Creative Unit conference “Communicative Figurations"

International Conference, December 7-9, 2016, House of Science Bremen

In a joint effort, the Creative Research Unit "Communicative Figurations" invites together with its cooperation partners SOCIUM at the University of Bremen and the Hans-Bredow-Institute for Media Research in Hamburg to an international conference on transforming communications in times of deep mediatization. In 12 panels, communication and media scholars from all over Europe and North America will discuss current research results and perspectives on communicative figurations in various social domains.



Programme brochure



Video Panel "The Mediated Construction of Reality"

For today’s life-worlds, media communication is essential: work, leisure, socialization, the public sphere, public engagement, etc. are articulated by different types of mediated communication. Even from a historical point of view it is impossible for us to imagine the multiple and contradictory processes of modernization without media. Today, various domains of the social world are so closely related to (digital) media that they could not exist in their present form beyond media. In this sense, we live in times of “deep mediatization”.

A particular challenge of researching this stage of mediatization is the present complexity of the media environment: It is not one single medium that is the driving force of change. With the spreading of various technical communication media – television, radio, mobile phone, internet platforms etc. – we are confronted with a “media manifold” which stimulates various processes of re-mediation and transmediation. And as media are more and more software-based and related to the internet, their use becomes entangled with processes of datafication. How can we investigate then transforming communications in times of deep mediatization? How do the figurations of living together change with the media environment?

The conference takes these fundamental questions seriously and moves the transformation of communications and figurations through the “media manifold” into the foreground. The focuses of the conference are the transformation of journalism, religion, education, communities, politics, and public discourse. Beyond this, the conference puts an emphasis on the (digital) methods used to investigate related processes of transformation. It is the concluding event of the Creative Research Unit “Communicative Figurations”, being funded within the framework of the Initiative of Excellence.

The Book of Abstracts can be downloaded here (v8).

Keynote 1: "Otherwise Engaged: From vanity metrics to critical analytics"

by Richard Rogers, Digital Methods Initiative, Department Chair, Professor of New Media & Digital Culture, University of Amsterdam

In the age of social media the dominant mode of engagement is distraction. Whilst appearing oxymoronic, distracted modes of engagement have invited the coining of such terms as ‘flickering man’, ‘continuous partial attention’ and ‘ambient awareness.’ One’s engagement in social media (however distracted) is also routinely measured. Klout scores and similar are often called ‘vanity metrics’ because they measure success or ’success theater’ in social media. The notion of vanity metrics implies at least three projects: a critique of metrics concerning both the object of measurement as well as their capacity to measure unobtrusively or only to encourage performance. The second is a corrective interface project, for users are continually distracted by number badges calling to be clicked; there is a movement afoot (initiated by John Seely Brown) for so-called ‘encalming technology’. The talk, however, focuses on the third project, i.e., how one may rework the metrics. In all, I make four moves. In an application of digital methods, which seeks to repurpose online devices and their methods for social research, I propose to repurpose Klout scores and other (media monitoring) engagement measures for social research. Building upon ‘alt metrics’ for science, an alternative metrics project, I propose another one, albeit for social issue spaces rather than for science. In order to do so, I call for a change in the networks under study by social researchers, that is, a shift from the social network (with its vanity metrics) to the issue network. The change of networks (so to speak) enables concentrating on the opportunities for an alternative metrics for the social (together with social issue engagement), which I call critical analytics. Critical analytics would seek to measure the ‘otherwise engaged,’ or other modes of engagement (than vanity) such as dominant voice, concern, commitment, positioning and alignment, thereby furnishing digital methods with a conceptual and applied research agenda concerning online metrics.

Keynote 2: "The Social Lives of Personal Data: Communicative Figurations in the Rise of Self-Tracking"

by Gina Neff, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Today smartphones and wearable devices help people to self-track: hours slept, steps taken, calories consumed, medications administered. Over one hundred millionwearable sensors were shipped globally last year to help people gather data about their lives. This keynote examines the social lives of personal data and how reconsidering this data as a media product helps scholars theorize a significant social change.  Data about the self is social in how it is recorded, analyzed, and reflected upon.  Communities form around digital self-tracking data, advocates argue how the data should and could be used to, and industries create new ways to buy, sell, and share this data. Yet, scholarly literature and practical knowledge alike focus on the personal aspects of self-tracking data, at the risk of limiting the possible interventions and protections of the data and the people from whose bodies and lived experienced the data were produced. To understand the social lives of data, I look at the practices of serious self-tracking enthusiasts, the design of commercial self-tracking technology, and how self-tracking is being used to fill serious gaps in the healthcare system. Can mediatization approaches help explain self-tracking practices, and in turn can these practices extend communication theory? Today no one can lead an entirely untracked life. But can this data be used in a way that empowers and educates the people who generate it? The answer depends on the social design of self-tracking data.

Conference programme

Wednesday, December 7th

20:00    Get Together (for presenters and chairs only)

Thursday, December 8th

Friday, December 9th