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Habits of Living Thinkathon — Day 3 Live Blog: Joshua Neves on Media Archipelagos

Posted by Jadine Lannon at Sep 30, 2012 12:50 PM |
The Habits of Living Thinkathon (Thinking Marathon) is being hosted by the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India, from September 26 to 29, 2012. The event brings together a range of multi-disciplinary scholars and practitioners. The aim of the workshop is to generate a dialogue on the notion of surrogate structures that have become visible landmarks of contemporary life, and to produce new conceptual frameworks to help us understand networks and the ways in which they inform our everyday practice and thought.

Joshua Neves presents two areas of his work today.  The first presentation is about his research on what he calls “media archipelagos,” a project that was inspired by island studies and grew into a focus on inter-Asian film festivals. The use of the term “archipelagos,” Neves argues, is a much more useful way of conceptualizing islands and “edge” communities—regions that are often thought about in terms of their isolation or juxtaposition against the mainland—than the current understanding of these regions as disconnected or “fringe.”

The idea of an archipelago of these fringe regions becomes particularly useful when we attempt to realize, or even map, the networks that are beginning to characterize the media industries in these areas of the world, especially in the study of film festivals. Exclusively Asian film festivals like BUSAN represent the emergence of what Neeves calls “minor media capitals” in the periphery, which are significant entry points (nodes) in a network or multitude of networks that exist outside of or even parallel to the core’s networks (the implications of the use of dependency theory terms was not discussed). Increasingly, these minor media capitals are becoming important sites of the production of Asian experience and Asian identity.

Of course, true to network theory, the mapping of these media networks, even within the archipelago framework, only leads to the discovery of more networks, or at least ways of thinking about these networks. Joshua asks us: are these networks at the edge or networks made up of edges? Do different networks characterize continental islands and oceanic islands? The only certainty is that there are many different ways of imagining these networks.

In his second presentation, Neves discusses with us another one of his research projects focused around mobile TV in post-socialist China. Mobile television has become common-place in most public spaces in urban China. Public squares, train stations, subways and buses—Television screens, and almost constant programming, can be found in all of the spaces. Many of these screens are aimed towards capturing the gaze of migrant populations, which Joshua finds particularly interesting and has become a major site of inquiry in this work.

Because mobile TV is tailored to time and location, the common model of televisuality as being distant and uninfluenced by the individual viewer has been reconstructed. Specific viewers at specific places are viewing programming that has been created specifically for their consumption, and the experience is becoming seamless, in that the average urban Chinese individual moves from one screen to the next throughout their daily activities. Joshua asks: what is it to be seamless?  How do we become seamless? How does homelessness interplay with seamlessness in this context?

In the discussion, participants debated the use of the term “archipelagos,” particularly for islands, because there was a worry that the term did not invoke the complexity of many of the regions that it could encompass.  Issues were also brought up with conceptualizing periphery media centres in the same way as core media centres, the structures of power in the dependency theory framework, and whether or not seamlessness could be invoked in the characterization of archipelago networks. Discussions about the habits of living as being temporal or spatial were also brought up, which led into a discussion of habits versus practice and habitus.

I actually found Neves' use of the word Archipelagos to be very useful for the conceptualization of "fringe" networks, as I felt that it was a term that invoked geography more than essence. I was troubled by the use of dependency theory in his presentation, but his reasoning for its use ("I like using problematic terms; they create dialogue") was satisfying for me. I think, though, that we must look closer at the film festival as a site of identity creation. How is this process happening? Why? Through films or the event itself? What type of films, then, are being rewarded? Is this influencing the types of identities being produced? Are these sites also producing restrictions on what is acceptable as "Asian" and asian identity?

I was also very intrigued by the participants’ further discussion of habitus and its relation to the entrenchment of power relations and unequal systems. Development, participants reasoned, is impeded by habits as they reinforce an understanding of the socio-cultural world. Without getting into a discussion on highly troublesome use of the word development, this is a problematic claim for me, as it infers that habitus is homogenous across multiple individuals. While I do not disagree that there must be patterns of habitus in certain groups or networks, the experience of socialization that leads to habitus must be different for each individual, especially overtime as their navigate the creation of their own identity. This idea of habitus-as-impediment also gestures towards a set of habits that are static over time.

This is an interesting claim for development theory, especially in the context of relating networks to habits, as the starting point of development would then be to identify the cultural habitus (i.e. map the network), which would cause the network to fall into crisis. Is this not similar to the colonial process of dismantling local culture?