Rethinking Repetition in a Digital Age

12 June 2019, 12:00 - 19:00

Seminar Room SG2, First Floor, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

Limited places. Online registration is now closed.
 

Iteration as Persuasion Symposium:

The internet and new digital media technologies are increasingly talked about as ‘dangerous’, ‘deadly’ even, in terms of their imagined or felt societal implications. These conversations have tended to limit our ability to talk about what developments in digital culture are actually doing, in their present moment, and what they could do for us in the future. This interdisciplinary symposium is an attempt to engage each other in more complex discussions about re-directing the potentials of the digital. How does our engagement with the digital space trigger emotions, nudge behaviours, (re-)form habits, construct identities, (re)perform traditions, (re)produce beliefs?

Proceedings of the symposium will be published as a special issue of the AI and Society Journal.

Join us for discussion panels on:  

  •     Affordances of the Digital and the Rise of the Right
  •     Voice and Identity in a Digital Age
  •     Redirecting the Potentials of Digital Public Space
  •     Artists on the Difference Digital Makes

Keynote:

Dr Ella McPherson (Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of New Media and Digital Technology, University of Cambridge)

Geoff Stead (International thought leader on emerging technologies. Babbel, past senior Director of Mobile Learning at Qualcom, Head of Innovation at Tribal)


Chaired by:

Dr Hugo Leal (Methods Fellow, Cambridge Digital Humanities)
Dr Clare Foster (CRASSH, University of Cambridge)

With speakers from: Cambridge, Oxford, London School of Economics, King’s College London, London Goldsmiths, Anglia Ruskin University, University of Silesia, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.



For further information please contact the convenors:  Ruichen Zhang or Francesca Root.

Part of the ‘Iteration as Persuasion’ series at CRASSH. An event event organised by 'Re-' Interdisciplinary Network.
Administrative assistance: networks@crassh.cam.ac.uk

CRASSH is not responsible for the content of external websites and readings. All speakers' views are their own.

12.00 - 12.30

Registration

12.30 - 13.45

Panel A: Affordances of the Digital & the Rise of the Right

Introduction and Chair: 

Hugo Leal (Methods Fellow at Digital Humanities, University of Cambridge)

 

Clemens Jarnach (DPhil in Sociology, University of Oxford)

'Investigating Online Media Consumption for Signs of Political Polarisation in the Context of Brexit'

 

Rodolfo Leyva (Fellow in Media & Communications, London School of Economics)

'Testing the Effects of Fake News on Candidate Evaluations & Preferences'

 

Anthony Kelly (PhD in Media & Communications, London School of Economics)

'Hybrid News Media, Networked Publics, and the Recontextualization of Right-Wing Outrage Online'

13.45 - 14.00

Short break

14.00 - 14.40

Keynote:

Dr Ella McPherson (Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of New Media and Digital Technology, University of Cambridge)

‘Discourses of Efficiency, Practices of Solidarity: Human Rights Witnessing in the Digital Age'

14.40 - 16.00

Panel B: Voice & Identity in a Digital Age

Chair:

Ella McPherson (Senior Lecturer Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge)

 

Cindy Ma (DPhil in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences, Oxford Internet Institute)

'Problematising White Invisibility in Digital Culture'

 

Damian Guzek (Assistant Professor, University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland))

'When a Minority Gets Access to the Digital Society: The Case of Radical Voices on Religious Diversity'

 

Ruichen Zhang (PhD in Sociology, University of Cambridge)

'"Socialism Elsewhere": A Discourse Analysis of Re-worked Political Ideology on Chinese Internet'

 

Francesca Root (MPhil Sociology Alumna, University of Cambridge)

'Memorialising in the Digital Age: Analysing Affective Networks during the Public Display of Collective Loss'

               

16.00 - 16.15

Break

16.15 - 17.45

Panel C: Re-directing the Potentials of Digital Public Space

Skype Interview
Geoff Stead (Mobile app designer, ex-Qualcomm, Babbel, Berlin)

 

Tom Hollanek (PhD in Film & Screen, University of Cambridge)

'Must My iPhone Be a Trojan Horse? On Artificiality, Blackboxing and Alternative Design'

 

Ana Belén Martínez García (Visiting Research Fellow, King’s College London)

'Strategic Repetition in Activists’ Online Self-Presentation'

 

Thomas Wadsworth (PhD in Visual Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London)

'Self(ie)-Care and Mental Health'

 

Orysia Hrudka (National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine)

'Favouring the Public? Ideologemes of Democracy and Political Economy of Facebook'

17.45- 18.00

Short break

18.00 - 18.40

Epilogue: Artists on the Difference Digital Makes


Véronique Chance (Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, Anglia Ruskin University)


Duncan Ganley (Senior Lecturer in Photography, Anglia Ruskin University)

'Re-presenting their Exhibition and Book re: print'


David Wood (Centre of Latin American Studies, University of Cambridge)

'Mexican Media Artists Playing with Analogue Spaces and Technologies in a Digital Era'

 

Closing remarks from all speakers and attendees.

18.40 - 19.00

Closing remarks

Dr Ella McPherson (Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge)

Dr McPhearson is Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of New Media and Digital Technology as well as the Anthony L. Lyster Fellow in Sociology at Queens’ College. She is also Co-Director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights, where she leads the research theme on human rights in the digital age.
 



Clemens Jarnach (DPhil in Sociology, University of Oxford)
'Investigating Online Media Consumption for Signs of Political Polarisation in the Context of Brexit'

The Internet and the rise of digital media have dramatically changed the distribution and consumption of news and political information. Issues such as echo chambers, fake news, or large-scale political microtargeting lead to concerns about the use of online news with regards to politics. A common perception is that online news consumption is associated with selective exposure and is therefore limiting someone’s awareness of political arguments. Such concerns fuel arguments that digital news consumption leads to higher political polarisation levels. In an increasingly digital world where online news media is becoming the leading source for political information, the question arises of how digital news consumption influences the formation of public opinion, political polarisation, and electoral behaviour. Many studies have focused on social media platforms, such as Twitter or Facebook. Those studies often find that online social networks exhibit clear signs of political polarisation. Whereas most studies, relying on data from social media or self-report surveys, often find strong signs of political polarisation, my study contributes to the literature by investigating whether such strong polarisation structures can be also observed when taking the high-choice media environment into account. I address the question of whether digital news consumption was characterised by ideological segregation among citizens due to single-sided news exposure in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, by analysing a two-mode network of UK individuals and online news-websites. I analyse online news consumption behaviour of UK citizens by using clickstream data and social network analysis. The data and method used in this study provide improvements to the research design employed by previous studies.  My first study results show that a majority of individuals had a diverse media diet and that news consumption patterns between Leave and Remain voters did not differ substantially.
 



Dr Rodolfo Leyva (Fellow in Media & Communications, London School of Economics)
'Testing the Effects of Fake News on Candidate Evaluations & Preferences'

There is growing worldwide concern over the potential for digital fake news (DFN) to detrimentally impact democratic elections. However, scientific studies have yet to directly examine if DFN can actually affect changes in political attitudes and electoral decisions. To help fill this empirical gap, the present priming experiment tested the effects of DFN exposure on voter support for the recent US Presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Data were collected from a cross-sectional sample via a web-survey (N = 582). Results showed no direct main effects of attention to anti-Trump or anti-Clinton DFN on voter support for either candidate. Additional moderation analyses, however, showed that news believability negatively moderated the effects of exposure to anti-Clinton DFN on impressions and probability of voting for Clinton. This believability was, in turn, conditional on political ideology. Overall, the results suggest that DFN does not cause or induce conversions in candidate evaluations or preferences, but may reinforce the partisan predispositions and mildly increase the voting likelihood of mostly highly conservative Internet users. In this regard, these empirical findings support a growing consensus that susceptibility to online misinformation is predominantly a pathology of the far-right, and thus any electoral impact of DFN, though certainly concerning, is for now probably considerably narrower in scope than has been otherwise suggested by journalists and politicians. Other psychographic and news usage moderators that can help to mitigate susceptibility to DFN are also discussed.
 



Anthony Kelly (PhD in Media & Communications, London School of Economics)
'Hybrid News Media, Networked Publics, and the Recontextualization of Right-wing Outrage Online'

In a media market characterized by intensifying audience fragmentation (Webster and Ksiazek, 2012), emerging forms of hybrid media power (Chadwick 2013), and a growing prevalence of partisan media outlets (Levendusky, 2013), outrage-based political opinion media have become a potent force in contemporary American political life (Berry and Sobieraj, 2013). Outrage, as used here, is defined as a mode of political discourse that is marked by efforts to “provoke visceral responses” of fear, moral righteousness, anger, and indignation from audiences “through the use of overgeneralizations, sensationalism, misleading or patently inaccurate information, ad hominem attacks, and partial truths about opponents” (Sobieraj, Berry & Connors, 2013). At a time when news media are already adapting to the proliferation of networked technologies (Deuze, Bruns & Neuberger ,2007), the growth of outrage-based political opinion media has had a similarly transformative impact on the US news environment. Nevertheless, the effects are notably asymmetrical, with more prominent media on the right than on the left considered highly partisan (Benkler et al, 2017). News media provide an array of resources for citizens to express political agency, particularly through practices of recirculation in the everyday spaces of social media (Chadwick, Vaccari & O’Loughlin, 2018). However, by permitting audiences to perform alignments with outrage-based media content through techniques of news sharing and news commentary, online news media also present an opportunity for the recontextualization (Bauman & Briggs, 1990) of mass-mediated images of personhood (Agha, 2007) within networked publics (Varnelis, 2008). In the context of the partisan polarization that is increasingly seen to define contemporary American politics (Webster & Abramowitz, 2017), this paper explores this recontextualization of right-wing discourses of outrage in online political talk and asks what role such discursive practices play in the public negotiation and renegotiation of polarized political identities in the US.
 


 

Cindy Ma (DPhil in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences, Oxford Internet Institute)
'Problematizing White Invisibility in Digital Cultures'

 

In her 1989 piece, “White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh catalogues the many advantages she has enjoyed in her life due to her race, advantages she and other white people take for granted but which are systematically denied to people of colour. Her list of privileges illustrates how whiteness had been rendered invisible in American society, how it forms the unmarked default category against which all others are compared but which seems to contain no substance of its own. This is the principle upon which a great deal of theorizing on whiteness, at least in communication studies, has been based. By extension, the work of critical theorists must be to make visible that which has been naturalized and, especially, to highlight how seemingly race-neutral policies, ways of speaking, and technologies in fact perpetuate the dominance of whiteness.

But in examining the works of popular right-wing Internet personalities like Gavin McInnes and Steven Crowder, we see time and time again that, for them, whiteness is not an empty signifier but rather discursively tied to meaningful, albeit nebulous, concepts like “Western culture” and “Judeo-Christian values.” In my presentation, I will argue that much can be learned about the appeal of the “alt-right” and other pro-white movements if we begin to examine how white people perceive their own racialisation. Indeed, the internet abounds with proclamations that whiteness and maleness are now the most persecuted identities of all. In making these claims, leaders of the “alt-right” often deploy narratives of decline, even apocalypse, to illustrate the need for white racial consciousness, while adopting rhetorical strategies employed historically by people of colour seeking equality. My presentation aims to interrogate this discourse of white victimhood, drawing out and challenging its underlying logic.
 



Dr Damian Guzek (Assistant Professor, University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland)
'When a Minority Gets Access to the Digital Society: The Case of Radical Voices on Religious Diversity'

In recent years, a number of radical voices have become visible due to digital platforms. Within this context, issues connected with religious diversity have not received any attention to date. Therefore, the primary goal of this paper is to analyze the way of articulating and repetition radical voices and discourses of opposition to religious diversity. The work focuses on the discursive strategies and practices of far-right leaders of opinions in political debates towards religious diversity in Poland. I describe the challenge of including radical right-wing arguments in social media platforms and how media users have responded. I conclude that the users in Poland who are in opposition to religious diversity are narrowing their Christian values to traditional Catholicism. Such a conclusion leads to an intricate understanding of Poland’s far-right movements as shaping their identities through religious norms and religious exclusivism.
 



Ruichen Zhang (PhD in Sociology, University of Cambridge)
‘Socialism Elsewhere’: A Discourse Analysis of Re-worked Political Ideology on Chinese Internet'

Discourse of political ideology in China is normally attributed with one single meaning per word, which aims to guarantee that it belongs exclusively in the political field dominated by state authorities. However, in the digital age of vibrant entertainment and consumption with mass participation, ideological discourse is increasingly applied in alternative situations of utterances. This paper examines this phenomenon and asks two key questions: 1) How is ideological discourse re-worked? 2) Does it reduce the political power to persuade? Based on a grounded analysis of three discursive strategies to re-work socialist ideology, i.e. reframing, retelling, and re-signifying, this paper suggests a transformation of ideological discourse from monosemy to polysemy and argues that it implies a potential to break state monopoly on political discourse by opening up official narratives to tolerate alternative meanings and interpretations. The very iteration of ideology imposed by state authorities through language is starting to cause its own demise, bringing inevitable changes to its politically persuasive power. In this sense, digital polysemisation of ideological discourse may contribute to the liberalisation of public discourse in China as an authoritarian country.
 



Francesca Root (MPhil Sociology Alumna, University of Cambridge)
'Memorialising in the Digital Age: Analysing Affective Networks during the Public Display of Collective Loss'

This project explores how cultural memory practice is effected by its continuation in the digital age. Through analysing popular objects and discourses formed in the aftermath of the November 2015 Paris Attacks, I show how mourning in digital spaces does significant social and personal “work”. Contra to techno-pessimistic discourses which argue that these practices are “meaningless” or “lazy” forms of solidarity, my analysis shows how public mourning in online spaces facilitates powerful border materialisations which organise bodies through connecting, contesting and affecting forms of public feeling about the event and its representational objects. I argue that if we acknowledge that issues with digital memorials stem from their restrictive frames of recognition, rather than some intrinsic flaw of the practice itself, we can begin to think about what a digital memorial should look like, thus redirecting our concerns about “the right way to mourn” loss in the digital age from a stagnated, pessimistic conversation, to a progressive and hopeful one.
 



Tom Hollanek (PhD in Film & Screen, University of Cambridge)
'Must My iPhone Be a Trojan Horse? On Artificiality, Blackboxing and Alternative Design'

Surely, no likes to be deceived. And yet, even though in the age of ubiquitous computing we are surrounded by objects that incorporate AI solutions, we interact with different kinds of machine intelligence without realizing it – using online banking systems, searching for YouTube clips, or consuming news through social media – not really knowing how and when AI systems operate. In this paper, I revisit the idea of technology as a trap and the role of the designer as a trickster, to rethink our attitude towards technological imitation in the age of artificial intelligence. I draw on elements of media theory to locate the inquiry into AI explainability within the discourse on perception – to eventually ponder new ways of deconstructing the technological incarnation of the Trojan horse, that has pervaded our home and, more recently, surreptitiously taken over almost all aspects of our daily actions through global-scale computing, the cloud, and AI-enhanced personalization. I argue that culture has always been a form of ‘blackboxing’ – to speculate on alternative, self-conscious, anti-progressive design strategies that materialize critique and, in effect, raise awareness of the system as a whole.
 



Dr Ana Belén Martínez García (Visiting Research Fellow, King’s College London)
'Strategic Repetition in Activists’ Online Self-Presentation'

Activists make use of diverse means of communication, online and offline, to present themselves and create a persona with which many can potentially empathize. Building on my previous research on Twitter (Martínez García 2017) and TED talks as life writing (Martínez García 2018), this paper looks at the ways human rights activists deploy repetitive discursive techniques in narrating their struggle and, in so doing, re-frame both who they are and what they stand for. The potential of the web 2.0 and social media affordances has long been studied in the arena of social movements, advocacy and activism (see Gerbaudo 2012). However, much remains obscure in the domain of young women’s self-presentation practices in contemporary culture. Interestingly, most Global South young women who become activists tend to use English as a rights lingua franca, their discourse closely matching that of long-gone historical figures fighting for equality and freedom. Thus, these emerging key public figures employ a rhetorical style full of nuanced repetition which is quite emotionally charged (Martínez García 2018). The potential of strategic repetition is enhanced via technological affordances, such as the simultaneous deployment of various digital platforms, retweets and tagging (Papacharissi 2012). This contributes to a ubiquitous presence online that may influence policy-makers and actual implementation offline. The viral phenomenon of such activist young women as Malala Yousafzai, Yeonmi Park, Nujeen Mustafa or Bana Alabed, to name but a few, is a feature of global society that is yet understudied and deserves our attention. The affects awakened by these girls’ self-portrayal may effect much needed change not only locally, but crossing geopolitical borders, advocating for transnational solidarity. The role of the digital realm in amplifying their message, thanks to immediacy and reach, is of paramount importance and yet to be fully assessed.  


Thomas Wadsworth (PhD in Visual Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London)

Self(ie)-Care and Mental Health

Most media coverage surrounding mental health, online communities, and selfies portray the digital either as narcissistic and damaging, or in opposition as pro- instead of anti-social. What is missed in this binary is a discussion of what it means to be ‘social’, and an analysis of whether digital counter-cultures can (re)construct identities and spaces of self-care.
Accusations of selfies being narcissistic place the photo-taker as self-obsessed and in need of (re)disciplining. The repetition of this claim creates a boundary of acceptable behaviour and what is considered ‘abnormal’. Building from discussions as part of my photo-voice methodology, this research places the narcissism of selfie-taking as an important tool for self-care. It allows people with mental illnesses to com-pose themselves and view the self in a manner otherwise denied.
Beyond the individual selfie, these images are often posted to online communities. This formation of digital counter-cultures allows for a personalised celebration opposed to the dominant representation of mental health. The creation of these affective counter-publics can allow a freedom, however can become constraining themselves – for example (re)inforcing negative habits of surfacing and rendering visible often invisible disorders in order to ‘prove’ illness.

Two different conceptualisations of self-care are important when considering these freedoms and constraints. While the act of continually creating oppositional spaces is necessary to reach for the better life, it is an anxious and tiring task. Often overlooked is the radical importance of being able to easily take a break from everyday life, without changing it, instead to allow for continued survival once returning. A feat the fixed but imperfect counter-publics partially achieve.
To move towards harnessing the potential good of social media for people with mental health problems this research will consider how online self-care (re)constructs identity, and how different conceptualisations of care are tied up in these discussions.
 



Orysia Hrudka (National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine)
'Favouring the Public? Ideologemes of Democracy and Political Economy of Facebook'

Democratic slogans are declared by the platforms of Web 2.0. In particular, Facebook positions its mission as ‘’connecting people’’. However, its design stimulates privately oriented topics. Private data can be sold to advertisers, and it’s the maximization of profit Facebook strives for.

The paper explores how the implicit mechanisms of Facebook, implied in its business model and algorithms, refute the very democratic slogans Facebook proclaims. The research reveals 14 dialectical ideologemes (Jameson, 1982) of democracy, explaining why the declared inclusivity operates on Facebook as genuine exclusivity of people, equality as inequality, participation as passivity, privacy as surveillance, community as personification, networking as centralisation, horizontality as hierarchy, ‘’no matter who you are’’ as a primacy of status, knowledge abundance as ignorance, expertise as incompetence, choice as ‘’no alternative’’, communication as its renunciation, multiperspectivity as one-sidedness, public matters as private matters.

The research applies ideas of neoliberal influences on media (Fuchs, 2014), the individualization of publicity (Sennett, 1992); reification (Honneth, 2005), represented by the platform’s design as ‘’likes’’, ‘’list of friends’’ (Bucher, 2018; Vaidhyanathan, 2018); commodification of social relations (Adorno, Horkheimer, 1972); mimetic production (Jameson, 1991); surveillance (Myhed, 2016); individual self-presentation; some-to-some-to-me communication (Castells, 2010; Dean 2009), end-to-end rhetoric (Gillespie, 2016).

Neither technodeterministic approach, which presumes the predominance of digital context in defining users’ behaviour, nor behaviouristic one, which examines internet as a totally free space where users can realize everything they want, can fully explain the capacity of the internet to promote public matters. That’s why the political economy approach is useful. Whether digital platforms serve as liberating or not depends on their internal organisation.
Not the advancement of public discussion but the augmentation of private issues is Facebook’s main goal. Designed differently, social media can refute individualisation, alienation and commodification, and encourage debate about commons.