So, I’ve used cultural theorists, especially Foucault, and I’ve been engaged in studying digital culture for quite some years, but never had a chance to read a solid overview of the field, and consider some of the other options. SAGE sent me this book as a possible textbook for one of my courses, and, no, I’ve not read it all, but I’ve read enough to know that this a really helpful text to use to give a ‘magisterial overview’, as I believe one of the commentators said. It’s the fifth edition, so not surprising that it’s so solid .. and ‘digital media culture’ has its own section (chapter 11), which I read first.
As digital media have become embedded in our daily lives, we have to consider the big claims that are made about the potential and the pitfalls of digital media – utopias and dystopias, consider whether pre-existing theory is enough to cope with it, and consider new ways of studying and theorising about the internet and social media platforms. Readers are encouraged to bring their own expertise and case studies to the book, throughout a number of exercises that encourage students to THINK!
There’s the question of whether it’s actually a ‘revolution’, the notions of produser or prosumer, the terminology and whether it means the same to all, the characteristics of interconnectivity, interactivity and information accessibility, the increasing corporate and state surveillance, whether the online spaces offer opportunities for democratisation, the notion that ‘online’ is somehow ‘beyond’ the everyday – offering a virtual utopian space, how the very ordinariness of the internet offers a challenge in researching it because we ‘don’t see’ what is normal to us, the question of digital divides/access, power dynamics online and their reference to offline, participation in the digital economy, how online engagement is “intrinsically multivocal, both assuming and requiring an active reader.” The chapter looks at the question of ‘public spaces’ and how the digital is part of these, and how these are managed/require conflict:
The chapter looks at questions of whether ‘slacktivism’ is a problem, the place of activism more widely, the use of memes, the illusion of participation in a shape that is shaped by traditional power, visual promotion which relies on emotion rather than argument, issues around intellectual property and how Creative Commons seeks to manage this, China, hate groups, echo chambers, information overload, search culture, whether the internet is making us stupid, the right to be forgotten, the issue of filter bubbles, the dark web, whether mass surveillance should be used, convergence, mobile culture, the corporatisation of online spaces, the environment, the internet of things.
The rest of the book demonstrates where the digital fits in with the longer development of cultural studies, which has been visible since the 1950s onwards. Plenty of useful information, exercises, and a solid overview of what can be a difficult, wide-ranging and contested field.
Buy the book (Amazon)
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.