Thursday, May 30, 2013

Summer 2013 Booknotes

The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games, by Jesper Juul (MIT, 2013). “We may think of video games as being ‘fun,’ but…Juul claims that this is almost entirely mistaken. When we play video games, our facial expressions are rarely those of happiness or bliss. Instead, we frown, grimace, and shout in frustration as we lose, or die, or fail to advance to the next level. Humans may have a fundamental desire to succeed and feel competent, but game players choose to engage in an activity in which they are nearly certain to fail and feel incompetent. So why do we play video games even though they make us unhappy? Juul examines this paradox. In video games, as in tragic works of art, literature, theater, and cinema, it seems that we want to experience unpleasantness even if we also dislike it. Reader or audience reaction to tragedy is often explained as catharsis, as a purging of negative emotions. But, Juul points out, this doesn't seem to be the case for video game players. Games do not purge us of unpleasant emotions; they produce them in the first place. What, then, does failure in video game playing do? Juul argues that failure in a game is unique in that when you fail in a game, you (not a character) are in some way inadequate. Yet games also motivate us to play more, in order to escape that inadequacy, and the feeling of escaping failure (often by improving skills) is a central enjoyment of games. Games, writes Juul, are the art of failure: the singular art form that sets us up for failure and allows us to experience it and experiment with it…” –Publisher’s description

Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S., by H. Samy Alim (Oxford University Press, 2012)"A fabulously original work! Two of America's leading authorities on Black Language and Culture draw on their expertise and extensive scholarship to profoundly reshape the national conversation on race--by "languaging" it. In complicating compliments about President Obama's "articulateness," they brilliantly analyze his artful use of language--and America's response to it--as a springboard to consider larger, thought-provoking questions about language, education, power and what Toni Morrison has referred to as "the cruel fallout of racism." Few sociolinguists tackle these complex issues with as much insight, sophistication, and downright directness as Alim and Smitherman. As they firmly conclude, it's time to change the game - and this book does just that."--John R. Rickford, Stanford University

The Ashgate Research Companion to Moral Panics, edited by Chrles Krinksy (Ashgate, 2012). “Assemblage of cutting-edge critical and theoretical perspectives on the concept of moral panic... Chapters come from a range of disciplines, including media studies, literary studies, history, legal studies, and sociology, with significant new elaborations on the concept of moral panic (and its future), informed and powerful critiques, and detailed empirical studies from several continents…addresses themes including the evolution of the moral panic concept, sex panics, media panics, moral panics over children and youth, and the future of the moral panic concept.”—Publisher’s description

Discourse 2.0: Language and New Media, by Deborah Tannen and Anna Marie Trester (Georgetown, 2013). Topics include: “how Web 2.0 can be conceptualized and theorized; the role of English on the worldwide web; how use of social media such as Facebook and texting shape communication with family and friends; electronic discourse and assessment in educational and other settings; multimodality and the "participatory spectacle" in Web 2.0; asynchronicity and turn-taking; ways that we engage with technology including reading on-screen and on paper; and how all of these processes interplay with meaning-making.” --Publisher’s description

Authentic ™: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture, by Sarah Banet-Weiser (New York University, 2012). “…reveals how the pervasiveness of branding culture requires us to rethink our investments in authenticity and our understandings of citizenship and social membership….offers us the first fully theorized analysis of how the hegemony of branding culture and the eclipse of typographic culture by digital culture combine to make us fundamentally new kinds of social subjects.”-George Lipsitz

Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government, by Gavin Newsom and Lisa Dickey (Penguin Press, 2013) “Makes a fascinating case for a more engaged government, transformed to meet the challenges and possibilities of the 21st century, and where technology brings the critical tools of our democracy closer to its citizens than ever before.” --President William J. Clinton

Contrastive Media Analysis: Approaches to Linguistic and Cultural Aspects of Mass Media Communication, edited by Stefan Hauser and Martin Luginbuhl (John Benjamins, 2012). “Brings together linguistic mass media studies with intercultural, diachronic, intermedia and interlingual perspectives…aim[s]…to advance and to broaden the methodological and theoretical discussions involved [by] comparing such diverse formats and genres like newspapers, TV news shows, TV commercials, radio phone-ins, obituaries, fanzines and film subtitles…”—Publisher’s description

Digital Memory and the Archive, by Wolfgang Ernst. (University of Minnesota, 2013). “Explores how media infrastructure, not content, shapes contemporary digital culture... the first English-language collection of the German media theorist’s work, brings together essays that present Wolfgang Ernst’s controversial materialist approach to media theory and history. His insights are central to the emerging field of media archaeology, which uncovers the role of specific technologies and mechanisms, rather than content, in shaping contemporary culture and society.” –Publisher’s description

The Digital Rights Movement: The Role of Technology in Subverting Digital Copyright, by Hector Postigo (MIT, 2013) “Postigo is among the first to provide a comprehensive discussion of the development of the digital rights movements, its key actors, and its major arguments. If you are interested in online social movements, digital rights, or participatory culture, this book is for you!” —Jennifer Earl, Professor of Sociology, University of Arizona

Documentary Film (Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies), edited by Ian Aitken (Routledge, 2012). “An authoritative reference work to enable users to navigate and make sense of the subject’s large literature and the continuing explosion in research output...brings together in four volumes the foundational and the very best cutting-edge scholarship on documentary film.” –Publisher’s description

Drugs & Media: New Perspectives on Communication, Consumption, and Consciousness, edited by Robert C. MacDougall. (Continuum, 2012). “The contributors to this cutting-edge collection apply media ecological concepts to consider how drugs function as communication technologies; literally media in and for the human sensorium. In these essays, drugs are considered as communication media in a practical sense, not merely in the metaphorical way they tend to be discussed in the popular press. Media and drugs are thus conceived as communicative tools that enhance and/or inhibit physical, social and symbolic experience--our ways of seeing and being in the world.” –Editors

iPolitics: Citizens, Elections, and Governing in the New Media Era, edited by Richard L. Fox and Jennifer M. Ramos. (Cambridge University Press, 2012). "A lively collection of essays exploring digital media and politics in the United States as well as comparatively. iPolitics covers a wide range of crucial topics, from political knowledge and participation to governance and campaigning. This book demonstrates persuasively that the implications of digital media are often complex, nuanced, and contingent." --Bruce Bimber, University of California at Santa Barbara

The Ironic Spectator: Solidarity in the Age of Post-Humanitarianism, by Jane Abbate (MIT, 2013). “Lilie Chouliaraki is the Aristotle of mediated humanitarianism. With empirical finesse and theoretical bite, she shows how compassion for distant suffering turned from pity into glitz. And yet she defends theatricality as a potential moral force if checked by critical self-awareness. This book casts desperately needed light onto media and morality today.” --John Durham Peters, University of Iowa

Juan in a Hundred: The Representation of Latinos on Network News, by Otto Santa Ana (University of Texas, 2013). “Santa Ana calculated that among approximately 12,000 stories airing across four networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC), only 118 dealt with Latinos, a ratio that has remained stagnant over the past fifteen years. Examining the content of the stories, from briefs to features, reveals that Latino-tagged events are apparently only broadcast when national politics or human calamity are involved, and even then, the Latino issue is often tangential to a news story as a whole. On global events involving Latin America, U.S. networks often remain silent while BBC correspondents prepare fully developed, humanizing coverage. The book concludes by demonstrating how this obscurity and misinformation perpetuate maligned perceptions about Latinos. Santa Ana's inspiring calls for reform are poised to change the face of network news in America.” –Publisher’s description

Misunderstanding the Internet, by James Curran, Natalie Fenton, and Des Freedman (Routledge, 2012). “the book I have been waiting for since the late 1990s. It is a superb examination of the Internet, how we got to this point and what our options are going forward… a signature work in the political economy of communication"--Robert W. McChesney, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Mommyblogs and the Changing Face of Motherhood, by May Friedman (University of Toronto, 2013). Examining the content of hundreds of mommyblogs to observe the ways that online maternal life writing provides “a front row seat to some of the most raw, offbeat, and engaging portraits of motherhood imaginable.” 

Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China, by Daniela Stockman (Cambridge University, 2013). A “multi-method analysis of the introduction of market forces in Chinese media. By communicating from the bottom up as well as from the top down… Stockmann argues that market-based media provide regime stability rather than simply a democratizing force for change in China. She enriches our understanding of China's dynamic media environment by making cogent comparisons to trends in other authoritarian regimes. These comparisons reveal the importance of institutional factors in determining the impact of media commercialization." --Ann N. Crigler, University of Southern California

Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World, by Ulises Ali Mejias (University of Minnesota, 2013) “Makes the case that it is not only necessary to challenge the privatized and commercialized modes of social and civic life offered by corporate-controlled spaces such as Facebook and Twitter, but that such confrontations can be mounted from both within and outside the network. The result is an uncompromising, sophisticated, and accessible critique of the digital world.”—Publisher’s description

Philosophical Profiles in the Theory of Communication, edited by Jason Hannan (Peter Lang, 2012). “There are many philosophers who have struggled with conceptions of communication, whether in constructing a philosophy of mind, of language, or of being. The editor of this volume has wisely selected the works of philosophers who are less known in the communication literature, yet have something to say to its students and scholars. To shed light on the positions these philosophers have taken, these essays reveal not only their life experiences and personal struggles, but also who influenced them. Thus, the volume reproduces a fascinating network of intellectual connections that can enrich the conversations among present generations of communication theorists. Reading this volume is a pleasure and an encouragement to go on.” Klaus Krippendorff, University of Pennsylvania

A Social History of Contemporary Democratic Media, by Jesse Drew (Routledge, 2013). “Beginning with a look at the inherent weaknesses of the U.S. broadcasting model of mass media, Drew outlines the early 1960s and 1970s experiments in grassroots media, where artists and activists began to re-engineer electronic technologies to target local communities and underserved audiences. From these local projects emerged national and international communications projects, creating production models, social networks and citizen expectations that would challenge traditional means of electronic media and cultural production. Drew’s perspective puts the social and cultural use of the user at the center, not the particular media form. Thus the structure of the book focuses on the local, the national, and the global desire for communications, regardless of the means.” –Publisher’s description

Supervision: An Introduction to the Surveillance Society, by John Gilliom and Torrin Monahan (University of Chicago, 2012). “Authors chart the pitfalls and the potentials of emerging monitoring practices in an engaging fashion, pointing out some of the more colorful examples along the way. Above all, the book forces all of us fish in the bowl to confront the universal medium we are swimming in: the pervasive practices of surveillance that have colonized our world, from workplace to social space, in the name of efficiency, productivity, and security.” – Mark Andrejevic, University of Queensland

Terrorism TV: Popular entertainment in Post-9/11 America, by Stacy Takacs (University Press of Kansas, 2012). “The role of entertainment programming in building a national consensus favoring a War on Terror, taking a close look at programs that comment both directly and allegorically on the post-9/11 world. In show after show, she chillingly illustrates how popular television helped organize public feelings of loss, fear, empathy, and self-love into narratives supportive of a controversial and unprecedented war.” –Publisher’s description

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, by Andrew Blum (Ecco Press, 2012). “An engaging reminder that, cyber-Utopianism aside, the internet is as much a thing of flesh and steel as any industrial-age lumber mill or factory. It is also an excellent introduction to the nuts and bolts of how exactly it all works.” --The Economist 

Virality: Contagion Theory in the age of  Networks, by Tony D. Sampson (University of  Minnesota, 2012). "Tarde and Deleuze come beautifully together in this outstanding book, the first to really put forward a serious alternative to neo-Darwinian theories of virality, contagion, and memetics. A thrilling read that bears enduring consequences for our understanding of network cultures. Unmissable." —Tiziana Terranova

War Culture and the Contest of Images, by Dora Apel (Rutgers, 2012). Analyzes depiction of war in not only photography but performance art, video games and other media in the Middle East and the United States. 

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