Chronicling the vernacular and the middlebrow in post-digital culture.



Frederik Lesage
Photoshop, Technical Communication

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!


Frederik Lesage
Biography, Technical Communication

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.


Frederik Lesage
Creativity, Photoshop, Technical Communication

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:

More soon!


  • 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.