Amplification and Resonance: the cultural laboratory, small networks and bubbles of learning

Starting my new position as research librarian at Deakin University Library has been a growth curve, both in my own knowledge practices and in working within an organisation.  This has been particularly poignant for me as I have been operating as a lone wolf and working from home for quite some time now in my professional practice as a research consultant. As a creative and autonomous worker, merging into the office environment has been a contradictory experience, however growth is always a little uncomfortable and it was definitely time for me to take things up a level.

The office environment has required modifications in my working style to fit into the be-cubicled aspect ratio of an office environment. My ducky flannelette pyjamas are no longer my outfit of inspiration and I am having to think about which socks match with what outfit before my morning coffee. As always, fluro lighting and boxes are not a comfortable fit for my pink dragon tail and fairy wings that I metaphysically traipse about in, however the trade-offs are growing on me.

Prior to this position, I had begun to use my creative brain dump drawings as a thought tool for metaphors and concepts that fast tracked and hacked the logic and blinkers in my thought processes, giving me access to my intuitive thinking and tacit knowledge. An example of me in fine form is this image I drew during a think tank for the ARC Agile Opera project at RMIT.

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No one could say that this was actual drawing skill, but for me these drawings are more tools to aid thinking rather than any exhibition of skill and I often throw them away once their purpose is served. I this image, I was considering the relationships between power, voice, advocacy and amplification and resonance in the creative arts sector.  Ironically, these appear to be the same tropes that I am drawing in thinking about a training and research services support model that assists academics with digital literacy and academic profile building skills… who woulda thunk it?

Upon starting this position, I was concerned that the office environment would mean that this aspect of my expression and creativity would shut down. This drawing from day 2 shows that concern in process.

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At the same time, however inspiration from my environment, the university library, as a information reef in the knowledge flows of the university that you see in the second drawing (which I wrote a short essay on that you can read here one day) is something that is very close to my heart and creative waters, so to speak, so it can’t be all bad.

Working in a quotidian manner with others has begun to expand my access to a diverse range of thinking that is both similar in some domains to my own but also more diverse. Most helpfully, I have begun to collaborate on a review of the training needs and a review of the training materials for supporting scholarly knowledge production and publication… essentially training myself up to where I need to be.

In doing so, I have been looking at how social media activity by researchers can amplify the reach of research publications into the wider environment, and engage others also surfing along these waves.  I like to think of this engagement as a form of resonance, with this nasty little sketch showing how my thinking is both evolving and linking back to the ThinkTank drawing on this topic.

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I initially saw this image on my inner screen as a kind of extending and self-appropriating/adaptive fabric spilling out from a diamond in the middle.  The diamond interior form, in discussion with a colleague, possibly maps over into the four domains of knowledge management of knowledge creation, knowledge storage and retrieval, knowledge transfer and knowledge application articulated by Alavi & Lender (2001) in what is apparently a landmark paper on this topic (wonderful how you stumble blindly on to these things).

Personally I like the addition of little traction pads at the end of each be-tentacled branch of whatever those triangle composite things are supposed to represent (knowledge modules?). It makes me think of a martian landing and space pod that recompiles itself according to the environment.

In a great recent blog find putting into plain language how social change happens (from a social sciences perspective, I was inspired to think about the creative and innovative environment as a honeycomb fabric of small networks that are cultural laboratories through which learning bubbles up and influence coalesces through windows of alignment.  This notion resonates strongly with the guiding vision of the interdisciplinary salon I co-convene with Meredith Lewis and Romaine Logere, Parallel Fascinations and suggests that we are ON TRACK.

The last year (2015) for Parallel Fascinations saw four salons, all held at the amazing venue space at the Channel, Melbourne Arts Centre. To say that we are inspired to be conducting out salons in this premier cultural precinct is an understatement, as we match the tone with both the creativity and next level shit that we pull and put into these salons.

Our final salon of the year was a quiet introspective affair where we reflected on what Parallel Fascinations meant for our select participants.The future dreaming and associations that flowed during this salon where intoxicating, sensuous and totally out there, I am happy to report.  As convenors, we are still processing what this means for our future directions and what we need to do to keep this precious and untamed space alive.

I finally got around to doing the transcript of the associations that I took from this salon and I’ll give you a bit of a jumbled conglomeration of them here so you can see what the tethers are that we will be setting down as we nurture this collective cultural laboratory focused on creativity and innovation.

Convention crossing, inappropriateness, no fear, moments of the veil dropping, to be aware and alive, “If you reach the finite, you can achieve it”, the hanging gardens of Babylon, a transformative state, enlightenment through thresholds, manifesting a new reality through glitches, to enter a timeless space, moving like liquid…and my final favourite flourish that I will sign out on today, a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche

                            …when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you…

Have chew on that all you souls out there… and stay tuned for we are in a time of abundance. Now is the time to navigate, amplify and resonate until innovation bubbles up through the cultural laboratories of our hearts and minds.

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Digital Sociology at TASA 2015

UPDATES:

Found on Tuesday, great presentation by David Mayeda on Indigenous Voices and Transformative Research: “I, Too, Am Auckland” #Itooamauckland (well worth a reprise if you find him during the conference). Overall, the Sociology of Indigenous Issues stream on Tuesday was a serendipitous pearler. #quality

Found on Wednesday (today – still time to be in three places at the same time – oh help me twitter)

In the Social Theory stream (1-3pm) chaired by Craig Browne

Paper 3 Sociology and Digital Methods: Our crisis of analysis by Alphia Possamai-Inesedy & Alan Nixon

In the Migration, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism Stream (also 1-3!) chaired by Christine Halse:

Paper 2: Andrew Bolt as swarm-master: Exploring the logic of building cyber communities of ‘race’ hatred by Mark Bahnisch & Andrew Jakubowicz

And at the same time, 1-3, (!!!!!) there is the digital sociology set in the Cultural sociology stream with back to back awesomeness including moi et al presenting on illicit drugs, social media engagement and the feasibility of using big data analysis to study this.

Thursday

Keynote Address (9-10am – ouch), ‘Body/Identity/Evidence: Technoscience and the Data Base Society’ Associate Professor Itty Abraham

Youth stream (1-3pm) Digital subjectivities

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We started off TASA 2015 with a rousing call to public sociology by Eva Cox during her excellent and provocative keynote. She called for increased political and public engagement by sociologists and a return to the need for a overt engagement with Grand Theory (albeit through an adaptive and mutable approach). What a way to set the tone for the conference.

Happily, the conference program, materials and papers are harnessing digital opportunities, providing us with an online conference program, an app to navigate the content by smartphones and such and QR codes for the tech savvy.  Happy days, finally TASA is mostly paperless and sharable. The hashtag for the conference is #TASA2015 so keep an eye out for nuggets of awesomeness coming out real time there.

I’ve often wondered how the notion of digital sociology engages with Grand Theory and have always enjoyed the poetry of this when someone whips out the theoretical ‘big guns’ in the middle of a discussion of lolcats.  The digital realm has reconfigured and augmented our notions and experiences of trust and exchange.  It has also made mutable and mobile our expressions and verification of identity and reputation and put a new spin on the notion of the stranger or other in the form of a culture of anonymity. Our experiences of intimacy have been made 24/7 through mediated co-presence through forms of phatic communication such as vibrations and pings and extended our emotional vocabulary through emoji and viral memes. We play, we work, we bank, we create and curate, and connect online. For us, this becomes a mishmash of experiences that are embedded in our everyday lives, often as if there was no separation (which there isn’t really).

So with this in mind, I’m excited to see what’s cooking in the sociological cauldron for our imaginings of the digital realm at the conference.  To this end, I’ve nerded out on the conference program and identified the following presentations that speak to this agenda and will no doubt put a new spin and introduce new connections with foundational thinking and theoretical frameworks.  This is how we adapt and make agile sociological thinking in the contemporary context.

There are three sessions that have an overt connection with the digital agenda. On Tuesday, from 3:30 to 5:30pm there will be a Media stream chaired by Ashlin Lee explicitly covering topics related to digital sociology such as:

Paper 1: ‘Liquid love? Social media, sex and the digital transformation of intimacy’ presented by Mitchell Hobbs & Stephen Owen (how could you not rock up to that? – Bit of a Bauman reference there I reckon)

Paper 2: ‘I’ll just text you – Is face to face social contact declining in a mediated world?’  presented by Roger Patulny & Claire Seaman (Bit of a nod to the the old social cohesion and anomie tensions I reckon- thank you Simmel)

Paper 3: Protecting children’s innocence online: competing constructions of childhood in the Australian internet filtering debate presented by Caroline Keen (bit of social surveillance and social control content in that I’d reckon – old school, new topic)

Paper 4 Feminism in the Australian Mediasphere presented by Juliet Watson and Sarah Casey

In simultaneous streams on Tuesday (today) there are also two other talks

In the Ageing Selves – the personal and social stream chaired by Sue Malta and also between 3:30 and 5 there’s also a digisoc paper

Paper 4: ‘Technologies to reduce social isolation and loneliness amongst institutionalized older adults? An action research approach’ by Barbara Barbosa Neves, Ron Baecker, Rebecca Judges & Christian Beermann 

In the cultural sociology stream on “work labour and neoliberalism” chaired by Nick Osbaldiston there’s:

Paper 2: The gendered smart home: outsourcing domestic labour to home automation devices by Yolande Strengers & Larissa Nicholls 

So that’ll do for one arvo I reckon.

On Wednesday we’ve got a thrilling, back-to-back, line up between 1-3pm in the Cultural Sociology Stream specifically covering digital sociology chaired by Brad West:

Paper 1 The selfie and the social transformation of the public-private distinction by Michael Walsh & Stephanie Baker 

Paper 2 Making it ‘Facebook Official’: Reflecting on romantic relationships through sustained Facebook use by Brady Robards & Sian Lincoln 

Paper 3 Informatic Personhood: Defining Everyday Life in the Context of Ubiquitous Data and Interface Technologies  by Ashlin Lee 

Paper 4: Drugs, social media and TrISMA: what can we learn about online drug discussion through big data? Alexia Maddox, Monica Barratt, Matthew Allen & Simon Lenton  (moi et al)

Paper 5: Serious games & GamerGate: The myth of an online egalitarian utopia by Laura McClintock 

So that should be a corker session I reckon.  Will report back on how Grand Theory has threaded through these discussions. Given the line up, it’ll be all substance and no surface.

On thursday (1-3pm) there will be a stream in Sociology of Youth on “Digital Subjectivities” chaired by Steven Threadgold that will also be a substance no surface kind of event.

Paper 1: Laughing through the discomfort: navigating neoliberal feeling rules in a Tumblr attention economy  by Akane Kanai 

Paper 2: After the release: Examining Queer Filmmakers Experiences of Publishing and Sharing YouTube Content in Asia by Benjamin Hanckel 

Paper 3: A political economy of gendered images on neoliberal & algorithmic (social) media by Amy Shields Dobson (love me a bit of algorithm I do)

Paper 4: Morally bad? Rethinking youth and online risk  by Philippa Collin 

I have no doubt that we’ve got more digital awesomeness buried in the conference program, so I’ll add to this list as I find it.  Digital methods, techniques, thinking and concepts are not so visible but may all be there. So stay tuned.

Book Launch: “Research Methods and Global Online Communities: A Case Study” by Alexia Maddox

Well, it has finally happened, what feels like a substantial part of my adult life has finally moved through the tube of personal processing, doctoral research and into book format. Research Methods and Global Online Communities: A case study draws upon my mixed methods research into the global community of people interested in reptiles and amphibians (aka Herpers) to illustrate how to conduct a community study in the digital age.

To celebrate, I am launching my book at the Big Bang Studio, a community minded and creative space for artists.  The launch will take place on Friday, 16th October (2015) between 6-9pm, so come down to check this one off exhibition and shinding.

Book launch Flyer

In the book, you’ll find a conceptual discussion realigning our understandings of the construction of community and binding the polarised environments of online activities with offline and inperson relationships through an environmental approach, to which I give the handle ‘social ecology’. The middle section of the book binds the conceptual advances with a methodological approach, looking at how quantitative and qualitative methods can speak to the technological layer (place, technology and the built environment), the social layer (patterns of social organisation) and the mediating culture of a community. The final section of the book breaks this down and draws on the case study of the herper community to illustrate how to identify community place, composition, boundaries and mechanisms of cohesion. This is a particular feat for studying digital community, which is characterised by an open social structure, global distribution and technological mediation.

The book is targeted at postgraduate researchers and early career researchers across the social sciences, yet is likely to be a ‘good read’ for most people with a curiosity for unusual social history, stigmatised populations and how technology and society reconfigure each other. In this book, the internet is positioned as both the backbone and central nervous system of community and the Herpers, its resilient travellers across time and space in search of the biggest, brightest and rarest of reptiles.

More about the book and the 50% off promo code can be found on this swanky flyer provided by Ashgate for me to sprinkle around.  Feel free to share it.

Maddox UK ANC Flyer September 2015

The amazing cover art of the book was provided by the talented Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic and I fully encourage you to check out his work.

Locating a viable space for creativity: an odyssey into social mobility, digital divining and the unknown

Over the last month or so, I’ve had time to twiddle my thumbs.  It has been a most productive time… the casual research positions that have kept me going over the last few years are starting to wind up and it is time for me to generate new opportunities and directions.

Stepping out of the full speed Shinkansen that is research in motion is well needed.  I realised that in doing social research and holding social history as it unfolds actually requires a fair bit of emotional labour and multiple levels of processing.  Which I am fully equipped and trained to do, however at some point my processors need some time out. “From full pelt to time out” could be another title for this blog.

In looking around, opening doors, flipping stones and following up on connections the environment has started to ask me questions, or at least there are the questions that I am hearing.

In our current climate, institutions are demanding performance within structural parameters and these parameters, when shaken at the core by redirections in funding, are not providing what they promised when their performance indicators are met. Instead, there’s a giant marshmellow like, hollow sploosh, as the effort, and the outcomes do not pay forward.  I’ve no better words to describe the sound of entropy as the universe sucks the structure of what appeared tangible and material into a vacuum. Surrounding it is an organisational petrification and shattering, when the sedimentation of layers of practice and power become inflexible and brittle. To me this sounds something like the intake of a breath and a pause, followed by the burst of a harsh wind blowing shards of glass at high velocity.

Not fun for those in the path.

But, in these times, we are being forced to adapt, to innovate and to create.

My reflection on this overwhelming impression of structural and social change and adaptation has somehow lead me to question down the only promising path I know.  How is the internet reconfiguring social order, what does it afford for us as new directions and possible affordances, and what do we lose/gain in the process (the old every augmentation is an amputation hypothesis, thank you Marshall McLuhan)?

Whilst twiddling my thumbs and allowing my mind to wander and rest, a writing commission came in to present a short essay on the built environment and what that entailed as a space for the creative arts into the future.  Golden. Love it.  I immediately got into sharpening my pencils and working out how to expand on the notion of ‘code space’ as a built environment that augments and shapes our physical ‘built environment’.

The key question here that I am being prompted to build forward on is what conceptual and technical vocabulary can others to understand and speak about how our socio-technical environment works, how it reconfigures organisational engagement and describe what the new forms of physical digital collective spaces look like. Prime digital sociology territory really.

In meeting and talking with my colleagues on this project, I suggested that we needed to change our thinking of this environment as being predictable (i.e. action A leads to action B, which instigates response C) to predictive. In a predictive environment, we need to push out and prosume our way into the next space. In seeing these actions, our environment draws on these activities, matches them with our previous activities (historical digital traces) and surrounds us in our own echo chamber of activity by matching and generating content and connections that resonate algorithmically with who we are quantified to be.

I believe that it is our job, in essence, to hack culture and the sentient environment in order to move laterally (i.e. social mobility) out and beyond our current context. I suggested that we were moving far away from ‘the organisational man’ (think the grey suit, bowler hat, brief case and shiny shoes of William Whyte’s iconic metaphor) to ‘Anonymous’ the mask of the swarm (the work of Gabriella Coleman exemplifying this persona).

On the same day, I sat with an architect who shared with me that I can model in 5D (what was I thinking that 3D was an awesome goal for social data? Need to think BIG!). He showed me physical models of swarms and other structures with interactive and algorithmically derived models reacting to environmental factors.  You can imagine where I’ve gone with that. My inspirational loop of how chromatophores work as a metaphor for social process in dimensional thinking is starting to pale in comparison.

Alongside this, I’ve started drafting up my dream research project asking how we are doing more than surviving as the environment around us reconfigures. I believe that it requires us to adapt and to utilise the passive, submerged networks, gift economies, and digital possibilities within our social networks. I’d like to find out how this rewiring of social practice and process assists us in finding some form of life security (for want of a better term), both in the solid terms of our homes and in virtual terms of the currencies of exchange that we deal in (economic, social capital and good will). I’m keen to trace out the invisible transactions and lines that we use to stay afloat and move towards some form of life possibility, which I’m starting to gather together under an umbrella concept of abundance (still to be defined fully).  So cook cook cooking I am and digital sociology still seems to have traction with the environment in responding to the questions and conceptual hunger that comes my way.

I also profiled myself for my strengths…handy through a U Penn research questionnaire “VIA Survey of Character Strengths”.  Awesome early career researcher tool I think, just knowing what about yourself is an asset. Apparently mine are 1. Love of Learning (yes), 2. social intelligence (makes sense seeing that I’m a sociologist) 3. appreciation of beauty and excellence (well, yes) 4. humour and  playfulness (spot on, life philosophy that) and 5. creativity, ingenuity & originality (eureka, I kind of need this right now!). Groovy. Good to know. So I guess that skill set should help right now.

However, these are not the only realisations that twiddling my thumbs has brought. I’ve also realised some value propositions for my skills. It appears that I’ve got something to contribute to discussions that are being had in open minded and progressive channels within the corporate sector (ah ha!) and also into the arts sector.

This leads me to our recent Parallel Fascinations salon at the Channel, Arts Centre Melbourne.  Salon 4 just happened, with an incredibly, giving, creative and eclectic group attending.  Our conversationalist, Amelia Winata, ‘brought it’ as the saying goes.

Amelia is an emerging curator and writer and spoke on Arts-based practices and practical constraints: navigating the conflicts. For her presentation, Amelia drew on examples of her current projects to consider the practical constraints of arts-based practices with a focus on the inevitable tension between creative and administrative work that exists within the arts industry. Ring a bell?  The organisational (wo)man performing to institutional practices, whilst the creative drive morphs through the vortexes of ‘anonymous’ into a million bits and bytes to reconfigure as a phoenix. Tension?  It occurred to me as I compared these two tropes discussed earlier that they present a metaphorical ‘cognitive dissonance’ where performing to one criteria and compartmentalising or sequestering behaviours seeking the other criteria would create a split or tension leading to dysfunctionality.

So this is where we find ourselves.

Amelia put forward an insightful discussion that resonated strongly for those attending from the arts sector and, actually, strongly for all of us. As seems to inevitably happen, at some point we got side tracked into discussing the internet. Beginning with some observations of Gen X use of the internet we moved collectively to considering who we are and how we act/perform across the digital physical and whether our identities really find synergy and traction across these environments. Slowly we spread our tentacles forward  to the discussion of whether this evolving and augmented social and economic environment can offer us an abundant space through which to continue and sustain our creative practice? Through combined head nodding and light bulb moments, we wondered what the conditions of this new domain were, what will it demand from us, how can we adapt to it and how can we utilise its affordances to help us make our way in this world? You know, the big questions.

Well this is where my thinking cap is firmly situated right now, give or take a few random brainfarts that attending Parallel Fascinations tends to put into the mix. One of them being, how the Feynman diagram might fit into all of this as a visual or conceptual thought tool. I think it may help me to trace through the way submerged networks and digital traces of social action across time give rise to and amplify pre-figurative moves that we make to manifest the world of our making. Bit quantum there but, watching the bitcoin and cryptomarket communities imagine and collaborate themselves collectively into constantly evolving socio-technical frontiers has been a bit of a ‘bar raiser’ when it comes to thinking on what is possible.

It’s the threads, you know, that are all placing themselves on my meandering path, waiting to be picked up and pulled together and a few knots tied. Lucky I’m into knots, also bows, pink ones/satiny ones, with spots.

Materialising social form through the creative process

So, as a sociologist and academic, when do I ever get to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ my research once I leave the field? The social world that I study is so dense with sensory information and alive. Once I collapse it down through data analysis, I always feel the loss of the heaving pulse of humanity.

So this gets me wondering…how can I materialise social information? The next question that occurs is why I would do it. I guess I’m interested in the interactivity, user appropriation and insight that making knowledge material may bring.

For many years, I have been writing and thinking about social form and how to transform social information into 3D formats.  As you can see from my previous blog (that I am now retiring), here, there are many ideas that I have built and played with in my creative thinking that aim to visually and tactilely illustrate the environmental structures, social signals, emergent processes and surfaces of communities.

After writing much of my foundational thinking into my book, Research methods and global online communities: A case study, I am ready to embark on the next chapter of this story, which I had to leave out of my previous work into order to complete it.

But now, with the freedom of brain space and new inspirations, it is time to get into the next step, materialising social form through the creative process. I’m interested in translating the conceptual and ethnographic insights that emerged from my research into the Herper community into an interactive exhibition.

This, in my mind, is the first step towards finding ways to animate social data into 3D formats that researchers can use to understand the present and forecast future implications of social action. But first, animating the heartbeat of social form is where I would like to start.

In my mind, this takes the form of engaging sound artists, visual artists, data artists and other creative souls to riff off the ideas I have used and begin the materialisation process.

As social information is like a pulse, and the densities of engagement that indicate community formations within datasets are like a heartbeat, I imagine the first step will be to provide an exhibition that gathers heartbeat data from all that attend. With the aim to translates that into a group visualisation. Movement through the exhibition may trigger sound and light as well as motion in objects that work like puppets or wings.

These simple techniques may be simple but they will gather and rest as people move through the space. In this simplicity, it will hopefully create a desire to engage and play with the exhibition, and thus themselves and all those who have come before them and after them. So in a sense, the interactive exhibition would act as an archive, collective memory and visualisation of the emergent moment.

There will be other forms of data that we can collect from people, however, as with any type of data collection, it needs to be interesting, curiosity generating and easy. So I’ll be working on that side of things!

I’ve always liked the visualisation of how chromatophores work as a way to describe how social form emerges from interaction and I hope to be able to add that idea into the balance.

For me, the exhibition and creative process, is a crucial step to moving into more rigorous and engaging forms of data visualisation. A ‘proof in the pudding’ moment that shows that it is possible to animate 2D social information into an interpretable form.

So this exhibition idea has been in the dream phase for a long time now, incubating through my long term shenanigans with Romaine Logere and Meredith Lewis. However, I’ve finally set a goal to have it up and running for a festival hosted at the Big Bang studios next year. So exciting times ahead. I’m happy to be getting creative and combining my sociological mind with some creative hackery and bringing this vision into form through its native model of collaboration, community and passion.