Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ecological media studies?

I am at the International Communications Association conference in Montreal. It is currently the pre-conference, and I am attending the sessions on 'Mediating Global Citizenship'.

The opening keynote was by Professor Toby Miller from U. California (Riverside). Toby is an ex-pat Aussie and very well known in Australian media and cultural studies circles.

Toby's provocative presentation argued that media studies is on the wrong track in demanding more speech and more rights to communicate as a condition of cultural citizenship. Instead, he emphasised the global ecological consequences of extending the technologies that enable more communication (laptops, iPods, mobile phones, wireless networks etc.). The point is made that Apple, the coolest of the new media giants, also most likely has the most ecologically destructive production practices across its globally networked production system.

I have provided my notes below but, as is often the case with Toby's work, it is a well-aimed broadside at dominant tendencies in media studies, including the work of myself and my colleagues pursuing the 'creative industries' agenda. Obviously in my mind is the thought that some of htis is easier if you come from a material base that allows you to forego worldly goods (and Toby acknowledged that he certainly doesn't do this, having 4 laptops and 4 iPods), but harder in the developing world where these symbols of modernity are becoming available for the first time.

The paper on which the talk was based can be found in the International Journal of Communication, and was co-authored by Richard Maxwell.

International Communications Association
58th Annual Conference, Communication for Social Change, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 21-28 May

Pre-Conference Workshop: Mediating Global Citizenship – May 21-22 2008

Toby Miller (UC Riverside), May 21

• Rethink media studies in context of environment and citizenship
• Media studies caught in a technological sublime
• Governed by principle that more speech is good – it may not be – it may be bad

Three kinds of citizenship
1. Political: the state/representation - rights
2. Economic: standard of living – material interests
3. Cultural: right to know and to speak – communication/representation

These partly overlap – ‘citizenship, employment, literacy’

• Cultural citizenship is not the apogee of these – economic citizenship is vital – media studies seek more (growth ethic) – focus on numbers – grafted onto the growth complex of economic theory – more discourse
• New theoretical direction for media studies needed from green citizenship – critique of territorial citizenship and capitalist modernity
• Media eco-ethics – Miller & Maxwell – International Journal of Communication

• Media technology has been key indicator of modernity and its doom-laden portent - seen as opening up new democratic possibilities as well as unknown personal/consumer needs (utopia/dystopia) – media studies sublime as decontextualized technological fantasy

• Postmodern guarantee of right to communicate is at the core of environmental degradation and needs to be investigated e.g. exposure of iPod production workers to environmental hazards in four countries (lead, mercury etc.) – harder to track their composite production histories; also built-in obsolescence

• 2% of carbon emissions worldwide come from global information & communications industries – equivalent to aviation

• News Corp – aims to be carbon-neutral by 2010 – relationship to climate change denial in News Corp outlets (FOX)

• New ‘post-smokestack era of industry’ – CHASS submission to Productivity Commission (Australia)

• Environment talked about in media studies in terms of representation, not death and disability – forgets relationship between media technologies and science

Four Ecological Contexts of Contemporary Media Technology
1. Energy consumption
2. Plastics in manufacture
3. Producing of inputs (e.g. electro-magnetic spectrum)
4. Dumping of waste (‘effluent for the affluent’ – e-waste)

• ‘Deodorization of public space’ is globally stratified – e.g. Lagos as a dumping ground for old computers; coastal deltas of China – the ‘ragpicker’ as a figure for global citizenship from below.

1 comment:

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