: The Political Economy of Innovation this week, I find myself questioning the ownership of information. Cowney and Aronson’s focus on the changing political economy of policy in the United States, specifically in the form of net neutrality, has led me to analyze the diverse state and non-state actors involved in the creation, transmission and consumption of media messages.

As is apparent in the mergers between Verizon and MCI and SBC, AT&T and Bell South, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice work to encourage market competition and the expansion of new communication technologies. A goal of the 2004 “Spectrum of Flexibility,” however, was to allow licenses to more liberally monetize holdings. While some argue that relaxed regulations will result in increased investment and growth, I propose that an economic environment with diminished government control could advance unadvised market-driven (as opposed to consumer-centric) decision making by conglomerates.

Cowney and Aronson’s Chapter five not only brings together previous debates about governance and international communication technologies, but it gives further evidence to support net neutrality and global regulatory measures/bodies to avoid the prioritization of messages and security schemes. Modularity in property rights, advertising and personal networks is crucial to ensure that interconnection discrimination does not exist and users’ rights are upheld.

Ultimately, the question debated in this book and in national socio-economic discourse is “Who owns information?” Although the answer is unclear, my hope is that in today’s participatory information society, policy allowing equality in the transmission and reception of messages will be pursued as the United States continues to seek regulations promoting market development.

Friday, October 23, 2009

To market, to market to buy a fat gig...

For many years, I enjoyed market analysis just a little more than dental surgery, considering it just as tedious, but less likely to induce involuntary drooling. After I was finally persuaded to take an Economics class, I reached a stage of personal development where conversations about opportunity cost and contractionary fiscal policy no longer made my eyes glaze over, but even so, I found this week's market-centric readings a little challenging.

But after I'd buckled down and adjusted to Cowhey and Aronson's writing style (did anybody else think they went a little crazy with the lists?), I found that I was genuinely interested in what they had to say about leadership, pressure and change. From the beginning, they predict that the United States will lead, but not dictate, ICT policy development over the next few decades, largely due to the size and existing strengths of the U.S. ICT industry. They devote pages to discussing how markets in the United States and other national states respond to domestic and international stiumuli and how political and economic bodies respond to changes in the ICT markets. But they only briefly focus on the influence of international institutions -- pointing out that they can initiative global governance shifts and discussing some issues related to principal-agent relationships.

Many of our other readings have suggested that the rising power of international institutions is one challenge that threatens the sovereignty of nation states, and I know that Internet and ICT governance is one area where that has been particularly true. In fact, the Internet Governance Forum (established at the WSIS meeting in Tunis) is largely hailed for establishing a new model of governance in which governments are given no more power than representatives from civil society, NGOs and the private sector. Of course, the IGF is largely a talking body, and Cowhey and Aronson seem more focused on action. While institutions may weigh in, governments are still responsible for establishing policy and their behavior (tragically for me) responds more to political and economic forces of supply and demand.

One of the points I really liked was that changes in technology can raise the necessity for change without dictating its path, which allows a lot of room for agency and explains why individual nations have made such different choices about market regulation and ICT development. What I'd like to know is this: What happens after 2025 when (if Cowhey and Aronson are correct) countries like China and India have risen in significance? Will the absense of one clear market leader lead to greater instability in the global markets? Will it lead to more cautious governance? Will another nation or institution come forward to fill the void? Or will we adopt a more global governance pattern to address the frequently shifting ICT market?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

'Information is Power'

The readings this week bring home the cliché expression that “information is power”. In his article entitled, “Communication, Power and Counter-Power in the Network Society”, Manuel Castells discusses how through the use of ICTs, a new form of communication is emerging that he terms the ‘mass-self communication’. He articulates that there is power in this form of communication because it gives rise to the convergence of mass media and communication through the use of social media sites, for instance.

Embedded within the power of communication, Castells also highlights the importance of personality politics and political advertising. Written sometime in 2007, before the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, I am not sure the extent to which Castells was exposed to the marketing of the campaign. However, as I was reading this section, I could not escape the fact the Obama campaign hit a cord with the youth of America by advertising itself and what Obama stands for through the use of email, Facebook, Twitter, and not to mention its own interactive website. He was able to mobilize his supporters and brand his campaign as one representing change. Similarly, candidates are running for the office of the Virginia state Governor. Driving past the signs, on my way to and from school, I noticed immediately that democratic candidate Creigh Deeds is using similar colors and logos within his campaign to appeal to those who voted for change within the Presidential election in 2008. Similarly, I have received emails from the campaign iterating President Obama’s endorsement of Deeds for Governor. Through a similar campaign look, Deeds is attempting to generate “symbolic values and trustworthiness” as Castells mentions in his article. The election has not occurred yet but it will certainly be fascinating to see if Deeds’ efforts will result in a win.

While Facebook, Twitter, and blogs have left their imprint on communications as we know them in the past, it still does not solve the problem that not all voices have the agency to be included in this new form of communication. Castells seemingly falls to address the extent to which a large number of people do not have access to new communication technologies. The fact is that the poorest of the poor in all corners of the world do not have access to ICTs to participate in the ‘electronic autism’ of mass-self communication, nor do they have the literacy to use employ this form of communication even if they did have access. This is not to say that I do not value Castell’s contribution, I just wanted to highlight this weakness.

In conclusion, Castells, Benkler and Ronfeldt and Arquilla all discuss, in some fashion, the importance and power of information in networks and it transformative effects being played out in the world. While the Castells reading particularly struck me this week, I found the other two readings to be similarly thought provoking.

The emergence of Mass Self-Communication according to Castells

      In this piece, Castells defines politics as a socialized communication that has the capacity to influence people minds. He argues that political actors exercise a great deal of control over the media and although media are not holders of this power, they do constitute the space where power is ultimately decided. He then discusses the emergence of a new type of media which he defines as mass self-communication where people build their own system of mass communication through SMS, blogs, podcasts, etc. He also explains that there has been a growing use of horizontal networks of communication. He also explains mass self communication a being self generated in content, self directed in emission, and self selected in reception by many that communicates with many. Mass self-communication offers extraordinary opportunities for social movements, rebellions, and even political scandals.

The Increasing Power of Self-Communication

Castells begins by stating that "power is the structural capacity of one social actor to impose will over other social actor(s)." He articulated a point that we have discussed multiple times in class regarding the "framing" nature of the media and the space where information is presented to the public as being the front lines of the power struggle. It is this arena that the new communication technologies expand and create more information- and information resources- available to the general public in order to be a more informed player.

The example of Current TV is a great example of a type of self-produced media in which s an alternative source of information and news that has risen to compete, especially within a younger audience, with the larger news corporations. I personally thoroughly enjoy Current for its original and unique content as well as its ability to take on controversial topics while seemingly portraying the "everyman" persona. Current has created a market of trust with its viewers, perhaps because of its tendency to come off as a lower budget, produced "for us, by us" type of programming.

Of course the struggle for power is something that will always be an issue of constant change. The advent of social utilities like Twitter and Facebook are most recent in a long line of seemingly innovative communication technologies and there will be many to come. These types of self communication may be, as Castells points out, not intended for public information (32% of blogs made for public) but it nonetheless becomes part of the sphere of global communication information. Social movements through these new communication realms are now more ubiquitous than ever and, from my end, are a welcome shift from the historical institutional power structures.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Identifying Power Struggles Imposed by Modern "Network Society"

The theme uniting the writings of Castells, Benkler, Ronfeldt and Arquilla is media’s role in the power struggle between government, industry and the public sphere in contemporary “network society.” Although the authors describe modern trends through varied approaches, the control gained from the transmission of messages is central to each essay.

Castelles’ view of the relationship between communication, politics and power is best portrayed when he defines media as “the space of power making, not the source of power holding.” With the emergence of mass self-communication, Castelles describes civil society engagement as a possible counter power to market-centric failures of political legitimacy and global oligopolies.

Benkler, on the other hand, focuses on democracy as a networked public sphere that people must take advantage of in order to make the most of social policy and economic power shifts. Unlike Castelles, Benkler stresses the frailty of laws and institutions that make up our economic infrastructure in wake of increased consumer production and multidimensional knowledge flows.

Continuing the theme of increased knowledge capital in “network society,” Ronfeldt and Arquilla propose that the impact of communication tools and the proliferation of NGOs will encourage diplomats to redefine emerging realms of information as the Noosphere and modern soft power or noopolitike as the replacement of traditionally hard military power. They suggest that participatory information structuring could positively amplify democracy in the public sphere or incite dangerous resistance to Western norms and governing systems if state actors do not become more technologically literate.

Although diverse in their approaches, these authors present prudently optimistic views of the expansion of participatory “self communication tools” in the management of contemporary “information society.” The writings of Castells, Benkler, Ronfeldt and Arquilla give the reader confidence in trends toward multidirectional power flows and increased civil society control over modern political, social and economic discourse.

Fan Fiction: The Devil and Manuel Castells

(In honor of our fan fiction conversation last week.)

Our story thus far: Political hopeful Johnny Freeman has sold his soul to the devil in exchange for help on his campaign for world domination. After collecting the necessary signatures to run for Supreme Global Senate, Johnny’s campaign is floundering and the devil has come to claim his due. Manuel Castells has agreed to help the devil set up a Twitter account, in exchange for some extra time to get Johnny’s campaign up and running. The devil has also agreed to renegotiate the terms of the contract if Johnny wins, allowing the politician to keep his soul in exchange for some basic lessons on tweeting. The three men sit in Johnny Freeman’s living room with the shades drawn….

The stranger sat in the corner, muttering and counting on his fingers, and occasionally pecking at the keyboard in front of him. Castells turned his attention to the hapless campaigner.

“Let’s talk campaign strategy,” he said. “How have you been interacting with voters?”

Johnny pulled out a box of leaflets, posters and newspaper clippings, but Castells brushed them aside.

“I’m talking about the network,” he said. “How are you communicating with the people?” He grabbed Johnny’s keyboard and typed a few words into Google.

“Oh boy,” he said. “You realize you have almost no online presence aside from your opponent’s Google bombing? How do you expect to spread your message if you don’t take advantage of the media and interactive horizontal networks?”

“Inter- what now?” Johnny asked. The stranger chuckled in the corner.

“Blogs! Websites! Texts! Tweets! What century is this?” Castells demanded. “Power relations are shaped with this technology! You can’t effectively challenge the institutionalized power structure without taking advantage of the public sphere. You need to set up networks with powerful people in government and organizations and with individual voters! You need to spread your message through those networks. That’s how you rise to power.”

“What about when I released those photos of my opponent to the Huffington Post International? The ones where he’s cutting up an E.U. flag to make swim trunks?”

Castells sighed. “You realize scandal politics contribute to widespread cynicism about the democratic political process in general, right? This is a mess. You have no online presence whatsoever,” Castells said. “A hundred years ago you might have been able to win this campaign, but today there’s no chance.”

The stranger cheered and stepped forward to claim his prize. Johnny turned grey with fear.

“Whoa there, buddy,” Castells stepped forward and placed a hand on the stranger’s lapel. “I’m going to have to stop you right there.”

The stranger sputtered, but Castells stood firm.

“First, let’s point out the obvious that Johnny doesn’t need to win this election to achieve or exercise power. While we’ve been talking, my TA has been setting up a website, facebook page and Twitter account, and my friends have started ghost-blogging on his account. His message is out there. Besides, the power of the state is weaker than it was before the ICT revolution began. So participation in the Supreme Global Senate isn't the only way to effectively achieve or exercise power. And globalization, expanding NGOs and scandal politics are challenging state sovereignty even further. With the right tools and strategy, Johnny can communicate and exercise power quite effectively without ever leaving his computer chair.”

Castells gestured to the computer screen as the stranger frowned. “As you can see from the results of this online poll and the comments in these chat rooms, the public opinion is clearly opposed to your claiming Johnny’s soul. Also—,” Castells leaned forward and clicked to a new tab. “Right here, look, the facebook group ‘Let Johnny Freeman keep his soul’ has gained two million new members in the past hour. I’m afraid you can’t follow through on your plan without thwarting the opinions currently dominating the public sphere, and seriously jeopardizing your reputation.”

The stranger snarled. “I’ll go to the mainstream media,” he snapped. “I’ll write letters-to-the-editor in all the major papers about how Johnny reneged on his contract!”

“That’s always an option,” Castells mused. “Mainstream media and traditional ICT power players are increasingly taking advantage of the network society. But you did agree that the contract could be renegotiated. And I think you might also want to consider this.”

Castells stepped to the window and threw it open. Thousands of young people stood below waving signs and chanting Johnny’s name.

“My TA also organized a flash mob through her mobile network,” Castells said. “As you can see, Johnny's message has infiltrated the public sphere and mobilized the masses. They've clearly turned against you in this case.”

The stranger stormed out of the house, tweeting furiously on his Blackberry. Castells and Johnny updated Johnny’s facebook status to "un-damned," then toasted their success.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Japanization vs Americanization

Katz and Liebes used the show Dallas as a case study to examine the way in which a show is to be interpreted and understood is largely dependent upon one’s culture. They argue that cultural distance reduces the preoccupation with the question of reality while proximity causes viewers to measure critically how real it is (378). Therefore, Americans would be more concerned with assuring that the show Dallas is an accurate portrayal of their lifestyle more so than someone in China would be.

Iwabuchi’s piece discusses the development of the Walkman and the VCR in Japan and finds that it is interesting how such an individualistic and private technology could evolve and truly flourish in such a collectivist society as Japan. He discusses that the emergence of Japanese consumer goods can be described as a kind of “invisible colonization” that is more concerned with material cultural dissemination. He contrasts this with “Americanization” which can be seen as a type of cross cultural conspiracy that is discussed in terms of production and yearning for a distinctly American way of life. He concludes this piece by arguing that Americanization now seems to be over and that global cultural power is now more spread out between other leading nations.

Deuze’s chapter defines convergence culture as one which provides a mechanism to increase revenue and further the goals of an industry while also enabling consumers to be involved in the production process. He uses Bluffton Today, Counter Strike, Amazon, and CPB Group as organization which have greatly utilized these two important concepts. He concludes by mentioning that it is necessary to train people to stay active and involved in the production process or as he states “stay inside the Truman show and make the best of it.”

While staying inside the Truman Show can we smell culture?

This locus of this week’s readings appears to hover around the role of the audience in emerging convergence cultures. Elihu Katz and Tamar Liebes in their article, “Reading Television: Television as Text and Viewers As Decoders” discuss the effect of television on different audiences internationally. They employ the example of Dallas in their case study and argue that, in Alegria, watching Dallas has displaced the popular pastime of gathering to listen to grandmother’s folktales (IC Reader 378). They conclude that the audience is increasingly bbecome more active by “selecting, negotiating, interpreting, discussing, or in short, being involved” (IC Reader 380). Before moving on, I would like to note that while I, myself, have never watched Dallas, I understand its popularity internationally. However, I was thoroughly amused by the kinship chart provided by Katz and Liebes. Having studied a fair amount of Anthropology as an undergrad, this is the first time I have seen a soap opera’s kinship relations fully charted. That said, while I know that people internationally are not documenting the kinship charts, they do make mental notes of the kinds of relationship portrayed in this soap opera. This allows viewers to draw implications within their own culture based on what they have viewed while objectifying a false sense of American culture.

Koichi Iwabuchi, in his article, “Taking “Japanization” Seriously: Cultural Globalization Reconsidered” holds that the rise of Japan refutes the notion of continued western cultural hegemony. Like the Katz and Liebes article, I found Iwabuchi’s article to be a bit dated. However, he explores captivating notions about culture. He articulates that cultures can have an “odor” making them distinct, but that Japan’s culture is “odorless”. He further states that the products Japan produces are created “lacking any nationality” (IC Reader 413). He argues that there is an “Americanization of Japanization”. He says “what is experienced through Japanese culture is actually a highly Japanese version of the American “originial”” (IC Reader 418). He clearly articulates that a cultural presence contains power and sends a message of a state’s status. For me, I interpreted this concept of the “Americanization of Japanization” as an indirect U.S. cultural presence in the production of popular Japanese items. Furthermore, it is clear that as the global neoliberal economy grows there is a greater emphasis on the individual (as also noted in Deuze’s work). This, I presume, Iwabuchi would say is contributing to the Japanese “odorless culture” being dispersed in the form of its consumer products internationally.

Mark Deuze’s article, “Convergence Culture in the Creative Industries”, appears to be considerably more updated in comparison to the other two. He discusses the participatory nature of today’s media. He argues that more and more the audience is driving the direction of the media in creative industries for the “quest for profit” (IC Reader 463). This highlights, as Deuze points out, what Manuel Castells calls ‘networked individualism’. For those who have access to the ICTs that link people and are literate, I agree that there is a cultural convergence going on of sorts that is forcing the media to become more fluid in its reaffirmation of cultural identities as consumers and producers of media content. At the very end of his article, Deuze says, “we have to train people to stay inside The Truman Show” (IC Reader 465). My fear is not making sure people who are already inside stay inside, but rather that we need to broaden the show while carefully maintaining a cultural equilibrium of convergence and divergence (the reaffirmation of "cultural odor") internationally.

Japanization: Globalization via Sonyism

The article by Iwabuchi regarding the idea of "Japanization" within the globalization era serves as an informative look into the other side of the cultural media flow paradigm. While I think the author begins the article with a bit of a "Napolean complex" regarding the lack of respect that Japan has received due to their "culturally odorless" commodities, I think Iwabuchi progresses, along with the reader, into a rational and intuitive assessment of Japan's place in the globalization structure. As Iwabuchi notes, Japan's cultural power has yet to reach its economic prowess and until this balance is achieved, Japaneseness will remain a foreign and exotic notion.

I am very intrigued by the approach that Iwabuchi takes regarding the Americanization of Japanization and he points back to the importance of distribution channels in achieving any level of success in globalization. In this way, I agree with Sklair's argument that Americanization is simply a contingent of global capitalism. America has been extremely successful, as we learned last week, at acquiring distribution channels and growing within the global media structures. It is very similar in the way that Japanese media and technological products were swept into the American media wave and, as a result, became a global media player.

The notion of global cultural flow, or lack thereof in the case of Japan, also results in an interesting concept given the success of intra-regional globalization. Iwabuchi makes it clear that Japan's media success in Southeastern Asia is due to its ability to glocalize which is seen especially in the case of Sony. Japan has taken advantage of the decentralization of globalization and made a stronghold of media power within its regional control. As Tunstall argues, this regional focus and Japanese indigenization of American media products will be adopted by India and China and is seen as a new development for non-western media industries. While the West may not be as aware of the globalization of Japanese culture, spatial affiliation and cultural proximity have been important successes within the context of Japanization and are positive cultural influences within the regional spectrum. I look forward to learning more about these other players in the global media construct and discussing the importance of such balances within the framework of a globalizing society.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Training People to Stay Inside the Truman Show"

Although McChesney and like-minded theorists presume that dominant corporations create what they can most greatly profit from and not what consumers want, I more strongly adhere to the beliefs of Deuz and the theory that individualized media consumption and participatory media production are “training people to stay inside the Truman Show and make the most of it.”

Katz and Liebes similarly tackle this issue of whether media reflects consumer desires or whether media ascription sets consumer demands. While Katz and Liebes admit that producers’ intended messages permeate media, the prevalence of active receivers has made them more responsible for media’s messages than the senders. Contemporary receivers control nearly every aspect of the media they consume, making each participant their own gatekeeper. Collaborative messages from consumers and creative industries increase transparency and revenue in a market that was traditionally stagnant with corporate-centric media assumptions.

Deuz highlights the market as a reflection of consumer demands through case studies on Bluffton Today, Counter-Strike, Amazon and CPB. Each company focused on diverse niche markets but all utilized networked individualism in both production and consumption to establish greater P2P (peer-to-peer) responsibility, identity, creativity, advertising and transparency.

Active receivers influence economics as much as cultural influence and should be regarded as co-producers in modern “convergent culture.” Deuz concludes that people must recognize their impact in the creation and consumption of messages and commodities in order to maintain collaborative control of the market and their own media gratification.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cherry-picking in the creative industries

Am I the only one who thought Mark Deuze's essay was a little weak? And this despite the fact that I agreed with a lot of his conclusions -- I just wanted him to take it further. Take his case studies, in which he cherry-picks four examples that support his argument and presents them as more "symptomatic" than "representative," without ever exploring whether less optimistic examples might be equally symptomatic of the industry climate he describes. While I won't dispute that his examples are symptomatic of the merging of media consumption and production processes, I think his argument is incomplete without an examination of the equally symptomatic negative effects.

Sure, Bluffton Today merged a daily paper and community news site to create a participatory, transparent news product. But what about papers like The Washington Post, which has significantly increased user-generated content both online and in the hard copy of the paper (with blogs, online chats, contests and sections like the XX update in the magazine, which reproduces content generated on the XX Factor website) and is still hemorrhaging money and subscribers? The creation of Counter-Strike is an uplifting example of collaborative work to improve a popular gaming program, but there's a fine line between modification and piracy and there's plenty of evidence that not all game modifiers are as conscientious as Minh Le and Jess Cliff.

As for the Amazon case study, I found it a little baffling. Was he really suggesting that Amazon's popularity is partially due to its enabling people to upload product photos? Or its supposedly unique customer-first attitude? There are plenty of online marketers with great customer service, and an unscientific study of people in the room with me suggests that user-empowerment ranks well below size, comprehensiveness and price in terms of Amazon's attractive qualities. The CPB group has had tremendous success with its interactive campaigns, but the same technology that enables so much of this interactive advertising can also be turned against a product, as when Chevrolet created an interactive campaign where people could create mashups of previous Tahoe ads to promote the 2007 Tahoe SUV. It was pulled days later, after the site was flooded with anti-SUV ads.

Ultimately, I have no qualms with Deuze's main arguments. The boundaries between makers and users of media products are blurring. Consumer empowerment and corporate profit-seeking are both features of this developing environment. New media are unpredictable and constantly evolving. But I think in Deuze's failure to examine any but "best practice" examples, he missed an opportunity to explore the greater complexities of this changing media environment.