Academic Reviewer

#EmptyShelf17 #6: Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice by Chris Barker & Emma A. Jane, from @SAGEmedia_comm

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)


School of Cultural Studies, University of Winchester (2004, 2005, 2009)

The remit for this site was to design ASAP (within 3 weeks), a site which would attract new students to modules offered by the School of Cultural Studies, offering a variety of entry points, in particular through subject specialities, including American Studies, English, Media & Film, and Theology & Religious Studies. The site was also intended to be useful for current students.

  • Some brief convesations (in person/online), and some general ideas for the site had been thought through.
  • A new portal was in the process of being designed for the College, expected to ‘go live’ January 2005, and as all information would eventually have to go on this site, I decided to make the site look like the new portal (with a few tweaks to ensure suitability as a standalone site). The portal was designed in .asp, but a near-match was produced using tables in Dreamweaver.
  • The menu structure was also copied across from the portal, as this had been designed for use by all Schools across the College, and the data fits relatively neatly into this system.
  • Information was collated asap. Fortunately a lot of it was electronic and suitable for repurposing. The key pages were set up within the specified timespan, with a handover document given to staff to allow others to continue updating the site.

Cultural Studies on the Portal

  • Once the new portal was live, I was invited back to transfer the majority of the information across to the new portal, using a Content Management System.
  • Before being offered the job at Manchester, I had been in discussions with the IT Department to offer training to different departments to: provide advice as to what would make for ‘good’ web content;
  • ensure that departments had a plan for keeping their sites updated;
  • ensure a consistent look and feel to different departments across the University

In 2009, I was employed to go through the University of Winchester site and remove any references to the School of Cultural Studies!