Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Abstract for AOIR conference

I left it until the last minute but decided ultimately to submit an abstract to the Association of Internet Researchers conference that is being held in Brisbane this September. The process of writing it was excruciating but very good practice for me nevertheless. Why is thinking/writing so hard?

Here is the abstract I submitted. The topic is on Internet convergence. Any comments would of course be appreciated.

Why Google wants your desktop

Internet search engine company Google recently announced Google desktop, bringing the now familiar browser search engine to users desktops. Desktop platform companies such as Microsoft and Apple have Internet strategies such as .Net, a Windows environment for developing Internet services and .Mac, an integrated Desktop/Internet hosting site offered by Apple.

This paper proposes that the Internet did not develop in isolation but in a process of dynamic and dialectical engagement with other domains of convergence such as the office and the home. Domains such as the office, the home and the Internet operate as sites of convergence that mutually shape each other.

The paper looks at some past and current examples of technological convergence focusing on how the Internet and the office have co-evolved. Drawing on some recent works in the philosophy of container technologies, this paper also develops a notion of convergence that takes into account the environmental context as a force that helps to shape and order entities they contain by bringing them into contact in particular ways.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Things happening fast

I'm cooking up a storm at the moment with my Phd and various other projects on the boil.

On the recruitment front for my PhD research, I received a positive phone call from the Head of IT of a Sydney council I met the other day. He asked me if I will make a presentation to all the Council Managers in three weeks time to try to gain their support for my project and let them know what is involved. I'm very nervous about this but it's a positive development.

I attended a very inspiring seminar series last Thursday put on by CCR, the research centre where I'm studying my PhD. It was titled "Container Technologies" and involved eleven presenters giving five minute summaries of the papers that will make up an anthology of recent works on the topic. I really enjoyed the presentations and it stimulated my thinking on ways of approaching a broad topic such as human-technology relations and how an approach like this might/could inform my project on office technologies and the development of the modern office.

My querelent tendencies have been in full throttle since the beginning of the year and I've made a note to myself to go easy on the various campaigns I've got going for fear they will consume all my time. My recent letter to my local MP Carmel Tebbutt on same sex relationships and children was forwarded by Ms Tebbutt to the Minister for Community Services and the Attorney-General's office for comment. I have received replies from both Departments forwarded to me by Carmel stating that a detailed response will be provided shortly in response to the issues I have raised. I feel quite buoyed by the outcome since I didn't really expect my letter to go any further than Carmel's desk.

My campaign to replace the four lost gums on our street with similar trees has resulted in a street petition and I have received a very good response from my neighbours with almost all of them signing in support of the campaign. I'm sure I am going to be added to some Labour register of troublesome civilians/querelents/swinging voters/lesbians/activists/tree huggers.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Blown up democracy, oops did I say blown up?

Originally uploaded by Juzza.
I came across a reference to this art installation by Peter Sloterdijk and Gesa Mueller on a site I visit and had to include it on my blog. I really like how the installation captures the absurdity of the United States efforts to export and install democracy in Iraq, like its a Mcdonalds franchise.

"The Pneumatic Parliament project by Peter Sloterdijk and Gesa Mueller van der Haegen brings a sarcastic thrust to the pretended western democracies' supremacy, and to their claim of exporting their own model to other states. The work has been developed in the context of the 'instant democracy' project and it consists of a structure for parliamentary assemblies that can be air-dropped and that self-opens into almost the final form. After minimal corrections of positions it automatically becomes self-sufficient also for its own energy supplying. Perfectly placing itself in the psychological territory of the so much pushed 'fight the international terrorism' propaganda, the project narrates of fictional (but sadly plausible) institutions, that commissions to a single entity the building of the supporting infrastructure of their invasive politics. " from Neural

More on RU486

The RU486 bill was passed in the House of Representatives yesterday. It is the first political experience in a very long time that I can say I felt optimism and hope, although mixed with a kind of horror that an issue like a woman's access to abortion can come up as a matter to be reviewed and possibly reversed each time there is an attempt to build, and improve upon the current availability of options for women who require termination services.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Far West

I attended a meeting yesterday with the Head of IT of a local council in the far western suburbs of Sydney, just below the foothills of the Blue Mountains. What a comedy of errors it was to get there! I think I have forgotten the art of preparing for a long trip to somewhere I haven't been before. I was running late after printing out instructions for getting there from at the last minute. Hurrying to the station I realised I forgot my wallet. Fortunately, Sarah offered to get money out for me from a nearby ATM. In the process, she accidentally dropped her bank card into the receipt slot. Goodbye bank card. We managed to force the cover of the receipt box open under the gaze of a suspicious ATM customer behind us and no doubt the hidden ATM camera above us. I managed to repair the receipt box cover with a bit of hip action once we'd fished the card out. Then I missed the train so I ran up to the bus stop and caught a bus to a nearby station and caught a train from there to Strathfield where I had to change trains. At Strathfield the broadcast announcements for the trains were all mixed up. I was standing on the incorrect platform for the train that I needed to catch. I realised something was amiss and fortunately managed to locate a person who knew what platform the train arrived on. Finally, I caught the Katoomba train and arrived at my destination at exactly 10am for my meeting, quite exhausted and very sweaty.

The meeting went fine and I was excited to finally be out in the world putting my plans into action. However, the impression I got from the Head of IT was that my project will involve the approval of all the Managers of the various sections of the Council and it will be difficult to convince them of its merit since it has broad implications and no real direct benefits for the organisation itself. I do think he was interested in the approach and could certainly see that something would come out of it but he seemed a bit negative about the reaction of the other Managers. He said he'd speak to them about the project early next week. This reaction has been pretty consistent to date from all the organisations I've approached. Without being able to identify immediate value for the organisation, they seem concerned about the loss of time to staff and the difficulties of obtaining the support of the key people involved.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Farewell Terry

Tall. Quiet and dying,
I did not know.
Your voice joined mine,
Reaching out, to life,
To other voices.
We sang together.
One of the group
I felt warm when you returned.
Words, a few each week
And many notes,
Add up to know you.
Sad to say goodbye
But happy for our connection.
I will miss you

Monday, February 13, 2006

I'm not happy, John

According to a report on a study completed at Deakin University, the residents of my local area are the unhappiest in Australia. It is difficult to comment on the study without looking at it in more detail but I thought it was a clever move by Federal MP Antony Albanese to use the finding as a springboard to comment on the issues that he has identified as having the most impact on the residents of Grayndler. What I find a bit confusing is how the definition of "happiness" and its measurement can be considered to be something that can be objectively understood and measured. Can happiness be separated from the social and political context and attached to individuals as merely an attribute? I don't wish to speak on behalf of all other residents in the Inner West, but my happiness is not simply a reflection of my individual circumstances. It is also connected to how I perceive and feel about the country I'm living in, and what capacity there is for alternatives. I wonder if the researchers have confused dissatisfaction for unhappiness.
I am not particularly happy with the state of affairs in Australia and haven't been for a while. I am not happy with John Howard and his cronies. I'm not even happy about this study. I guess this makes me, along with the rest of us Innerwestians one miserable bunch of Aussies.

On the PhD front, I had an inspiring meeting with all the members of my supervisory panel last Thursday. I received some very helpful feedback about my conceptual engagement with the topic to date as well as assistance with the recruitment process. My supervisors think I might be a bit optimistic in terms of my aim to have the organisations recruited and ready to go by the end of March. I think they might be right. I seem to be making incremental progress but it is slowed by regular absences, message machines and meetings with the staff I've made contact with. Today I had a few of those...

My supervisors have suggested I start working on something substantial like a chapter (yikes) in the 'in between' times while working on the recruitment. After a bit of discussion we agreed that I could start developing the chapter on the cultural-historical dimension of 'the office' that I proposed in my Confirmation of Candidature and which connects to the research on early communication technologies that I conducted in Sweden. I'm pretty excited about this but also don't really know where to start. I guess anywhere is OK...

Friday, February 10, 2006


Driving down the motorway from Western Sydney yesterday I whooped at the news that the Senate had voted with a majority of 45 to 28 to support a private members bill to hand the power of RU486 from Health Minister, Tony Abbott to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

I have been getting increasingly concerned about the far right gaining more and more ground in Australia, not just in popular debate but also in policy decisions. This bill was put forward by a democrat Senator and I have been following its progress with great interest. The purpose of the bill is to allow an abortion-inducing drug to be assessed not by a politician with his (in this case it is a man) particular set of morals but by a panel of medical experts who will make a medical decision about its legality and administration.

The bill and surrounding debates raised some very interesting issues; about the separation of powers in Australian society, about gender, and perhaps most powerfully about the power of scientific over emotive discourse (still). Still, I say in this case with enormous relief, since the strongest argument that emerged in the muddied waters of this debate was the ability to take a scientific stand over an emotional one. And isn't it curious that in most cases it was women taking the scientific stand and men taking the emotional one. And isn't it curious to see that as much as the right attempted to appropriate the scientific discourse for their own ends vis a vis the reference to statistics on deaths caused by RU486, their argument could not gain ground on the point that it is more appropriate for a body of medical experts to assess this drug, as they do with all others because this is the role that has been accorded to them under a democratic system of governance that has at its core
the notion of a separation of powers.

Perhaps the far right has been able able to gain so much ground because this separation of powers has been so undermined by the present government. The entire political sphere relies on this separation to maintain power and attempts to resist it (or get around it). But in the case of our present government it is increasingly seen as more of a hindrance than a support. It is therefore not suprising to here Prime Minister John Howard's use of the word "bound" evoking an image of someone held hostage, when he said in response to the outcome of the Senate vote,

"That's democracy and we're all bound by it."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Report on PhD exchange to Sweden

One cool evening, just as the unusually warm autumnal days started to give way to the brief, dark days of winter, I flew in to Stockholm to start my six-week student exchange in Sweden.

The exchange is a program jointly organised by the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney and the Advanced Cultural Institute of Sweden (ACSIS) at Linköping University. It enables postgraduate students from both institutions to visit for between six and eight weeks. The first student on the program was PhD candidate Glen Fuller who visited ACSIS in 2004. In 2005, Helene Egeland came to Sydney and spent four weeks at the CCR. I was the third postgraduate student on the exchange program.

This was my first trip to Scandinavia. When I arrived I made my way to a suburb called Asspudden, just on the fringes of what is considered Stockholm’s inner city. There, I met with Helene Egeland who had generously offered me the use of her apartment for my stay. I grew very attached to Asspudden; its convenience to Stockholm, the little corner stores just outside the Metro stop and surrounding parks and walks along the waterways of Stockholm’s spectacular Lake Mälaren.

My weekly schedule involved visiting ACSIS on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and then spending the rest of the week and weekend in Stockholm conducting research and seeing some of the sights of Stockholm.

ACSIS is located about an hour by train south of Stockholm at the Norrköping campus of Linköping University. Norrköping is a post-industrial museum town that boasts a “complete well-preserved industrial landscape” according to a local tourist map. The Museum of Work is one of the town’s most famous preserved buildings and is commonly known as “the flat iron” for its triangular iron-like shape. Also fully surrounded by water, this unusual building housed the offices of ACSIS.

Like CCR, ACSIS is a busy centre for interdisciplinary cultural research with activities that include seminars, research projects, conferences, doctoral courses, publications and visiting fellows. My stay coincided with the visits of three Post-doctoral students; Aagje Swinnen, who completed her PhD at Gent University in Belgium, Claudia Leeb who holds a PhD in science studies/psychology from the University of Vienna and is presently studying her second doctoral degree in political philosophy at the New School for Social Research, NYC, USA and Evi Mascha from the Department of Government at the University of Essex.

In my first week at ACSIS, I gave a presentation to the ACSIS staff and students on my research project and covered some of the challenges that cultural studies faces in Australia. At this meeting I met most staff and students and found out about their current research projects. I also attended two seminars held by ACSIS, introducing the work of the visiting Post-doctoral students and the art of Esther Shalev-gerz, an Israeli artist currently based in Paris.

During one of the ACSIS seminars I met Dr Michal Anne Moskow, Docent
Head of English & Intercultural Studies at Högskolan Trollhättan-Uddevalla, Sweden. She invited me to give a presentation at her University in the south of Sweden. I was also invited to meet and talk with some of the students in the Computer Informatics Department of Linköping University. I received excellent feedback and encouragement and returned with my arms full of doctoral theses recently completed by students in the department relevant to my project.

To further my work on the cultural history of the modern office, I conducted research at the Stockholm Business History Centre (Föreningen Stockholms Företagsminnen). The archives of the centre contain a vast set of documents, files and media belonging to Ericsson dating back to the late nineteenth century when the company was first founded. These files have come to be known as The Ericsson Files. While at the centre I focused on Ericsson’s promotional material and examined images and text, and the narrative themes that manifested. From this I was able to analyse how technologies were discursively systematized over time helping to constitute not just individual technologies but their application and place within a large network of humans, artefacts and the built environment. This research enabled me to collect unique data for my PhD and the process of filtering and channelling helped me to refine the direction of my research as a whole.

One of my original goals of the exchange was to interview staff in Ericsson on how the company envisioned the role of the mobile phone in future work practices. While in Sweden, I was able to secure an interview with one of the senior researchers of the Ericsson Consumer Lab based in Malmö in the south of Sweden. On my way to Malmö, I delivered my paper to Högskolan Trollhättan-Uddevalla and again received very constructive feedback.

This exchange is a tremendously worthwhile program because of the social and intellectual value of exposing students to new experiences, ideas and academic practices, and the benefit of building intellectual communities, networks and new friendships as part of that experience. I was very grateful to all those who provided me with assistance, friendship and encouragement, in particular the Director of ACSIS, Johan Fornäs and Administrator, Helene Egeland. It was an extremely valuable and enjoyable experience all round. I am also thankful that I received my own office, Internet and library access for the duration of my stay because all of these resources helped me to make my relatively short time in Sweden as productive as possible.

Meeting in the CBD

I caught the train in to Wynyard this morning to meet with the associate of an office design company that I read about in BOSS magazine. The woman I met was very generous with her time and gave me a lot of useful background information. They seemed genuinely interested in my research and offered to assist me to try to recruit an organisation. I also finished my report on my trip to Sweden. I really miss all those folks over there...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Consuming texts

I've been reading an eclectic mix of texts recently while in the process of recruiting an organisation for my research. At the moment I'm reading "Consumption and Identity at Work" by Paul Du Gay and "Space, Place and Gender" by Doreen Massey. I've also read through an extract from Passages: Consuming Media - a long-term collective and ethnographic research project undertaken by ACSIS on a contemporary Swedish Shopping Center called Solna, just north of Stockholm.

Curiously, while both Paul Du Gay and the Solna researchers are concerned with the role of consumption, Du Gay's understanding and development of the concept makes no appearance in the Passages work. The Passages researchers are concerned with what they see as a shortcoming in media studies in the way that connected temporal phases of consumption are split off into divisions of consumption and reception.
Material Culture of the Daniel Miller variety is criticised as being preoccupied with consumption as shopping. But there is a lot of work in Material Culture that takes consumption beyond the experience of 'shopping'.

Du Gay, for example, draws on Baudrillard's notion that commodities have "identity-value" as well as "use-value" and ultimately applies this to work identity. In du Gay's words, "Practices of consumption are therefore key elements in the production of an inalienable world in which objects are firmly integrated into the development of particular social relations and group identity." Du Gay is concerned with the overlapping worlds of production and consumption since the subject of consumption operates within a system of production and neither can be thoroughly extricated. I think the
Passages text could develop their understanding and use of 'consumption' although I appreciate the attempt to introduce it more comprehensively into media studies. Then again, I only read an extract from the wopping two volumes that make up the Benjamin inspired Solna Passages project. I think I'll see if I can get a complete copy.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tree activism

I think I may have mentioned before my campaign for the trees on my street. I call it a constructive alternative to pencil sharpening. After losing four of the magnificent gum trees on the northern side of the street last year I have been on the case to ensure they are replaced with equivalents by the local council. I recently found out that they are planning on only replacing two trees and with ornamental pistachios. Now ornamental pistachios are really not suitable trees for this street. They are small, have very little shade and are not native so don't attract native wild life. They are deciduous which creates a mess of leaves which block the drains. Unfortunately, verbal communication to the council is a futile and babelesque experience and so I have resorted to my tried and tested method of writing a letter. I have also decided to go full hog and get a petition up from other residents in the street. I seem to have recruited one of my neighbours to the cause. He is a landscape architect and has printed out colour copies of four native shade-bearing trees that would be a suitable replacement for the gums. Someone has to fight for the trees...


Originally uploaded by Juzza.
The attic storage room under construction on a hot summer day. You could fry and egg on the inside surface of the tin roof.


Originally uploaded by Juzza.
Tons of space

Ladder door

ladder flap
Originally uploaded by Juzza.
Our storage dreams come true...