Friday, August 17, 2007

Book group meeting notes

Attendees: Kristin E., Greg, Barbara, K8, Jeff, John, Kristin J.

Kristin: we chose this book to fit with the broader SLIS diversity goals, and it also fits nicely with our interests in information/IT and society.

Greg: So given the time limitations given the end of summer - how much of this book did people read? What did you like? What chapters if any should we be assigning to classes?

KE didn't read the book : ( K8 admits she read the book with watching tv : ) Several people skimmed. Selective skimming is a VERY important grad school skill. Barb read the WHOLE thing!

Jeff: What is "everyday life?" Refers to some guy who wrote a book on everyday life - a transcendant everyday life. All ideas have been flattend by the idea of competitive advantage. What is everyday life anymore? Everything is dominated by competitive advantage.

Greg: The use of the term in the title was just a signal that they weren't talking about information technology in the work context. Think they were referring to recreational uses - kareoke, fan groups, etc.

K8: Thinks it was referring to the "invisible" everyday things that people don't think about.

Greg: Part of it stems from the fact that it is an anthology and they have to build a frame around what they get. Look at the first couple of chapters, they usually represent the main ideas they were trying to get (at least initially). Here they probably thought they were going to talk about digital divide, but they ended up getting a lot wider range of things.

Barbara: and the chapter about low rider cars. low riders are not really a digital technology.
K8: there is a cool article about low riders as performance.

Greg: skimming the TOC, what was your sense of what this book was about? Class? Power?

Kristin J: I thought it was about participation - who can participate and how.

KE: could the pinch and kline car/washing machine article have been reprinted in this book? (appropriation)
Barb: remember the book is about race.

Greg: what class would this be good for?

John: I enjoyed the interviews with the technology entreprenuers
K8: The gender articles could have been taught in womens studies
John: Interestingly, those ones are the articles that have stayed the most current.
Barb: I would have enjoyed reading some things about the assesmbly line aspects of technology work in the labor class.

Greg: the oldness of the chapters has historical value. Would some students miss that? Or would they value the historical perspective? But the H1 visa thing is still very current.
k8: they might appreciate the retro value - they like 80's music. Girls are wearing blue eye shadow again : )

When you saw the book assigned on the blog - what did you expect it would be about?
k8: I expected more new media: virtual community, gaming - I was happy to read about low riders.
Kristin J: I expected a whole book on the digital divide
John: I was looking for theory - but its sort of a bring your own theory sort of book.
k8: that is only because we've been brainwashed to expect theory and millions of footnotes. Maybe they were trying to make it more accessible purposefully. Read Janice Joplin biography by Alice Echols for an example -Scars of Sweet.. something???
Barb: I was expecting more theories, but glad that it didn't have a lot. I thought it was good it was so accessible.
Greg: I wanted some theoretical pointers to be there.
Barb: But if you have some theories in your head, you just sort of fit it in yourself. You don't have to be hit over the head with it. But undergradutes might need some orientation.

Greg: would it be nice for them to define/explain what they mean by race? They could have something in the intro. Do they mean black/white? Do they mean what whiteness means? Do they mean ethnicity in the USA? How does this book compare with other things you have read that are about race? What chapters would still be good for a class on race and technology?
k8: asiatic geek girl, the silocon valley chapter
Barb: I thought it was more about ethnicity than race.
k8: but was is ethnicity vs race? Students in my class got offended by a piece that referred to rural Appalachians as having an "ethnicity." They thought white people couldn't have ethnicity.

ke: but I thought that white Wisconsinites would be more aware of white ethnicity - the whole polish, german, swede, scando thing...
k8: they may not have realized that white appalacians tend to come from a distinct culture (scottish?)
Greg: if it were published today, maybe the book would use the term "identity"
k8/john: they should add ethnicity and gender to the title - but race may sell better.
Greg: in some cases the term "identity" is used to avoid talking about race.
k8: yeah, identity is too vage
Greg: too academic - a book you don't want to read

John: conscienceness of white race is very shallow now. In the 1980's there was a big interest in small town life in Wisconsin. Kristin, be careful with your "scando" comment because the different groups see themselves as quite distinct and had been at each others throats. Lately it hasn't been as big a deal. Maybe because of the fall of communism there has been a let's all get along sort of feel?

Greg: this discussion of community is very interesting. Did it show up in the book? It was in the silicon valley chapter, the techno in detroit, but a lot of this stuff was place-less. Do less sexy places get overlooked for studies of their ethnic communities (e.g. Appalachia?)
John: the low rider one could easily have been more "localized."
Greg: and there is a big global industry behind low riders. That transcends place. But it would be interesting to examine locational differences - how are the Chicago low riders different from the CA low riders?
John: and some Asian communities are now doing car modifications.
Greg: it reminds me of this concept of "tinkering" that is very popular now. Theoretically it is about the deinfition of expertise? and what is the relationship between tinkerers and manufacturers? Do they encourage a culture of modification or discourage it? They could talk about low riders in this way, but it would really make it too abstract. In making it abstract, do you end up focusing more on the dominant tinkerers (white male geeks). Do you have to localize to due credit to minority tinkerers.

Final thoughts?
Barb: I wish someone would do something more contemporary.
ke: I'd want to see a cell phone texting article
Barb: I've been hearing that there really isn't that much of a stark generational difference in technology use - tho that is more identity than race.
k8: I have to teach my freshman lots of stuff.
johN: yeah, they know IM, but they don't know a lot of other stuff: email attachment, open a PDF.
Greg: there is a cool book Mobile communication and global perspective that is about global phone use. Castells did a chapter for it. He was able to get areally wide range of people. Our book was very US oriented in comparison to this newer book. It is an interesting literature review. They did find a generational difference: older people are doing different things with phones than younger people. They don't talk about race/ethnic differences.
Barb: So much of what we read is USA focused.
John: Take cell phones, people talk about very private stuff on their cell phones in public.
This is the economic elite. The elite is abandoning privacy for convenience. They have lost the sense of a private space. Take myspace, facebook.
k8: I saw an article about how colleges have been getting roommate change requests after they view the roommates myspace info!

Ok, now we are drifting into some conversation about Facebook....

Thursday, August 16, 2007


This collection of essays about race and technology seems to offer something to the academically-inclined of various persuasions, from traditional labor studies in essays about marginalized technical workers and resistance on the assembly line to contemporary cultural criticism surrounding a modern urban musical genre ( Detroit techno), to sociological interpretations of activites such as low-riding. Pick the approach that suits you best. All bring to the foreground a concept that minorities traditionally viewed as absent from the world of technology, or passive consumers of technology at best, are in fact active shapers of contemporary technology whose unique use and role in technology production does not necessarily mirror that of non-minority society.

From my own perspective, I appreciated especially the essays about low-wage Latina assembly-line workers in what we think of as affluent Silicon valley, and the discussion of marginalized Indian workers on special visas for ëxpert" workers. The assembly-line workers are viewed in a somewhat traditional fashion, focusing on their gendered resistance to the strictures of assembly -line work under the direction of male non-Latino bosses. The Indian workers are subtly reclassed in their worklife from higher-status computer programmers to lower-status "temporary workers" whose rootless existence in spite of their superior education and qualifications is presented as one aspect of global migration.

The presence of traditional assembly-line work in such a supposedly contemporary venue as technology production as well as the downgrading of the abilities and status of immigrant groups, are traditional themes that seem to be playing out in contemporary high-tech settings. Just how revolutionary is the supposed computer revolution, anyhow? In aspects of labor and production, it seems that traditional themes are still applicable.

Last meeting of the summer tomorrow, Friday August 17

We'll be discussing the ideas and essays from _Technicolor: Race, technology, and everyday life_ tomorrow. Although we had disappointingly low attendance last time around, I'll be out on the Terrace at around 3pm for anyone interested in coming by. Feel free to post reactions to the weblog in advance of, during, or after the meeting.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Planet Management and Memory Practices

Dear Book Group Colleagues:

Since I was out of town for several days surrounding our reading of Planet Management, Greg assigned me to read and compare Planet Management and Memory Practices in the Sciences by Goeffrey Bowker, a book that the group read last summer. I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to re-read Bowker, but I’m not going to assume that all of us are familiar with Memory Practices.

In understanding the origins of contemporary practices in the sciences, including scientific modeling, Bowker locates the development of these practices well before the origins of systems theory in World War II where Elichirigoity begins. The rise of state bureaucracies, and the accompanying need for information in the form of numbers (statistics), and the need to categorize and assign priorities to numbers are primarily the products of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. They are rooted in social processes and changes during these times. Over time, they have changed as priorities and perceptions have changed. Bowker challenges the “perfect”memory posited by scientific institutions, and suggests that the traces left in the world are larger and more complex than those constructed by scientific interpretations based on human-created categories. At the heart of this argument is the notion that “acts of committing to record, such as writing a scientific paper, do not occur in isolation” but occur within a range of technical, formal, and social practices. We project onto nature our modes of organizing our own affairs. These memory practices are a way of framing the present. Scientific memory acts through tools such as standardization and classification which over time have provided the underpinnings to contemporary scientific undertakings, including the activities of the Club of Rome. We need to understand the limitations of these socially-based categories and their influence on scientific thinking. As the database has become central to scientific research, we need to understand the metaphors we have imposed on this data, and avoid production of a frozen present. Both ideology and knowledge are fused in the creation of data, as well as in its interpretation.

Seen from this perspective, Planet Management provides the story of one set of memory practices in the formation of contemporary “globality”-- those produced through the development of cybernetics and computing, Bowker suggests that other global ways of thinking existed earlier, in geology and in the expansion of empires, thus globality may not necessarily be the paradigm shift posited by Elichirigoity though our understanding of it has been aided by new tools such as satellite imaging.

The set of memory practices noted in Planet Management consists of those which would view the Earth as a “system” which includes inorganic, organic, natural and technological subsystems, amenable to systems analysis. They involve a method which depends on computer simulations, based on a variety of data chosen by experts. One interesting rationale noted by Elichirigoity as leading to the process which created the Club of Rome report is the interest in “new” forms of information provided by the computerized database. Information captured in computerized databases was viewed as a break with a past in which information was stored on maps and in print. Yet, the new databases made use of geographical information which was also at the basis of traditional mapmaking, though it was enhanced and expanded by new methods of computer imaging

Elichirigoity notes other social impacts on the work of the planet managers—sociobiology, for instance, a highly contested area of scientific research in which biological factors are seen as highly significant in determining social activities. Cybernetics itself proposed to erase an older distinction between organic and inorganic All of these were transformative and led to contemporary notions of the planet as a system amenable to management. I think that Bowker might possibly regard them less as transformative, and more of a larger continuum of efforts at global thinking fueled by a variety of underlying and possibly unquestioned mindsets.

Furthermore, the process which led to the report of the Club of Rome is deeply involved in a social milieu including the need to obtain grant funding, and the consequent need to act in ways that grantors will approve, along with the need to market the final product to a variety of audiences. It is striking that the commercial success of the first Limits to Growth book almost derailed the subsequent publication of the more technical reports. The process of obtaining support and direction for the Club of Rome project, notably top-down, was also carefully staged to reflect European sensibilities. The significance of a meeting in the Accademia Nazionali dei Lincei, one of the oldest and most prestigious of scientific societies, could not have been lost on potential European sponsors, and played perfectly into the hierarchical arrangement of European society even after World War II. To me it is striking as well, now that I have been made cautious about the creation of categories and alert to their power by reading Bowker's books, Sorting Things Out as well as Memory Practices, how little questioning seemed to go into the acceptance of statistical categories and data from governement agencies.

I think it is possible to argue that the significance of the Club of Rome report might not have been as a paradigm change towards global thinking and cybernetics. I think it is possible to argue that global thinking existed long before this and influenced the formation of this approach, which was enhanced by developments in cybernetics and shifting importance of categories and classification of data.

Nevertheless, I think this is an important book. In our contemporary era as we contemplate scenarios and conflicts over global climate change, it serves to remind us how long ago some of the warnings of global problems, based on computerized models, appeared and how few actual concrete results they had. Now that we have this book, I think it might be very interesting to write the sequel: Why did the Limits of Growth and the other reports of the Club of Rome ultimately have so little impact? Why was something that was presented as “scientific” rejected by some groups, such as business and management, and embraced by others? Were there other, less obvious aspects of these endeavors that did have some significant impact? It seems to me that it is possible that at some point in the future, the efforts of the Club of Rome will be viewed as some sort of forerunners or precursors to yet another global approach which, I think, did not begin after World War II but has been with us at least since the days of expansion of empires.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Slightly Off Topic...

...but somewhat related to last Friday's discussion: For those interested, Rhetoric Society of America's 2008 Conference Theme is Responsibilities of Rhetoric and it will be in Seattle. Some of the rhetoric and new media stuff we discussed is related to the conference theme. You can reach the info from RSA's site:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Not Late This Time!

OK, this is probably an issue of my academic background coming into play, but I’m having trouble with the seemingly promiscuous use of the term discourse. While I have an idea of how it is being used here, I’d like to see something indicating how it is theoretically grounded here. Particularly, because it seems to move between several usages of the term. For me, it unnecessarily confuses matters.

But anyway...I am interested in the ways the narratives become inscribed in simulated visions of the future, the ways these narratives are propagated and nurtured, and the ways these narratives obtain power, power that then begets new (and sometimes contradictory) narratives. I would like to hear more about the argument that the world is now more dependent on the guidance of NGOs and INGOs. I see them present, and I see them in action, but I’m concerned that it might be easy to ascribe too much power and influence to such organizations. It’s a question of who serves who, I think.

I'll have more to say tomorrow. I look forward to seeing everyone!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Our author will be joining us next Friday -- and not just in cyberspace

Just had a nice chat with our author for next Friday, Fernando Elichirigoity, and it turns out he was planning on being in Chicago next weekend anyway, so he offered to drive up from Champaign-Urbana a day early and meet with our reading group in person on the 20th! Now besides discussing an interesting book with your peers, you get to meet and chat with an interesting (and recently tenured) LIS professor from another great research university. What could be better? (Plus Greg will be buying the drinks.)

Thoughts on the historical context of planetary management, 35 years ago and today

I too really liked the book. While reading it, I was reminded of the circa-1990 atmosphere around the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day when I first encountered Limits to Growth, and its sequel Beyond the Limits. About the same time I also read Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb which was actually published in 1968 and discussed many of the same "overshoot and collapse" issues as Limits to Growth ... however within a framework of nation-by-nation population, technology, affluence, and impact variables, rather than on an undifferentiated globalized scale (and without computer models, though with mathematical models and heuristics). Ehrlich too was criticized for his "predictions" (were they predictions or thoughtful scenarios for analysis?) and he too published a recap about twenty years later, titled The Population Explosion.

So a question for Fernando: In your interviews and documentary research, did you find any suggestion that the Club of Rome / Forrester / Meadows folks might have expected some of the criticism they received, given the earlier reception of the Ehrlich book and research?

And a question for us all to ponder: The book argues well that behind our current practices of and understandings of globalization lurk the entwined conception and technology of population, resource, energy, and environmental management on a global scale, which are enabled by new digital computer based processing, monitoring, and communication technology. But even today, many of the critics of global environmental action (say, to reduce and mitigate the effects of global warming) invoke another kind of globalization "planetary management" discourse, that of free markets and military interventions (in the name of "security" rather than "sustainability"), which seem to also have arisen in the early 1970s, when political and economic actors faced the beginning of the end of US manufacturing dominance (auto industry), US military effectiveness (Vietnam), and cheap fossil fuel energy (OPEC). To put it really simplistically, today does the dream of "planentary management" mean something broader and more contested? Does it belong to the right or the left? To the progressive or the conservative? Or does it somehow complicate and transcend these rough categories?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The limits 35 years later

Folks interested in reading an abstract of the original 1972 Limits to Growth report can download one from the Club of Rome web archive.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Special Guest Blogger: Fernando Elichirigoity

Fernando Elichirigoity, the author of Planet Management, and Associate Professor at the Univeristy of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science has agreed to guest blog with us next week as we prepare to discuss his book on July 20.

You can view Fernando's homepage at:

His research interests include: "Globalization and information infrastructures; industrial classification and transnational spaces of production and consumption; knowledge management and new forms of corporate structures; the use of the Web for personal investing and business information; Spanish-language Internet portals and the virtual construction of Latin America; history of coordination and collaborative technologies; selection and exhibition of foreign language materials in public libraries."

Fernando received his PhD from 1994 from Illinois Urbana Champaign. He worked at the School of Information Studies at Long Island University before returning to Illinois.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Planet Management - next book!

I read Planet Management a little early and wanted to let everyone know how much I enjoyed it. While the book was chosen as an "environmental" selection, I would argue it that the book is more about:

(1) rhetorical benefits of different information forms (will Natezilla and K8 agree?)

(2) how different mental models of x lead to needs for and creation of different information practices related to x (with x in this case being the global environment)

Despite the palm tree on the cover, there is no beach scene.

Computer modeling/simulation, as a epistemological endevour and as an end for data management, has become a hot topic in both information studies and science and technology studies in the recent past as issues of what counts as knowledge and who gets to make knowledge have heated up. Elichirigoity's book does a great job providing an intellectual and social history of where computer modeling sprang from. He also does a great job explaining how Club of Rome needed the particular information forms provided by modeling for rhetorical reasons and for political purposes.

Having come from a PhD program with scientific management undercurrent, I also enjoyed reading the Forrester history section to get a better understanding of where systems theory came from. My area, social informatics, was created in part as a response to the strong success of scientific management/systems thinking assumptions and methodologies described in the book and still popular today. Social informatics research tries in part to explain the failures of the scientific management approaches - why doesn't the system act as our model suggests it should? What assumptions about human behavior underlie scientific management analysis of organizations or information flows?

Those veterans from last year's group should note the link between the model's dependence on comprehensive cross national time series data on environmental trends in Planet Management (pg. 89) and Bowker's lamentations about the difficulty of producing such data in Memory Practices in the Sciences.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Late Submission

Hi all,

Sorry I couldn't make it today, but I decided to visit my parents in Indiana. I've loved reading the conversation so far. For those who don't know me, I'm a dissertator in Composition and Rhetoric here at UW. I also completed the MA from SLIS while here.

So, coming from my background I'm most interested in the ways authors and audiences interact in a variety of media. In my own work, I focus on writing (that's probably obvious, though), but I am interested in the ways precedents are set that could affect writers and readers. An issue that comes up in Writing Studies is how to approach plagiarism detection services such as As you might know, some students recently presented a case (I'm probably getting all sorts of legal terminology wrong here) against being required to submit their papers to claiming it takes their intellectual property (their papers) and uses it for profit without compensating the authors. All papers submitted against other submitted papers - there's some sort of algorithm involved - I don't know all of the technological details of the system.

Anyway...I think this presents a potentially interesting case of technology used to consume and use authors' works to supposedly prevent (or catch) replication of others' works. How do y'all understand this issue in relation to what we've read? I have ideas about related to pedagogical approaches that bypass the "need" for such systems, but obviously people support and pay for this "service." What makes someone's writing (or other stuff) worthy of protection? Why is Stephen King's work protected but, someone might argue, my student's paper is not? Is this a problem?

Oh, and sorry if this is too tangential - I tend to think in terms of relationships and analogies.


I agree that the history of these industries, of Valenti, of the norms that linked economic imperatives and ideological frameworks, would be fascinating. I think of Siva's book Copyrights and Copywrongs as being quite good in this regard. For me it felt like it would be too much to try to tackle that as well. So the historical impulse that I said I drew from my committee, in the project, meant that I tackled these relatively recent phenomena as historical ones: both that they were embedded in and shaped by what came before, part of and advancing a legacy of decisions and arrangements, and that they could be looked at as having their own historical trajectory, even if only a few moments or a few years past.

Thanks again for the invite, and for the honor of adding the book to your reading list. I'm open to more conversation if people continue to think and talk about the book and the issues it raises.

the theory chapter

Just a quick comment, for those still tuned in. The theory chapter was actually one of the last I wrote, and was not form the dissertation at all. So it was not a question of dissertation demands persisting into book, but a re-encapsulation of the theoretical impulse that I felt the book needed, especially to make it a different exercise than other books that were more specifically and exclusively tackling the DRM question in legal or journalistic terms.

MIT Press never expressed an ounce of hesitation about the theory chapter, which was excellent.

dissertation to book

Barb :Would also be interested in hearing about the transformation from dissertation to book. We love chatper 3, but many people are surprised that you were able to convince the editors to keep all the theory in the book. Was that hard to convince them? What did it take to move it from book to dissertation?

Kristin J: It was also helpful that he was clear about the limitations of the work - what he would and would not include.

John: would have liked to have seen more hstory. How did Jack V. come to be in his position? Generational changes/trends in the media industry. They were a cultural authority and they want to keep that. Blacklisted diresctors. The same people are running Hollywood. They aren't smart and they are all related to that. How does DRM tie into that "keep the family business running" mindset?

Barb: Yeah in their culture they are gods. There is a lot of threat here to that authority. This isn't just about downloading. This is about authority. A lion in windter sort of thing.

John: The Paramount decree. An antitrust related settlement courts imposed on the movie inustry. Separates film industry from movie theatres. For example Lowes theatres owned and ran MGM. When you disengaged theatres from production, it changed a lot of things that I saw. Cheap and bad movies got play because they were sponsored. Not such a drive to distinguish movies from tv. The Hollywood product must be different from TV. If you are blockbuster oriented you take risks seperately. Distribution was guaranteed.

Kristin E: but how does this tie into DRM?

Greg D: Connections between industries. Cultural norms - stars were signed to do x numbers of films. Norms of why they went to the theatre. HOw much you would pay and how long you would stay. As economic arrangements fell apart, "A Decade Under the Influence" talks about these changes, ... sorry took a phone call.

I gotta sign off as my parents are going to show up any minute here.



I'll write a quick post -- timing is bad, as I have to hit the road soon to get to my parents in NJ. So this may be the last post for the day, but I would love to hear more from the conversation as it goes, and will happily post over the weekend to any questions that arise.

Here's my committee:

Chandra Mukerji (Comm, Sociology, Science Studies) -- chair
Robert Horwitz (Comm, Sociology)
Carol Padden (Comm, Human Development)
John Caldwell (UCLA: Film, Television, and Digital Media)
Lev Manovich (Visual Arts)

plus, it was a small and accessible department, so I also had substantive interactions on this topic with Michael Schudson, Geof Bowker, Phil Agre, and Ellen Seiter.

So looking at the list (and I certainly wouldn't pretend that all these choices were perfectly strategic, more a combination of fit and happy coincidence)... Chandra was influential all the way through my graduate work, especially in terms f thinking about culture, materiality, and power, taking a determinedly historical and interpretive perspective, opting more for a "sociology of culture" than "cultural studies" angle, and first introducing me to STS. (I got that literature later, as I scrambled to suddenly "be" STS when I got to Cornell's program.) Robert became influential after I chose my topic, because of his work on law and regulation, and really helped me thinking about policy and its relevance to cultural production. John (who was at UCSD for a while, but was gone by the time I defended) really helped me think about industry arrangements as complex, fluid, and significant to popular culture. All of them (and this is a hallmark of that department, or at least it was) took interpretivist, sociological, critical, historical approaches in their work and encouraged it in mine.

Notes from the group

Jason: we have agency, but if the agency can bring the hackers inside the tent (the hacking contest) then is that really autonomous agency?
Kristin J. - science, we build on what came before us. But if you can't open teh hood of the car, you can't improve the car and get your innovations out into society. If we aren't encouraged to explore, if we can't do things in unexpected ways, we wont' move forward.
Clay - but maybe pushback is what gets people involved. DVD hackers have released something new. People I know are into tinkering with it now, when before they didn't really care. They are now evalengelizing this... a whole culture has come out of it.
Barb - yeah, we have counterculture things that stem from this stuff. We have control/shtting it down and then we have the other stream: opening it up/counter culture. Its like a challenge for some invidivuals to mess with that
John: User expesctations - they might not be frustrated. But it might be tracked- like the new iTunes music. And people won't be happy with that.
Barb: that's not DRM free to me. That is another form of control
Greg D: I'll play devils advocate for a minute. I kept hearing the industry/market voice with the argument of 'we have, through the availability of digital content, we have expanded the amount of ideas available for critique and consumption... and this is one of the concessions you have to make to make this possible.' I don't feel opressed yet, I understand the arguments - but at this moment in history... a lot of this stuff seems to be about what will happen in the future. So I'd like to know if you feel this yet?
Clay: not yet. I know there are a lot of sources for things beyond the standard venues. While we have the culture here of abiding by copyright law, a lot of the rest of the world does not. I think they will have to find a middle ground _ like lower prices.
Jason: I also feel there are lots of other options - I don't feel my agency is thwarted.
Barb: Plus, artists are putting stuff up for free now. In publishing there has been a big resistance to ebooks and there is an irrational fear of stealing.
Jason: Yeah, its like hyperbole and rhetoric from the V chapter. It obscures a real conversation about what counts as fair use and what really needs protecting.
Clay: What US corporations forget is that they can exert control in the US but not necessarily elsewhere. Laws are different elsewhere. Intl. treaties aren't necessarily enforcable. Is the UN Security Council going to do anything about this?

Live Questions for Gillespie

Hi T

People at the table are wondering is you could talk a bit more about your committee members at UCSD and how their intellectual affiliations influenced how you went about choosing methodologies and analytical approaches for this book. Did you have more cultural studies people on your committee? historians? STS people? sociologists?

Book discussion notes

The speed bump chapter is an incredibly useful overview - would be great to read in a number of classes.
Barb: Cultural implications of encryption - you don't necessarily think of the wider cultural implications of encryption. We've read Code, but this is different. Assumptions are similar - code has social impact, but Lessig is more legal and Gillespie doesn't forground the law as much, it is more about industries, how corporate interests invade the arts.
John: I agree, Lessig has his dot with forces acting on it. The dot is in the middle. The dot is powerless. But here the dot is not powerless.
Greg D. and the forces are interconnected.
Jason - that is why chapter 3 was so helpful; it isn't just either or - its yes that and this other thing and this other thing.
Greg - it is hard to put all of them in any given case.
Jason - I want to drop chapter 3 into my dissertation!

Book Discussion Notes

Participants: A big crowd has gathered on the Terrace to discuss Gillespie's book!

Greg Downey (professor journalism & SLIS); Kristin Eschenfelder (professor SLIS); Barbara Walden (PhD student SLIS); Kristin J. (SLIS masters students) Clay (SLIS masters student interested in human rights informatics); Jeff (SLIS masters student, musician and history of politics fan) John (PhD student journalism - interested in social side of infor policy) Nakho (PhD student journalism online culture and citizen participation) ; Electra (SLIS masters student); Jason (PhD student at Northwestern visiting predoc in Nano-stuff - interested in tech policy).

consuming, creating, changing, circulating

Just a quick thought on Barbara's comment. I think you're absolutely right that this discussion has focused most heavily on the consumption of culture. In some ways this is the work of the industry majors, who (a) think largely in terms of consumers and (b) strategically put things in terms of "consumers" and "pirates" because it positions them on the right side of the copyright debate, and makes fair use concerns seem least relevant. It is also the work of Napster, because it was so much the flashpoint around which these issues arose, and was, really, a mechanism for the consumption of music, through a novel model of distribution. But I would argue that it really has to do with the fundamentals of copyright itself. At its base, copyright takes cultural discourse (a continuous flow that depends on a complex variety of creative, distributive, and consumptive practices) and maps it into discrete events (a produced thing is consumed, a made thing is purchased). The law itself, and its neat fit with the logic of consumer capitalism, highlights (exaggerates?) a discrete, producer-consumer relationship, and maps all practices into one or the other category. And, what do you know, the business model of the film and music industry seems to such sense.

I think the struggle is to find language that works against this tendency, that can better articulate and account for the richness of cultural discourse -- which needs what looks like creation, what looks like distribution, what looks like innovation, what looks like criticism, what looks like organization, and what looks like consumption. We need language that is more attuned to the way these are not ven discrete categories. We may be seeing some movement here: in the world of the blogosphere, young users seem to take it as their natural right to write commentary on a movie the minute they get home from the theater. Whether this will still seem to be just another element of "consumer" activity and kept ideologically discrete from "production", or whether it will help us think instead about a spectrum of uses, re-uses, reactions, re-imaginings, compilations, and new productions, is still hard to say. I do suspect that copyright law, as it is, tends to be a conservative force in this regard.

So yes, there are artists and indies and avant garde-ists and garage bands and co-ops that are experimenting with different models -- though perhaps there always have been. My question tends to return to how / whether those practices will shift the norms around cultural participation, or continue to dance around the edges of an otherwise stable discursive paradigm. (Hmm, questions of stability and movement, again.)

implications of the EMI-Apple "DRM-free" strategy

Here are a few thoughts, but I’d love to hear more as the conversation progresses.

I think there are two ways to use my argument: as a heuristic for studying technology in a public context, and then as an analysis of the specific case of copyright, DRM, etc. As a heuristic, the idea is that one has to look at the regime of alignment beneath the question of whether a technology has social implications, and this means looking at the efforts of political mobilization and cultural legitimation, and what they’re up against. This says nothing about the particular case, yet, it just reminds people of what they should attend to, what is often overlooked.

So it strikes me that, in terms of the heuristic, the EMI-Apple announcement is a useful reminder that these arrangements are incredibly fluid, like shifting sands. In fact, it makes me think that the harder thing to explain is how some arrangements actually manage to persist. Funny that I've reached this point, since most of my work in this field has been driven by a concern to explain power structures that don't seem to move, that work to hold cultural practices and social formations still. So stories about technology that see only progressive, inevitable liberation are naive and problematic, but maybe so are stories that see only hardening, inflexible hegemony.

It may also urge us to think about how particular actors are in several arrangements simultaneously. So, as Kristin noted, the European legislatures now considering laws that would hold DRM as anti-competitive are suddenly relevant to Apple in a way they were not before, and are not for Apple’s partners.

In terms of the actual case, I think one way to understand the EMI-Apple move is as a sign that the political mobilization around DRM persists, but that the cultural legitimation of DRM has failed substantially. The fact that the DRM-free tunes will use AAC format rather than MP3, and will include metadata that may be useful both for tracking piracy and regulating purchases, continues to help lock the immensely popular iPod to iTunes, and continues to support the incorporation of pricing into the technical format of the music, suggests that the aspirations of Apple and EMI have not changed dramatically, despite Steve Jobs' recent manifesto. But the fact that dropping DRM can be a viable strategy at all for a major like EMI is certainly a sign that DRM, which was carefully named and articulated by the majors to have positive connotations, is now seen by most people (not just the die hard free culture types, but ordinary consumers) as negative enough that dropping it is actually a selling point. Valenti and others have done a very good job painting file-trading as piracy, but the effort to discursively install DRM as the shining solution has clearly failed. But this doesn't mean that the logic of linking control and commerce goes away.

consuming and creating digital forms

I too have found compelling the notion that the "trusted" system mitigates against media fair use. But I also find interesting the various ways that indie or iconoclastic musicians, videographers, etc., are evading these corporate strictures, and as noted in earlier postings, are even receiving support in Supreme Court decisions. I'm wondering if we could spend a little more time considering these differences. It is not just about consuming music and other media by downloading, but also about creating music, art, other digital formats, in ways which evade conformist pressures from established industries -- ie., the part of Tarleton's dissertation that he tell us he has left out of the book.

unruly elements

Here is my shot at S-T network/T-style "trusted system" analysis of the EMI deal:

From a S-T network perspective, one could interpret EMIs removal of DRM as a strategy to break apart a larger music market arrangement that disadvantaged EMI. Wired newscoverage suggests they were in the middle of some acquisitions battle - and raising stock value in the middle of acquisitions negotiations would likely have some strategic value. Perhaps it was seen as a way to spin their stock value higher? Also Wired suggests that the DRM -free decion might also give EMI an upper hand in competitive bidding for promising new artists... also a way to change their market position

I believe Apple also had its own motivations for appearing nice... EU anti-competitive stuff? Not up on the details.

What is important is that the EMI probably didn't make the decision because they believe DRM are evil - but rather that they see it in their short term interest to not use DRM right now. The decision to not use DRM is a move to increase the strength of their market position vis a vis other labels - or increase their stock value via hype.

This is somewhat similar to a move in the e-book world: in July of 2006 Spring announced a DRM-free ebook series. This was done to improve its market position/public perception within the world of libraries and other institutions licensing group access to ebooks. (note important differences between customers: EMI (individuals) Springer (institutions).

Theoretically speaking: So here the unruly element is a competitor organization that sees a temporary advantage in not employing DRM so it can improve its position vis a vis peers. This is not dissimilar to the Tarelton's tales of certain participants wanting to torpedo the SDMI meetings because it would have been to their advantage not to have a standard.

When DRM is used and when DRM is purposefully NOT used DRM is still an important actant in a much bigger S-T network (and battle for market position/competitive advantage). DRM has both symbolic and practical functionality.

But... that being said, I haven't looking into the EMI stuff too deeply - so I'm interested to hear what T has to say.



Thanks for the great question, Greg. Hmmm... I'm tempted to not say anything just yet, I'm curious to hear other people's thoughts on Greg's question. I'll check in later today with some of my thoughts in response to the post, and any others that crop up.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The limits of the trusted system?

First of all, to Tarleton, thanks so much for participating in our weblog -- it's great to read a book knowing the author is "out there" and willing to engage in questions.

Now to everyone else, including Tarleton ... I've got to say that I find Gillespie's ideas about the mutually-reinforcing technological, legal, political-economic and social aspects of the "trusted system" (and the "alignment" between these interests necessesary to produce, even temporarily, such a trusted system) very useful in trying to understand the recent history of both copyright law and DRM technology. And in the various corporate mass media cases Gillespie details -- mainstream music MP3 and SDMI, mainstream cinema and DVD and CSS, mainstream television and the "broadcast flag" -- I find very compelling his argument that in the end, the trusted system both forecloses any possibility of media fair use (let alone media civil disobedience) and solidifies the hypercommodification of information "morsels" constrained by the time and space of the "pay per view" mentality.

But I'm curious about other cases we might investigate using these tools. For example, recently Apple brokered a deal with music publisher EMI to sell DRM-free iTunes tracks (though still in Apple's less-commonly-used AAC format, and still with consumer identification metadata embedded within the track). The lack of DRM comes at a price -- a 30 cent premium over the usual cost of 99 cents per iTunes song -- but also brings a higher sampling bitrate for those looking for better sound quality (though I'd bet I can't tell the difference on my crappy iPod headphones). It seems to me that these two motivations behind the trusted system -- discouraging new copies (really, prohibiting all but a very narrow range of uses and exchanges) and capturing new revenue streams -- still operate in the Apple/EMI decision. But the balance between the two has momentarily changed. Perhaps these kinds of reversals in policy are to be expected in a competetive environment for digital music (and digital music player) sales ... but I wonder if this counter-example to Gillespie's story demands some further analysis? Or does it already fit within his framework?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

what the industry thinks

For the most part, I haven't really gotten any feedback from within the content industries. I wonder if I will, now that the book is out. I did recenly get an invite from Microsoft to speak in their seminar series this fall, so that's promising. This is also a curious aspect of the book process: I feel like I've been working on this topic forever, but in the eyes of those who don't happen to read academic journals, i.e. nearly everyone, I seem like a newcomer to this topic. So even when I have encountered representatives from those industries at conferences, I've yet to be in a position of enough prominence where they'd hear my take on things.

The impression I've gotten from sidelong encounters is that there is a public face that most representatives of the majors will maintain. In that mode, I don't expect that my argument will seem to them like anything other than the "copyright minimalist" perspective they've positioned themelves to withstand. I'm looking forward to being in a position where I can hear the backstage talk, where industry reps acknowledge how things are actually going. It seems like that admission is getting closer to the surface: EMI's move to drop DRM on digital downloads, Bill Gates expressing reservations about the DRM strategy, etc. But for the moment, there still seems to be a relatively coherent and hermetically sealed set of talking points.

I'm also curious to get beyond the majors. They have been such prominent figures in the debate, they tend to draw most of the attention. There's much more variety of opinion when you talk to independent music labels, startup music services, journalists, archivists, mashup artists, nonprofit publishers. There is some real work to be done, and I didn't do it in the book, of mapping out the much richer picture of how this issue plays in the network of creators, content providers, distributors, and re-users, of different scales and of varying business models. An excellent example of this is Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi's "best practices" project with documentary filmmakers and their fair use needs.

Channeling Terry Gross

So I'll continue my Fresh Air routine here and ask another question. But I'd like to encourage the home listening audience to post questions for Tarleton (and remind those of you who are doing this for credit that you are supposed to post!) If you prefer to remain anonymous, feel free to send your question to me and I will do the intermediary thing.

So Tarleton, have you gotten any feedback at all from insiders in the movie, music or tv industries about your stories of the perils and pitfalls of DRM standards processes or the FCC rule making? Different parties obviously would have their own spin on the events that occurred, but has anyone approached you either formally or informally about your representation of the events? I imagine some of them might be rather unhappy about the attention you bring to it!


and... the value of reading court decisions

I didn't see the last question in Kristin's post, about how a new grad interested in IP issues can get started. My main suggestion is to read court decisions, especially the Supreme Court decisions. Their format can take a little getting used to. But I'm always amazed, even if I disagree with the decision, how beautifully they're written, how often they acknowledge the complexity of these issues rather than erasing it. The best can be as good as the best scholarship -- plus they actually reach a decision, where academics so often don't. I still remember, in the context of my earlier interests in this area, reading Justice Souter's decision in the Campbell v. Acuff-Rose case (2 Live Crew was sued by the publishing company that owned the rights to the Roy Orbison song they sampled; the Supreme Court found in favor of 2 Live Crew). At moments, it's smart not only about copyright law and its implications, but about culture, text, parody, meaning, like good literary critique without the posturing. I love that he gets the critical value of 2 Live Crew's song, even though it is crass and puerile and the Orbinson song is so widely beloved:

Parody needs to mimic an original to make its point, and so has some claim to use the creation of its victim's, or collective victims', imagination, whereas satire--which has been defined as a work in which prevalent follies or vices are assailed with ridicule or are attacked through irony, derision, or wit--can stand on its own two feet and so requires justification for the very act of borrowing...
While we might not assign a high rank to the parodic element here, we think it fair to say that 2 Live Crew's song reasonably could be perceived as commenting on the original or criticizing it, to some degree. 2 Live Crew juxtaposes the romantic musings of a man whose fantasy comes true, with degrading taunts, a bawdy demand for sex, and a sigh of relief from paternal responsibility. The later words can be taken as a comment on the naivete of the original of an earlier day, as a rejection of its sentiment that ignores the ugliness of street life and the debasement that it signifies.

And I love that he quotes everyone from Nimmer to the OED to cases in the British Common court in the 1800s. Check out the textual range of the next quote:

We do not, of course, suggest that a parody may not harm the market at all, but when a lethal parody, like a scathing theater review, kills demand for the original, it does not produce a harm cognizable under the Copyright Act. Because "parody may quite legitimately aim at garroting the original, destroying it commercially as well as artistically," B. Kaplan, An Unhurried View of Copyright 69 (1967), the role of the courts is to distinguish between "biting criticism [that merely] suppresses demand [and] copyright infringement[, which] usurps it." Fisher v. Dees, 794 F.2d at 438.

This distinction between potentially remediable displacement and unremediable disparagement is reflected in the rule that there is no protectible derivative market for criticism. The market for potential derivative uses includes only those that creators of original works would in general develop or license others to develop. Yet the unlikelihood that creators of imaginative works will license critical reviews or lampoons of their own productions removes such uses from the very notion of a potential licensing market. "People ask . . . for criticism, but they only want praise." S. Maugham, Of Human Bondage 241 (Penguin ed. 1992).

But the case, and others like it, also does an astute job explaining copyright and its history, and can be a good primer for getting up to speed on the law, and with a historical grounding, which I think is particularly important.

knowing enough about enough

Thanks for the compliments, Kristin: you gave me two. The first is that the book covers a lot of theoretical ground without oversimplifying, which was something I was trying very hard to do. The second is that, if you're asking me how I maintain a firm grasp on the legal and technical details, it means you haven't found any glaring, amateur errors -- at least through the chapters you've already read. That's a relief.

I agree that keeping up with the domains of law and technology, not only because of their pace but because of their complexity, is not an easy task. I don't have the benefit of a co-author like Anuj, but I do have a set of people who've been generous enough to read the work in various stages, who have a firm grasp on those domains: Siva Vaidhyanathan, Dan Burk, and Julie Cohen have been especially generous about this. (Dan and I did co-author an article together, a part of which appears in the last chapter. Having his legal expertise, knowing he would have found any glaring errors, was reassuring.) So checking and rechecking the work in various informal ways, from having it read by colleagues, to presenting it at different kinds of conferences, to thinking about it as I read others' work, has been crucial.

I think I also made a decision along the way that this book could/should not be a precise intervention either in the intricate legal debate or in the specific engineering questions. It couldn't be that, both because I'm not trained to do either, but also because it might then lose sight of what I did want it to be: a sociological analysis of these debates with an eye for their political and cultural implications. That meant I could be a bit more generalist about the legal and technical details -- though still having to toe the line of knowing enough to really get it, and not make mistakes in characterizing what was going on or what was possible. There's an additional advantage to this move: I think it's quite easy, if you get too immersed in the engineering or the legal discourse, to begin to embrace a set of paradigmatic frameworks common to those fields that tend to write off certain possibilities, to take certain presumptions as normative and inevitable, when in fact they may be viable but fall outside the current discourse of that domain.

There is some kind of tactic common to interpretivist social science, and I'm not going to say it here as well as it has been said before by others, where you can adopt an investigator's distance, a medium proximity to your object, that's close enough to get it right without having to be a native. Maybe I'm talking about something like what Harry Collins calls "transactional expertise." That makes it sound a bit more sophisticated than it feels, though; its also about being modest about what you can and cannot know, and what kind of contribution you're actually able to make.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thanks Tarelton!

I'd like to thank Tarleton again for agreeing to be a guest blogger for this week while we are reading and discussing his fantastic new book Wired Shut. Too bad he can't join us for beverages on Friday!

I am really enjoying reading the book and I particularly appreciate the wit! (I just finished the Valenti chapter)

First a compliment and then a question.

1. I'm impressed by the amount of theoretical ground you cover in Ch 3. I appreciate that you don't try to overly simplify the complexity of socio-technical theories. You succeed in explaining the various aspects of s-t approaches in a crisp coherent way.

2. Ok, now the question: As someone who studies two very complicated things in this book(law and information technologies), how do you keep up with both? In particular, how do you avoid getting bogged down in the intricacies and ambiguities of law to stay focused on the bigger socio-tech picture (of which law is one part). As someone else who has published works that require knowledge of law, I depended on a legal co-author (shout out to Anuj!) to make sure I wasn't making erroneous claims about law (in addition to Anuj's other important contributions). But you tend to solo author - so how do you manage it?

The double complexity of IT/law may make it difficult for new grad students to start studying these sorts of things. What hints would you give grad students interested in copyright/IP issues who have no legal training or background?



Thanks to Kristin and Greg for inviting me to join in on your summer discussion; I'm thrilled that you've all chosen to read my book, and look forward to your comments and questions.

Kristin suggested that I start by saying a word about how I found this topic. The book did begin as my dissertation for the Communication Department at UC San Diego. How I landed on this project is a one of those stories about the circuitous way dissertations tend to take shape. At the time, I was interested in the disjuncture between ideas about authorship and contemporary forms of cultural production -- bear in mind this was 1999, well before *blogs, wikis, mashups, oh my!*, so I was thinking about music remixing and cut-and-paste media techniques. So in my dissertation proposal I set out to tackle "sampling," but to argue that as a technique it exceeded hip hop, and could be found in all forms of popular media -- television, film, art, advertising, etc. I had this wild-eyed and ambitious plan to talk about the 20th century history of montage, appropriationist art, animation, indie film, everything from Richard Hamilton to Natural Born Killers. I was going to interview Beck and the people at Detritus. As I said, ambitious. My committee, either generously or negligently, signed off on the plan. So I started reading about sampling in hip hop, which kept referencing copyright disputes; so I did some reading on copyright law, which intrigued me -- and then the RIAA sued Napster. Thank god for my Wired News email service.

The dissertation focused on the Napster and DeCSS decisions (discussed in Chapter 6), surrounded by an unnecessarily lengthy discussion of the history of authorship, the emergence of the Internet, and theories about communication technology. The committee agreed that, in the end, the dissertation was two books. So in the time since, I focused on book two, the way digital technology was being taken up as a regulatory mechanism to accompany/replace copyright law. I reorganized the project around the three cases that seemed to reveal to DRM issues best: SDMI, DVDs, and the broadcast flag. The theoretical focus shifted as I put the work in conversation with some of the theories of technology I was encountering in S&TS, particularly John Law's work, which helped me clarify the main point: that this question about technical regulation is about much more than technology, and that the political and cultural shifts happening to support DRM could have their own consequences, even if DRM fails.

There you go. I hope you enjoy the book, and that it spurs plenty of discussion. I'll try to be diligent about joining in on the online component of the conversation throughout the week.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Summer 2007 books on reserve at the SLIS library

From our SLIS librarian, Michele Besant: "The SLIS Library has put a copy of each book on 3 day reserve."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Summer 2007 schedule is here

(This message is going out to various folk in SLIS, Journalism, Comm Arts, STS, Geography, Education, and History of Science as a start. Please circulate to others as you like.)

The summer 2007 schedule for our "Reading Information Studies" book and beverages group is now in session. Tuition is free and the reading list is short: only three books. Homework includes reading the three books we've chosen, posting some ideas, questions, complaints, or musings to the web site here, and then attending a 3pm Friday discussion session on the Terrace. Any students, faculty, and staff broadly interested in "information studies" are invited to participate. Just send a message to Greg Downey ( if you'd like to be added as an "author" on the weblog.

The books this year were chosen with various purposes in mind. Several of us are interested in political-economic and cultural issues surrounding copyright, digital rights management, and new media. Tarleton Gillespie's new monograph Wired Shut has been garnering good buzz and as several of us know him (he's at Cornell in their STS department) we're eager to give his work a read. Some of us also know Fernando Elichirigoity, who just earned tenure down at the Univeristy of Illinois, and his work on the connections between information studies and global environmental crises provides a nice forum for us to discuss the sorts of issues that the UW SLIS Sustainability Working Group has recently organized to consider. (We're hoping that both Gillespie and Elichirigoity will contribute to our blog as we read their books.) Finally, diversity in media and technology studies is also a big issue around SLIS, especially with our successful recruiting of a couple of Spectrum scholars as new Ph.D. students arriving in Fall 2007. Thus we hope the volume edited by Nelson, Tu, and Hines on race and technology will be a thought-provoking reading.

Here's the full description of the three books, along with the discussion dates:

Friday June 22 3pm: Tarleton Gillespie, Wired Shut: Copyright and the shape of digital culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007). [hardcover: $23]

While the public and the media have been distracted by the story of Napster, warnings about the evils of "piracy," and lawsuits by the recording and film industries, the enforcement of copyright law in the digital world has quietly shifted from regulating copying to regulating the design of technology. Lawmakers and commercial interests are pursuing what might be called a technical fix: instead of specifying what can and cannot be done legally with a copyrighted work, this new approach calls for the strategic use of encryption technologies to build standards of copyright directly into digital devices so that some uses are possible and others rendered impossible. In Wired Shut, Tarleton Gillespie examines this shift to “technical copy protection" and its profound political, economic, and cultural implications.

Friday July 20 3pm: Fernando Elichirigoity, Planet Management: Limits to Growth, Computer Simulation, and the Emergence of Global Spaces (Northwestern University Press, 1999). [paper: $28]

Planet Management is a study of, and contribution to, the history of "globality"--the emergence of a complex organization of politics, economics, and culture at a planetary rather than a national level. Drawing on historical archival research as well as recent theoretical work in science studies and critical theory, the book tell the story of the central role of technoscientific discourses and practices in the emergence of globality.

Friday Aug 17 3pm: Alondra Nelson, Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu, and Alicia Headlam Hines, eds., Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life (New York: NYU Press, 2001). [paper; $21]

From Indian H-1B Workers and Detroit techno music to karaoke and the Chicano interneta, TechniColor's specific case studies document the ways in which people of color actually use technology. The results rupture such racial stereotypes as Asian whiz-kids and Black and Latino techno-phobes, while fundamentally challenging many widely-held theoretical and political assumptions.

All discussions will take place on the Memorial Union Terrace (or inside the Rathskellar if it's raining).

We do hope that, in addition your required reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this summer, you will join us as we read and discuss these three important books in the information studies field.

Summer 2007 reading list coming soon

The SLIS summer reading group will continue this year, again with a leisurely schedule of one book per month over the break. Watch this blog for an announcement soon.