Housekeeping day: stab at Northern Voice report

May 10, 2010 at 11:57 pm | In northernvoice | 7 Comments

It’s Monday and closing on midnight and I still haven’t managed to write a recap of Northern Voice 2010, or address specific issues (of interest to me) raised by panelists. And since it’s already so late, this means it’s not going to happen today.

Here’s a screen shot of some of my tweets from the conference (marked #nv10), which I was going to use to write about the journalism session on Day Two:


(Note the comment – added in green – about my being unsure whether Kirk Lapointe said “100 years” or “40 years.” I think he may have said 40, which seems more likely. Once the video of the session is up, I can confirm that. Unfortunately, I can’t correct my tweet, however.)

Further below that are my tweets for Chris Messina’s keynote, which was fantastic. It deserves its own post.

The conference was great – it was my third year, and while last year was my favorite so far, this one was very good also, in particular the second day. Day One started off really well with the Gov 2.0 session (which I blogged about very briefly, here – and which deserves an extended riff).

Also on Day One I attended OMGWTF: The Weird World of Chatroulette (NSFW), with Dean Hudson, who was brilliant. He had us ROFLMA – you can see me cracking up in this photo. This talk definitely also deserves its own post.

From Tweets to Plans: Online Conversation for Urban Planning disappointed me – I think that had a lot to do with putting 4 panelists into a 30 minute segment. Dear NV: please don’t do that again, it doesn’t work. It did give me a chance to connect with Mike Klassen and Ian Capstick, though, which led to an interesting conversation about NIMBYism and city planning.

The Seattle People Podcast Project: A Case Study and Discussion of DIY Social Networking with BuddyPress kind of had me scratching my head – I’m not sure that such a fine-grained social media approach appeals to me.

On Day Two, there was the aforementioned kick-ass keynote by Chris Messina, followed by the Journalism session (see panelist Lisa Johnson’s post – excellent source material). I then attended Alexandra Samuel‘s Coping with Social Media, which was fun and useful. It was followed directly by A Bridge Too Far? The Uses and Misuses of Social Location Sharing Sites (with Travis Smith, Noah Bloom, and Ian Bell).

Next up: Art and Social Media, with Rebecca Coleman, Rachel Chator, Deb Pickman and Sara Genn, which was wonderful.

Finally, I went to If Machiavelli and Montaigne Grew Mushrooms, with Dave Cormier (who was fantastic) and Jon Beasley-Murray (whom I didn’t care for at all).

Until I get my stuff together to write the posts I should or want to write, check out Hummingbird604’s live-blogs (here’s the Journalism one with Kirk Lapointe and Lisa Johnson), and read Kim P. Werker’s excellent post, Northern Voice 2010: The Great, the Meh and the Ugly.

Finally, for the artists-and-(potential)-iPad-enthusiasts who are wondering whether this gadget is useful in the graphic field, check out Rachel S. Smith‘s post, visual notes on the iPad (and see this flickr set, iPad art). Wowzers! Also spotted – and results ooh’d and aahhh’d over: Rob Cottingham, who produced Northern Voice blog posts in graphic format using his iPad. Awesome, both of you!


  1. I don’t believe we met, but still sorry that you didn’t care for me “at all.”

    Perhaps you could elaborate?

    Otherwise, I’m pleased you had a good conference.

    Comment by Jon — May 12, 2010 #

  2. Hi Jon, thanks for commenting. I should have written that I didn’t care for what I took as the gist of your talk, not that I don’t care for you! (As you point out, we didn’t actually meet!)
    So …let me try to articulate (and remember) what I took to be the gist. I got the impression that you were taking social media technologies to task for the demise of certain institutional bulwarks – like the philosophy department at Middlesex University. I didn’t hear you talk about politics, though.
    But surely the closure of a philosophy department in the UK is the result of political decisions, and can’t be linked to whatever fraying effect social media has had (has it had any?) on the institutions.
    In some ways I was reminded by your presentation of Kirk Lapointe’s presentation. He’s sitting in the heart of an institution (the newspaper), and he’s trying to come to grips with social media, but at the same time still clinging to all the things that traditional institutional news media represent. And while he has some grip on the economics that make for changes in his industry, I get the sense that maybe he has hopes for the old model of ads subsidizing accountability journalism (the kind of journalism that’s most deeply at risk right now; see Shirky in this video).
    But I would challenge Kirk and perhaps also university-based denizens of the status quo – and yes, one may bristle at the suggestion that one is a denizen of the status quo, especially when one has a blog/ website called Post Hegemony, but really, most critics of hegemony (marxist or not-marxist) that I’ve known who are professors have been relatively comfortable within the hegemony of the institution. I don’t know of a single one who left to become a taxi driver, although I know a couple who never made it into the institution in the first place. (Full disclosure: In my aborted academic career I spent a lot of time as an adjunct; then I left to homeschool my kids; and now I don’t think I could go back into the university’s embrace – not that they’d have me, I’d wager.)
    Usually the critique of power is tied to a critique of politics. But instead, I got the sense that you critiqued social media for eroding or fraying the power of the university (or its ability to represent the truth)
    But that’s like newspapers complaining about bloggers or similar social media types fraying accountability journalism.
    Right now, with an economic system girded by a politics that dictates that everyone (regardless of aptitude or inclination) somehow must get a post-secondary education if s/he wants to “succeed,” universities and other post-secondary schools have become not exactly diploma mills, but they sure churn out a lot of certificates (the bane of certification – a social disaster, imo).
    Philosophy departments in places like Middlesex are hurting because economics (and politics) are stacked against both a “disinterested” and an engaged philosophy.
    My departure from academia was made easier for me when I realized how disgustingly rotten the whole system is.
    Here’s what I mean:
    To become successful in my field of the humanities – Art History – I would have to be an important scholar who does a lot of research …and who has many graduate students to show for it. (Look around at the important scholars in any of the disciplines: it’s a prestige thing to have as many “top” graduate students working with you as you can. If you have more than your colleagues, that means that you’re top dog in your department.)
    By accruing more and more graduate students, the professor-scholar is a) perpetuating the university system (hence, its power), and b) condemning more and more graduate students either to (1) unemployment (there just aren’t a lot of jobs in academia for humanities scholars, and that’s a fact – whether they’re philosophers or art historians), or (2) becoming professors themselves so that they, too, will engage in the downright unscrupulous game of producing yet more unemployed humanities PhDs.
    It’s immoral, imo. And I’m quite serious in saying that.
    Anyway… I’ve really gotten off topic, but you can tell this issue of “the academy” (or the university or the institution) cuts deep with me.
    From my perspective, social media is exciting and a breath of fresh air. I’m sorry that protected and cherished institutional landmarks are protected no longer, but that’s really not social media’s fault. Look to the internal workings of what makes university humanities departments tick – or not tick – to figure out why.

    Comment by Yule — May 12, 2010 #

  3. Yule, thanks for the expansion and clarification. And I am indeed glad that it was my talk, rather than me, to which you took such exception!

    But as you say more, it turns out (I think) that we’re not very far apart.

    I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear enough in my talk at the weekend, but I did try to say repeatedly that I definitely *wasn’t* trying to offer some kind of conservative defence of the university, though I recognized that the risk I was taking was that I could be misread (or misheard) that way.

    But far from it. As I said, the traditional university deserves and deserved the critique it received at the hands of (amongst others) women, radicals, people of colour, and so on. The traditional university was elitist, isolated, a means by which an unequal society reproduced itself and so on and so forth.

    And indeed to understand what has happened to the university over the past fifty years (more or less the time frame I was discussing) you do need to look at politics and broader social movements.

    And yes, social media (as I said) in large part are a continuation of these critical impulses, and I applaud the ways in which they both breach the boundaries between the university and society as a whole, and also enable other sites of knowledge production and reflection.

    I think we’re on the same page up to here (the first three-quarters of my talk). And I could indeed expand further on the critique of the institution. And incidentally, I do agree that the ways in which graduate students are treated in the contemporary university is indeed unethical. Deeply so.

    OK, but here’s where we disagree, I think…

    1) There is another current, especially over the past fifteen years (in the British context, let’s say since 1992), in which what’s going on is not a defence of the traditional institution, but its marketization and asset-stripping or (as I put it) its expansion without funding.

    2) One might add that the drive to attract large numbers of graduate students in the midst of an appalling job market is part of this new development, rather than intrinsic to the traditional university. (More than prestige, graduate students bring money, especially when there’s a cap on the numbers of undergraduates that an institution can admit.)

    3) This new university (quoting Bill Readings, I called it the “university of excellence” as opposed to the “university of culture”) is quite different from the previous one. Not so much either better or worse, but dramatically different, with new dangers and new exclusions.

    4) Social media are indeed complicit in this process of neoliberalization. In a host of ways, from the move to “elearning” and the use of huge corporate behemoths such as Blackboard / WebCT to the populist impulses fomented by Wikipedia et al. (and NB again, I’m not against Wikipedia per se), social media not merely continue a legitimate critique of the old institution, but are transforming it into something that even the university’s worst enemies would never have wished up on it.

    Put it this way: it’s as though (say) Ivan Illich’s dream of “deschooling society” had been realized, but in terms of a triumph of capital and market value over what he himself valorized above all, which was lifelong learning and fostering the search for knowledge.

    In these circumstances, it turns out there’s something about the university that’s worth saving. This doesn’t mean defending or returning to the university as it was. But it’s a reason why the students at Middlesex are occupying the place. They realize that something valuable is being lost.

    My questions merely revolved around what’s getting lost: What kinds of knowledge and what forms of reflection are enabled by the university that social media can’t (on their own) support?

    OK, this has been longer than intended, but to reiterate what I said at the weekend: yes, I absolutely agree that “social media are exciting and a breath of fresh air.” I also hold no brief for protecting “cherished institutional landmarks.” In many ways, as I said, the university deserves its critique, a critique that hasn’t gone far enough.

    But that doesn’t mean we should simply accept the form that that critique has taken, the substitution of economic value for other forms of value (and again, it is this that *really* screws grad students, adjuncts, and the like, as we have seen over the past twenty years). We need to reimagine the university and its relationship to social media, while being alert to the ways in which the tools we ourselves promote can also be taken up by forces that (I presume we agree here) we reject precisely because they are unethical, immoral, short-sighted, and self-destructive.

    Anyway, again, I’m sorry I wasn’t clear enough on Saturday. I did fear that people would hear only the last quarter of the talk rather than the first three quarters. But there we go!

    Comment by Jon — May 13, 2010 #

  4. Just a quick note to say it was lovely seeing you there, and thanks so much for the kind words about my cartoon notes! (Rachel’s really were amazing – clearly I have a lot left to learn!)

    Comment by Rob Cottingham — May 13, 2010 #

  5. @Rob – great to meet you f2f, Rob, and I enjoyed seeing your lovely wife’s presentation, too!
    @Jon – thank you for your excellent & thoughtful reply, Jon. I’m feeling pretty bagged right now and can’t respond in kind, but am wondering if this topic doesn’t deserve its own blog post (well, d’uh, of course it does…). As it happens, I was driving today (which is the only time I get to listen to the radio, so I don’t listen to the radio a whole lot!), and heard a report on NPR about mainstream American universities that have satellite campuses abroad – like, really abroad (United Arab Emirates). See Life On An American Campus In The UAE. Imagine the subject of this story as a spiky virus (microphotography), and all its little spikes fit into the various interstices suggested by the problems we’ve raised in our comments here. Interesting stuff, for sure. I’m thinking more and more that universities are a lot like mainstream media (newspapers – with a changing business model), and are in need of a re-boot.

    Comment by Yule — May 13, 2010 #

  6. Note, re. the “Life On An American Campus In The UAE” story (linked above): I don’t see it in the transcript (maybe it’s in the audio?), but one really creepy aspect was that (at least for unis in the UAE) “Jews need not apply.” Not Jewish professors nor Jewish students, ’cause the UAE doesn’t let them in. Ick…

    Comment by Yule — May 13, 2010 #

  7. “Universities are a lot like mainstream media (newspapers – with a changing business model), and are in need of a re-boot.”
    Indeed! I tried to make this very comparison at the weekend.
    Meanwhile, regarding outsourcing to the UAE and elsewhere (China has been a particularly favored destination, too), for good or ill, but probably mostly for good, on the whole this has been a spectacularly unsuccessful gambit by those universities that have tried it. And that’s even when, as in this case, they have slavishly done just about everything that their new “hosts” demand and expect, however unethical (as with the exclusion of Jews) that may be.

    Comment by Jon — May 14, 2010 #

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