On the third day of the Post-Precarity Autumn Camp, the participants had the chance to get an insight into alternative financial pathways of the digital art world. Geert Lovink of the Institute of Network Cultures gave an introduction to the research network MoneyLab that seeks to explore alternative revenue models, as well as to pose the ever-relevant questions of (re)defining the concept of money, especially in the context of the possibilities and limitations the digital monetary infrastructures provide. Succeeding that, artist and researcher Rosa Menkman delved into the complexities of cryptocurrencies and the digital artwork circulation as conceptualized through non-fungible tokens (NFTs). During this workshop, the participants gained insight into the curious structures of online art markets and possible strategies they might utilize for capitalizing off of them. The second part of the day was devoted to embedding the workshop into the social, historical, and artistic contexts of its locality. After lunch, Marisella de Cuba presented the activities of the organization We Promise that is devoted to challenging and overcoming colonial, racist, and discriminatory currents in Hoorn. The day was wrapped up with an art walk with Martijn Aerts which, despite the shifty and at times unfavorable weather, combined the playful with critical during the tour of the historical and artistic markers of the town.
PARTICIPANTS’ REFLECTIONS OF THE DAY, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
In this blog series, INC research fellows Natalie Dixon and Klasien van de Zandschulp explore a burgeoning intimate surveillance culture in neighbourhoods across the world. At the core of this research is a flourishing network of surveillance technologies produced by Silicon Valley and perfectly tailored to a vigilant and paranoid home-owner. This matters. Because being watched by the state is one thing, but being watched by your neighbours invites myriad more questions. In this second essay, we present a WhatsApp case study from South Africa. Admittedly it’s an extreme one, couched in a violent history of racial segregation.
We arrive in a leafy, affluent neighbourhood in north-western Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa. Klasien and I are here to interview Mariette* (*not her real name) about her WhatsApp group. Unlike many of the residents in this area, we are on foot slowly making our way to Mariette’s house, taking our time to get to know the neighbourhood. The views from this suburb are impressive; it has a clear vantage point, located on a small hilltop overlooking the city. Here, the house prices are some of the highest in Johannesburg. Browsing local real estate advertisements you’ll come across words like ‘those lucky enough’ to own property in this ‘enviable location’, or ‘best kept secret’. Properties in the neighbourhood have high-perimeter walls and giant Jacaranda trees cast shade over manicured gardens. The streets are quiet and neighbours walk their dogs and children ride their bicycles. To us, this Johannesburg neighbourhood seems pretty idyllic.
This idyllic setting comes at a price though. There is an omnipresent private security company that patrols the streets of the neighbourhood in large black utility vehicles fitted with enormous spotlights. We notice these, they are hard to miss, lingering slowly as they cruise up and down the streets. Paid for by the neighbours, these security vehicles scan the area for any suspicious activity. For a short while the driver even seems to trail us, we are out of place and walking too slowly it seems. Mariette’s neighbourhood is enclosed, which is not unusual in Johannesburg. This means there is only one street entrance for all cars. With permission from the city of Johannesburg, the residents have paid to erect a large palisade fence that closes off all other entrances to the suburb in an effort to prevent crime. A small number of pedestrian gates are left unlocked during the day. The sole remaining traffic entrance is fitted with a security-controlled boom where a guard is stationed 24 hours a day. When we arrive at the boom, we have to declare ourselves and let the guard know that we’re coming to see Mariette.
For a short while the driver even seems to trail us, we are out of place and walking too slowly it seems.
But alongside the security boom, ancient trees, beautifully trimmed lawns and driveways, lies another layer of urban infrastructure here: an electronic layer of communication. The neighbourhood has an active WhatsApp group with about 180 households where residents and the security patrol-unit share information with each other and note anything out of the ordinary. We meet Mariette in her spacious home overlooking Johannesburg’s much-loved urban forest. She is the admin of the neighbourhood’s WhatsApp group. Her job is to moderate and direct conversation between group members. Mariette has a very calm and assertive energy, which is probably why the group voted her to manage their communication. Hailing from a financial background, Mariette used to analyse risk for a living and is adept at making calculated decisions for the best possible outcomes. She exudes an air of decisiveness and resolution in her communication. These are handy attributes in a group admin, who often has to quickly negotiate very complex neighbourhood dynamics.
the entrance to the neighbourhood
Mariette starts our conversation by recounting a story of how neighbours in her area used to introduce themselves to the neighbourhood in the past, decades before the start of the WhatsApp group. Usually an invitation was extended to the wife of the new couple to join a few ladies for afternoon tea. Using a trusted neighbourhood ritual involving milk tart and Rooibos tea, the ladies would gently exchange questions and welcome the newest resident. The rituals and gender dynamics have certainly changed since then. As Mariette describes, “Now, people introduce themselves on the WhatsApp group and we all chime in to say hello and answer any questions they might have. There are some people I talk to quite often in the group but I’ve never met them. If they walked past me in the street I just wouldn’t recognise them”.
“There are some people I talk to quite often in the group but I’ve never met them. If they walked past me in the street I just wouldn’t recognise them”
Mariette’s neighbourhood WhatsApp group was formed during a crime wave in their area in 2013. The year the group formed, neighbours reported 13 burglaries, 17 robberies and 10 car thefts to their local police station. Mariette describes how in some of these instances, neighbours cried out to their WhatsApp group for help, fearful of being attacked in their homes. Group members reported a car hijacking in the neighbourhood that involved children. Neighbours anxiously recounted scenes of a housebreaking. Mariette describes how the WhatsApp group became a de facto panic button as neighbours turned to the group first, before their security company or even the police, when anything happened. Often, messages were sent to the group to verify strange sounds and account for cars and people in the neighbourhood. Did you hear that? Was it a firecracker or a gunshot? However, in the early set-up phase of the group, members also expressed feelings of safety. Members remarked that they felt at ease already knowing that others were ‘on watch’. Group members often made themselves available to others in the neighbourhood. In one instance Mariette describes how a neighbour who wasn’t home asked if someone could check on their house when the alarm sounded. Various group members replied to this call for help, showing the group’s responsiveness and care.
Security in the streets of the neighbourhood
More than twenty years after South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994, artist William Kentridge observes that “Race and class divisions are with us as strongly as ever. A happy ending is by no means assured. There is a daily, low-grade civil war at every stop street. The incidences of racial, verbal and physical abuse alert us to the rages that still burn inside. They are shameful to all of us”. Kentridge names some of the central issues that exist in contemporary South African society and often find expression in the context of neighbourhoods and their WhatsApp groups. The most glaring of these issues is race relations, which, when set against a historical backdrop of institutional racial segregation under Apartheid in South Africa, presents a very unique case study. Writing in the TimesLive newspaper in 2014, South African journalist Tanya Farber exposed the coded language that many South Africans use in their WhatsApp groups that have become taken for granted as part of a system of civilian policing. Farber described a mode of racial profiling in neighbourhood WhatsApp groups that employs phrases like ‘bravo male’ or abbreviations such as ‘BM’ to talk about black males or ‘CM’ to talk about coloured males. Similarly, burglaries are described as ‘home invasions’ adding to a military style vocabulary that has become routine in these groups. Unsurprisingly, Mariette’s group has also adopted this style of language which is often initiated by their private security company who are also in the WhatsApp group.
South African journalist Tanya Farber exposed the coded language that many South Africans use in their WhatsApp groups that have become taken for granted as part of a system of civilian policing.
Notably, Mariette’s neighbourhood has four times the median annual income of its closest neighbouring district, where 23% of that area’s population have no household income. Neighbourhoods in South Africa that can afford to employ private security companies have 24-hour patrols, guarding their streets and houses. These private security companies, alongside residents, have come to determine how notions of space and movement are reconfigured in the neighbourhood, facilitated by the neighbourhood’s WhatsApp group.
This reconfiguration creates a certain privatisation of urban space, which doesn’t only happen in South Africa but with the country’s history this phenomenon can be more uniquely considered. As a result of the pressure of maintaining a presence in all neighbourhoods of post-apartheid South Africa in 1994, police were redistributed to previously under-policed black areas. As a result, wealthier, formerly whites-only neighbourhoods turned to private security to manage access control and crime prevention. This form of privatisation has contributed to a particular narrative around space where streets and neighbourhoods are often treated as a small territory. Neighbours start to govern that territory as their own, warding off those who they deem to be strangers and don’t belong, thereby securing ‘their neighbourhood’.
The gate closing off the neighbourhood in Johannesburg
The feminist theorist Sara Ahmed wrote that a neighbourhood can enter public conversations as an entity ‘already in crisis’. In the context of Mariette’s neighbourhood, this idea is easily understood by the legacy of racial segregation and the violence of the apartheid era that still haunts public spaces. Ahmed goes further to suggest that the neighbourhood is not simply a space defined by economic and class commonalities. Beyond these measures the neighbourhood is also bound together as a site of collective panic. An incident in Mariette’s neighbourhood perfectly illustrates this point.
A stranger, allegedly drunk and stoned, stumbled into the suburb. A neighbour spotted the man and alerted the neighbourhood via the WhatsApp group. The chat lit up as neighbours reacted strongly to the stranger in their space. They coordinated a plan of action via the chat, to remove him from their streets. Using a mixture of CCTV camera footage and the WhatsApp group chat, neighbours posted pictures and pinpointed the movements of the man as he walked through the streets and passed by their homes. Panic escalated quickly and so did the neighbourhood’s reactions. A young neighbour volunteered himself to physically remove the man from the neighbourhood, grabbing a paintball gun for protection. He was joined by another neighbour who eagerly reassured the group they had the situation under control.
The stranger had not threatened or disturbed anyone in the neighbourhood but when the men caught up with him they shot him with the paintball gun. Lying stunned on the floor, the “stranger” was held down by the duo while the group called their security company for back up. When the security officers arrived they then tasered the man. The events were all posted into the group chat and various neighbours commented. One neighbour excitedly remarked that she wished she could have been there to witness the action. Neighbours congratulated the men for their bravery. Later the South African police arrived and released the man, to the dismay of the group. The police warned the neighbours not to take matters into their own hands. The neighbours were incredulous and the group buzzed with messages of irritation and frustration.
The WhatsApp conversations of Mariette’s neighbourhood are, in part, a reflection of the general state of insecurity and fear about crime in South Africa. The country’s crime statistics are amongst the highest in the world. In one year, from 2019-2020, 2.3 million South Africans experienced a house breaking or burglary. It seems many South Africans are willing to give up certain freedoms, like privacy, open access and free movement in exchange for tighter controls and constant surveillance if it means they feel safer. The results show across the country in fortified neighbourhoods with vigilant WhatsApp groups using military codes to communicate with each other. It is important to emphasise that fear of crime in South Africa is not unique to white South Africans. It is felt across all socioeconomic and race groups. However, South African researchers argue that this enclave living in enclosed neighbourhoods breeds more feelings of mistrust and paranoia in neighbourhoods, as residents limit social mixing. The local neighbourhood WhatsApp group reveals the panicky potential of neighbourhoods driven both by actual crime and the fear of crime.
The local neighbourhood WhatsApp group reveals the panicky potential of neighbourhoods driven both by actual crime and the fear of crime.
In Mariette’s neighbourhood fear and paranoia are circulated through WhatsApp and seem to accelerate the urgency of the security situation and amplify the perceived notion of neighbourhood precarity. This fear and anxiety may also relate to how the neighbourhood perceives a threat. Canadian media theorist Brian Massumi argues that fear can be seen to enlarge any existing or implied threat. Massumi claims that in this way, emotions can be elevated above facts or even come to stand in for them.He writes that, ‘The felt reality of the threat is so superlatively real that it translates into a felt certainty about the world, even in the absence of other grounding for it in the observable world …. The affect-driven logic of the would-have/could-have is what discursively ensures that the actual facts will always remain an open case, for all pre-emptive intents and purposes’.
This is an important point, that fear and paranoia can be circulated in groups and can be exaggerated along the way. Like Massumi suggests, these emotions may even be privileged above the facts. In more extreme contexts, this can have disastrous consequences. In 2018 in India’s north-eastern state of Assam, two men were killed by a mob of local residents. The men, Nilotpal Das and Abijeet Nath, an audio engineer and a digital artist respectively, had stopped in a village to ask for directions. Unbeknownst to Das and Nath, the village was in a state of hyper-vigilance towards outsiders after a series of child kidnappings in the area. A series of disturbing WhatsApp messages had been circulating amongst villagers festering a deep sense of suspicion and paranoia. The mob suspected Das and Nath were the kidnappers and the two were subsequently beaten to death. The killing was also filmed on a mobile phone and later circulated on WhatsApp amongst locals. The police subsequently confirmed that the kidnapping messages, which contained a video of a child purportedly being snatched, were entirely fake.
Dr. Natalie Dixon is an INC research fellow and founder & cultural insights director at affect lab, a women-led creative studio and research practice based in Amsterdam. Her work explores questions of gender, race and belonging through the lens of technology. Alongside her creative partner, Klasien van de Zandschulp, they are the creators of Good Neighbours.
Twenty participants of Post-precarity Autumn Camp, jointly organized by the Platform BK, Institute of Network Cultures, and Hotel Maria Kappel have gathered in Hotel Maria Kappel in Hoorn to commence a five-day journey into the intricacies of overcoming the late-capitalist challenges artists encounter in aims to keep their practice alive and prosperous. The topic of the first day entailed working in the gig economy. Silvio Lorusso, designer, researcher, and author of Entreprecariat: Everyone is an Entrepreneur. Nobody is Safe. kicked off the day’s program with a lecture on the popular freelance platform Fiverr. Silvio analyzed how user interface design, as well as imagery on the platform, represent as well as shape labour relations and provide novel meanings of the role of the freelancer. Following that, artist and researcher (as well as gig-worker) Alina Lupu reflected on her working and artistic practice that merged her income-earning on the food delivery platform Deliveroo with her artistic work on labour and mobilization of union movements that she was a part of. As a part of her workshop, participants presented their various funding streams during the years, which posited the professional history as strangely intimate, enabling the participants to overcome the salary taboo – one of the main capitalist instruments of obedience. Tirza Kater presented a brief history and activities of Hotel Maria Kappel and the day concluded with a grounded Mindfulness workshop by Susan.
SIDE JOB HISTORY OF THE PARTICIPANTS, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
In honor of International Podcast Day on 30 September, Sounding Out! brings you Pod-Tember (and Pod-Tober too, actually, now that we’re bi-weekly) a series of posts exploring different facets of the audio art of the podcast, which we have been putting into those earbuds since 2011. Enjoy! –JS
I’ve listened to an inordinate about of podcasts in the past year and half; the number of hours would be shocking. I’ve written about this previously: how audio, friendly voices in my ears, was a more comforting medium than television or film. In early 2021, Vulture’s Nicholas Quah published findings about the continuing rise of podcasts, suggesting that American audiences are intensifying their interest in the medium. He writes, “The case began to be made that podcasting, more so than many other new media infrastructures, was uniquely suited to meeting the moment,” suggesting that the pandemic has buoyed the medium extensively. His findings also show that podcast audiences are engaging more directly and are growing in diversity. The running joke about the medium is that everyone has a podcast. I certainly do. Comedians do. Talk show hosts do. Politicians do. In a recent episode of Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown Podcast, hosts Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider joke that now every Real Housewife feels the need to start her own podcast, too.
In this 2021 moment, the series The Complete Woman? has become more relevant than ever, particularly in relation to the rise of conversations about the “Karen,” and a particular kind of white woman who attempts to wield social and racialized power. The podcast is marked as a “Baby Boomer” parody – or a fictional show directed at a fictional Baby Boomer audience. It’s eviscerating that culture, however, in its caricaturing of Marabel May and her friends, interrogating contemporary conversations about whiteness and middleclass-ness; its dark humor lies not in outdated gender roles, but in how incredibly close to home it all hits. It’s not a distant past, but a current reality.
The Complete Woman podcast directly destabilizes nostalgia, even as it draws on older audio formats. In the series, comedian Amanda Lund parodies real-life mid 20th-century marriage self-help author Marabel Morgan, who promoted women’s deference to their husbands through evangelical Christianity – her book is titled The Total Woman, as mentioned by Vulture writer Nathan Rabin, a critical enthusiast of Lund’s series. The fictional Marabel May (voiced by Lund) is a housewife living in 1960s America with her husband, Freck (Matt Gourley). The Complete Woman series is set up as audio companions – diegetically understood as vinyl records – to Marabel’s book of the same name, which she penned after successfully saving her “disaster” of a marriage. She claims, “I believe it’s possible for any woman to manipulate her husband into adoring her in matter of weeks.” Each episode of the series focuses on a different aspect of womanhood or features a “checking-in” with Marabel and her “neighborhood gal” friends, aggressive Joanie (Maria Blasucci), muddled Barbara (Stephanie Allynne), and jovial divorcee Rita (Angela Trimbur).
The segments featuring Marabel chatting with her neighborhood girlfriends are particularly insightful, as each woman expresses her own warped version of the mid-century American marriage. They also combine the outdated instructional segments with more modern casual conversations, highlighting The Complete Woman’s addressing of women’s emotional labor, as well conventional housework. These segments also illuminate the distinctly female-driven nature of the series, as these voice actresses tend to improvise the discussions at hand. The back-and-forth between these women is both satirical and demonstrative of a sense of fun in their parody, and, at times, sincere friendship behind-the-scenes. Though a harsh satire of women’s positions in American culture, the show reveals a sense of community as Lund features her friends, all working comedians and actresses based in Los Angeles who find creative outlets in podcasting.
Format here, is significant too. The podcast directly satirizes an older format–self-help vinyl records–and its usage – questioning the ideologies of the past and present. The series conceptual set-up is nostalgic, but the content is not. The Complete Woman is unique in its use of format to draw on nostalgia for these pedantic vinyl recordings; the specificity of the audio and structure of the series suggests Lund has some fondness for these bygone formats. But the formatting is also used to critique and comment on the historical sexism and patriarchalism of marriage. While this is done with humor, the satire presented by the series sounds shockingly grounded in reality.
To understand the concept of The Complete Woman series, let’s examine the opening episode’s introductory narration. The first episode begins with the show’s recurring “groovy” 60s-style music, signaling a move to the past. While the show is about women for women, a male narrator is the first voice heard – an immediate indicator of Marabel May’s deference to men, and thus the imaginary audience’s, as well. The narrator states, “Welcome to The Complete Woman, the audio-companion to the number one bestselling book of the same name, written by Marabel May. It’s 1963, divorce is on the rise, the tides are changing, and marriages are drowning.”
The voices in the podcast sound echo-y and distant, reminiscent of listening to an old recording, which positions the listener as a participant – as if they are indeed in a struggle marriage and choosing to play this record and get advice from the fictional expert. Marabel then, in a deadpan manner, states, “Hi, I’m Marabel May, bestselling author, unaccredited marriage expert, and stay-at-home wife. Are you stuck in an unhappy marriage? Feel like there’s no hope in sight? You’re not alone. I receive millions of letters in the mail every day from sad people just like you. Here’s what they have to say.” Melancholic piano music starts playing as different voices – both male and female – express their unhappiness in their marriages: for example, “I mean how many nighttime headaches can one woman get?” Marabel comes back, after the sound of a record scratch, “But wait, there’s hope!” Again, the recording aspect pulls the audience into the fictional space of Marabel May and her dire need to save marriages.
The 60s-style music picks back up as the male narrator begins again, “Marabel May’s Complete Woman course is scientifically proven to improve your marriage – or your husband’s money back!” Marabel states, “But don’t take it from the faceless announcer guy. Take it from the countless, faceless, voices I’ve helped.” More voices of men and women are heard praising Marabel’s method: for example, “I used to get upset when dinner wasn’t on the table when I got home from work. Now, I know I’m right.” Marabel responds to these:
Thank you. Are you ready to take the next step toward marital bliss? You’ve read my bestselling book, now it’s time to jump into the audio companion. I suggest you listen to this record in a calm, quiet setting. Lock your children in their rooms and put your pets in a basket. Pour yourself an afternoon swizzle and settle in. You’re about to impart [sic] on a life-changing journey. Your husbands will thank you!
This exchange suggests both that the audience is enveloped into the diegesis of the podcast, but also the series’ dedication to a bygone format – though the dialog is humorous, the concept of The Complete Woman as a vinyl audio-companion never wavers.
The Complete Woman purposefully – and at times very uncomfortably – puts the listener in the position of someone who is genuinely interested in Marabel and her friends’ worldviews, who aligns with her outdated sexist and racist ideas: Marabel refers to “Oriental China,” and Barbara refers to “not being in Calcutta” when oral sex comes up in conversation. While lampooning these behaviors, the podcast is also forcing its listeners to reckon with them, to consider their own thinking as they are positioned as an audience who would agree with everything Marabel is saying.
What is additionally powerful about The Complete Woman is its reliance on authenticity in its sound. The doctrinaire voices of both the male announcer and Marabel May are so identifiable as typical affected self-help narration; their voices are upbeat but never hurry or seem too excitable – they maintain an evenness that is uncanny. Their tone and manners of speech undermine what the characters are actually saying, making this fictionalized companion album seem all the more legitimate, as if this series was found in a used record store – a kitschy yet forgotten audio self-help guide from the 60s. The intonation of the voices is overtly making fun of white voices assuming and exerting authority, no matter the absurdities that being spoken. The medium allows the audience to move in and out of positions: as genuine followers of Marabel May, as listeners of what might be a kitschy thrift store find, and as comedy fans. The sound maneuvers the audience constantly, suturing them to the aural space of the podcast in a myriad of ways.
The Complete Woman parodies albums like Folkways Records produced in the mid-twentieth century, not just in its material, but also the length of the podcast episodes – a little over twenty minutes, just enough to fit perfectly on a vinyl side. The 1963 Folkways produced Understanding of Sex is a symptomatic example of precisely what the podcast is trying to mock, a pedantic authoritative voice, with liner notes boasting backing by doctors. Important, too, is the Folkways record’s completely white, heteronormative take on sex – which is here discussed solely in the context of maintaining a happy marriage. The Complete Woman’s devotion to the medium is humorous, but also in how it brandishes its critique of modern womanhood: its commitment to authenticity betrays how much Marabel’s teachings disturbingly relate to the modern moment.
The original The Complete Woman was followed up by four more series including the most recent, The Complete Christmas. I, however, want to dissect an example of scenes from The Complete Wedding’s second episode “Bridal Colors” in order to demonstrate how the series utilizes the podcasting format to position the audience as both in and out of the joke.
This episode uses sound to highlights the absurdist, yet bitingly relevant, commentary on wedding planning, both then and now. “Bridal Colors,” with women’s discussion of picking the perfect dress and color scheme for their weddings, especially underlines not only the parody of mid-century culture, but contemporary obsession with wedding planning. With the internet and influencer culture as an endless source of consumption, advice, and color palettes, modern wedding planning does not seem so different from Marabel’s suggestions – particularly in how both exude whiteness, middleclass-ness, and heteronormativity. Those resonances suggest that, despite The Complete Woman parodying a mid-century mindset and the use of older sound technologies, the analog and the digital are applied in very similar ways to maintain a status quo.
After giving the audience a quick quiz to help them figure out their “seasonal” colors, Marabel gives some specific suggestions for planning the perfect wedding. It is important to quote her entire speech on wedding scenarios in its entirety to fully understand how the series uses voice in concert with content to create its cutting yet absurd nature. Marabel speaks, as she always does, in a clear, enthusiastic, pedantic, very raced and gendered voice:
It’s science! – but for ladies. I’ll walk you through a few likely scenarios. I suggest taking notes with a pencil and paper. If you don’t have access to pencils or paper, chocolate syrup on a large cutting board is your best bet. If you’re a Winter having a city hall wedding, try a tea-length going away dress or a handsome woolen ensemble in French white with a veil-less headdress. Your flowers may be carried as a sheath or as an old-fashioned nosegay, pinned to a prayer book. Muffs are encouraged but not required. If worn, they must be flame-retarded [sic] or pre-burned. If you’re a Spring having a formal church wedding, try a long-trained brocade dress in true white and carry an impressive bouquet of American beauty roses, along with an ivory rosary. Jewelry may be delicate and preferably real. No feathers! – unless of course it’s a live canary, pinned to a broach borrowed by your mother-in-law’s estranged secretary. If you’re a Summer having a semi-formal wedding at home, try an ankle-length silk organza garden dress in bridal blush. Shoes are optional, but if worn must be made of glass blown by your tallest male relative on your maternal side. Sarah Bernhardt peonies are appropriate but no more than a half-dozen lest you come off looking braggadocio… is a word I learned!
Marabel’s voice is very candid, and she speaks quickly, as if this ridiculous list of arbitrary rules is a reminder for the audience of concepts of which they’re already aware. This monologue is exemplary of the series’ style – twisting banal aspects of material culture into absurdity to highlight the pressures put on women to perform and perfect things like weddings, marriage, and motherhood. “It’s science! – but for ladies” focuses on this fictional ideal that there is a formula that can lead to the perfect marriage, or that any aspect of idealized womanhood can be perfected if you just follow these easy steps. Woman’s work is implied here to be banal, because it is something expected, and if one fails, the consequences are dire.
While listening to Marabel go on is wildly absurd, it is also mocking a one-size-fits all mentality about weddings, and womanhood in general. The wedding comes to represent a particularly coded – white, middleclass, heteronormative – aspirational cultural practice that, in this midcentury moment of Marabel, is becoming solidified as something one is “supposed to do” and supposed to do in a certain way. It suggests to the audience, too, that these practices, while shifting, haven’t completely gone away. There are still expectations, traditions, and rituals that are widely expected to be performed by woman, relating not just to marriage, but work, sex, motherhood – the list goes on. This midcentury moment is still strongly felt in the contemporary moment, so as Marabel rattles off a list of what seem like insane rules – “Shoes are optional, but if worn must be made of glass blown by your tallest male relative on your maternal side” – they aren’t all that far off from today. These notions of perfected womanhood, too, are strongly structured by ideals held over from that time about race, class, and gender.
In “Bridal Colors,” the ladies of The Complete Woman also sit down to reminisce about their wedding themes – though Marabel is initially keen on having the ladies recall their roles in her own special day. When Marabel uncouthly mentions how much salve she used to clear up the many bug bites she received at Barbara’s backyard wedding, Rita sunnily jumps in with, “You know a little trick is you put toothpaste on ‘em.” Marabel, comically deadpan, replies (you can hear the massive eyeroll just from her voice), “Oh, Rita.” Heard on the recording, the voice actresses all burst out laughing at what sounds like an improvised moment. The absurdity of their conversation is brought to a halt by an honest suggestion, and it is quickly incorporated into the scene.
Voices shaking with a bit of laughter are heard throughout the series, but this stands out as particularly noticeable. It highlights the improvised nature of some of these group scenes by audibly breaking both the ‘60s narrative and the aesthetics of many contemporary hyper-edited studio podcasts. It would not be unheard in either moment to cut out the laughter or re-record the scene, but it is kept in, obvious to the audience. This laughter breaks the authenticity to the medium and works to successfully suture the podcast space to that of contemporary listeners. There is no frame to restrict, not only what can be heard, but what can be said. The diegesis spills into the space of the audience – they, too, are in the joke, for a moment no longer positioned as the fictional audience of Marabel May, but a comedy podcast audience. This builds a sense of community between listener and creator, as seemingly intimate moments of gaffes become integral to the both the diegesis of the podcast, but also the listening experience. In the case of The Complete Woman the format welcomes mistakes and improvisation as voices break out of characterization to comment on the reality behind the format – which is itself an important part of podcasting.
The comedy of The Complete Woman series is dark at times, as Lund notes both the limitations of women’s roles throughout the 20th century and highlights the ways in which things have not changed. While The Complete Woman is not directly calling on its audience to act, it is addressing the complexities of nostalgia for a previous moment by noting how, in some ways, it closely resembles the contemporary one. There is nostalgia found in the audio-companion concept of the series, but the content – while humorous – can be quite deep and painful. The Complete Woman does not succeed because it draws fondly on former sound technologies, but rather because it – often harshly – points out the pitfalls of nostalgia; Marabel May’s twisted world of the idealized straight white 1960s middle class housewife is often a direct commentary on the current position of women. The show suggests both that this kind of thinking hasn’t shifted much, but also, and more significantly in this moment, the conversation surrounding middle class white women’s complicity in upholding systemic racism. While the original The Complete Woman was released years before these conversations became widely prevalent, it holds up a satirical, yet bitingly revelatory mirror to the contemporary moment.
The podcast also amplifies the voices of the community of women behind it, who are looking critically at this moment in history by reframing and reengaging. It is worth noting Lund is a cofounder of the women-run Earios podcast network, that “strives to elevate the podcasting market with intelligent, diverse, subversive content BY WOMEN, FOR EVERYONE.” It is through comedy – ironically and inaccurately territorialized as a very “masculine domain” in the U.S. entertainment industry – and the genuineness of these scenes which break open the diegetic sound space of the podcast, that the audience can hear – and connect to – the very real women behind-the-scenes of the parody. Ultimately, through looking at series like The Complete Woman, it becomes clear that podcasting is more than a return to familiar formats (radio) – it is creating something new. Improvisation and comedy are particularly significant: the moments of improv and mistakes can create genuine connection.
Megan Fariello is a Chicago-based writer with a background in cultural studies. She is currently a contributor with Cine-File, and has recently published work in Film Cred and Dismantle. Megan is also a PhD graduate from the Cultural Studies program at George Mason University. This article draws and expands on work from her dissertation, titled The Techno-Historical Acoustic: The Reappearance of Older Sound Technologies in the Contemporary Media Landscape, which intervenes in the disciplines of cinema and media studies and sound studies, examining how the rise of aurally-focused narratives in contemporary media – including television and podcasting – are recasting processes of nostalgia.
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Passive income. Not to dream of labor. Retiring at 30. Drop-shipping. E-commerce. Digital products. You’ve probably already heard of these words, terms, life goals. They have been referred to quite a lot over the past years, marketed as one of the many fast and concrete strategies to generate money and expand your wealth. To me, they became noticeable when they started appearing on my Youtube, Instagram, and Medium feeds, just around the time when the pandemic struck. While a lot of us were quite severely attacked economically, others started to benefit from the digitalization of work and transactions. Perhaps you, too, have found yourself drawn to ads in which ‘making easy money’ is promised, with their strange and fascinating reality, educating you on the mechanism of this ‘new’ economy as well as its successful leaders. It can feel smooth and soft to be caught up in their discourses, listening to the voices of advertisers whispering about what seems to be the newest dream of our generation: passive income through digital products, and its promise of making money while doing (almost) nothing.
The advertised path of selling digital products
Figure 1, Screenshot from google search: How to make money online
Look up, if you will, the following in your search engine: Making Money Online. It is probably not universal science, but you will quite likely find similar answers to the ones listed above: ‘start drop shipping’, ‘try print on demand’, or, lastly, ‘make money with affiliate marketing’. If your algorithm by now did not yet recommend videos of ‘experts’ explaining their ‘leadership methods’, and if you still don’t have a clue what this is all about, you can easily find resources by typing ‘e-book’, ‘print on demand’, ‘drop shipping’, and ‘affiliate marketing’. Here, you’ll find a bunch of people sharing their knowledge very willingly, as well as their experiences so you don’t have to make the same mistakes as they did. Existing within a digital society where goods can be immaterial, reproducible and transactions can be facilitated to the point where they become almost invisible, it has never been so easy to make money online – if we are to believe these digital guru’s words.
Figure 2, Screenshot from Youtube ads Free Challenge with the 7-day Revenue
For me, there is a dissonance in my relationship with these practices. They fascinate me as much as they make me question my own convictions. Being a by-product of this economy myself, and experiencing both what it gives and takes away, I am forced to admit that I, too, would not refuse the pleasures of absolute financial freedom. Given the current circumstances and crisis of the past two years, we all seem to understand the precious costs of life — the importance of doing something useful with our lives. Therefore extra earnings, and if possible sustainable ones, would surely make everyone feel more at ease in their own positions: the desire for this life of comfort needs no deconstruction.
Should we then condemn these e-commerce and internet-driven businesses, for given us (false) hopes or a capitalist way of life? No, because, in fact, they are quite genius. They enabled a form of independence for many individuals trying to escape their precarious lifestyle. In the article: ‘It’s bullshit’: Inside the weird, get-rich-quick world of dropshipping’, writer Sirin Kale underlines what it means for young people to start a business. Quite often it means being financially and mentally free from the burden of loans, or the future’s uncertainty.
‘I didn’t want the 250k in debt that would have happened if I’d continued with dentistry. My parents were so stressed. I saw them get older, right before my eyes, with the stress. I felt like this guilt, all the trauma like I was to blame. My sister almost went to community college because we spent all the money on me.’
Figure 3, Meme from the webpage Sheek Freaks, Post #25: The Best Ways for You to Make Money While You Sleep
Still, these financial dynamics should always be apprehended in the context of their history. It is important to understand why such individuals would give these businesses a try, and why they dream of becoming, one day, successful e-commerce business owners themselves. For who knows — later on, they could even become a mentor to those starting out. A lot of people of both the Millennial generation and younger are exhausted. They feel rejected, abandoned by this society. They don’t dream of doing more work, specifically ‘labor work’. But to dream of no labor often means getting individual financial freedom through questionable aims.
While some of us might hope to get rid of our day-to-day work, this dream implies that there’s someone else doing this labor for us. Whether it’s your newsletter, filling in the e-mail list, repairing your computer CPU, or cleaning your kitchen: the labor always still needs to be done by someone. Therefore, in dreaming of the absence of labor and hopes of getting financial freedom, it is important to ask certain questions regarding the ethics of this new ideology. To become a boss and lead a business might be the new fantasy of our neo-liberal society, and a perfect example of how individual needs are moving front and center. By trying to survive in our own way, and perhaps even thrive, we might all be tempted to generate passive income and the peculiar strategies behind it. Still, the implications behind this money-making scheme go far beyond the individual.
The promise of a sustainable dream
With this aim of making money online and the attempt to generate passive income, there is a desire to gain (absolute) freedom. To spend more time with our loved ones, to do the things that genuinely excite us, and to generate a narrative for our lives that resonates with us. It is an understandable feeling, specifically given the uncertainty of our times. But let’s not forget: we are in the middle of a crisis. An economic and social one, that has been enhanced by climate conditions and ecological catastrophes. A crisis which has been aggravated by our current economy, the overproduction of goods and their transportations through the world by non-sustainable transport. While many individuals claim that leading businesses and generating wealth online is eldorado, this thought leads us to wonder, should we then all become ‘digital entrepreneurs’?
E-commerce and digital products seem to propose an alternative to our more old-fashioned practices, our ways to consume, and show us the potential of financial liberation. But what exactly are the implications and dynamics behind these practices? Currently, there are three main practices: print on demand, drop shipping, and affiliated marketing.
Print On Demand
‘Print on demand is a printing technology and business process in which copies are not printed until the company receives an order, allowing prints of single or small quantities’.– Wikipedia
While this definition, given by Wikipedia, seems to imply a more sustainable means of production, the concept of print on demand enables anyone to become a shop owner and create lines of clothes or objects to be shipped anywhere. By looking closely at the many different seller options, we see platforms that are smoothly designed in a way that makes website creation and clothing design seem effortless. Once the product is created, printed, and sold, the seller earns his money based on the margin profit. In order to sell, they’ll also have to advertise their products.
In looking at this production scheme, we don’t even have to ask if we need more T-shirts. What we must ask ourselves is whether it might not be more sustainable to buy one at your local shop, thus supporting a small business instead of a big corporation The way we’re being advertised these ‘genius’ strategies and their minimalist design, however, makes us tempted to design one, buy one anyway, and to even give the whole idea a try. If the strategy doesn’t work, the state of things seems to remain the same, but if it does, how will we then stop ourselves from participating in this economy without any critical notion?
‘But the problem with T-shirts, even those purporting to promote climate action, is they’re especially hard on the environment. Just growing the cotton that goes into one can take 2,700 liters of water — enough for a person to drink for two-and-a-half years — and, if it isn’t farmed organically, a third of a pound of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.’
While the initial ambition behind print-on-demand could help with the overproduction of products, it makes it possible for any individual to produce merch and advertise products that they’ve never seen or touched themselves. When platforms like RedBubbleor TeeSpring emerged, intending to produce fewer goods, they may have had an inverted effect: if every individual starts their own brand, production will be limitless. If we believe in reducing fashion output, maybe we don’t need another cat t-shirt in our closet.
Yet who’s to blame? The platform, the digital gurus telling us to all get on board, or us, the consumers? Whether starting these businesses is ethical or not does not seem for the user/seller to decide. Still, behind the non-demanding aspect of these projects hours of labor are hidden. Labor that goes into producing the goods, but also labor that’s behind the effort and publicity to sell the product. The luckiest ones will surely sell their t-shirt, and their fantasy of ‘becoming rich fast’ will become reality. Many of these wanna-be entrepreneurs however will remain unsuccessful, desperately trying to find a new niche, trying to sell the customer something they never knew they needed.
In the case of dropshipping, where digital entrepreneurs sell a cheaply imported product from a manufacturer overseas for a higher price, not only the quality of the products but also the conditions of the workers are important factors to take into consideration. Dropshipping providers and suppliers, quite often located in America and Asia (such as Amazon, Alibaba, Ali Express, and many others), make their employees work terrible working hours in inhuman conditions. It is because the production costs are so cheap that the Western individual can profit from it. When analyzed, the power offered by drop shipping services and the potential individual financial freedom gained from these businesses has one big main cost: the living conditions of others down the production chain. Alibaba and Ali Express surely do not have a bright reputation, Amazon either. We all are aware of the awful settings of big manufacturers. For those who weren’t in the article, Green America noted in the article ‘Amazon: Labor Issues At Home And Abroad’, ‘Workers report long hours, timed bathroom breaks, surveillance of work productivity/speed, intense isolation from others, physically demanding quotas, and other difficult conditions to work under. These working conditions take a physical and mental toll on the workers, who are often treated more as a data set or a robot than as humans.’
Figure 5, Website Design UK For Internet Startup Business Ideas Drop shipping Startup Website For Sale – Website Design UK
Dropshipping platforms are so easily and minimally designed so that anyone with an internet connection can become a shop owner and promote products in a matter of minutes. Numerous YouTube videos will teach you how to find the key product, the nice object, the valuable good which will surely sell. If everything goes smoothly, the drop shipper will hardly see any transactions happening. If the clients happen to be discontent about the products, they will then have to proceed to administrative follow-up with the providers, which sometimes happens to be difficult because of the provider’s location distance. So the next time our expensive water bottle from a chic website takes five weeks to arrive in the mail, we can guess where it was from. Once again, the question of the locality and transportations of the products arises. The crisis we are in demonstrated how every transaction and transportation is globalized and how limited we are when the world stops. But then, the sky got clearer, oceans were brighter. If we get back to how it was before and start to all partake in these digital economic transactions, what would have we learned from our previous lessons?
Figure 6, Screenshot from the webpage Affiliate Marketing in 2021: How to Find High-Paying Programs and Start Your Affiliate Business
When it comes to affiliate marketing, it is, to say the least, non-laborious. Affiliate marketing is the process of earning money (commissions) every time you promote a company’s products or services and drive a sale. One click can generate profit. On the other hand, its sustainability very much depends on the products shared with the audience and the platform they are initially shipped from. Affiliate marketing links can be a great way to support certain industries by also being rewarded for it. Through each link and product bought, the seller can make interesting margins by, quite simply, sharing an URL. Sadly, it is quite often websites such as Amazon or other massive suppliers which offer these possibilities, as they remain the main owners of stocks. To partake in partnership with these companies would not be as problematic if these suppliers would somehow act and change their policy and treatment in terms of human conditions, climate change, and perhaps even commit to their promises. But they don’t.
ʻDespite Amazon’s public commitment to renewable energy, the world’s largest cloud computing company is hoping no one will notice that it’s still powering its corner of the internet with dirty energy,” said Greenpeace USA Senior Corporate Campaigner Elizabeth Jardim. “Unless Amazon and other cloud giants in Virginia change course, our growing use of the internet could lead to more pipelines, more pollution, and more problems for our climate.’
While many argue that e-commerce has suppressed a lot of unnecessary costs of in-store shopping, perhaps even lowering the consumption of clients, let’s not forget that buying online will remain the new normal and that these actions have many other problematic implications. The report ‘E-Commerce and Its Environmental Impact, 2020’ emphasized the status of these businesses and how they infiltrated our everyday lives. Although the premises of e-commerce promised a more conscious behavior towards consumerism, the research notes:
‘Nevertheless, the determination of the environmental impact of E-Commerce is complicated by a range of considerations, including local transportation practices, and the type of delivery vehicles used by merchants, among others.’
Studies have demonstrated that even after the pandemic, people will quite likely continue to shop online. E-commerce and digital products will expand and remain, which makes this a great moment to reflect on the businesses partnerships we want to partake in.
On the relevance and power of digital goods
If you’ve read this text this far, you’ve probably been tempted to cross the line into e-commerce yourself. Perhaps you’ve contemplated selling illustrations on a silk-screened tee-shirt. Looked up cameras and gears on Amazon Affiliates. Maybe, just maybe, it’s even already too late. It is hard to resist the appeal of working with these companies and platforms because they make their transactions so effortless and because they are the main providers of products. As many gurus have stated: ‘It has never been so easy. Due to the hypocrisy behind these practices, it is also complex to be critical and reject the possibilities when these transactions are made to run so smoothly. It can be difficult to refuse these alluring financial gains when you’re living a precarious life. Sitting there, behind our screen, you’re being sold the idea that this is the only road towards independence, towards individual freedom, and therefore that this is a fair outcome. Perhaps it’s true that all of us can become e-commerce business owners, but what would happen if every individual actually started producing their own merch? Advertised products every single day? Drop shipped products from third world countries for rich people to buy? What would be the landscape of such a society look like? We will be almost 10 billion people in 2050; surely we’ll need more pencils, more online classes, more silly t-shirts. But more than that, we’ll need more care. As we will be both numerous and digitally literate, we also have to keep an eye on the many different ways in which these goods are produced and under which (harmful) conditions.
Existing in the same market, however, are sustainable digital products and e-commerce businesses. It is now possible to sell classes and courses offering a myriad of tools and knowledge which we can learn from, all made possible without having to travel, without the need for public transport, psychical aids, nothing more than our couch at home and our screen. The e-book, only printed selectively, has quite a sustainable effect on our paper consumption. Affiliate marketing can be an interesting way to mention valuable and ethical products. Interesting platforms such as Patreon and OnlyFans also exist, supporting different aims and businesses, offering more independence to their workers (although OnlyFans, of course, recently displayed a troubling attitude towards the sex workers using their platform). Selling online classes on Udemy, Skillshare or any other platform has made education more accessible and cheaper for people all around the world. The digital economy we now live in has enabled us to experiment and create new possibilities for ourselves, demonstrating the capabilities and potential of positive change existing within society.
As a result of this current climate, being an entrepreneur and owning a business is the new ‘do it yourself, sustainably’ lifestyle. It is, indeed, one of the ways in which an individual nowadays can follow their own path and become independent. While our economy is shifting towards a more freelance/gig-based economy, our economic status becomes more and more precarious. So then launching your own business and generating passive income seems like, the ideal opportunity to achieve true independence. The time is now to consider our own role in this digital creative economy. What if we turn it into something that is sustainable, shareable? It is tempting to take an individual, glorified path without questioning it. Perhaps to be critical is a privilege. Nevertheless, it is necessary and urgent to ask ourselves: how are our actions going to help the current situation we’re in? Not everyone has to come up with an ingenious plan. It’s not just the responsibility of the individual: both the companies and their transactions need to be fully transparent about the conditions of labor behind it, and the implications on humankind and on the planet. In this ‘survival mode’ where one desperately needs to succeed in life, let’s think about the outcomes of such attitudes. Let’s think of ways to use the (economic) digital space to create fairness and equity. It is a question of survival for both our intellect and our bodies, but also mainly for our world. Asking ourselves: how do we build wealth, and at what cost?
Morgane Billuart is a visual artist and writer who investigates the ways technological and digital advancements can help us create tools and experiences that serve us best and permit some sort of emancipation rather than alienation. She believes this can only happen through self-organization and the alliance of disciplines as well as diverse forms of expertise.
The Arabic of the Ottoman Empire presents an immensely fruitful linguistic topic. Extant texts display a proximity to the vernacular that cannot be encountered in any other surviving historical Arabic material, and thus provide unprecedented access to Arabic language history.
This rich material remains very little explored. Traditionally, scholarship on Arabic has focussed overwhelmingly on the literature of the various Golden Ages between the 8th and 13th centuries, whereas texts from the 15th century onwards have often been viewed as corrupted and not worthy of study. The lack of interest in Ottoman Arabic culture and literacy left these sources almost completely neglected in university courses.
To remedy this lack of attention to these fascinating texts, multi-national network of scholars got together at a seed conference in at the University of Cambridge in 2016, and discussed ways forward to focus attention on This network was then extended in subsequent workshops at Rutgers University in 2017 and at Cambridge in 2019, and after an AIMA gathering in Strasbourg in 2017. The contributors hail from various European countries, Turkey, Israel, Morocco and the USA.
The edited work is the first linguistic volume to focus exclusively on varieties of Christian, Jewish and Muslim Arabic in the Ottoman Empire, and make available a wide range of 15th to early 20th century Arabic sources, written in various alphabets. Transliterating sources originally composed in other alphabets into Arabic script opens up previously inaccessible materials to students of Arabic, and allows linguistic comparison between the different text genres and confessional varieties. The book aims to be an easily usable source for course work for teachers and students in universities and other higher education facilities. In turn, it is hoped that this will stimulate interest among students and university teachers, and lead to an increase in research on the subject.
The Ottoman Arabic materials are presented in a didactic and easily accessible way. Split into a Handbook and a Reader section, the book provides a historical introduction to Ottoman literacy, translation studies, vernacularisation processes, language policy and linguistic pluralism. The second part contain excerpts from more than thirty sources, edited and translated by the diverse network of scholars.
The material presented includes recently discovered yet unedited texts, such as Christian Arabic letters from the Prize Paper collections, mercantile correspondence and notebooks found in the Library of Gotha, and Garshuni texts from archives of Syriac patriarchs.
A Handbook and Reader of Ottoman Arabic by Esther-Miriam Wagner (ed.) is now freely available to read and download here.
The 2021 DOAJ (The Directory of Open Access Journals) publisher group comprises a large number of very small publishers (typically with only one journal), and very few large publishers. Our purpose is to demonstrate publishers’ long-tail tendency and reveal its connection with the tendency of APC (article processing charge) or NO APC publications. As a result, we ascertain a “long-tail” of publisher size in all three groups and a “the smaller, the NO-APCer” tendency.
Why does the relation between OA-APC (open access-) and publisher size need to be brought to the forefront? To answer this question, we need to understand a bit more about the context of OA publishing activities. As illustrated by Crow (2006), Edgar & Willinsky (2010) and Morrison (2012), from the mid-20th century onwards, the components of scholarly publishing began to shift: non-profit university and society publishers started to lose ground, while commercial publishers stepped into an era of rapid development. Unlike for-profit publishers with more robust survivability in commercialization, non-profit publishers, especially the smaller ones, are facing various internal and external challenges: “market consolidation”, “aggressive pricing”, “flat library budgets”, “migration to online distribution”, “structural constraints”, “undercapitalization”, etc., listed Crow . We emphasize the “smaller ones” because “the vast majority of society and non–profit publishers run independent and very small journal publishing operations” . Thus, the limitations mentioned above concern the plight of most society and non-profit publishers, especially for small publishers who prioritize academic quality or social needs, to the extent that they cannot balance profit and non-profit.
Several scholars proposed various recommended schemes. For example, Crow  suggests publishing cooperatives, which would allow small non-profit publishers “to remain independent while operating collectively to overcome both structural and strategic disadvantages”. Another solution is offered by Edgar & Willinsky (2010) and Morrison (2012): open access. Many studies have shown that open access could bring “growth rates in new titles, participation rates from developing countries, and extremely low operating budgets”, and maximize “access to research and scholarship, as an alternative to traditional scholarly society and commercial publishing routes” .
Although the transition from offline to online open access publishing requires a human and material investment, it is increasingly an attractive option in the context of today’s widespread web presence. Until recent years, in addition to the large commercial publishers who dominate the major publishing markets, the global OA market is “marked by a very long-tail and extensive involvement by very small, often university or society publishers”, as Morrison pointed out in 2018 . In Gold Open Access Journals 2011-2015. Crawford (2016) found that small journals are less likely to charge through abundant materials about the correlation between journal size, tendencies to charge/non-charge, and amounts of charges. In other words, the larger the journal, the higher the APC. We would like to corroborate these statements with our research of DOAJ 2021 metadata.
Definitions & Explanation
In this study, we consider DOAJ publishers who released 10 or fewer journals (at the time of being sampled) as relatively “small” publishers and those who released more than 100 journals as rather “large” publishers. The rest are grouped as “medium” publishers with 11-100 journals. These definitions only aim to better distinguish publishers of different sizes in our data scope.
We divide the DOAJ publishers into three primary groups: all publishers’ group, APC charging publishers’ group and NO APC publishers’ group. We use “mixed publishers” to describe publishers that appeared in both APC and NO APC lists. Our research is carried out from three aspects: observation of the three primary groups, observation of the “non-mixed” publishers’ group and observation of the “mixed” publishers’ group.
The data in this project was initially downloaded from DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) metadata (15,691 journals, 4,292 APC journals, 11,399 NO APC journals), then cleaned up by our SKC (Sustaining the Knowledge Commons) team. The clean-up work revolved around correcting the wrong position of the data and creating a modified publisher name column for this exercise. During the work, we realized that creating a consistent publisher name list was challenging. As reported in Some Limitations of DOAJ Metadata for Research Purposes (Zhao, Borges & Morrison, 2021), there were a large number of variations and inconsistencies of publisher names, such as duplicates with differences in punctuation and/or characters (e.g. “Abant İzzet Baysal Üniversitesi” vs. “Abant İzzet Baysal University”), extra spaces at the beginning or the end of names (e.g. “Abant İzzet Baysal University” vs. “Abant İzzet Baysal University⎕”), invalid URLs, etc. More details can be found in the open dataset “DOAJ_metadata_2021_01_05_with_SKC_clean_up” (Zhao, Borges & Morrison, 2021).
This research is only for the journals and publishers listed in DOAJ as of Jan.5, 2021. There are other fully open access journals and publishers not listed in DOAJ, or previously listed but then de-listed for some unknown reasons. We understand that it is challenging to create a precise list of publishers because of the complexity of publishers’ backgrounds (Morrison, 2019). In this study, we concentrate more on the trends rather than precise details. What’s more, we focus solely on whether the journals or publishers charge APC, not how much is charged.
Observation of the three primary groups
First, we separate the DOAJ publishers into three groups: all publishers’ group (Table 1 & Chart 1), APC’s group (Table 2 & Chart 2) and NO APC’s group (Table 3 & Chart 3).
Table 1 – ALL DOAJ publishers’ group (2021)
(Total DOAJ journals’ number: 15,691)
Chart 1 – ALL DOAJ publishers’ group (2021)
Table 2 – DOAJ APC group (2021)
(Total count of DOAJ APC journals: 4,292)
Chart 2 – DOAJ APC group (2021)
Table 3 – DOAJ NO APC group (2021)
(Total count of DOAJ NO APC journals: 11,399)
Chart 3 – DOAJ NO APC group (2021)
Individually, each group shows an evident “long-tail”. In the ALL publishers’ group (see Table 1 & Chart 1), among the 6,804 publishers identified in DOAJ, 1,349 published APC journals, and 5,807 published NO APC journals (the numbers do not add up to 6,804 because some of them are “mixed” publishers). 77% of this group are small publishers with only one journal publication. The small publishers still occupy the main part in the other two groups (see Table 2,3 & Chart 2,3), 76% for the APC group and 78% for the NO APC group.
In the second place, a comparison between APC and NO APC groups can be made. Although small publishers occupy a similar share in each of the three groups, we can notice a big difference in their numbers. As illustrated in Table 4 & Chart 4 below:
Table 4 – DOAJ ALL publishers – APC group vs NO APC group (2021)
Chart 4 – DOAJ ALL publishers – APC group vs NO APC group (2021)
In the range of “publishers with 1 journal”, the number of NO APC publishers (4,568) is about 4 times that of the APC publishers (1,034); in the range of 2-10, NO APC publishers are about 3 times more than the other; in the field of 11-25, the number is about 4 times more. However, for the publishers with 51+ journals, the number of APC publishers is more or equal to NO APC publishers. In the largest publishers’ range (200+ journals), there are 4 charging publishers and only 1 non-charging publisher.
Thus, without considering the “mixed” publishers’ situation, we assume that even both APC and NO APC groups showed a “long-tail” (76% of 1-journal-publishers in the APC group, and 78% of which in the NO APC group), small DOAJ publishers seemed more likely to publish non-charging journals; large DOAJ publishers seemed more likely to publish charging journals. We boldly name this tendency as “the smaller, the NO-APCer’ trend.
Besides, it is essential to notice some exceptions. Some large publishers release more NO APC journals (details in Table 7): Wolters Kluwer Medknow Publications has 46 APC journals and 161 NO APC journals; SpringerOpen has 96 APC journals and 114 NO APC journals; Sciendo has 44 APC journals and 257 NO APC journals. We will discuss more in the following sections.
Observation of the “non-mixed” publishers’ group
We identify 352 duplicated publishers by comparing the APC / NO APC group, which means 352 “mixed” publishers. For making the research results more rigorous, we exclude the “mixed” group and study the rest of the publishers. We find that the tendencies of “long-tail” and “the smaller, the NO-APCer” are still evident in the “non-mixed” group. Please see Table 5 & Chart 5 below:
Table 5 – “Non-mixed” publishers – APC group vs NO APC group (2021)
Chart 5 – “Non-mixed” publishers – APC group vs NO APC group (2021)
Among 6,452 identified “non-mixed” publishers, 82% are small publishers with only 1 journal. Comparing with the 77% 1-journal-publishers in the ALL publishers’ group (Table 1 & Chart 1), 82% is a similar “long-tail”.
“The smaller, the NO-APCer” trend is also evident. If we compare the percentages of APC and NO APC groups in this chart, 69% of 1-journal-publishers are non-charging, which is way more than 13% charging 1-journal-publishers.
Observation of the “mixed” publishers’ group
We study this group separately because, from the research above, we know that almost all the large DOAJ publishers (100+ journals) are “mixed” (except for Hindawi Limited with 229 journals which is a pure APC publisher based on our data scale). We are curious about whether the “long-tail” and “the smaller, the NO-APCer” trend also existed in this group.
The first discovery is an explicit “long-tail” because 75% of the “mixed” publishers are small. Please see Chart 6 below:
Then we see a recognizable “the smaller, the NO-APCer” trend. After a comparison between the count of APC journals and the count of NO APC journals published by the same “mixed” publisher, we identify three relations: “number of APC journals = number of NO APC journals”, “number of APC journals > number of NO APC journals” and “number of APC journals < number of NO APC journals”.
We consider the inequivalence (“>” and “< “) between the counts of APC journals and the counts of NO APC journals as “active” tendency indicators and the equivalence relation (“=”) as “inactive” elements. Thus, to highlight the tendency, we exclude all the “=” and only concentrate on”>” and “< “. By this step, Table 6 below has been created:
Table 6 – DOAJ “mixed” publishers’ trends (2021)
For those who release 3 journals, other than the 101-200 group who publishes more APC journals than NO APC journals, and the 200+ group with an “inactive” “=”, the other publishers with less journal volume are biased toward NO APC publication. At this point, we confirm “the smaller, the NO-APCer” trend in the “mixed” publishers’ group.
For further discussion, if we investigate the large “mixed” publishers’ group (100+ journals), as shown in Table – 7 below:
Table 7 – Investigation of “Mixed” Publishers with 100+ journals (2021)
In this group, 6 of them publish more APC journals than NO APC journals, while 3 of them publish more NO APC journals. The difference in counts of journals of those 6 publishers could be significant. For example, Wiley (133 charging journals > 8 non-charging journals), Taylor & Francis Group (143 charging journals > 21 non-charging journals), SAGE Publishing (151 charging journals > 23 non-charging journals), etc. Because of these enormous differences of counts, even though there are 166 “mixed” publishers publish more non-charging journals, which is way more than the other 92 who release more charging journals, the count of non-charging journals in total (2,608) is still very close to that of charging journals in total (2,583).
APC trends can also be analyzed in terms of other influencing factors: publisher type, subject of journal, country of publication, etc. Researchers can perform more diverse analyses based on more layers of data, just as Crawford (2016) did. In in-progress research of SKC, Morrison and the research team (Morrison & al., 2021) investigated APC by publisher type (government, institute, non-profit, independent, society or institution, university press, commercial, society, university) according to DOAJ data in 2019. As a result, universities published the most significant number of no-fee journals (7,857, 75% of the 10,463 no-fee journals in total), and the society publishers came second (1,414). Commercial publishers stood out by having much more charging journals than no-fee journals (1,575 vs 275). Combined with our study, it can be speculated that most small DOAJ publishers are university or society publishers with a no-fee tendency. This discovery corroborates Morrison’s thoughts in 2018 (Morrison, 2018b). Besides, the tendency to charge fees of commercial publishers coincides with our study of large publishers’ group.
In addition, we must admit that if the amount of APC is included in the scope of the study, the results may change somewhat. Because some publishers charge modestly and some ask for very high prices (especially for-profit high prices), and it is unfair to mix them without careful investigation (Crawford, 2011). For publishers in the charging group, their listing does not mean that their fees are necessarily unreasonable. Therefore, it is necessary to emphasize that our study concentrates more on the rough trends of charging/no charging based on publisher size as a division.
For a more in-depth discussion, we add the perspective of longitudinal analysis. We focus our discussion on two contrasting groups, large and small publishers. From our study, we know that almost all the large DOAJ publishers (100+ journals) are “mixed”, and most of them are commercial publishers, including the four largest traditional commercial publishers (Elsevier, SpringerNature, which includes SpringerOpen and BMC, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley). Based on the research of the SKC (Morrison, 2018a), Elsevier, as the world’s largest scholarly publisher, are “mixed” by having a large number of non-charging journals in 2017. But despite attempts at strategies, Elsevier lost many non-charging journals produced in partnership with societies and universities in 2018. Now, as we can see in our study, they may have fewer non-charging journals.
From this point, we speculate that some publishers can conduct relatively more non-charging publications is probably because that they got support from universities and governments. For example, the large “mixed” publisher Sciendo has much more non-charging journals than charging journals based on our data. According to Pashaei & Morrison (2019), Sciendo added more than 300 OA journals in 2019, most of which were “published through collaboration with different universities and academic societies and institutions in Europe”. A recent study of OA diamond journals  also confirmed that the economy of these journals “largely depends on volunteers, universities and government” (Bosman, Frantsvåg, Kramer, Langlais & Proudman, 2021).
Even large publishers with relatively financial solid resources may losing journals due to financial problems or other reasons, so that we can imagine the more difficult situation for small publishers, especially for those with only 1 journal. Perhaps, the small non-profit publishers with limited financial resources should explore the possibilities of more no charging OA models, instead of going with the flow and just raising prices in the for-profit competition. It is important to maintain operations while guarding the freedom and fairness of academic publishing. Based on the current situation, we need more patience to establish a healthy competitive publishing environment.
Not only do small publishers need to figure out how to grow in the long run and attract more authors and readers, but authors can also reach out to small publishers and discover their value, and same for readers. Here comes another purpose of our study: to call attention to small publishers and encourage interaction between authors, readers, funding sources and small publishers. There are often misunderstandings between these groups that are harmful to the OA movement, as discussed by Peter Suber in an interview (Hulagabali & Suber, 2019). For example, “most OA journals charge APCs” and “most OA journals are low in quality”, which are widespread but not true. Our study helps to dispel these misunderstandings by demonstrating that many journals are entirely free and that many exist for academic purposes: just because they are small does not mean they are not of high quality.
In addition to the issues above, small publishers also face other challenges. For example, in terms of longevity of data preservation, small publishers are more likely to lose long-term access (Crawford, 2011, p. 32). On this point, DOAJ published an article in 2020 announcing that they would collaborate with the CLOCKSS Archive, Internet Archive, Keepers Registry/ISSN International Centre and Public Knowledge Project (PKP) to improve the preservation of small OA journals.
From the three observations above, we can conclude that no matter the “mixed” publishers are included or excluded in our research’s scale, the “long-tail” and “the smaller, the NO-APCer” trends are always evident. Small non-profit publishers, with such a large number, need to look for various breakthroughs if they want to survive and grow.
Crow, 2006, “The market context for society publishers”.
As indicated in The OA Diamond Journals Study. Part 1: Findings. Jeroen Bosman, Jan Erik Frantsvåg, Bianca Kramer, Pierre-Carl Langlais, Vanessa Proudman. (2021, March 9). http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4558704. p. 8. “OA diamond journals” are “journals that publish without charging authors and readers, in contrast to APC Gold OA or subscription journals”.
We have information on our open CFPs, the most recent updates, new and forthcoming publications and latest reviews. Also, the latest set of MARC records containing all our new and past titles is now available here. There’s lots to explore below, so dive in to find out more about our plans for the months ahead...
In memoriam: William St Clair
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We are immensely saddened to say that our Chairman, William St Clair, died on the evening of Wednesday 30th June.
In this post we share tributes that have been given in his honour, including by family and friends during his memorial at The Athenaeum on 23 July 2021, and by scholars whom he influenced with his pioneering work. Rest in peace William; you will be greatly missed.
William St Clair (1937-2021) was the Chairman of the Board of Directors. William was a Fellow of the British Academy and held fellowships at All Souls College, Oxford and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was also a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London and the Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge and Harvard. His publications include That Greece Might Still Be Free: The Philhellenes in the War for Independence (rev. ed. 2008) and historical studies of literary dissemination.
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If you want to find out more about what it’s like to publish with us, email Professor Caroline Warman (caroline.warman@Jesus.ox.ac.uk), author of The Atheist's Bible: Diderot's ‘Éléments de physiologie’ (2020) and translator of Denis Diderot 'Rameau's Nephew' – 'Le Neveu de Rameau': A Multi-Media Bilingual Edition (2nd ed., 2016) and Tolerance: The Beacon of the Enlightenment (2016).
The draft document summarizing the sessions and an introduction highlighting key takeaways, are available here and will remain open until 12 August 2021. After that time, SPARC Europe will prepare the final version of the document, which will be presented to cOAlition S in early September 2021.
The Open Access Books Toolkit, hosted by OAPEN, aims to help book authors better understand their options in relation to open access book publishing, and to increase trust in open access books. You will find relevant articles on all aspects of open access book publishing at different stages of the research lifecycle, along with an extensive FAQ section and a keyword search. Our Editor and Outreach Coordinator, Lucy Barnes, helped to create the Toolkit, so it comes highly recommended!
Shaping the Digital Dissertation: Knowledge Production in the Arts and Humanities by Virginia Kuhn and Anke Finger (eds)
We have various Open Access series all of which are open for proposals, so feel free to get in touch if you or someone you know is interested in submitting a proposal!
Global Communications Global Communications is a new book series that looks beyond national borders to examine current transformations in public communication, journalism and media. Special focus is given on regions other than Western Europe and North America, which have received the bulk of scholarly attention until now.
St Andrews Studies in French History and Culture St Andrews Studies in French History and Culture, a successful series published by the Centre for French History and Culture at the University of St Andrews since 2010 and now in collaboration with Open Book Publishers, aims to enhance scholarly understanding of the historical culture of the French-speaking world. This series covers the full span of historical themes relating to France: from political history, through military/naval, diplomatic, religious, social, financial, cultural and intellectual history, art and architectural history, to literary culture.
Studies on Mathematics Education and Society This book series publishes high-quality monographs, edited volumes, handbooks and formally innovative books which explore the relationships between mathematics education and society. The series advances scholarship in mathematics education by bringing multiple disciplinary perspectives to the study of contemporary predicaments of the cultural, social, political, economic and ethical contexts of mathematics education in a range of different contexts around the globe.
The Global Qur'an The Global Qur’an is a new book series that looks at Muslim engagement with the Qur’an in a global perspective. Scholars interested in publishing work in this series and submitting their monographs and/or edited collections should contact the General Editor, Johanna Pink. If you wish to submit a contribution, please read and download the submission guidelines here.
The Medieval Text Consortium Series The Series is created by an association of leading scholars aimed at making works of medieval philosophy available to a wider audience. The Series' goal is to publish peer-reviewed texts across all of Western thought between antiquity and modernity, both in their original languages and in English translation. Find out more here.
Applied Theatre Praxis This series publishes works of practitioner-researchers who use their rehearsal rooms as "labs”; spaces in which theories are generated and experimented with before being implemented in vulnerable contexts. Find out more here.
Digital Humanities Overseen by an international board of experts, our Digital Humanities Series: Knowledge, Thought and Practice is dedicated to the exploration of these changes by scholars across disciplines. Books in this Series present cutting-edge research that investigate the links between the digital and other disciplines paving the ways for further investigations and applications that take advantage of new digital media to present knowledge in new ways. Proposals in any area of the Digital Humanities are invited. We welcome proposals for new books in this series. Please do not hesitate to contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to discuss a publishing proposal and ways we might work together to best realise it.
Lucy Barnes, Editor and Outreach Coordinator, and Laura Rodriguez, Marketing and Library Relations Officer at Open Book Publishers discuss the creation and usage of open access books with librarians and researchers in a webinar hosted by EIFL in May 2021.
Chronicles from Kashmir: An Annotated, Multimedia Script by Nandita Dinesh
At the end of each performance, [audiences] learn something very special about the lived experience of the Kashmiris, and this sinks heavy in their consciousness. They become wiser about Kashmir than they had ever been. The multimedia script is very innovative and highly experimental in nature […] The scenes are designed effectively with potent symbols, and the sensitive issues are presented in a balanced way. This play on "conflict tourism” will undoubtedly create ripples among theatregoers and people engaged in the politics of representation.
— Himadri Lahiri, Netaji Subhas Open University, India, Asiatic, Vol. 15, No. 1, June 2021, available online.
Conservation Biology in Sub-Saharan Africa by John W. Wilson and Richard B. Primack
The authors are to be congratulated on publishing an open-access book brimming with examples relevant to Africa. My fervent hope is that it will assist in some way in the training of a cohort of passionate and persistent leaders among the next generation of conservation biologists. We are going to need them.
Text Genetics in Literary Modernism and Other Essays by Hans Walter Gabler
Gabler’s collection is a masterful lesson in textual genetics and scholarly editing by one of the field’s great masters. With examples from Joyce, Woolf, Shakespeare, and Bach, the essays present deep insights into textual scholarship and genetic criticism. The passion and sense of wonder that underlie them is contagious. Gabler’s argument for the future of scholarly editing and criticism takes us to a place where we can see the immense potential in what lies ahead. The collection will certainly, both in part and as a whole, become essential reading in the fields of Joyce studies, textual scholarship, and genetic criticism.
— Barry Devine, Heidelberg University, James Joyce Literary Supplement, Spring 2021
Introducing Vigilant Audiences by Daniel Trottier, Rashid Gabdulhakov and Qian Huang
A topical collection of works, 'Introducing Vigilant Audiences' is a useful collection to scholars within media and communication, social sciences, law, politics, and philosophy The accessibility provided by empirical studies and the depth of qualitative sources ensures that this book would also be of interest to those who are new to the academic study of digilantism more broadly.
— Amy L. Gainford (2021), International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, DOI: 10.1080/13600869.2021.1949826
A Fleet Street in Every Town: The Provincial Press in England, 1855-1900 by Andrew Hobbs
This book is not only rich in its arguments but extraordinarily generous in its methodological transparency [...] Coupled with the book’s open access format and Hobbs’s candid sharing of the limitations of his sources, this approach really feels like research sharing [...] Starting with the reader and understanding the local press as a national phenomenon, this book persuasively negates the idea that we can never really know how readers responded to the local press, providing compelling and well-substantiated answers to precisely this question.
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In honor of International Podcast Day on 30 September, Sounding Out! brings you Pod-Tember (and Pod-Tober too, actually, now that we’re bi-weekly) a series of posts exploring different facets of the audio art of the podcast, which we have been putting into those earbuds since 2011. Enjoy! –JS
Last month, Gimlet media released the audio-feature length podcast The Final Chapters of Richard Brown Winters, starring Catherine Keener, Parker Posey, Bobby Cannavale, Sam Waterston, and Darrell Britt-Gibson, many of the same cast members from their critically-acclaimed podcast Homecoming, and also co-written by Eli Horowitz, Homecoming’s co-creator and co-showrunner. Along with the podcast’s famous move to Amazon TV in 2017, Gimlet’s podcast reunion prompted me to re-listen to Homecoming, trying to figure out how its signature use of audio—characterized by Horowitz as “letting the scenes and the conversation create the action instead of describing the action”—propelled the series to its success in the first place.
Homecoming concerns characters connected with afictional military rehabilitation facility in Tampa, Florida, that ostensibly prepares soldiers suffering PTSD for a return for civilian life. The soldiers are subjects of an experimental drug treatment program devised by the US Defence Department-affiliated Geist Group to erase traumatic memories of combat and eliminate resistance to re-deployment. Set in a specifically post-9/11 political milieu, the series plays out in the implied real world context of multiple and on-going US foreign military interventions. Homecoming foregrounds the sonic/auditory modes associated with war–in particular covert electronic surveillance–working to create an atmosphere infused with suspicion, secrecy and deception. In Homecoming’s dissonant sonic/narrative environment ‘home’ is as perilous as the frontline.
Dissonance and displacement inherent in the auditory experience are overarching themes in Homecoming and manifest in an atmosphere of uncertainty regarding temporality, memory, identity and ideas of “home” itself. The sonic world of Homecoming is infused with a sense of discord—recorded audio is subject to manipulation and misinterpretation—and the voice is a site of multiplicities that destabilise concepts of identity and reality. The podcast’s pervasive “out of tune-ness” produces a heightened state of listening – a hypervigilance – both in Homecoming’s characters as they attempt to decipher multiple conflicting aural “intel,” and in the podcast’s audience as we do likewise. It is this dissonance that compels Homecoming’s listeners to prick up our ears and listen more keenly.
The series’ distinctive non-linear, explicitly sound technology-mediated storytelling style takes the form of an “enigmatic collage” of sound artifacts: recorded therapy sessions between Heidi Bergman (Catherine Keener), a case worker/counsellor at the Homecoming facility, and Walter Cruz (Oscar Isaac), a soldier whose recovery she is monitoring; fraught phone conversations between Heidi and the heavily-compromised senior management at Geist; covert surveillance tapes of interaction at the facility between Walter and fellow soldier, Schrier (Babak Tafti), and between Walter and Heidi; and a series of voice messages ostensibly left by Walter on a mobile phone he has given to his mother.
In “Mandatory,” Homecoming’s opening episode, in a fragment of a recorded counselling session between Heidi and her client Walter Cruz, the second in a succession of these fragments that play out over Series One, Heidi tells Walter that her objective is to help to get him “situated” now that he’s back. Through abrupt temporal shifts between the recorded past and the present, the series reveals that this objective was always already thwarted and that Walter’s “situation” in the present is unfixed, unknown and potentially unknowable. Homecoming’s specific atmospheric aural/narrative mode conveys an unsettling sense of fractured selves in an ever-more fractured sonic landscape. Walter functions in this landscape as a reflexive site of multiple sonic presences. At once static and mutable, fixed and shifting he “exists” and is transmitted across a range of sound technologies. Though captured by these recordings, at the same time he evades capture by those seeking him out.
In Homecoming, Walter’s presence is constructed through absence, which positions him as a kind of acousmêtre, described by Michel Chion in The Voice in Cinema as “one who is not-yet-seen but is liable to appear at any moment” (21). Chion has described how “an entire story… can hang on the epiphany of the acousmêtre”…the quest to bring the acousmêtre into the light” (23). In considering the podcast form, being “seen” can be understood as the conveying of presence, that is, the technical and affective means through which a character is felt or experienced. In Homecoming’s specific reflexive use of sound technology to construct Walter as present yet “unseen,” Walter is everywhere and nowhere, always there but at the same time always not there. The series finds a means of achieving what Chion has suggested is unachievable in radio and, by inference, in the podcast – “playing with” presence, partial presence and absence (21). This affective ‘play with presence’ works too to challenge concepts of the ‘disembodied’ voice and speaks to Christine Ehrick’s call in “Gendered Soundscapes” for a more nuanced exploration of the voice/body relationship. As Ehrick puts it – “if the voice is not the body, what is it?”.
In “Mandatory,” Walter is specific about his willingness to adhere to the conditions of his treatment: “I want to be in compliance,” he tells Heidi. Yet Walter’s multiple itinerant sonic selves seem to resist compliance. Though his presence in Homecoming is constructed through a series of seemingly fixed recordings that might suggest change is precluded, Walter is, paradoxically, a site of radical change. In his technology-contingent presence in the series, Walter, having removed himself from circulation, becomes a ‘soldier-body’ in revolt, resisting placement, compliance and commodification. Goldberg and Willse have identified the “soldier-body” as a “temporary” conduit of “the networks of technoscience and capital [that allows] these networks to adapt and survive” in “Losses and Returns: the Soldier in Trauma” (266-267). It is an argument that manifests in Homecoming in Geist’s covert pharmacological strategies to remediate the psychological fragmentation of war trauma in order to render the ‘soldier-body’ utterly compliant and redeployable. Walter’s perpetually withheld presence revokes his soldier-body’s viability as bio-capital and is framed in the series as an existential threat to the military-industrial complex.
“IF WE’RE NOT IN FLORIDA, WHERE ARE WE?”
Ideas of place and presence, particularly in relation to the non-compliant soldier-body, are further problematized in Homecoming in the sole interaction we hear between Walter and Schrier, another returned soldier, in yet another mode of voice recording. In Episode 2, “Pineapple,” within an internet-based call, Heidi’s boss Colin plays her a surveillance recording from the Homecoming cafeteria, one of several instances in the series of the multiple-layering of sound technology. We listen in as Walter and Schrier eat the pineapple-based dessert they’ve been served and debate Schrier’s “pineapple-induced” doubts about their actual location. For an agitated Schrier, pineapple is pineapple-no-longer but a repository of a sinister excess of meaning – a sign that “they,” the military, are “really laying it on thick with this Florida shit.” Are they in Florida or not? Schrier demands evidence: “the only reason we think we’re in Florida is because that’s what they told us”. These duplications, both actual (the recording) and suspected (a fake Florida), produce an atmosphere layered with dissonance and uncertainty.
While Shrier’s suspicion of a fake Florida proves unfounded, this other duplication (the surveillance recording) has catastrophic consequences for him. In Episode 6, “Hysterical”, we learn that after being dropped from the Homecoming treatment programme, Schrier was abruptly taken off the medication that was being administered to him without his knowledge (via the pineapple, as it happens). In yet another fraught call with a distressed Heidi, Colin matter-of-factly recounts the disastrous aftermath for Schrier: “he bit off a chunk of his tongue, spit it at an orderly, then he tried to hang himself. They’ve got him in restraints.”
Not only do the Homecoming soldiers bring traces of war home with them – traumatic memories and symptoms of PTSD – but the place to which they return turns out to bear traces of a war zone. The America of Homecoming is a liminal space, an environment that harbours hidden dangers. While ostensibly home turf, America is a space that functions, in an orchestrated clandestine manner, as an outpost of war, or rather, encompassed within what Ben Anderson has identified as the borderlessness of “total war” (169-171). For Schrier, sonic capture within the Homecoming surveillance recordings pre-figures further physical capture. Ultimately, he ends up hospitalised and literally restrained.
“HEY MA, IT’S ME, IT’S WALTER…”
Though carceral, a place of enclosure that gestures toward the enclosure inherent in the idea of “total war,” the sonic space of the recorded voice artifact in Homecoming exists also as a site of resistance. Walter’s presence in Season Two manifests via a series of voicemail messages left on a cell phone he has given to his mother, Gloria (Mercedes Ruehl). In Episode 8, “Cipher,” Colin, masquerading as a lawyer taking a class action against the government on behalf of the soldiers maltreated at the Homecoming Facility (one of several fake identities he assumes), persuades Gloria to hand over this phone. As if also infected with Walter’s restlessness, the audio files of these messages migrate from Gloria’s phone to the Geist Server to Heidi’s laptop before we actually hear them. The messages provide a cartographic trace of Walter’s movements west, then north, then south and provide those tracking him, Colin and Heidi, with the first hard evidence of his possible whereabouts. Or at least they seem to.
Again Homecoming draws attention to technologies of reproduction and their influence in how we “conceptualise the voice and its powers” as Weidman states in her essay on “Voice” in Keywords in Sound (236). Walter’s phone is understood as an extension of his affective presence. When subsequent faked messages are left on the phone—the first constructed by Gloria to throw Walter’s trackers off the scent, the second by Heidi in order to entrap Colin—it is this aura of authenticity, the misplaced faith in the faithfulness of the sound recording that serves to legitimate the fakes. The messages, both real and faked, carry the aura of the original voice but their increasingly uncertain status signals “the ontological plasticity of the voice” that Nick Prior has articulated in “On Vocal Assemblages” (489), how “the voice sounds out in a social space comprised of a whole panoply of discourses, techniques and machines that objectify and posit it as a particular kind of object and information”(495). In this instance simulation is an act of ‘pushback’ against networks of power, against the seemingly-fixed borders of recording technology, it is an act that for Walter effects a kind of escape. He remains ‘un-situated.’ Perhaps the safest place for Walter, the only place like home, is in the ‘no place’ of the digital recordings in which he manifests.
Farokh Soltani describes the podcasting form as “the key transformative development in the history of audio drama” in “Inner Ears and Distant Worlds: Podcast Dramaturgy and the Theatre of the Mind” because of the way it “detaches drama from the economic, institutional and political requirements of the radio broadcast” (189). The vast trove of alternative, ‘unsanctioned’ voices podcasting has made audible can be said to resonate with the discernible hum of difference, the form itself can be understood as inherently dissonant. Its fundamental alterity imbues it with the affective essence of dissonance that Sean Gurd articulates in Dissonance: Auditory Aesthetics in Ancient Greece(2016) as “extra-audible information…[a kind of] roughness, a richer, grainier, less-polished sound” (11). The sense of palpable auditory/affective ‘roughness’ or dissonance permeates Homecoming sonic world, frequently in the foregrounded presence of sonic ‘dirtiness’ but always in its distinctive non-linear assemblage and in its inherent critique of the far-reaching and devastating impacts of war. Homecoming’s audio and structural strategies, shifting both temporally and between sonic modes, demand too that we, the listeners, like Walter and Heidi, are actively and continually engaged in the urgent process of attempting to find our bearings, to get ourselves ‘situated.’
Featured Image: “American Redaction,” by Jared Rodriguez / truthout (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Miranda Wilsonis a Creative Practice Ph.D. Candidate in Film Studies at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her creative and scholarly thesis (Supervisor, Prof. Annie Goldson) interrogates and experiments with the ways in which voice/image positioning in documentary can and might invigorate screen space as a site of common space and counter-space. Her research encompasses strategies of indirect representation, in particular with regard to gender and voice/image relations; ensemble narratives that work to de-centre the protagonist; low/no budget filmmaking methods that democratize the means of production and documentary practice that is as much about interrogating the documentary form as it is about the subject it engages with. The research project seeks to detect and articulate documentary space in which individuals cohere as a citizenry and everyday practices of democracy are enlivened. Miranda also holds a BA Honours (First Class) from the University of Auckland. Her graduate studies have encompassed research into sound and dissonance; sound/image relations; documentary theory and practice; and representations of spatial transgressions in cinema space.
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