Saturday, 25 August 2007

Congress of the Humanities 2007: CCA Conference

I recently attended the CCA Conference 2007 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan as a part of the Congress of the Humanities. The conference definitely demonstrated the vibrant nature of Communication scholarship in Canada. The field is alive and well. Most panels had an average of 15 – 20 people at each, despite having concurrent panels, and that was also with the competing nice weather during the latter half of the conference. A strong contingent from the York/Ryerson Joint Programme in Communication and Culture was also evident, which demonstrates the quality of research coming from our Programme. I jotted down some notes here on some highlights from some of the sessions I attended:

International Communication and Development: Beyond Mimicry?
Session 1: Communication : entre l’international et le local / Communication : Between the Global and the Local

Chair / Président(e) : Christian Agbobli

> David Harmes, Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture, Ryerson & York Universities
International Broadcasting and Political Development in Afghanistan: A Case for Diasporic Nationalism

David Harmes gave a great summary of Canadian efforts in Afghanistan to build radio communities. His firsthand experience on the ground there always offers an interesting and critical view into the Canadian militaries efforts there. He noted the efforts to help democratize the media there, and have voices from the local community use the airwaves to improve their lives, while very much under the threat of openly sharing who they are on the air.

> Gordon Gow, University of Alberta
Hi-Tech Dreams, Local Tech Realities: Achieving Socially Sustainable Tsunami Warning in Sri Lanka

Gordon Gow’s research was a highlight of the conference for me. His work is very practical and explained some of the main issues in building sustainable communication systems to support a Tsunami warning network in Sri Lanka. The project he was working on used a variety of international Internet, cell phone messaging services, and satellite services. Some of the issues the project faced included the fact that there was a limited budget and that many agrarian societies do not feel the need to maintain technology. The diffusion or monetization of the technology was not a priority for many of the communities.

He offered the example that many communities stopped using their communication devices after the batteries died, and they did not have money to buy new ones or did not know how to replace the old ones. One method that definitely helped people to protect themselves was through shared narratives of how to deal with a Tsunami (in other words, good old fashion word of mouth). On one island a narrative had been passed down through the generations that if the waves in the ocean started to pull back from the shore, then you should run for cover. Nearly everyone survived the Tsunami on that island, except for a mentally challenged hippopotamus. Meanwhile an island only a few miles away had a high death rate, and did not possess this shared narrative.

Needless to say, sometimes technologies are not the solutions required, and in communities of low technological uptake, they have been using stories to educate the people on how to prepare against potential Tsunamis and other natural disasters.

> Jeremy Shtern, PhD, Département de communication, Université de Montréal
Communication for Development as Subject for Global Public Policy, as Site of International Institutional Reform: The First Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Jeremy Shtern’s insights into the slow paced world of WSIS’s offspring the IGF were informative and helpful for understanding how the United States is still waffling on how to democratize the Internet internationally.

Political Economy of Communication, Cultural Industries and Public Policies
Économie politique de la communication, industries culturelles et politiques publiques

Chair / Président(e) : Abu Bhuiyan

> Jeremy Morris, PhD Student, Communications Studies, McGill University Political Economy and Social Network Sites

Jeremy continues to do some interesting stuff studying MySpace and other music sharing websites. I wish he’d do some more political economic studies of these sites, but he knows that. :-)

> Abu Bhuiyan, PhD Candidate, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
Internet: A Global Public Good or an Enabler of Digital Divides?

He raised some pertinent questions about the Internet, but he tended to played fast and loose in diagnosing the digital divide by arguing that net neutrality issues could be solved by creating public transmission lines. Most people argued with him that public transmission lines had been lost a longtime ago to the service providers.

> Jaleen Grove, Independent Scholar, Ryerson University
The Impact of Illustrators’ Online Communities on Recent Visual Communication

This panel had a bit of everything: music, the Internet, and a return to static images. Jaleen’s work offered a great summary of illustration history, which many in the room may not have been familiar with, but were definitely educated about after they left.

Status of knowledge / Statut du savoir

Chair / Président(e) : Darin Barney

> Darin Barney, Professor, McGill University
You Asked for It, You Got It: The Politicization of Science and Technology in Canada

Barney's work was on the four main ways Science is under attack by the Conservatives in Canada. It is a part of a larger work that he is currently developing, and he looked at recent changes with NSERC and SSHRC among other things. Always an engaging speaker, and I definitely will have to track to the copy of this work afterward.

> Meera Nair, Doctoral Candidate, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
Fair Dealing: Resisting Monopolies of Knowledge

Nair offered a well-researched review of Fair Dealing laws in Canada. I wish she focused on newer versions of these laws, especially in terms of digital issues, like Bill C-60, but of course time limited the talk.

> Paul Tiessen, Professor, English and Film Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University
Extending McLuhan: Sheila Watson and Media Theory in Canada, 1957 – 87

Tiessan’s work described the theme of amputation in Sheila Watson’s work, and provided a little known (by me) contrast to McLuhan’s work on the amplification of the human senses through technology.

Beyond those sessions, I attended my own, of course, which was another mixed bag that ended with my discussion of the developing "Narrative Network" theory, and the use of the spectrum to think through analytic problems. This paper is the developing methods section of my dissertation, and I think it was probably too abstract for the time of day that I presenting -- after lunch when everyone has the blood rush to their bellies:

Mouvements sociaux, médias, TIC et résistance / Social movements, media, ICTs and resistance

Chair / Président(e) : Dale Bradley

> Marian van der Zon, Instructor, Media Studies, Malaspina University College
Beyond Bridging: Community Creation through Micro-Radio

van der Zon's talking highlighted the activist nature of Micro-Radio, and offered a very practical how-to guide into this world.

> Dale Bradley, Professor, Communications, Popular Culture, and Film, Brock University
Hacking Craft: Design, Labour, and Resistance in the Open Source Software Movement and Morris’ Arts and Crafts Movement.

Bradley created a very laid back atmosphere for this panel, and his research on the Open Source Software movement provided some historical grounding for this panel. His looking back definitely complemented van der Zon's practical research and my leap into the theoretical stratosphere.

> Peter Malachy Ryan, PhD Candidate, Communication and Culture, York/Ryerson Universities
Network Aesthetics: Evaluating the Rhetoric of Distributed Structures

I usually feel that when I’m talking about theory that I’m far too abstract, and I have to cover too much information to properly engage with complex debates, so in this talk I came prepared with some diagrams and summaries. I had presented an earlier version of this paper in Ottawa at the Future of Communication Studies Conference, and I received some great feedback there. John Durham Peters argued at that time that he didn't see the power of narrative as being able to re-situate politics in the current digital age, calling that attitude "provincial". He saw Communication Studies becoming more rooted in the technological, with network-centric power continuing to take centre stage, and he looked to Germany for some of the more interesting research that is currently being done. In my research I am critical of Kittler's work, because I think the network can only take us so far. If people do care about the messages that are circulating on the network, there can be no consensual power. As such, I try to move away from Kittler's discourse networks to narrative networks, which focus on the subject and agency, without forgetting the materialities of the network.

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