middlebroware research website

Bibliographies are hard!

In a time when you can quickly generate massive lists of references on hundreds of platforms, you would think generating a bibliography of instruction manuals for Photoshop would be easy!

Not so…

A while back, I thought it might be useful to track down an authoritative list of all the third-party instruction manuals and tutorials for Photoshop published since its launch. The focus of this research was on Photoshop which meant we excluded similar application software like Corel DRAW as well as the other software of the Adobe Creative Suite like Illustrator, InDesign, AfterEfects and Premiere. The manuals containing both Photoshop and the other software mentioned above were excluded too. The only publications considered were those specifcally and solely on Photoshop. Some software was included in as much they are released as part of Photoshop itself or directly related to it: Photoshop Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, Image Ready and Camera Raw. This second group was classified in a separate catalogue titled “Related”. We mostly used WorldCat but to find the references with comparisons to other online databases such as Outlook Online (ELN).

Pretty simple, right?

One of the main difficulties we encountered was the sheer amount of slight variations on different titles (ex. re-editions like second, third, gold, pro, etc.) It was also surprising to see how often the same title appeared with different metadata. This might not come as a shock to researchers who have done extensive bibliographic investigations but it sure as hell came as a surprise to me. You would think such a resent topic would be so complicated.

We did find a few interesting things in the data that we collected which I will put up in future posts but I’d be interested to find out how others have dealt with this challenge.

A big thanks goes out to Artemisa Bega who was the RA on this bibliographic project!

Are software eulogies a burgeoning new media genre?

I’ve been noticing a new genre of article about software popping up here and there over the past few years. I wouldn’t say it’s unavoidable or rampant but it does creep up once in a while when announcements come out about support for a particular piece of application software being discontinued or no longer being sold: the software eulogy.

Here are just three recent examples:

I initially hesitated to use the term ‘eulogy’ because, as in all the cases above, the software is still ‘alive’. But apparently it is still considered eulogizing if it involves praising the person or thing.  I guess in some cases the articles aren’t quite ‘praising’ so… What is of interest to me here is rather the way in which biographical tropes around death are used to describe software. It raises an interesting question around what kinds of things can be referred to as dying or ‘killed’ as implying that they require ‘care’ prior to such an event taking place.

The Photoshop Inscriptions Project with DHIL

We’ve been working with SFU’s Digital Humanities Innovation Lab over the past eight months to set up a research platform for investigating YouTube videos related to Photoshop. The initial hypothesis guiding this research project is that Photoshop is ubiquitous not simply because of its instrumental value as a tool for creating and editing images but also because it is part and parcel of deeper ethical, political and social debates about mediation and creativity within popular culture. This hypothesis is framed by the following postulates:

  1. Photoshop is an object whose cultural classification is contingent upon its re-inscription by communicative practices. Designers and engineers give meaningful form to technologies in ways that can be ‘read’ as instruments (Ihde, 1998: p.150). Socio-technical inscriptions, much like texts, are generated by communicative practices (Orlikowski & Yates, 1994) accompanied by figures or ‘figurations’ who enact these actions (Suchman, 2012). In this sense, designers and marketers not only create affordances for users when designing media software, they also generate a material and semiotic model of who acts with/through these affordances. Scholarly research in STS and in media studies working with (or in reaction to (for example, see Silverstone & Haddon (1996)) this conception of design has convincingly shown that technological scripts do not determine how technologies are read. People who use technologies develop de- or re-inscriptions that challenge the designer’s original intended reading. Analyzing technological inscriptions, their figurations, and how both are read or reinterpreted therefore allows the researcher to examine the contingent power dynamics between different social and technological actors involved in mediation and map out the cultural categories ascribed to Photoshop.
  2. One of the key spaces in which these re-inscriptions take place are in/through digital infrastructures of participation like YouTube. Communicative practices for re-inscribing Photoshop are not limited to academic or professional fields. Digital media, particularly popular video-sharing sites like YouTube, have become key infrastructures of participation (Beer, 2013b) where anyone interested in Photoshop—be they professional or amateur users, fans of the software or its critics—converge to teach, learn, entertain, debate, and denounce its place in contemporary culture.
  3. The immanent order for these communicative practices can be conceptualised as genres. In order to understand how these communicative practices are socially, culturally, and technologically enabled and constrained through these infrastructures of participation, we must investigate how order immanently develops through classification. One way to conceptualise this order is as ‘genres’ (Beer 2013b). In their classic research on communicative action in organisations, Yates and Orlikowski (1992; 2002; 2007) provide a compelling conceptual definition of genres:

“When agents enact a genre, their interactions with others are structured by the genre’s socially recognized and sanctioned expectations around key aspects of the communication: purpose, content, participants, form, time, and place. […] genres are indicative of what communities do and do not do (purpose), what they do and do not value (content), what different roles members of the community may or may not play and the conditions (time, place, form) under which interactions should and should not occur.” (Yates & Orlikowski 2007: 70-71)

In order to further develop and test the ideas presented above, we need to investigate what kinds of genres of communicative practice for re-inscribing Photoshop exist on infrastructures of participation like YouTube. We’ve been coding the sample for the past two months and have come up with some great material. The online platform can be found here: https://dhil.lib.sfu.ca/pi/

More soon!

References

  • Beer, D. (2013a). Genre, Boundary Drawing and the Classificatory Imagination. Cultural Sociology, 7(2), 145–160.
  • Beer, D. (2013b). Popular culture and new media: the politics of circulation. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Orlikowski, W., & Yates, J. (1994). Genre Repertoire: The Structuring of Communicative Practices in Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 39(4), 541–574.
  • Rogers, R. (2013). Digital methods. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  • Silverstone, R., & Haddon, L. (1996). Design and the Domestication of Information and Communication Technologies: Technical change and everyday life. In R. Mansell & R. Silverstone (Eds.), Communication by Design: The politics of information and communication technologies (pp. 44–74). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Suchman, L. (2012). Configuration. In C. Lury & N. Wakeford (Eds.), Inventive Methods: The happening of the social (pp. 48–60). London: Routledge.
  • Yates, J., & Orlikowski, W. (1992). Genres of Organizational Communication: A Structurational Approach to Studying Communication and Media. The Academy of Management Review, 17(2), 299–326.
  • Yates, J., & Orlikowski, W. (2002). Genre Systems: Structuring Interaction through Communicative Norms. Journal of Business Communication, 39(1), 13–35.
  • Yates, J., & Orlikowski, W. (2007). The PowerPoint presentation and its corollaries: how genres shape communicative action in organizations. In M. Zachry & C. Thralls (Eds.), Communicative practices in workplaces and the professions: cultural perspectives on the regulation of discourse and organizations (pp. 67–91). Amityville, NY: Baywood Pub. Co.

 

Data Walking Vancouver with Alison Powell

We’ve been working with Dr. Alison Powell of the London School of Economics to set up one of her Data Walking workshops. Alison also recently launched a fantastic website that gives more information about this approach to data collection: http://www.datawalking.org (designed with the help of Marianela!). The event takes place on the 7th of June. Here’s the invitation:

Data Walking Vancouver

A workshop with Prof. Alison Powell (LSE)

June 7, 2017, 5:30pm to 8:00pm

Vancouver Public Library – Central Library, 350 West Georgia Street in the Alma VanDusen room

What data might people want to create to start a new conversation about the future of Vancouver? How might data about the city empower people? These are the questions guiding a workshop developed by Alison Powell of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in collaboration with the School of Communication at SFU. Using the Larwill Park Site (the future location of the new Vancouver Art Gallery) as a starting point, participants in this public workshop will have the opportunity to explore and reflect on the rapidly changing urban fabric of downtown Vancouver and data’s role in its coming into being.
Data walking is a research process for producing radical data through collaborative walks. Data walking creates a process for observing, reflecting on and seeking to intervene in how data influences civic space. By playing roles as photographers, note-takers and map-makers, participants develop ways to think about and reflect on what data might be, and what role it plays in key social issues. 
For more information about data walking, see http://www.datawalking.org .
This workshop is open to anyone interested in participating but spaces are limited. For more information or to reserve a place, please contact Frederik Lesage at flesage@sfu.ca .
Dr Alison Powell is Assistant Professor in Media and Communication at the London School of Economics and directs the MSc Programme in Data & Society. Her research examines ethics in technology design and experiments with ways to create new ethical relationships to data. She has held posts at Telecom ParisTech and the Oxford Internet Institute, and has a PhD from Concordia University in Montreal Canada. 
Her most recent collaborative funded research is VIRT-EU, a Horizon 2020 project examining ethics in practice among Internet of Things developer communities. Other funded research has considered the role of civic technology advocates in developing WiFi networks in cities around the world, and examined knowledge cultures and governance processes of hardware hackers and citizen scientists. 
She is currently working on several projects related to citizenship, cities, data and ethics, and is fascinated by how we think of machines in terms of ethics, morals and values.
Made possible through the generous support of SFU’s FCAT Dean’s Office.

Visit at the CHM to see Make Software: Change the World!

We just returned from a fantastic trip to the Computer History Museum ( http://www.computerhistory.org) where we had the chance to view the new software exhibition Make Software: Change the World! . The trip was part of a more ambitious project to examine how Adobe Photoshop has recently gained the attention of museums, particularly the CHM which announced it was making Photoshop version 1.0.1 available for download from its website ( http://www.computerhistory.org/atchm/adobe-photoshop-source-code/ )  in 2013. We’re currently working on a review of the exhibition as well as putting together some insights from the discussions we had with some of the people who work there. In the meantime, here are a few pics:

New book: Masamune’s Blade

After a lot of hard work, my collaboration with Peter Zuurbier on a book that details a different approach to conducting affect research is out! A big “thanks” goes out to everyone at Peter Lang and the editors of the Counterpoints series for their help getting this project published. Here’s the abstract:

Affect is so powerful and represents such ripe territory for study that, in its infancy, conventions of research need to be established that attend to its particular motion and shape. Masamune’s Blade: A Proposition for Dialectic Affect Research outlines an original research method for the study of affect known as affect probes, and proposes the establishment of a new knowledge project based in affect. The book begins with a call to discursively reshape research using affect, after which the authors develop a unique conceptualization of affect, one that brings it into the realm of Frankfurt School Critical Theory. The theoretical foundation sets up the affect probe method, which involves giving participants a package of small activities that require fun, easy, and creative participation. The activities are intended both to inspire affects and to mark their presence. Strategies for analysis are outlined and a series of critical interventions are woven throughout the text to situate the ideas.

And the link to Peter Lang’s page for the book if: https://www.peterlang.com/view/product/31481.

Review of Scannell’s Television and the meaning of “live”

Stuart Poyntz and I have just recently published a review of Paddy Scannell very enjoyable Television and the meaning of “live”: An enquiry into the human situation (2014) for the journal Popular Communication. You can access the text here. Here’s a short snippet of what we wrote:
“Paddy Scannell has long been concerned with the way meaning operates across everyday communication. Among these practices, in the unseen care structures of mediated communication our lives are woven together and our democratic futures arise. For Scannell, television and radio, and by extension digital and social media, shape our being-in-the-world. […] In Television and the Meaning of “Live,” Scannell continues to develop these analytic lines but in his new book, it is not merely public media that is of concern. Scannell aims to develop a phenomenology of television (and to a lesser extent, radio) through a revisionist reading of Heidegger’s Being and Time in order to understand how the very experience of “live-ness” now operates for communicative subjects.”
Overall, I found his use of the concept of unseen care structures of mediated communication to have some great research potential and Scannell is such a great writer, especially when it comes to media history. I highly recommend it.

Bibliographic review of Photoshop Instruction Manuals

I’ve been working with Artemisa Bega (SFU MA student in the School of Communication’s Global Media Double-degree program) and Sylvia Roberts from the SFU Library to put together a comprehensive bibliographic review of Photoshop instruction manuals. It’s proven to be quite the interesting challenge. Up to now we’ve identified 1226 primary publications between 1991 and 2015 that fit within our research protocols. We’re just about to start the analysis but it’s been fascinating to see the initial material come in! We’ll continue to update with posts as the analysis begins to roll in.

Creativity and critique reading group

Zoë Druick initiated a fantastic reading group here at SFU which we’ve dubbed the “Creativity and Critique reading group”. As the title of the group suggests, we mostly read through works that examine the intersection between critique and creativity. We originally started with Boltanski and Chiapello’s fantastic “The New Spirit of Capitalism” and have since moved on to a number of parallel works including, most recently, Boltanski’s “On Critique”. Today we will have our first meeting on Angela McRobbie’s “Be Creative”. I’m just through the first two chapters but I have found her use of Foucault to develop a creativity dispositif to be very promising for future research. This is particularly relevant for this project since she links this dispositif to a ‘middle-classification’ process that professionalizes precarious creative work (p.40).

“My argument here is that we see a kind of new assemblage of the middle class, with a wide range of ‘instruments’ and ‘toolkits’ coming into play to oversee and manage this transformation. The creative workforce may be relatively small, but it is being trained up to pave the way for a  new post-welfare era.”  [p.35]

I’m looking forward to discussing some of these ideas with the rest of the group today. More to come on comments and reflections on the book.

Guest lectures at the Communication University of China

 

Just returned from Beijing where I presented at the Communication University of China. I had the chance to meet so many fascinating people! It was an opportunity to talk about cultural biographies of software and also to present some of my most recent findings on software evangelism and Photoshop’s cultural biography. Here’s a link to an article about the visit: http://by.cuc.edu.cn/zhkx/5273.html.