As my colleague Jon Hickman has already identified, one of the benefits of undertaking research on a topic such as hyperlocal media is that it often takes you well out of your subject domain and into conferences that force you to alter your perspective just a little.
At last weekend’s Media and Place conference in Leeds I was presenting a paper (with Jerome Turner) that looked into the practices that make hyperlocal media operations mediated spaces rather than neutral empty vessels for everyday conversations about place. However in this post I thought it worth setting out some thoughts on what I saw as the overall theme of the conference. That is, the shift away from representation in media studies and toward a focus on practices and habits.
The theme was set by Shaun Moores from University of Sunderland. Moores’ paper could be summarised as: ‘adventures in reading cultural geography’. He took us on a journey though the work of various cultural geographers (such as David Seamon and Nigel Thrift) and made the case that we need to examine practices and habits as much as media texts. He talked about the ways in which using digital technologies become an unthinking habit and how our patterns of mobility, built out of habit, connect us together (giving an example of commuters using the same café every morning). We need a focus on the body, he argued.
In a recent journal article (a transcribed conversation with David Morley and Zlatan Krajina) Moores draws on a number of studies, of his own and others, to show how “we have to ‘de-centre’ media in our investigations and explanations of social life” (Krajina et al 2014 p9). That is, we have to study the wider set of social practices as well as simply media use. In effect it’s a study of everyday cultures that’s needed.
The idea of Moores that got me most excited though was his interest in “how meanings can emerge from routine practices, through our practical, embodied and sensuous engagement with lived-in environments” (Krajina et al 2014 p12). Moores in interested in the ways in which the hands seems to know automatically where to slide and press on the digital device. We need to research this ‘bodily understanding’ if we’re to fully grasp how meaning is created.
My own research into hyperlocal has drawn on work by Elizabeth Shove who outlines an approach for the study of everyday activities that examines the ways in which they go from a pattern, to a performance, and ultimately constitute a practice. Her interest is in the environment and the effect on it when individual habits become large-scale resource-wasting practices. Shove de-emphasises the role of individual taste or behaviour and instead see individuals as ‘hosts’ of practice. In turn, I’m interested in what happens when the habit of talking about and photographing your locality on social media develops into widespread practice. From that might come a kind of ‘networked public sphere’ version of hyperlocal.
At the end of the conference I asked what a non-media-centric media studies course might look like. I thought the ‘sell’ for it might come through a rethinking of media employability as a set of social practices with movement (physical and online) at their heart. So the starting point is to ask: what are the habits, practices and movements that I need to reflect on as I move towards media employment? From there I think you could pick apart other aspects of the curriculum and move away from thinking simply about skills (in practice) or representation (in theory). Instead, students might be better placed to consider their position in a ‘meshwork’ (to use Tim Inglod’s notion) whereby their learning is bound up in the way way they live their daily lives and the movements they make towards successful careers.