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ICA 2006

International Communication Association 2006 conference in Dresden

Mapping International ICT Networks

The next session is kicked off by George Barnett. He begins by noting the move from an industrial to an information economy which has now occurred in developed nations, and the simultaneous trend towards globalisation on a number of levels. There are a number of models for globalisation: a universal model which points to homogenisation or modernisation, in a diffusion model of knowledge and culture from Europe to other regions; a clustered model with the rise of regional clusters based upon economic, political and cultural similarities; and a hegemonic model with a concentration of economic, political and cultural power in few countries competing at the top of a hierarchy (this is based on work by Hargittai and Centeno). It is also possible to analyse patterns of competition which may occur in triadic or bipolar models, or to present a view by which hegemony competition is lacking because of a new American imperialism.

Reality Politics and Politicotainment

The second session for the day involves my colleague John Hartley - and while it may seem somewhat strange to spend time in Dresden listening to a paper by someone who works in the building next to mine in Brisbane, we just don't get enough opportunities to hear one another's papers at home, so here I am. The session emerges from the increasing combination of reality TV and politics - from politically inflected television shows to news/entertainment hybrids like The Daily Show. Similarly, of course, politicians have become celebrities, and vice versa. The session also links to a new book on Peter Lang, Politicotainment.

Surveillance vs. Democracy

A new day has dawned on us at ICA2006, and the first session of this Wednesday has started. I'm in a session on Surveillance and Control, and Josh Lauer makes a start with a paper on the development of credit reporting agencies (or mercantile agencies), framed here as a surveillance technology. The emergence of such agencies in the U.S. in the 1800s can be seen as a sign of modernity, increased population movements, and the breakdown of trust in the public sphere. Initially, such systems were framed mainly as a simple extension of credit checks already conducted by individual merchants, but in the form of an impartial national service. Credit information was tightly protected - no written traces of credit checks were allowed to leave the business premises of the initial credit checking agencies.

Political Communication in the Media Society
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We're now moving on to the second ICA2006 conference keynote, by veteran media scholar Jürgen Habermas. Unsurprisingly, the conference plenary is packed to the rafters for this - and the presentation should also be online on the ICA site soon. In fact, I'm going to refrain from blogging this - Habermas's English and elocution isn't the best, making this presentation very difficult to follow and blog at the same time. I did take a few photos of the major slides, though, and I'll upload those as soon as I can.

Globalisation and Its Effects

My next session again involves Mark Latonero, speaking on remix culture. (I missed the session's previous presentation, on the World Trade Organisation.) Mark describes the delegitimising force of traditional copyright industries, but notes the rise of alternative modes which involve the active production of content by non-traditional producers operating outside the status quo production processes, in a user-based, bottom-up, and grassroots mode. Remixing embodies a set of social practices that are indicative of digital technologies imbued with an ideology of freedom. Are remixers aiming to transcend the constraints of space and time? What are their cultural characteristics and personal identities?

Questions for Emergent User-Led Content Environments

The next session is on creative commons-related issues; Mark Latonero is the first speaker. He notes that Tim Berners-Lee suggests that the whole added value of the Internet is serendipitous re-use. The creative commons represents an emerging technological and legal mechanism for this re-use, and a significant challenge to the traditional copyright industries. It is a legitimising tool for cultural technologies on the Internet. Mark adminstered a questionnaire to the winners of the recent Wired creative commons remix contest.

Mobile Devices and Ambient Intelligence

We're starting the second day at ICA2006 with a session on mobile technologies. Cara Wallis is the first presenter. She frames the arrival of new communication technologies by discussing the standard metaphors of community and connectivity, but also alienation, which are often attached to them, and focusses here especially on privacy and impersonality. This happened with the telephone as much as with more recent technologies - for example, there were significant eavesdropping concerns when the phone was first introduced. At the same time, the phone also offered more privacy, for example for business transactions. The case is similar for the mobile phone - and the process of coming to terms with mobile phone privacy issues is still being negotiated at present. Children, for example, gain a good deal of new privacy using mobile phones (especially also by using cryptic text messaging, of course) - but at the same time there are issues around surveillance and data mining, including also the geographic tracking of phones. Another issues is impersonality: the reduction to a phone number and a voice on the line has long been held as an impersonalising trait of mobile phones - and for mobile phones, there is the emergence of a kind of telecocoon which mobile phones offer: mobile users detach themselves from their immediate surroundings by entering a different communicative sphere.

Communication, Power, and Counterpower in the Network Society


Finally for today we've moved to the first conference keynote, by Manuel Castells. His talk focusses on the relationships between communication, power, and counterpower in the network society. The fundamental battle here is over the minds of the people, which in turn determines the values and norms of society. If majority views are different from the prevailing values of those in power, then ultimately the system will change - and the battle over the human mind is largely carried out through the processes of communication. Recently, of course, the electronic networks have further extended the modes of human communication. Powers and counterpowers operate in a new technological framework, in which vertical mass communication has been joined by a new form of horizontal, 'mass self communication'.

Evolving Communication Theory

It always surprises me that even brand-new convention centres are so poorly set up for the obvious, basic needs: power supply for delegates' laptops. Luckily I've been able to burrow into the underbelly of the conference hall floor, and found a socket - so the last couple sessions won't go unblogged.

This next session deals with the question of the network society and the theories surrounding it - still a somewhat underresearched area deserving further attention. 'Network research' is likened here to 'lunch' - a broad, perhaps overly broad area which needs to be better and more narrowly defined in order to be effectively studied. Network theory and network society theory need to be further and more effectively interconnected. Jan van Dijk starts off by outlining the claims of network theory and analysis about contemporary society: there is the observation that we are moving towards a network society (where according to Castells networks are already the basic units of society - and van Dijk suggests that perhaps individuals still remain the basic units but are increasingly linked by networks). So, in a network society the social relations are gaining influence as compared to the social units they are linking. Despite their articulation all social relations remain inextricably bound up with units.

Journalisms in Flux

The first session of the 56th annual International Communication Association conference has started now - and as always I'll do my best to report what I see. There may be some delays in getting this out, though - surprisingly, it looks as if the only Internet access made available here to conference delegates is by way of a handful of machines in the Cybercafe. No wireless - a very disappointing start to this event... I should also note that of course there's a plethora of papers being presented here - so what I cover may not at all be representative for the conference as such.


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