Digital Media Practices in Households: Kinship Through Data


Thursday November 26, 3pm-4.30pm, Online via Zoom

New book by Larissa, Hjorth, Kana Ohashi, Jolynna Sinanan, Heather Horst, Sarah Pink, Fumitoshi Kato, Baohua Zhou

Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Tokyo, Shanghai and Melbourne, this book provides the first comparative study of digital practices within intergenerational families. The volume explores how households are being understood, articulated and defined by practices through locative media, self-tracking and quantified self apps and their implications for maintaining care at a distance.

Jolynna Sinanan is a Research Fellow in Digital Media and Ethnography at in the School of Media and Communication at University of Sydney, Australia.

Larissa Hjorth is a digital ethnographer, artist, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Design & Creative Practice Platform at RMIT University, Australia. She is a Visiting Professor at the Center for Co-Design at Osaka University, Japan.

Heather Horst is Professor and Director of the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University, Australia.

Sarah Pink is Professor and Director of the emerging technologies lab at Monash University, Australia. She is Visiting Professor at Halmstad University, Sweden and Loughborough University, UK, and Guest Professor at Free University, Berlin, Germany.

Free download from Amsterdam University Press

Mapping the National Web: Spaces and cultures of diasporic mobilisation in the digital age


Thursday November 19, 3pm – 4.30, Online via Zoom

National web is the idea that our online experience remains profoundly shaped by geographical, cultural, and political borders: online spaces emerge as series of country-, language-, and community-specific spheres, organized and structured by search engines, platforms, and devices used to access them. Just like diasporic collectives mobilise among those living outside their country of origin, national web is also an entity that emerges and exists in flux, through the production and circulation of culturally significant content and genres. This similarity between both entities – diasporas and national webs – make their relationship a novel object of empirical inquiry. A wealth of textual and visual data, produced in the process of mediated communication among diasporic actors, turn social media into a point of entry for studying national webs. In this talk, I explore hyperlinking behaviours among Ukrainian Canadians to map geographic, linguistic, and political boundaries of the Ukrainian national web. Shedding light on the spaces and cultures of diasporic mobilisation in the digital age, I identify distinct web spheres that mediate the Ukrainian Canadians’ relationship to their country of origin.

Olga Boichak is a sociologist of digital media and a Lecturer in Digital Cultures at the University of Sydney. Her primary interest lies in networks, discourses, and cultures of activism in the digital age; she fuses ethnographic and computational methods to study activist collectives in the deeply mediatized contexts of war, arts, and religion. Olga holds a doctorate in social science from Syracuse University (U.S.) and has published on digitally mediated identity building, diasporic activism, state legitimacy, and algorithmic surveillance. She is currently working on a book project that explores the role of digital cultures in decolonial geopolitics in contemporary Ukraine.


Food in a Changing Climate

Thursday November 5, 3pm – 4.30pm, Online via Zoom

Today’s responsible, ethical eater is bombarded with multiple framings of healthier bodies, food justice, animal welfare, and climate-stable futures. Many of these focus on plant-based diets. Strong counter-narratives have emerged from the livestock sector across mainstream media, blogs, social media, and public campaigns, leading The Observer to declare diet as the “latest front in the culture wars” (Anthony, 2019).

These contestations came to a head in 2019 with the publication of the report Food in the Anthropocene: EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy and sustainable food systems (Willet et al., 2019). The “digital backlash” against this report includes a popular counter-movement promoting #yes2meat. The Lancet claims this “new skeptical online community” is responsible for “intentional dissemination of misleading content” and disinformation. It argues for proactive avoidance of “manipulation and misinformation about issues of fundamental importance for human health and the planet” (Garcia, 2019).

Most pertinent to this debate is whose knowledge counts in science communication on health and climate issues? This question is central to Alana Mann’s analysis of a global food system embedded in racialized land and labour relationships in her forthcoming book, Food in a Changing Climate.

Alana Mann is Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communications, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), University of Sydney, Australia, and a key researcher in the University’s Sydney Environment Institute. Her research focuses on the communicative dimensions of citizen engagement, participation, and collective action in food systems planning and governance.

Smart Publics: Imaginaries and Discoveries of Smart Street Furniture

Thursday October 22, 3pm – 4.30pm

Online via Zoom, RSVP via Eventbrite to receive Meeting ID and password

Smart street furniture — wi-fi enabled devices, with built-in digital screens, charging ports and sensors — produce new socio-technical encounters and foster new imaginaries, actualising visions of the long awaited ‘smart city’. These objects offer new services to the public, but also impose new forms of screen advertising and data collection. How do these unfamiliar hybrid media fit into existing cityscapes? How do people notice them and start to engage with them? How do the goals of designers and governments meet with lived reality?

At this event we will launch the research report and share key findings from the Smart Publics project, an international collaboration between the University of Sydney and the University of Glasgow that investigated the design, use and governance of InLinkUK kiosks in Glasgow and Strawberry Energy benches in London. The project was funded through the USyd/Glasgow Partnership Collaborations Awards (2019).

The presentation will focus on public expectations and imaginaries around smart street furniture and how users interact with these objects that reconfigure prior urban forms and affordances such as phone booths and regular benches. The findings reveal the disconnects, tensions and materialisations of the smart city in its actual use and the need to adopt more inclusive imaginations of the public and varied uses of street furniture. The audience is invited to ask questions and to discuss the themes raised.

Justine Humphry is a Lecturer in Digital Cultures in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. She researches the cultures and politics of digital media and emerging technologies with a focus on the social consequences of mobile, smart and data-driven technologies.

Chris Chesher is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Cultures in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. His recent research is on the medium specificity of digital media, embodied cultures of social robotics, and the social construction of smart city and smart home.

Sophia Maalsen is an ARC DECRA fellow in Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney researching practices of ‘Hacking Housing’. Her research is predominantly situated at the intersection of the digital and material. She is interested with the way digital technologies mediate and reconfigure housing, the urban and the everyday.


The Lives and Careers of Professional Live Streamers

Thursday October 8, 2020

This talk examines the careers and backgrounds of professional “live streamers” broadcasting on leading platform I begin by outlining the rapid growth of this site to the point where millions of individuals are broadcasting to well over one hundred million viewers on a regular basis. Drawing on five years of interview and ethnographic data, I focus on examining the pasts, presents and (predicted or considered) futures of live streamers. How did these individuals (often lacking any professional media training) find their way in to being professional streamers, what does the everyday labour of streaming entail, and what do they expect will embody the future of their chosen career? Throughout these elements I consider the associated entanglements – digital game culture, online celebrity, platform infrastructure and governance – which shape this new media form, and show how live streaming is increasingly influencing both amateur, and professional, content production.

Mark R. Johnson is a Lecturer in Digital Cultures in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. His research focuses on live streaming and, esports, game consumption and production, and gamification and gamblification. He has published in journals including ‘Information, Communication and Society’, ‘New Media and Society’, ‘The Sociological Review’, ‘Convergence’, ‘Games and Culture’, and the ‘Journal of Virtual Worlds Research’. Outside academia he is also an independent game designer, a regular games blogger and podcaster, a freelance writer for numerous gaming publications, and a former professional poker player.

The Bhutan-Wiki Project: Global knowledge and minority languages

Thursday September 17, 3pm – 4.30pm

Online via Zoom, RSVP via Eventbrite to receive Meeting ID and password

The growing influence of English Wikipedia has created powerful new gatekeepers and publishing practices that determine not only what constitutes knowledge in the online world, but whose knowledge is privileged. Research shows the different ways that the structural inequalities of the offline world are being reproduced online, creating new sites for colonisation. However, the smaller language Wikipedias offer a bulwark for cultural resilience. The platform has multi-media capabilities, which can be utilized by oral cultures in ways not possible before Web 2.0 technologies. as well as providing asynchronous online meeting places for geographically disparate communities to participate in their national imaginings. This paper presents preliminary work on a three-year, Australian Research Council-funded action research project that will investigate the experiences of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan with English and Dzongkha Wikipedias as a case study to consider 1) some of the impacts of English Wikipedia on global knowledge equity and 2) the potential for minority language Wikipedias to provide a cultural counterpoint.

Dr Bunty Avieson is an author, journalist and academic, who teaches in the Department of Media and Communications at University of Sydney. Her research interests include the media in Bhutan, literary journalism and Wikipedia Studies. These threads are brought together in this DECRA project, awarded in 2019.

Sharing News Online – affective capitalism and the motivation to share

Friday 13 March, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

Seminar followed by book launch

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

RSVP via Eventbrite

There is strong evidence that social media news sharing is influenced by people’s immediate feelings about an event or issue, their emotional investments in story sharing and their affective relations with their social networks.

However, it is also shaped by an industrial system of alerts, algorithms and analytics which gives visibility to content that is more likely to trigger strong participatory responses from media consumers. In this presentation, based on her new book with Associate Professor Tim Dwyer, Sharing News Online: Commendary Cultures & Social Media Ecologies, Dr Fiona Martin examines why the concept of affect is critical to understanding people’s everyday decisions to share information on social media platforms, and why Facebook’s ‘emotional contagion’ survey gives us only partial answers to how our feelings are ripe for manipulation online

Based on research conducted with Associate Professor Virginia Nightingale, she will investigate the cultural context and emotional triggers for news sharing, the news values that make stories shareworthy and the feelings that news evokes. In the talk, she’ll discuss the significant gender and age differences in the emotional states that prompt sharing behaviours, and trace clear affective trajectories in the types of stories shared and the intentions for exchanging them. Sharing News Online was the outcome of an ARC Linkage project (LP140100148) with Share Wars & Nine News.

Fiona Martin is senior lecturer in Online and Convergent Media, in the Dept. Media & Communications, at the University of Sydney. Her current ARC Discovery project is Platform Governance: Rethinking Internet Regulation as Media Policy (DP190100222), with Terry Flew, Nic Suzor, Tim Dwyer, Phil Napoli & Josef Trappel.

Tim Dwyer is Associate Professor in the Dept. Media & Communications, at the University of Sydney. He is author of Convergent Media and Privacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) and a member of the Platform Governance team.

Virginia Nightingale was formerly Associate Professor in Media and Communication, University of Western Sydney. She retired in 2010, but came out of retirement to work on the Sharing News Online study.

Psychodata: Disassembling social-emotional learning, edutech and policy

Ben Williamson, University of Edinburgh

Thursday, November 6, 4pm – 5.30pm

Room 351, Education Building, University of Sydney

RSVP via Eventbrite

An event cosponsored by the SSESW Education Policy Research Network and the Socio-Tech Futures (STuF) Lab.

Psychology and economics are powerful sources of contemporary governance, and are increasingly influential in education policy and practice. In this context, social and emotional learning (SEL) is becoming an educational priority in many parts of the world. Based on the measurement and assessment of students’ ‘noncognitive’ skills, SEL consists of a ‘psycho-economic’ combination of psychometrics with economic analysis, and is producing novel forms of statistical ‘psychodata’ about students. This presentation examines how psychological and economics experts are producing policy-relevant scientific knowledge and statistical psychodata to influence the direction of SEL policies, by following the development of SEL as it has travelled transnationally through the advocacy of psychologists, economists, and behavioural scientists, with support from think tank coalitions, philanthropies, edtech companies (e.g. ClassDojo), investment schemes, and international organizations (e.g. OECD). These emerging efforts to measure SEL instantiate ‘psycho-econometric governance’ within education, part of a political rationality in which society is measured effectively through scientific fact-finding and subjects are managed affectively through psychological intervention.

Ben Williamson is a Chancellor’s Fellow in the Centre for Research in Digital Education and the Edinburgh Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh. He maintains the research blog Code Acts in Education, tweets @BenPatrickWill, and wrote Big Data in Education: The digital future of learning, policy and practice (Sage, 2017). 

Digital Intermediation: Towards transparent public automated media – Jonathon Hutchinson

‘Algorithm’ Image courtesy of Dimitris Ladopoulos 

Friday 8 November, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

RSVP via Eventbrite

The contemporary media ecosystem operates on digital intermediation: it is one that consists of the cultural, economic and expertise capital exchange of cultural intermediation that would otherwise be associated with traditional media, combined with social influencers and large-scale automation. That is, contemporary media is most successful in reaching its desired audience when it engages in digital intermediation that utilises the content production expertise of social influencers who engage the affordances of algorithmic calculations of social media platforms. Youtubers and Instagrammers, for example Zoella, DanTDM, Gigi Hadid or PewDiePie, have all expertly designed their content production around platform characteristics that expose their creative expertise to a large specialist and engaged audience. Bärtl (2018) notes that 85% of all consumed YouTube content is produced by 3% of the top channels, suggesting there is an increasing homogenisation of content diversity across these platforms. It is in this environment where single media producers experience high exposure and impact for their content, while public interest media are struggling to remain relevant. How then, might our public institutions engage digital intermediation to increase the exposure of public interest media?

This presentation will first highlight how successful YouTube and Instagram social influencers operate by defining the function of the Digital First Personality. It will then unpack how automation operates, namely recommender systems, on digital platforms by focussing on the YouTube algorithm through what I argue as digital intermediation. Third it will look at the current state of public institutions engaging digital first personalities and digital intermediation by focussing on the German case study of Funk. Finally this presentation will provide a number of recommendations on how our public institutions can and should be adopting strategies to remain relevant in the contemporary media ecosystem.

Dr Jonathon Hutchinson is a lecturer in Online Communication and Media at the University of Sydney. He is currently a Visiting Research Fellow on the Algorithmed Public Sphere project at the Hans Bredow Institute, Hamburg Germany. His research explores Public Service Media, cultural intermediation, everyday social media, automated media, and algorithms in media. He is the NSW Representative on the Executive Committee for the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA), the Secretary for the International Public Service Media Association, RIPE, and is the current Program Chair for the Association of Internet Research (AoIR). Hutchinson is an award-winning author and his latest book is Cultural Intermediaries: Audience Participation and Media Organisations (2017), published through Palgrave Macmillan.

Tom McDonald and Tommy Tse – Hong Kong University

Friday 25 October, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

“Pulling the sheep’s wool”: Online thriftiness, labour relations and domesticity in a Chinese factory

This paper draws on data collected during ethnographic fieldwork in a factory in southeast China to describe the significance of a group of activities colloquially known as “pulling the sheep’s wool” (haoyangmao). This wide-ranging set of thrift-oriented practices involves gaining rewards and discounts by collecting various credits and points, most often through online shopping, news and payment platforms. This paper shows how these activities are reshaping the rhythms and structures of everyday factory life, bringing into sharp focus competing demands between online and offline, work and leisure, while also challenging the distinctions between these domains. Although recent studies have sought to reposition thrift as a consumptive practice through which the concept of the house is enacted, we demonstrate how thrift acts in a factory environment largely unmoored from notions of domesticity, instead delineating social boundaries between production line workers and managers while also fostering communal behaviours amongst labourers. This leads us to argue that there is a need to acknowledge how thrift can operate independently of the home and family.

Tom McDonald is a media anthropologist dedicated to using ethnographic engagement to achieve a richer understanding of how digital technologies, media and material culture come to mediate ongoing transformations in the communicative practices, economic behaviours, social relationships and human subjectivities of people in China and beyond. Tom joined the HKU Department of Sociology in August 2015. Prior to this, he was a Research Associate at the Department of Anthropology, University College London.

Tom’s first solely-authored monograph, Social Media in Rural China: Social Networks and Moral Frameworks (2016, UCL Press), details the findings of 15-months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Chinese countryside, examining how social media use reconfigures social relations and morality. A separate co-authored volume, How the World Changed Social Media (2016, UCL Press) expands on the wider findings of the larger comparative UCL Why We Post study, to which my ethnography formed a central contribution.

Tom’s research increasingly focuses on economic concerns, reflecting the rapid convergence between digital money and media in China. His current project examines the adoption of digital money platforms amongst migrant factory workers in China and documents the effects such platforms on a range of everyday exchange practices and infrastructures, with a particular focus on consumption, savings, investment, and remittances.

From Shanzhai chic to Gangnam style: Seven practices of cultural-economic mediation in China and Korea

Constantly readapting to the asymmetrical global flows of fashion, the economically soaring Korean and Chinese fashion industries have demonstrated non-linear development and differential co-creation of fashion as cultural value through new forms of cultural mediation. This presentation examines the social construction of ‘fashionability’ – namely, what is ‘desirable’ and ‘fashionable’ – with reference to the concept ‘cultural mediators’ that foregrounds agency, negotiation, and the contested practices of market actors in cultural production. It zeroes in on the cultural mediators’ attitudes and positions in the two markets by drawing on 25 in-depth interviews with industry veterans. It shows that the mediators in South Korea and China increasingly occupy hybrid occupational roles and social positions across industries and sectors yet achieve limited success in countering the status quo of Western fashion through mediation. The analysis contributes to the literature with a categorisation of seven mediation practices that shape the valuation of fashion products (i.e. ‘fashionability’) in two ways. Empirically, this categorisation illuminates how cultural mediators make reference habitually to the broader social and cultural contexts to co-construct cultural-aesthetic objects. Theoretically, it advances a “cultural-economic approach” to the understanding of cultural mediation and challenges the reductionist viewpoint of actor-network theory through the notion of a matrix of cultural-economic agency.

Tommy Tse is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong. He specialises in East Asia’s media and cultural industries, creative labour and sociology of fashion. His work has appeared in Information, Communication and Society, Journal of Consumer Culture, Journal of Business Anthropology, International Journal of Fashion Studies among others. In 2015, Tse was the visiting scholar at the Communication University of China, Beijing, and at the Fashion Institute of Design, Donghua University, Shanghai. In 2018, he was a Research Associate at London College Fashion and a Visiting Scholar at UCL Anthropology Department.