starting off…



Providence, Rhode Island, 1858. Harbor view, t...

Providence, Rhode Island, 1858. Harbor view, taken from the grounds of George W. Rhodes, Esquire. Hand-colored lithograph. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


New academic year, same promise to utilize this space more effectively (or just “more”)…so I’ll start off by tracking a few conferences I have coming up. They are back to back, and not too related to each other in terms of the work I’m presenting. But that’s okay, as I’m involved in many things…

First off is the American Folklore Society meeting in Providence, RI, from Oct. 16-19.  I’m on a panel with three others entitled “Intangible Cultural Heritage at the intersection of Politics, Globalization, and Technology in Contemporary Malawi.” The great thing about this panel is that two Malawian scholars are participating, which is not always the case with conferences in the U.S. that feature content about African settings. Here is my abstract:

Tangle-free cultural heritage work: wireless technologies and media in Mzimba, Malawi
To a significant degree, wireless technologies function as key components in the cultural heritage advocacy, planning, and programming that occurs in the area around Mzimba, Malawi. Historically, “wireless” has referred to terrestrial radio technology throughout East Africa, but more recently implies the ubiquitous mobile phone handset and the cultural communication strategies and opportunities it affords. Based on fieldwork with Mzimba Community Radio station and community cultural workers in the region, I will explore how both radios and cellphones resonate with the range of efforts undertaken in Mzimba to promote and preserve Ngoni heritage.

Over the summer I was in Malawi and was able to conduct some exciting fieldwork in Mzimba and Mzuzu with people working on heritage preservation and promotion. The intersection of wireless technologies—radio and mobile phones—is rich when it comes to grappling with emergent social practices and cultural formations, and I’m looking forward to getting some feedback on this research. I’m also looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues, as I don’t get to this one every year anymore…


The second conference is the annual Social Theory, Politics, and the Arts meeting (STP&A for short), which is in Seattle from Oct. 24-26. I’ve never been to this meeting, and am on a panel with a few colleagues from the Arts and Administration Program here at the UO. The panel is focused on the emerging creative workforce, and I’ll be drawing on fieldwork I’ve done for many years with boutique guitar effects builders. Here is the abstract:

At the fertile intersection of “maker” culture, DIY entrepreneurship, and web-facilitated exchange of ideas and goods, a vibrant boutique industry of electronic musical effects production has flourished over the past decade. With a  strong Pacific Northwest presence, this domain of creativity encompasses design, assembly, and distribution of objects intended for use in musical activity of all sorts—by professionals and amateurs alike, across a range of genres and practices. In this presentation, I also argue that the boutique pedal business represents a unique manifestation of informal arts participation, wherein processes of creativity and making things within a technologically-fueled cultural landscape complicates existing distinctions between for-profit, non-profit, and unincorporated zones of arts and culture work. I propose that arts managers can benefits from paying attention to how a community of dynamic creators is also a cultural workforce emerging at the crossroads of digital and analog practices. The presentation draws on several years of fieldwork with boutique pedal builders, as well as critical writing about “maker” culture, networked communities, and entrepreneurial thinking in the arts.

In preparation for this panel, I’ve been pouring over research on “informal arts” participation and making connections to the dynamic “maker movement” and the ways people are talking about it across disciplines and orientations. Should be fun. Plus, I always like talking about guitar pedals…

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“node among other nodes…”

“In a world of constant change, if you don’t feel comfortable tinkering you are going to feel an amazing state of anxiety.”

John Seely Brown


I like that quote quite a lot, and especially like the video it came from:

I posted this video to the site for a course I’m teaching this term, and we watched it on the first day. I had run across it via the DML Facebook flow as I was prepping for class and was struck by how much Seely Brown’s narration about education today meshed with the way I approach teaching, learning, research, and just about everything else I do in my world. Running into this video was a nice, poetic way to kick off the academic year for me as it reminded me why I do what I do. It also reminded me how I do what I do (to some extent)…All of this reminding reminded me that I had been up to a lot since the spring term (2012), but had not posted much here. On to a round-up…

Toward the end of spring, I helped install a display at the Jordan Schnitzer Art Museum that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the decathlon as an event in the modern Olympics. This celebration coincided—surprise, surprise—with the 2012 Track and Field Trials, and my primary responsibility was to coordinate or curate materials that visually narrated the past ten decades of U.S. Olympic decathletes. Much of the material came from the collection of Dr. Frank Zarnowski. He loves the decathlon (verges on an understatement…), and was able to loan us a bunch of fantastic stuff. Along with two graduate students, I worked on sourcing historical images, coordinating production, and hanging the show. It was all quite successful and I got to work with great people. Here is an image from install day (on Flickr, where you can find a set with more documentation):


In early June, I traveled to Montreal in order to participate in the 2012 McGill/ICASP colloquium. “ICASP” stands for Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice, which is a large-scale nationally-funded research project in Canada. The 2012 colloquium focused on the intersections of improvisation, technology, and critical theory about the body, under the title, “Skin-Surface-Circuit.” I was lucky enough to co-present with my colleague and good friend, Dr. Kevin Patton (artist site here, professional site here), and we talked about improvisation, boutique guitar pedal circuits, ethics, and business models. It all worked out quite well, and we received some great comments and feedback. Here is the Prezi we used (though it might not make much sense without us talking over/around it):

One of the coolest things I encountered during the ICASP symposium was the Adaptive Use Musical Instruments project, which is housed in the Deep Listening Institute. We all participated in a demo of the tools/software at a school focused on other-abled kids, and it was somewhat transformative to be part of that effort. I highly recommend going to the AUMI site and checking out the materials, but if you don’t I’ll just say that the software takes advantage of various digital technologies and available computer equipment in order to make “music” and “instruments” more widely accessible for people of all ages and abilities.

For a month I was out of the country with my family, traveling to Dakar, Senegal and then on to an area in the French part of the Swiss Alps. This was mostly fun, though I did a bit of work-related stuff by meeting scholars and artists in Dakar. The art scenes around Dakar were lively (long tradition of that since Senghor), and I’ve put together a small Flickr set documenting our travels. Here’s a sample image from the artists’ colony on Goree island, and clicking it should take you to the set:

Finally, in September I traveled to Minneapolis for the 2012 NAMAC conference. It was a phenomenal meeting, and I learned so much about media arts and culture in the U.S. that I’m still digesting it. The official conference blog does a great job of capturing all that was going on, and I’ll try to post more once I gather all my bits of paper and ephemera together. I had been asked to chair a panel on mobile media and creative place-making, so will focus a (near) future post here on that panel.

DML 2011 digest…

I was recently at the 2nd annual Digital Media & Learning meetings, held this year in Long Beach, CA. Sponsored/organized again by Digital Media and Learning Research Hub @ University of California, this year’s meetings extended many of the themes, conversations, debates, and initiatives that emerged at last year’s event in La Jolla, CA. For extensive info on the 2011 meeting, go here; in this post, I’m just setting out to highlight and digest some of the fantastic things I encountered.

The Twitter backchannel was active again this year (#dml2011), and led me to a host of resources: websites, projects, conversations, people, and places. One of the coolest—and this should happen at every conference with parallel sessions—is a set of collaborative & public notes put up on Google Docs by conference attendees. Check it out for a wide range of perspectives and reports on the various sessions (plus, I’m certain it will continue to grow as people add to it…). You can also peruse the online archive of all the twittering/backchannel communication going on throughout the conference here (make sure the “view” limit is pretty high…it should already be set to “10,000,” though there weren’t that many tweets).

One of the more exciting sessions I attended was called the “Ignite Talks,” wherein each participant had under ten minutes to give a brief talk and generate some conversation/thinking. I heard some phenomenally engaging presentations on “grading” via “badges;” using YouTube in a middle school English class to explore representations of race, class, and place through “gangster” adaptations of Hamlet; work with Asperger’s syndrome youth in Second Life; and the ways that parents can/should encourage techon adept/adapted living in a balanced way. And that’s just a sampling of what presenters sprung during the first Ignite session!

I also attended two fantastic workshops. One was called “Thinking through Code: DIY data-mining and the politics of off-topic forums,” and focused on tools for ‘scraping’ data in an ethnographically-oriented manner when doing research with online communities. In lieu of a hand-out, the organizers created a “living” document gathering resources and tips; you can access it here.

Another amazing workshop, sponsored and facilitated by Mozilla, featured plenty of hands-on work with some really great tools. Called, “ Hacking as Learning: A slice of the Mozilla Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival,” the session was basically four concurrent miniworkshops in tinkering, hacking, and playing with emergent tools. One group waded into the realm of Hackasaurus, and learned about/through the often misunderstood realm of web hacking. Another group learned how to “write” with satellites, using a piece of open-source software that allows one to generate text with satellite images (I didn’t catch the name, but check the Google doc collaborative notes linked above…). A third group examined the ‘hacking’ of established/traditional notions of grading-as-assessment strategy in formal education, and proposed some great ideas for reimagining how teachers might think about evaluating student work in the current (and future) cultural environment. Finally, the group I attached myself to worked with Mozilla’s “Web.Made.Movies” project, an emerging platform for creating media-rich or transmedia web-based video content using the HTML5 standards. The authoring tool is called “Butter” (which you can find here), and it is basically a graphical front-end for the Popocorn.js programming environment. If you are adventurous and JavaScript-literate, give it a shot—otherwise, explore Butter (still very much in alpha), which was quite intuitive and fun. Essentially, it allows a user to use JavaScript to call out web-enabled artifacts such as Google Maps, Wikipedia entries, Twitter searches, or Flickr images at specific points in a video timeline. A super-cool idea, and one with many potential applications within and beyond educational settings.

Many more things stood out (or jumped out) during this conference, especially in the “science fair” exhibition space featuring winners of last year’s DML/HASTAC funding competition. Some examples (follow the links for more info than I could provide…):

Finally, kudos to AAD 2nd year grad students Alyssa Fisher and Arielle Sherman for winning two volunteer spots at the conference in a highly competitive environment (30 applications/8 volunteer positions = AAD win!)…

All around wonderful conference, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s in San Francisco!

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Random media-ites (or bits of media stuff)

The Flaming Lips, Zoo Amphitheater, Oklahoma C...

Image via Wikipedia

Some things I’ve run across lately, stemming from either my recent trip to the Educause/ELI meetings in Washington D.C. or from people passing things along to me. Likely of interest to students in my Media Management Praxis course, but maybe not.  No annotations, just links:

A DIY Data Manifesto here

Flaming Lips cellphone symphony here

Great PBS series on “Digital Media: New Learners in the 21st Century” here

Visualizing tweets here

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American Folklore Society (AFS) 2009 meetings in Boise!

I just returned from the annual meeting of AFS, where I participated as a workshop leader during pre-conference professional development workshops on digital audio fieldrecording & digitial preservation for folklore fieldworkers, as well as presenting on/chairing a panel entitled, “Placing Ethics: Public Folklore and the University Setting.” You can find the program as well as other info about the 2009 meeting here.

There was a lot of energy in sessions and the hallways around topics connected to cultural policy and cultural sustainability. Folklorists have been immersing themselves in high-level dialog at the federal/national level in the U.S. for a few years now, and having Bill Ivey on Obama’s transition team certainly raised the profile regarding the kinds of understandings and approaches that folklorists contribute to cultural issues (for more on/from Ivey, go here, here, here, or here).

Two sessions stood out for me related to cultural policy and cultural sustainability. The first featured Richard Kurin discussing the question, “Does the U.S. need a Secretary of Culture?” This was actually to be a debate between Kurin (against the idea) and Ivey (for the idea), but apparently their schedules did not allow them to be on site at the same time—so I only heard Kurin’s side of the debate. It was a convincing and cogent presentation, in which he outlined quite clearly how a cabinet-level ‘culture’ position would most likely be a bad idea. In large part, his argument rested on the notion that government (in the end) regulates things, and most people in the U.S. would likely recoil at the idea of ‘culture’ being regulated; he had many other supporting points that nuanced his position, and most folks in the room appeared to side with him (again, remembering that Ivey was not actually there…). Kurin did state—rather strongly— that the only argument for such a position is that it would possibly contribute to a centralized ‘voice’ advocating for more arts & cultural funding for the public sector. Situating such a ‘voice’ in the West Wing, however, presents too many dangers and compromises.

The other session I found quite engaging was an informational session presented by Rory Turner about the new M.A. in Cultural Sustainability that he has helped craft at Goucher College. Go here for more info. It’s an exciting-sounding program that brings together folklore, cultural policy, arts management, and social justice in a flexible training program geared toward community-centered work. Much of what Rory had to say caused me to reflect on the kinds of training/education we do here at the UO AAD program, though we do not overtly use the “sustainability” word when dealing with culture or cultural processes. Watch the blog on their site as they lead up to the launch.

Overall, the meeting was great and Boise offered a lot to explore. One of the coolest things was a public art piece just outside the convention center. A series of four sidewalk lamps lining a main pathway into the courtyard outside the center, this installation comprised mechanical ‘puppets’ inside each lantern that performed percussive patterns when triggered by passing pedestrians (via motion sensors). This was cool during the day—as it is largely unexpected—but even cooler at night since the ‘puppets’ become kinetic shadows inside their luminous homes. Well done, Boise!