Publication Project II: Censorship, Online Media, and Digital Culture

As stated in an earlier post, I am currently working on a number of research projects alongside my PhD. In the first of these ventures I collaborate with Tomi Oladepo from Warwick University for an analysis of transnational online public spheres in Africa and Europe. A second one will deal with forms of and conditions for censorship in digital culture.  This second project will be conducted in cooperation with my colleague Jennifer Eickelmann from the Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany). She is also a PhD student (as well as lecturer) and currently works on (postmodern) modes and techniques of content production on the Internet. Before that, she finished her MA in 2010 with a high quality thesis on performance, resistance, and Youtube. You can read one of her articles here (in German).

We will discuss in our article contemporary forms of censorship in cyberspace –  i.e. the multidimensional practice of information control that often combines social, cultural, and political modes of sanctioning content production as well as -distribution. It will focus on the disciplining of the expression of utterances as a mode of power, so to say. Forms of ‘censorship’ need thereby to be assessed against their specific cultural and historical (i.e. discursive) background since they emerge in various different contexts and are subject to constant change; the same goes of course for the definition of concepts like ‘classified information’ or ‘political correctness’. As Wikileaks and the follow-up discussion it caused have shown, the issue of controlling what can be made publicly available and what not is an urgent matter today – not only as regards criticism on totalitarian regimes but especially when it comes to assess the extents of freedom in liberal democracies. However, one has not necessarily to discuss extraordinary political events to address and discuss the issue. In fact, censorship is an inherent part of our everyday live and determines our communicative behaviour both off- and online in multiple ways. Each culture displays it own laws and rules to control what an individual can say and which utterances have to be sanctioned. The historical background and actual context of a statement (as an umbrella term for any sort of text) is in this respect often the determining factor for the implementation/non-implementation of censorship. Regarding contemporary practices of postmodern content production, censorship -as an instrument of monopolising ideas- can also thwart and impede the creation of the “new” by artists, users etc. To create something new, the practice of quoting and reassembling the already available is indispensable (Mathy/Dietrich 1998). Yet many professional content producers try to protect their ‘intellectual property’, sometimes with relatively harsh measures. Hence,  censorship is also a powerful tool for established hegemonies to diminish the creative (subversive) potential of the “networked information economy” (Benkler 2006).

We will provide a taxonomy of modes of censorship and discuss to what extent the Web actually provides the means for genuine social, cultural, and political resistance. Some of the main questions we have to address are: Who does exert control on the Web? What technological and what cultural sanctions exist? What legitimations and justifications do governments (or corporations) refer to when they attempt to apply forms of censorship (i.e. under what circumstances does it emerge)? What factors determine the current notion of ‘political correctness’ in societal discourses? The project is still in a very early stage and the theoretical framework, methodology, as well as actual subject-matter-of-consideration still need to be defined.

Literature:

Benkler, Yochai (2006): The Wealth of Networks. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Mathy, Dietrich (1998): “Vorab ergänzend”, in: Hilmes, Carola/Mathy, Dientrich (eds.): Dasselbe noch einmal: Die Ästehtik der Wiederholung. Westdeutscher Verlag.

Publication Project I: The Transnational Blogosphere in Africa and Europe

Within the three years of a PhD programme, a student should publish at least one to two articles and present an equal amount of papers at conferences. Hence, I started to plan a number of smaller research projects that will hopefully be published in one of the many renowned academic journals next year. The first of these articles deals with transnational communication on blogs – a topic I have recently discussed in my German MA thesis. However, this time I will cooperate with my former classmate Tomi Oladepo who is a PhD student at Warwick University. She also works on digital public spheres, political communication, and participation (she wrote a brilliant MA thesis on similar issues at Coventry university). We can therefore easily and productively exploit the synergies of the work on our PhD dissertations to produce some high quality side projects.

In the planned publication we will provide a theoretical approach on the digital public sphere and political communication online – developing our thoughts by critically summarizing the respective academic discourses in communication science, media studies, sociology, and political science. We will then expand the discussion by taking a closer look on forms of transnationalism online – and empirically prove to what extent blogs offer a platform for political discourse beyond national borders. One of our main interests deals thereby with the question on who defines him/herself as an ‘African’ or ‘European’, respectively, and how they communicate such an transnational identity: When, where and why do individuals (users) of different national backgrounds come together online and discuss what kind of political issues? Can we detect hints to a common ground or a transnational identity (as “Africans” rather than Nigerians  or Congolese for instance, or “Europeans” instead of Germans or British). Who participates? What do they say? What networks can we identify? By contrasting Africa and Europe, we will hopefully be able to point to some substantial differences but also similarities between both geographical spaces and their digital extensions (mainly due to historical and, most importantly, economic aspects):

  • in the manner of utilizing digital media for political purposes,
  • in the composition of public online discourses and the role of the ‘national’,
  • in the structure on networks of political blogs focusing transnational issues,
  • in the patterns of communicative interaction, referencing, linking etc.,
  • in the reflection on the state as well as progress of cultural and political integration.

You can take a look at  some examples for our prospective subject-matters-of-consideration here and here. We still have to define our methodological approach but we`ll probably apply a form of content analysis in order to collect sufficient data for proving our theses, considering both qualitative and quantitative aspects. Nevertheless, we are still in the very early stages of planning and we might come up with a totally different epistemological perspective and instrument. At the moment, we’re aiming for publication in the second half of 2012. Until then we’ll provide updates on the project on this and Tomi’s blog, find the link above.

Please feel free to share your thoughts.