evolving ecological media culture(s)

Week 2: Media convergence


This week’s readings provide an overview of the many kinds of “media convergence” occurring with new/emergent/digital media. The Jenkins and Boler articles will be required reading; the latter begins our process of thinking about the political uses of new media, which we’ll focus on more next week.

(Note to non-UVM blog readers: Both the Jenkins and Boler chapters are freely available online; just do a pdf search for them. The Jenkins piece is also readable here.)

1) David Bell, “On the net: Navigating the World Wide Web,” from Creeber and Martin, ed., Digital Cultures: Understanding New Media (Open University Press, 2009). Optional.

This is an optional reading that provides some handy reference points for those with little or no background in media studies. Bell provides helpful definitions of the Internet, the World Wide Web, cyberspace and cyberculture, and media convergence (a central term for us this week; see p. 35-6), a useful historical overview of the growth of online social networking, and an intriguing (if brief) portrayal of how new media spaces interact with real physical spaces and in the process “recreate urban spaces as multi-user environments” (p. 37).

2) Henry Jenkins, “Introduction: ‘Worship at the altar of convergence’,” Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York University Press, 2006). Required.

Jenkins is a leading scholar of “audience studies” and media uses, and director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program. This article provides an overview of some of the ways in which media are converging, both technologically and culturally. Media convergence, as Jenkins describes it, is both a top-down and a bottom-up process. It involves the media industries, with corporations competing – and often “converging” and consolidating – to control an increasingly vast and powerful global market; but it also involves consumers and users making decisions to suit their own needs, which in turn affect the outcomes of social, political, and technological processes. Since the book was published in 2006, convergence has proceeded in more or less the haphazard way Jenkins predicted it will.

3)        Megan Boler, “Introduction,” in Boler, ed., Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times (MIT Press, 2008). Required: read pp. 1-29, and 37-42 (Glossary).

This is the first in a series of readings that looks at the relationship between new media and political democracy. Boler introduces a number of ways in which activists have used media in recent years. We will be looking at most of these in coming weeks. (See her typology, on p. 28, and the Glossary beginning on p. 37, which consists of quotes from authors and activists from the remainder of the book.) The first few sections of this reading can provide the focus for our discussions in class and online.

Other tasks for this week:

  • You are required to submit at least one substantive comment on the course blog this week. Weekly comments should normally be at least 150 words (in total) per student (though alternative formats can occasionally be posted; feel free to be creative). Add your comments to the blog discussion on the readings, which will be kicked off by Max (below). (The kick-off comments should be longer, @ 350 words or more.)
  • Look for online (or other) items that depict some of the things Jenkins and Boler are describing. (Links can be added to the blog discussion.) Those two readings will be the focus of our in-class discussion, so any “found objects” that are relevant will be helpful for that discussion.
  • Our readings next week will be longer than this week’s. I’ll get them up soon — please feel free to read ahead. Next week’s topic continues this week’s concern with media, democracy, and political activism. As you read on these topics, think of the examples and case studies in these readings as the kinds of things you might want to analyze in your critical media analysis assignment.
  • A few of you joined the class late; please catch up on any readings that you may have missed so far, so that you are all caught up by Tuesday.

A final observation: Note how often MIT keeps coming up in this class: Boler’s book was published by MIT Press, Jenkins – like Noam Chomsky – is a long-time employee of MIT, and MIT was the institution that took issue with Aaron Swartz’s theft of their JSTOR files. Keep your eye out for other institutions that keep recurring in our readings.


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