I will be at the International Communications Association’s 2014 conference in Seattle, 22-26 May. I will stand up and talk to some people (and possibly large swathes of empty chairs) about:
From Visibility to Presence: Theorising Aesthetic-Affective Communication in Digital Space
The notion of presence conceptualises the aesthetic and affective dimensions of digital experience. It describes the phenomenally experienced quality of being-there and being-with other(s) – not merely knowing or ‘imagining’ a digital multitude, but a sense of imposing my presence on others, and equally, feeling the presence of others upon me. Presence problematises and complements visibility as a dominant, rational-technical mode in which we theorise questions of digital sociability, publicity and political participation. The concept of presence seeks to re-organise our knowledge of different lived experiences of online connections under a coherent conceptual umbrella. How are we more visible, and yet more anonymous than ever in digital space? How do the embodied aspects of visibility work in digital space – such as its ability to provoke powerful emotional responses? What does it even mean to be ‘visible’qua the body in the age of big data and predictive analysis? Presence provides a unique perspective to these enduring questions by connecting the affective-aesthetic dimension with critiques of algorithmic power.
This essay articulates presence as an aesthetic-affective lens, and demonstrates its analytical utility, through three short cases: (1) our speculative, felt senses of sufficient and probable visibility on Twitter; (2) distant and digital communication of embodied political presence, exemplified by contemporary acts of self-immolation; (3) data mining and the emergence of ‘trace-bodies’ composed of data, where the key paradox is that I know my data (self) is being exploited, but I often do not feel the presence of my own trace-body – an affective alienation.
Now You See It, Now You Don’t: On Codes, Screens, Visibility, and Erasure | Monday May 26, 9.00am | Ravenna C Room
The Other-Publics: mediated othering and the public sphere in the Dreyfus Affair
This article analyzes mediated invocations of ‘the people’ / ‘the public’ in the Dreyfus Affair, and directly orients this historical analysis towards contemporary debates on public spheres and digital media. If the ideal Habermasian public sphere never historically existed, how did the ‘imperfect’ public spheres of the past nevertheless contribute to democratic political participation? The late 19th century is a particularly salient point of comparison, being a time of transition from one set of media technologies and notions of publics to another. Focusing on newspapers, posters and other print-based communicative practices, I identify two general and consistent modes by which the ‘other-public’ is produced: (1) the ‘other’ audience as the target of persuasion, influence and commentary, and (2) the speaker as a distinct ‘other’ from the crowd. This othering was not a pathological barrier to ‘full participation’, but a constitutive part of publicity in an age of nascent mass media.
Communication History High-Density Panel | Sunday May 25, 10.30am | University Room