Digital Living Summer School Syllabus

Co-authored by Dr Theresa Senft & Dr Crystal Abidin

For Summer School Programme, School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University
July–August 2017

Website version here

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Course Description

In this course, participants will explore the topic of digital living by reading and discussing key issues, concepts, and theories of identity in digital contexts. Attitudes about social media and the forms of social life that emerge with them range from enthusiastic to suspicious. Scholars discuss the issues in different ways. On the one hand, we benefit greatly from our connection to technologies. People can experiment with new personae, new social communities. We have access to more information than ever before, which allows us to acquire more in-depth knowledge, if we seek it out. On the other hand, the “always on” state of the mobile internet (smart phones, e.g.) plus the rise of social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter, e.g.) prompts many critiques. Are we better off? What happens when our everyday activities via the internet are under surveillance? How do the algorithms of Google influence what we are exposed to? The course will take up these questions and issues. Students will read contributions from internationally leading scholars in order to investigate ‘digital living’ and the opportunities and challenges that come with social media and the internet.

To capitalize on the research backgrounds of our guest professors for 2017, we will spend concentrated time considering the increasingly visual nature of digital living. From selfies to memes to streaming video from phones in our homes and our warzones, the question of the networked image—as object to be viewed, as data to be mined, as projection of the self, as vision of the past or the future—has never been more pressing. What are the best ways to learn, advocate, create, love and protect ourselves in a time when both visibility and invisibility offer promise and threat?

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Learning Objectives

Through successful completion of this course (readings and participation in course activities), participants will:

Improve their ability to analyze and evaluate the interweaving of digital media in everyday life.

Understand more of the key issues surrounding digital living and appreciate the complexity of these issues.

Have preliminary experience with some of tools used to create, experience, and analyze digital living experiences.

Comprehend the fundamental vocabularies of social digital media researchers.

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Topic 01: Introduction

This course is called Digital Living. For the next two weeks, we’ll define that as networked culture in general, and visual culture in particular. In this lecture, we beginning by discussing the relationship between visual culture, vision and visuality. To demonstrate, Terri and Crystal will introduce themselves using the first page of their respective websites. Next, we will go through the class syllabus day by day. As we do, Terri and Crystal will raise visuality-related questions, linking them to the readings we’ve asked you to do. As you listen, we encourage you to list the questions you are bringing to this course. These questions may relate to visuality, or might be about other things entirely. Everything is welcome.

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Topic 02: Networked identities and communities: showing, watching, feeling online

How do technologies shape our ideas about identity and community in the digital age? What stories do we tell ourselves and others about the ways our media figure our relationship to presence, participation, trust, intimacy, and democracy, and how do we know these stories to be true? To what degree are our perceptions and actions configured by the affordances of our technologies, and how might we exert agency (as citizens, consumers, political groups) over the networked environments in which we find ourselves living each day?

Compulsory readings
Baym, Nancy K. (2016) Personal Connections in the Digital Age

van Dijck, Jose (2013) Culture of Connectivity, Chap 1 & 2

Gordon, Eric & & Adriana e Souza di Silva (2016) Net Locality: Introduction, Chap 4

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Topic 03: Networked visibility: the world as screened, seen and visualized

If “all media is social media,” as Nicholas Mirzoeff argues, media dominated by the visual (gif, photo, video, and streaming) presents special challenges to sociality. Whether we are discussing a “duck face” selfie or footage from a police shootout, a networked picture might be worth a thousand words, but getting agreement on what those thousand words are (or should be) is almost impossible. As Mirzoeff notes, “Networks have redistributed and expanded the viewing space, while often contracting the size of the screen on which images are viewed and deteriorating their quality.” How have ubiquitous, shrinking, and expanding screens mixing with visual technologies like mapping, to alter how we learn to see the world, and how it is visualized for us to be seen on our devices? What are the emotional, ethical and political ramifications to be aware of, here?

Compulsory readings
Mirzoeff, Nicholas (2016) Intro and Ch7, How to See the World

Kuntsman, Adi, & Stein, Rebecca L. (2016) “When Instagram Went to War” in Digital Militarism.”

Senft, Theresa. (2015) “The Skin of the Selfie” in Ego Update

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Topic 04: Networked invisibility: screening as anonymity, pseudonymity, untraceablility

Detailed teaching guide here.

While internet technology allows users to connect more intimately with others across the globe, elements like the detachment of anonymity, the mask of pseudonymity, and distance from screened interactions may also encourage antagonistic behaviour. Although provocative troll groups have been prominent in the recent news, antagonism culture on the internet has a long history, as well as various origins, enactments, and motivations. In this week’s class, we will explore some of these practices in three different geo-cultural contexts to understand how these may be meaningful or productive practices

Compulsory readings
Phillips, Whitney (2015) This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press. Read: “The only reason to do anything: Lulz, play, and the mask of trolling” and “The lulz are dead, long live the lulz: From subculture to mainstream.” Pp. 27-36, 137-150

de Seta, Gabriele (2013) “Spraying, fishing, looking for trouble: The Chinese Internet and a critical perspective on the concept of trolling.” Fibreculture Journal 22

Abraham, Benjamin (2014) “Challenging Hate Speech with Facebook Flarf: The Role of User Practices in Regulating Hate Speech on Facebook.” The Fibreculture Journal 23.

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Topic 05: Ethnographic walk activity: (In)visible networks in everyday life

Detailed teaching guide here.

In groups of 5, station yourselves in one spot on campus. Observe your surroundings and take notes on the groups of people and types of activity unfolding at the location. Using only visual analysis, identify the communities that exist in that spot on campus. Are these networks visible or invisible to you as an outsider? What forms of tacit knowledge do you require in order to make these assessments? Crystal will be stationed at a site to offer guidance. Please take notes to assist you in your group discussions and presentation later. However, you will not be required to submit any formal assignment.

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Topic 06: Networked Privacy & Surveillance: hiding, shielding, sharing

Detailed teaching guide here.

Is privacy disappearing, or are we reconfiguring the concept to suit the way we think about our actions in increasingly public digital spheres? How does surveillance fit into this discussion, whether it is from outside forces or inside motivations, including self-surveillance, self-quantification, geolocation, and corporate and state surveillance? In this week’s class, we will focus on privacy on the level of platforms, structures, and institutions. We’ll also talk about the degree to which sharing and surveillance overlap, online.

Compulsory readings
Papacharissi, Zizi & Patricia L. Gibson (2015), “Fifteen Minutes of Privacy: Privacy, Sociality, and Publicity on Social Network Sites From Privacy Online (Eds) S. Trepte and L. Reinecke.

Leaver, Tama (2015). Born Digital? Presence, Privacy, and Intimate Surveillance. In Hartley, John & W. Qu (Eds.), Re-Orientation: Translingual Transcultural Transmedia. Studies in narrative, language, identity, and knowledge (pp. 149–160). Shanghai: Fudan University Press.

Rettberg, Jill Walker (2016), “Quantified Selves Click for more options from Seeing Ourselves through Technology (Palgrave)

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Topic 07: Networked Publicity & Branding: micro-celebrity, virality, promiscuity

Detailed teaching guide here.

The nature of activism today means that the personal is political. The demand of the market today is that we present our online selves as consistent and recognizable, and easy to locate. The most desirable expressions these days are those that “go viral,” reaching publics beyond the original geographies and time frames of their creators. And yet faced with an “attention economy” that demands public constant sharing of our own lives and consuming of others, we must also be careful of sharing too much material, sharing too frequently, or too indiscriminately. Today we’ll discuss the gendered, raced, class and sexual politics of what Robert Payne terms “media whoring.”

Compulsory readings
Senft, Theresa (2014) “Microcelebrity and the Branded Self.” Companion to New Media Dynamics. Ed John Hartley, Jean Burgess, Axel Bruns. Blackwell.

Payne, Robert (2016) “Virality without Viruses” in The Promiscuity of Network Culture.”

Abidin, Crystal. 2016. “Visibility labour: Engaging with Influencers’ fashion brands and #OOTD advertorial campaigns on Instagram.” Media International Australia 161(1): 86-100.

Luvaas, Brent. 2016. “Style Radar: On Becoming a Street Style Blogger and Knowing Whom to Shoot.” [chapter 3] in An Ethnography of Fashion Blogging. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

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Topic 08: Networked Production & Consumption: the visible and the invisible

Internet technology has equipped most people with the access and ability to produce and consume content in increasingly direct ways. This constant proliferation of content-making and using has also shifted traditional notions of work and leisure. In this week’s class, we will consider how the concepts of production and consumption have evolved in a networked culture, including innovative ideas such as fan labour, playbor, prosumer, and produsage. We will focus on fashion on the internet as a case study as a springboard to interrogate our own production and consumption practices in digital spaces.

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Topic 09: Networked Paralanguages: seeing as hearing; images as action

Detailed teaching guide here.

As new platforms and technologies emerge, young people are inventing innovative ways to express ideas and communicate with their peers using mixed media on the internet. Most prominently, internet paralanguages that draw on non-lexical visual cultures are flourishing in mainstream, subcultural, and countercultural internet communities. In this week’s flipped-classroom format, we will explore some of these internet paralanguages, and students will draw from their personal experiences to teach their peers about their own use of these communicative symbols.

Compulsory readings (choose two)
Highfield, Tim. 2016. “Waiving (hash)flags: Some thoughts on Twitter hashtag emoji.” Medium.com.

Miltner, Kate M. 2014. “There’s no place for lulz on LOLCats: The role of genre, gender, and group identity in the interpretation and enjoyment of an Internet meme.” First Monday 19(8).

Stark, Luke, and Kate Crawford. 2015. “The Conservatism of Emoji: Work, Affect, and Communication.” Social Media + Society Journal 1(2).

Willard, Lesley. 2016. “Tumblr’s Gif Economy: The Promotional Function of Industrially Gifted Gifsets.” Flowjournal.org.

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Topic 10: Paralanguage Short Film

Detailed teaching guide here.

You will be required to use a video content-production social media app (i.e. Snapchat, Instagram stories, YouTube, etc) for this workshop. Get into groups of 4-5 and produce a short film around ~2 mins long, using any video or photography platform for recording, and incorporating any internet paralanguage (including selfies) as the primary narrative device. You are free to decide on a theme and plot and venture to a filming site any where on campus. 1 person should document the behind-the-scenes process. Please save the film and send it along with your behind-the-scenes notes (i.e. written notes, maps, photographs, blooper reel, etc) to our slack channel. Before setting off on our adventure, Crystal will show us some examples from previous workshops.

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