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Communications Commons Seminar Series

2010 Seminar Series

Convened by Dr Elizabeth Burns Coleman

Download recordings of papers from the links below. For more recordings, see our podcasting page.

April 19

‘Killer Games’ versus ‘We Will Fund Violence’- The Perception of Digital Games and Mass Media in Germany and Australia

Jens Schrodeor

The differences in the perception of digital games in Germany and Australian are distinct. While their assessment in Germany is dominated by a pessimistic Kulturkritik tenor which regards them as an 'illegitimate' activity, in Australia they are enjoyed by a wide demographic as a 'legitimate' pastime. The presentation deals with the reasons behind these differences. It analyses the social history of digital gaming in both countries and relates it to their socio-cultural traditions and their effects on modes of distinction.

Germany, as a European Kulturnation, has a different history and different foundational dynamics than Australia, a New-World society built on premises which consciously distanced themselves from their Old-World heritage. Foundational dynamics signify the socio-cultural and historical forces which shaped a distinct national conscience and dominant identity constructions during the countries' founding phase. Naturally, these constructions did not stay without an impact on the perception of different kinds of aesthetics. Closely related to the perception of culture was the issue of distinction, the cultural demarcation between social groups: By a conspicuous refusal of other tastes, a class tries to depict its own lifestyle as something superior. A country like Germany, whose national self-conception was closely related to groups which perpetuated an idealistic notion of Kultur and later integrated it into a rigid class system, exhibited a different form of distinction as Australia, a 'society of common men'. The presentation aims demonstrates how forms of distinction, shaped by different foundational dynamics, asserted themselves regarding the perception of mass culture to the point where digital games were the latest medium to be surrounded by established patterns of criticism and enthusiasm.

Jens Schroeder is a Ph.D student at the University of Film and Television Studies "Konrad Wolf" in Potsdam. His research interests mainly lie in the history of digital games and the roles they play in different societies, a field he first explored in his German Magister (Master) thesis. He obtained his degree in cultural studies from the University of Bremen by exploring the history of digital games in East Germany and how they helped to support the regime. He moved to Australia in 2005 in order to acquire his Master in Arts and Media from Griffith University where he was awarded with the Griffith Award for academic excellence.  His doctoral thesis deals with the differences in perception of mass media in Germany and Australia and how these differences relate to modes of distinction. For his thesis he collaborated with Monash University.

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May 3

An Aesthetics of the Invisible: Nanotechnology and the materialisation of information

Daniel Black

Nanotechnology - the manipulation of matter on an atomic scale - is widely believed to promise a new age of molecular manufacturing whose impact could dwarf that of the industrial revolution. Around the world, governments and private enterprise are expending huge resources in an attempt to claim a leading role in the coming ‘diamond age’, led by the United States government’s National Nanotechnology Initiative, which has already received almost US$14 billion in funding. However, nanotechnology brings together researchers from different disciplines whose understanding and expectations of this new technology sometimes differ greatly.

In this paper I will argue that the pursuit and popular understanding of nanotechnology marks an endpoint in a system of thought regarding the relationship between form and matter, abstract information and physical materiality. This tradition of thought has been present since Pythagoras, but began a new and powerful phase in the 1950s when information theory provided a framework of understanding foundational to the appearance of information technology and molecular biology. The attempt to develop molecular manufacturing reflects an intellectual moment in which the division between information and physical materiality seems to be breaking down, leaving a belief that even our physical environment itself is fundamentally nothing more than information.

Daniel Black is a lecturer in Communications and Media Studies at Monash University. This paper presents research from a larger project tracing how mechanistic and informatic ideas have both arisen from and resulted in changing conceptions of the relationship between the human body and technology.

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May 31

Culture, Power, and the University in the Twenty-First Century

Peter Murphy

Powerful nations have influential systems of higher education. The paper explores the possible pattern of geo-politics in the twenty-first century, and the competing prospects of America and its rivals in higher education and research. Pressures on both the American and non-American worlds are evaluated, along with relative economic strengths, and how factors such as these translate into intellectual prowess. The paper suggests that peak intellectual and research achievement is dependent on cultural factors, and that America remains well-positioned as an intellectual nation despite fierce competition from rivals because of unique cultural characteristics.

Peter Murphy is Associate Professor of Communications and Director of the Social Aesthetics Research Unit, Monash University. He is co-author with Simon Marginson and Michael Peters of Imagination (2010), Global Creation (2010), and Creativity and the Global Knowledge Economy (2009). Murphy’s other books include Dialectic of Romanticism: A Critique of Modernism with David Roberts (2004) and Civic Justice: From Greek Antiquity to the Modern World (2001).

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August 9

No More “How Green Was My Valley”: The Past, Present and Future of the Australian University

Peter Murphy

The idea of social and geographical mobility driven by education, culminating in the going to university, proved one of the most powerful post-second world war ideologies. In Australia, with 35% of 19-year olds now attending tertiary institutions, near-universal access to higher education has prevailed. The underlying assumption is that education-fuelled social and geographic mobility is ennobling, not only because it emancipates human beings from a life of labor, but it also enriches the mind. But does it? Students often acquire terrific professional knowledge in contemporary universities, yet universities also bore the brightest of students. While universities have become agencies of social and spatial mobility, their ability to satisfy the most inquiring minds has diminished. The paper discusses how successful social engineering has progressively decimated the media and ecology of imagination in the traditional universities. The consequence is that the kinds of eccentric, wide-ranging, free-wheeling, difficult, and demanding intellectual modes, milieu and media necessary for the brightest of the bright from all backgrounds to flourish have been shut down. Those often astringent intellectual media have been replaced with the deathly dull and exquisitely pedestrian media of the textbook, the unread weekly reading, and the megaphone lecture course. The latter deliver on fiercely audited political goals to increase social mobility and status climbing through participation in higher education but they also marginalize and trivialize high-level intellectual formation and bore senseless the most intellectually gifted. In the end a paradox is created. Everyone wants to have the glittering prize, but to achieve that goal the glittering prize has to be destroyed. The paper suggests a number of very practical ways in which the nation and its universities can reverse this situation. The intent of such policy is to resist the tyranny of tedium that has been unleashed on the exceptionally gifted, to find ways of re-birthing the media of the imagination at the heart of the university, and to restore, within the larger context of mass higher education, a congenial place for the most adventurous minds. Rather than participation and mobility, which have become tiresome clichés rolled out by glib politically ambitious social climbers, or worse, meritocratic dystopias promoted by over-professionalized ghouls, there is a need today to think about the destination of small numbers of very bright students, many of whom will fail exams, drop out, write papers that are out of their depth, but for whom excite ment and audacity matters, and who we know (from the evidence of very good studies) in the end will form that very tiny but very essential cohort who are highly creative and who deliver virtually all of the lasting achievements across the arts and sciences, in business and the professions.

Peter Murphy is Associate Professor of Communications and Director of the Social Aesthetics Research Unit, Monash University. He is co-author with Simon Marginson and Michael Peters of Imagination (2010), Global Creation (2010), and Creativity and the Global Knowledge Economy (2009). Murphy’s other books include Dialectic of Romanticism: A Critique of Modernism with David Roberts (2004) and Civic Justice: From Greek Antiquity to the Modern World (2001).

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September 14

Letting Go of Neo-Liberalism (with some help from Michel Foucault)

Terry Flew

Neo-liberalism has become one of the boom concepts of our time. From its original reference point as a descriptor of the economics of the “Chicago School” such as Milton Friedman, or authors such as Friedrich von Hayek, neo-liberalism has become an all-purpose descriptor and explanatory device for phenomena as diverse as Bollywood weddings, standardized testing in schools, violence in Australian cinema, and the digitization of content in public libraries. Moreover, it has become an entirely pejorative term: no-one refers to their own views as “neo-liberal”, but it rather refers to the erroneous views held by others, whether they acknowledge this or not. Neo-liberalism as it has come to be used, then, bears many of the hallmarks of a dominant ideology theory in the classical Marxist sense, even if it is rarely explored in those terms.

This presentation will take the opportunity provided by the English language publication of Michel Foucault’s 1978-79 lectures, under the title of The Birth of Biopolitics, to consider how he sued the term neo-liberalism, and how this equates with its current uses in critical social and cultural theory. It will be argued that Foucault did not understand neo-liberalism as a dominant ideology in these lectures, but rather as marking a point of inflection in the historical evolution of liberal political philosophies of government. It will also be argued that his interpretation of neo-liberalism was more nuanced and less openly condemnatory than the more recent uses of Foucault in the literature on neo-liberalism. It will also look at how Foucault develops comparative historical models of liberal capitalism in The Birth of Biopolitics, arguing that this dimension of his work has been lost in more recent interpretations, which tend to retro-fit Foucault to contemporary critiques of either U.S. neo-conservatism or the “Third Way” of New Labour in the UK.

Terry Flew is Professor of Media and Communication in the Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology (QUT). He is the author of New Media: An Introduction (OUP, 2008 - third edition) and Understanding Global Media (Palgrave, 2007). He has also been published in leading international academic journals such as International Journal of Cultural Policy, Television and New Media, Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism, Media, Culture and Society and International Journal of Cultural Studies. He has been First Chief Investigator on an ARC Linkages-Project into citizen journalism in Australia from 2006 to 2009, with industry partners including the Special Broadcasting Service, Cisco Systems Australia, and The National Forum. He is First Chief Investigator on an ARC Discovery-Project on Creative Suburbia, with researchers from QUT and Monash University. He is a Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, and is currently President of the Australian and New Zealand Communications Association. His forthcoming book is The Creative Industries, Culture and Policy (Sage, 2011).

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October 4

The Sovereign Discomfort

Dimitris Vardoulakis

By analyzing the image of George W. Bush’s startled look at the moment he was told of the planes crushing into the World Trade Center, I will argue that sovereignty resembles the triangle of representation. Thus, what is primary for an understanding of sovereignty is not the institutions of government, but rather the narratives that communicate the “value” of these institutions.

Dimitris Vardoulakis teaches philosophy at the University of Western Sydney. He is the author of The Doppelgänger: Literature’s Philosophy (Fordham, 2010). He has edited Spinoza Now (U. of Minnesota P., 2011) and co-edited After Blanchot (U. of Delaware P., 2005). Forthcoming books include the co-edited volumes Kafka’s Cages (Palgrave, 2012) and “Sparks Will Fly”: Benjamin and Heidegger (SUNY, 2012). The presentation is from the introduction of a book on sovereignty he is contracted to write for Fordham UP.

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Cultural Topologies of Space

Rob Shields

The talk will reflect on the spatialization of mobilities and relations via conceptions of topology. The talk will consider the theoretical potential of topological approaches to provide a framework for working through and beyond Lefebvrean modes of production of space and Foucauldian genealogies of spatial formations. This will be illustrated via historical examples.

Rob Shields is Academic Research Director for the City-Region Studies Centre. He also serves as Henry Marshall Tory Chair, professor in the Department of Sociology and professor in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Alberta. His research career focus has been Urban Cultural Studies, particularly the social uses and meanings of the built environment, urban spaces and regions, including tourist destinations and local identities. He is also interested in the impact of changing spatializations on cultural identities. His book publications include The Virtual (London, Routledge 2003), Lefebvre, Love and Struggle: Spatial Dialectics (London, Routledge 1999) and Places on the Margin: Alternative Geographies of Modernity (London, Routldege 1991).

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October 21

Trauma-Cinema-Rwanda: mediating the ‘unrepresentable’

Mick Broderick

16 years after the Rwandan genocide, in which over one million civilians (mostly Tutsi) were slaughtered in 100 days, this paper will explore how screen media (film drama, documentary) has presented these events internationally and indigenously. Drawing from the insights of trauma theory (via La Capra, Kaplan, Walker), I will discuss Rwanda’s evolving screen culture and practice, alongside earlier attempts to mediate the ‘unrepresentable’ in other national/historical contexts of mass human suffering (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Shoah).

Mick Broderick is Associate Professor and Research Coordinator in the School of Media, Communication & Culture at Murdoch University, where he is Deputy Director of the National Academy of Screen & Sound (NASS). His major publications include editions of the reference work Nuclear Movies (1988, 1991) and, as editor, Hibakusha Cinema (1996, 1999). Recent co-edited collections with Antonio Traverso include Interrogating Trauma: Arts & Media Responses to Collective Suffering (Routledge, 2010) and Trauma, Media, Art: New Perspectives (Cambridge Scholars Press 2010). As writer, co-editor and co-producer, his short documentary Hope for the Future was simulcast on National TV while screening before 20,000+ genocide survivors at the Rwanda National Stadium during the 16th anniversary commemorations in April 2010.

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November 1

Exploring the Ethics of Games

Elizabeth Burns Coleman and Danielle Kirby

Computer games have been considered a dangerous pass time because of their consequences either in encouraging players to harm others, or in terms of harm to the moral character of the player. In response, defenders of gaming argue that its fictional nature, and the capacity of gamers to distinguish between fiction and reality, mean that gaming should be considered a harmless pass-time, and that the activities that occur within the fictional world of the game, such as ‘cop killing’, cannot be morally condemned. Online gaming concerning fantasy worlds has been treated as an extension of such games, on account of its fictional nature. This paper explores the nature of fiction and ethics, and argues that the defense of games as ‘fiction’ is not as obvious as it seems.

Elizabeth Burns Coleman is lecturer in Communications in the School of English, Communication and Performance Studies at Monash University where she teaches a unit on Communications Ethics Law and Policy. Recent publications include Repatriation and inalienable property, in Howard Morphy and Michael Pickering (eds.) The Meanings and Values of Repatriation, Berghahns Publishing, 2010, and edited collections on Religious Tolerance, Education and the Curriculum (Sense, 2011) and Medicine, Religion and the Body (Brill, 2009).

Danielle Kirby has recently been awarded a PhD for her work on Fantasy and Belief: Fiction and Media as conjunct locales for new forms of metaphysical questing and spiritual understanding in the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics at the University of Queensland. Her recent publications include Occultural Bricolage and Popular Culture: Remix and Art in the Church of the Sub Genius, the Temple of Psychic Youth, and Discordianism in The Handbook of Hyperreal Religions ed. Adam Possamai (Brill, 2011), and Pulp Fiction and the Revealed Text: a study of the role of the text in the Otherkin Community Exploring Religion and the Sacred in a Media Age ed. Deacy & Arweck England (Ashgate, 2009).

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Past and Present Conferences and Seminars

Visit our archives of conferences and seminars - recordings of many papers are available for download: