Rachel O’ Dwyer: The Bank of Facebook

Marshall McLuhan argued that money is communication. This rings particularly true at a time when so many platforms are entering the payments space. The US payments app Venmo has created a social network for payments, while the Chinese mobile messaging app WeChat has created social and playful ways of exchanging payments as messages, even incorporating the traditional Chinese ‘Hung Bao’ (red envelopes) into the payments process.

At the same time, communication is now money. Platforms with a legacy in information and data are concerned with the circulation of value, going so far in some instances as to produce their own money-like instruments. This includes not only cryptocurrencies but also the use of things like phone credit, SMS, instant messages, data and loyalty as a means of payment. Companies like Safaricom and Vodafone are de facto banks in the Global South. The platform Amazon, with a legacy in e-commerce, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, is opening a checking system and is rumoured to be applying for a financial license. Companies like Google and Apple are hustling around digital wallets and payments.

The exemplar is China, where Alipay and WePay are the ‘superapps’ of payment, creating an integrated environment where users can message or send payments to friends, order a taxi, buy their groceries and apply for a loan all in the same application. Alibaba, the Chinese retail and AI conglomerate that’s bigger than Amazon, founded Alipay in 2004 as a payments platform for in-app purchases. They quickly expanded to include peer-to-peer payments, store payments, and, over time, its own financial services company, ANT financial, that offered customers products based on their performance on the app. ANT financial later released Sesame Credit scoring, a new algorithmic credit rating based on data gleaned from the Alipay app and additional social network activity such as who users are friends with and what they share online. And in a culture where grandparents pay for groceries with their smartphones and the poor don QR codes to accept passing donations, there’s plenty of data to choose from.

Recently, people have been asking if this is a uniquely Chinese phenomenon and if not, who is set to become the WeChat or AliPay of the Western world? Will it be Apple, with Apple Pay and their recent launch of the Apple Card? Or maybe the bank of Amazon? The most recent is Facebook’s announcement that it is developing a digital cryptocurrency called Libra alongside a payments app, Calibra. The venture is supported by 28 investing companies that include network operators and Telcos (Vodafone); microlenders (Kiva); Payments providers (Visa, MasterCard, Paypal, Stripe, Coinbase), venture capital (Ribbit, Thrive), E-commerce (Spotify, EBay) and sharing platforms (Uber, Lyft). Banks are notably absent from the consortium.

It’s early days, but what exactly are Facebook setting out to do with Libra?

#1 Facebook are interested in the 1.7 billion people in the world who have access to a mobile phone but no bank account.

The Libra whitepaper waxes lyrical about money as a public good, the world’s underbanked and their desperate need for financial inclusion. Catering to the unbanked isn’t a new proposition for an ICT company. The best example is M-Pesa, a mobile money transfer service founded in 2007 and run by Vodafone that allows for payments and financing through simple SMS services. Crucially this allows for secure and safe forms of remittance for people who are working abroad and sending money home or transferring money from place to place.

For a vast portion of the world for which Facebook is already synonymous with ‘The Internet’, using the platform for domestic and global remittances might seem like the logical next step. In a nutshell, Facebook aren’t offering a solution to a problem that isn’t being solved by innovations like M-Pesa, or even BitPesa, a payments platform that uses blockchain settlement for fast, secure payment to and from Africa. But it’s probably in a position to leverage its existing monopoly to eclipse other solutions.

#2 The business model of Libra isn’t about transactional data, at least not initially.

Hearing Facebook want to have anything to do with payments will undoubtedly set alarm bells ringing. Platforms entering into online payments have adopted a business model that, like their other services, is often less interested with transaction fees and pay-per-use than with monetising data. In other words, this is usually less about charging for transferring payments from place to place like Western Union, or transaction fees like MasterCard and more concerned with monetising transactional data for advertising (if you bought this you’ll like this), or risk (people who buy violent video games may default on loans quicker than those who buy stair gates for their small children).

Considering that Facebook’s business model is based around data monetisation and positioning itself at the centre of a broad online advertising eco-system, do we really want them also handling our transactional data?

This said, the business model doesn’t appear to be based around transactional data, or at least not initially. Instead it’s based on a more traditional model of transaction fees. If instated, Libra will charge users a small fee for every transaction, similar to the way the cryptocurrency Ether charges ‘Gas’ to execute smart contracts. The goal here is to use the existing monopoly of Facebook to create a payments monopoly and siphon off some of the fees currently going to incumbents like Western Union, Mastercard and relatively new entrants like M-Pesa.

#3 But this doesn’t mean that Facebook isn’t trying to position itself as a superapp in the near future.

While most of the whitepaper is dedicated to discussions of how Libra can be used to liberate the poor and underbanked from financial insecurity, ushering forth a future where a Kenyan businesswoman can use the app to order a ride-share and pay for it with Libra tokens, there is mention of the possibility of other services such as loans and risk assessment in the future. One can presume that at this point the transactional data coupled with social media data (what you like, who your friends are etc.) will provide the ideal basis for in-app scoring and assessment.

Questions of financial services and risk assessment also touch on another offshoot of payments and remittances – KYC (know your customer) or, in other words, prove your identity. As Josh Constine puts it, ‘the 1.7 billion people who lack a bank account might choose whoever offers them a financial services alternative as their online identity provider too.’ Here Facebook becomes the arbiter of a global, sovereign, digital identity. Couple this with Facebook’s recent investigations into a ‘trustworthiness score’ for its 2 billion users and you’re looking at something a lot like Alipay’s Sesame Credit score, or even Chinese Social Credit.

So too, the membership structure of the Libra association gives a clue that the longer aim is probably an integrated app and includes partners not only in payments, but in e-commerce, ride-sharing apps and micro-lending. When a platform with this kind of monopoly over social communications issues what amounts to a global coin and identity system, this has huge implications for the future of money, privacy and the overall structure of the global economy.The whitepaper claims that financial data gathered by Calibra (the digital app associated with the coin) won’t be used for targeted advertising or shared with Facebook or third parties “without consumer consent”. But seriously, when a platform the size of Facebook controls everything from your social connections to your payments through to your proof of identity, what choice will a user really have to refuse consent or to opt out in the future?

#4 Libra’s Blockchain is not a decentralised database or even a chain of blocks. It’s business as usual.

For those with a particular interest in the ins and outs of the token, I’d direct you to this Techcrunch article that does a great breakdown of the overall issues concerning issuance of the tokens, exchange and cashing out. A few things to note, however, are that Facebook are trying to counteract the volatility associated with cryptocurrencies like Ether and Bitcoin by creating a coin that is backed by ‘real world assets’. In turn the assets in question are designed to be as non-volatile as possible (things that don’t fluctuate significantly in value) such as gold, short-term government securities and bank deposits. Bypassing some of the wild fluctuations of other crypto-coins and difficulties with transaction speeds and recourse, Libra is trying to cash in on some of the positives, such as the security of cryptographic encryption and the ease of settlement and transfer of funds across borders.

A read of the whitepaper shows that the blockchain in question is not a decentralised database or even a chain of blocks but a permissioned database managed by the 28 investing partners listed above. Business as usual then. The system uses a new programming language called ‘move’ for issuing smart contracts. But it does take certain aspects of the blockchain, such as the ability to prevent double sending of digital assets and automatic clearance of transactions using cryptographic proof through a byzantine fault tolerance system. Talk of ‘Blockchain’ then seems to be mostly lip service to greater transparency and privacy. It’s possibly an attempt to offset growing criticisms and privacy concerns with the gloss of transparency and decentralisation associated with early iterations of the blockchain.

#5 Libra might come to nothing

Of course, all of this might come to nothing. This isn’t the first time that Facebook has attempted to launch a digital wallet. See a recent Financial Times article for more details on the specific regulatory hurdles that the cryptocurrency may face when a company the size of Facebook try to take on the banks. A proliferation of speculative ICOs and even Bitcoin might be one thing, but when a force the size of Facebook enters this space, significant financial regulation surely won’t be far behind. And finally, who knows, Libra might also be the mainstream push that actually empowers people to engage with less mainstream alternatives as more than speculative instruments, normalising alternative forms of money for users who are still unfamiliar with the technology. But probably not.

Can’t Nobody Tell Me Nothin: Respectability and The Produced Voice in Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road”

It’s been ten weeks now that we’ve all been kicking back in our Wranglers. allowing Lil Nas X’s infectious twang in “Old Town Road” to shower us in yeehaw goodness from its perch atop the Billboard Hot 100. Entrenched as it is on the pop chart, though, “Old Town Road”’s relationship to Billboard got off to a shaky start, first landing on the Hot Country Songs list only to be removed when the publication determined the hit “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.” There’s a lot to unpack in a statement like that, and folks have been unpacking it quite consistently, especially in relation to notions of genre and race (in addition to Matthew Morrison’s recommended reads, I’d add Karl Hagstrom-Miller’s Segregating Sound, which traces the roots of segregated music markets). Using the context of that ongoing discussion about genre and race, I’m listening here to a specific moment in “Old Town Road”— the line “can’t nobody tell me nothin”—and the way it changes from the original version to the Billy Ray Cyrus remix. Lil Nas X uses the sound of his voice in this moment to savvily leverage his collaboration with a country music icon, and by doing so subtly drawing out the respectability politics underlying Billboard’s racialized genre categorization of his song.

Screenshot, “Lil Nas X – Old Town Road (Official Movie) ft. Billy Ray Cyrus”

After each of Lil Nas X’s two verses in the original “Old Town Road,” we hear the refrain “can’t nobody tell me nothin.” The song’s texture is fairly sparse throughout, but the refrains feature some added elements. The 808-style kick drum and rattling hihats continue to dominate the soundscape, but they yield just enough room for the banjo sample to come through more clearly than in the verse, and it plucks out a double-time rhythm in the refrain. The vocals change, too, as Lil Nas X performs a call-and-response with himself. The call, “can’t nobody tell me nothin,” is center channel, just as his voice has been throughout the verse, but the response, “can’t tell me nothin,” moves into the left and right speaker, a chorus of Lil Nas X answering the call.  Listen closely to these vocals, and you’ll also hear some pitch correction. Colloquially known as “autotune,” this is an effect purposely pushed to extreme limits to produce garbled or robotic vocals and is a technique most often associated with contemporary hip hop and R&B. Here, it’s applied to this melodic refrain, most noticeably on “nothin” in the call and “can’t” in the response,

After Billboard removed the song from the Hot Country chart in late March, country star Billy Ray Cyrus tweeted his support for “Old Town Road,” and by early April, Lil Nas X had pulled him onto the remix that would come to dominate the Hot 100. The Cyrus remix is straightforward: Cyrus takes the opening chorus, then Lil Nas X’s original version plays through from the first verse to the last chorus, at which point Cyrus tacks on one more verse and then sings the hook in tandem with Lil Nas X to close the song. Well, it’s straightforward except that, while Lil Nas X’s material sounds otherwise unaltered from the original version, the pitch correction is smoothed out so that the garble from the previous version is gone.

In order to figure out what happened to the pitch correction from the first to second “Old Town Road,” I’m bringing in a conceptual framework I’ve been tinkering with the last couple of years: the produced voice. Within this framework, all recorded voices are produced in two specific ways: 1) everyone performs their bodies in relation to gender, race, ability, sex, and class norms, and 2) everyone who sings on record has their voice altered or affected with various levels of technology. To think about a produced voice is to think about how voices are shaped by recording technologies and social technologies at the same time. Listening to the multiple versions of “Old Town Road” draws my attention specifically to the always collaborative nature of produced voices.

In performativity terms—and here Judith Butler’s idea in “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory” that “one is not simply a body, but, in some very key sense, one does one’s body” (521) is crucial—a collaboratively produced voice is a little nebulous, as it’s not always clear who I’m collaborating with to produce my voice. Sometimes I can (shamefully, I assure you) recognize myself changing the way my voice sounds to fit into some sort of, say, gendered norm that my surroundings expect. As a white man operating in a white supremacist, cisheteropatriarchal society, the deeper my voice sounds, the more authority adheres to me. (Well, only to a point, but that’s another essay). Whether I consciously or subconsciously make my voice deeper, I am definitely involved in a collaboration, as the frequency of my voice is initiated in my body but dictated outside my body. Who I’m collaborating with is harder to establish – maybe it’s the people in the room, or maybe my produced voice and your listening ears (read Jennifer Stoever’s The Sonic Color Line for more on the listening ear) are all working in collaboration with notions of white masculine authority that have long-since been baked into society by teams of chefs whose names we didn’t record.

“Tools in a Recording Studio” by Flickr user Carol VanHook (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In studio production terms, a voice’s collaborators are often hard to name, too, but for different reasons. For most major label releases, we could ask who applied the effects that shaped the solo artist’s voice, and while there’s a specific answer to that question, I’m willing to bet that very few people know for sure. Even where we can track down the engineers, producers, and mix and master artists who worked on any given song, the division of labor is such that probably multiple people (some who aren’t credited anywhere as having worked on the song) adjusted the settings of those vocal effects at some point in the process, masking the details of the collaboration. In the end, we attribute the voice to a singular recording artist because that’s the person who initiated the sound and because the voice circulates in an individualistic, capitalist economy that requires a focal point for our consumption. But my point here is that collaboratively produced voices are messy, with so many actors—social or technological—playing a role in the final outcome that we lose track of all the moving pieces.

Not everyone is comfortable with this mess. For instance, a few years ago long-time David Bowie producer Tony Visconti, while lamenting the role of technology in contemporary studio recordings, mentioned Adele as a singer whose voice may not be as great as it is made to sound on record. Adele responded by requesting that Visconti suck her dick. And though the two seemed at odds with each other, they were being equally disingenuous: Visconti knows that every voice he’s produced has been manipulated in some way, and Adele, too, knows that her voice is run through a variety of effects and algorithms that make her sound as epically Adele as possible. Visconti and Adele align in their desire to sidestep the fundamental collaboration at play in recorded voices, keeping invisible the social and political norms that act on the voice, keeping inaudible the many technologies that shape the voice.

Propping up this Adele-Visconti exchange is a broader relationship between those who benefit from social gender/race scripts and those who benefit from masking technological collaboration. That is, Adele and Visconti both benefit, to varying degrees, from their white femininity and white masculinity, respectively; they fit the molds of race and gender respectability. Similarly, they both benefit from discourses surrounding respectable music and voice performance; they are imbued with singular talent by those discourses. And on the flipside of that relationship, where we find artists who have cultivated a failure to comport with the standards of a respectable singing voice, we’ll also find artists whose bodies don’t benefit from social gender/race scripts: especially Black and Brown artistsnon-binary, women, and men. Here I’m using “failure” in the same sense Jack Halberstam does in The Queer Art of Failure, where failing is purposeful, subversive. To fail queerly isn’t to fall short of a standard you’re trying to meet; it’s to fall short of a standard you think is bullshit to begin with. This kind of failure would be a performance of non-conformity that draws attention to the ways that systemic flaws – whether in social codes or technological music collaborations – privilege ways of being and sounding that conform with white feminine and white masculine aesthetic standards. To fail to meet those standards is to call the standards into question.

So, because respectably collaborating a voice into existence involves masking the collaboration, failing to collaborate a voice into existence would involve exposing the process. This would open up the opportunity for us to hear a singer like Ma$e, who always sings and never sings well, as highlighting a part of the collaborative vocal process (namely pitch correction, either through training or processing the voice) by leaving it out. To listen to Ma$e in terms of failed collaboration is to notice which collaborators didn’t do their work. In Princess Nokia’s doubled and tripled and quadrupled voice, spread carefully across the stereo field, we hear a fully exposed collaboration that fails to even attempt to meet any standards of respectable singing voices. In the case of the countless trap artists whose voices come out garbled through the purposeful misapplication of pitch correction algorithms, we can hear the failure of collaboration in the clumsy or over-eager use of the technology. This performed pitch correction failure is the sound I started with, Lil Nas X on the original lines “can’t nobody tell me nothin.” It’s one of the few times we can hear a trap aesthetic in “Old Town Road,” outside of its instrumental.

In each of these instances, the failure to collaborate results in the failure to achieve a respectably produced voice: a voice that can sing on pitch, a voice that can sing on pitch live, a voice that is trained, a voice that is controlled, a voice that requires no intervention to be perceived as “good” or “beautiful” or “capable.” And when respectable vocal collaboration further empowers white femininity or white masculinity, failure to collaborate right can mean failing in a system that was never going to let you pass in the first place. Or failing in a system that applies nebulous genre standards that happen to keep a song fronted by a Black artist off the country charts but allow a remix of the same song to place a white country artist on the hip hop charts.

The production shift on “can’t nobody tell me nothin” is subtle, but it brings the relationship between social race/gender scripts and technological musical collaboration into focus a bit. It isn’t hard to read “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music” as “sounds too Black,” and enough people called bullshit on Billboard that the publication has had to explicitly deny that their decision had anything to do with race. Lil Nas X’s remix with Billy Ray Cyrus puts Billboard in a really tricky rhetorical position, though. Cyrus’s vocalsmore pinched and nasally than Lil Nas X’s, with more vibrato on the hook (especially on “road” and “ride”), and framed without the hip hop-style drums for the first half of his versedraw attention to the country elements already at play in the song and remove a good deal of doubt about whether “Old Town Road” broadly comports with the genre. But for Billboard to place the song back on the Country chart only after white Billy Ray Cyrus joined the show? Doing so would only intensify the belief that Billboard’s original decision was racially motivated. In order for Billboard to maintain its own colorblind respectability in this matter, in order to keep their name from being at the center of a controversy about race and genre, in order to avoid being the publication believed to still be divvying up genres primarily based on race in 2019, Billboard’s best move is to not move. Even when everyone else in the world knows “Old Town Road” is, among other things, a country song, Billboard’s country charts will chug along as if in a parallel universe where the song never existed.

As Lil Nas X shifted Billboard into a rhetorical checkmate with the release of the Billy Ray Cyrus remix, he also shifted his voice into a more respectable rendition of “can’t nobody tell me nothin,” removing the extreme application of pitch correction effects. This seems the opposite of what we might expect. The Billy Ray Cyrus remix is defiant, thumbing its nose at Billboard for not recognizing the countryness of the tune to begin with. Why, in a defiant moment, would Lil Nas X become more respectable in his vocal production? I hear the smoothed-out remix vocals as a palimpsest, a writing-over that, in the traces of its editing, points to the fact that something has been changed, therefore never fully erasing the original’s over-affected refrain. These more respectable vocals seem to comport with Billboard’s expectations for what a country song should be, showing up in more acceptable garb to request admittance to the country chart, even as the new vocals smuggle in the memory of the original’s more roboticized lines.

While the original vocals failed to achieve respectability by exposing the recording technologies of collaboration, the remix vocals fail to achieve respectability by exposing the social technologies of collaboration, feigning compliance and daring its arbiter to fail it all the same. The change in “Old Town Road”’s vocals from original to remix, then, stacks collaborative exposures on top of one another as Lil Nas X reminds the industry gatekeepers that can’t nobody tell him nothin, indeed.

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Featured image, and all images in this post: screenshots from “Lil Nas X – Old Town Road (Official Movie) ft. Billy Ray Cyrus” posted by YouTube user Lil Nas X

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Justin aDams Burton is Assistant Professor of Music at Rider University. His research revolves around critical race and gender theory in hip hop and pop, and his book, Posthuman Rap, is available now. He is also co-editing the forthcoming (2018) Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Music Studies. You can catch him at justindburton.com and on Twitter @j_adams_burton. His favorite rapper is one or two of the Fat Boys.

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The Radical Open Access Collective: updates, events and governance

Since our previous update in October last year, the Radical Open Access Collective has continued to grow and now contains over 60 scholar-led publishing initiatives from around the world, alongside many hundreds of listserv members. With so many new members, it is worth reminding ourselves what the intentions behind the ROAC were. This post provides an update on the activities of the collective and explores what the ROAC might want to focus on in future.

The Radical Open Access Collective is a community of scholar-led, not-for-profit presses, journals and other open access projects. It was formed in 2015 as a way of building connections and mutual reliance between mainly academic-led publishers looking to try something different and self-managed in scholarly communication, as an alternative to the closed down commercial behemoths. Our members come from a variety of geographical and disciplinary contexts, publishing a range of books, journals and experimental material, from small ad-hoc DIY projects to more sustained initiatives. We maintain resources and host a listserv which we use to communicate with our members and to discuss issues around openness, access, and experimental and scholar-led publishing, and through which we aim to stimulate and nurture a community of different forms of publishing.

While Janneke Adema and I (Sam Moore) have been the main ‘organisers’ behind the ROAC – i.e., the ones who add new members to the website, update resources and field general queries – the idea behind the collective itself has always been that as a community it is horizontally governed and democratic in its decision making. The only real criteria for membership has been that the press or project engages in some form of open access publishing (loosely defined) and shares our philosophy of mutual reliance and non-competitive publishing. Yet in practice, the absence of any defined governance system (and Sam and Janneke’s lack of time) has made it hard to do things as a ‘collective’. One of the questions now is: with so many new members, and a clear excitement about alternative forms of open access and scholar-led publishing, what can the Radical Open Access Collective actually do to support its members?

With these ideas in mind, in May we surveyed the Radical Open Access Collective members[i] to better understand their participation in the collective, what they hope to get out of membership and whether these needs are currently being met. We were particularly interested in learning how best to support our members from outside the Global North, where our membership has grown most in the past year, and especially how to promote greater linguistic diversity rather than simply relying on English for all our communications. It was encouraging to see that many of these goals were shared by our members.

We found in the survey that there is clearly a pressing need for the Radical Open Access Collective. Members described how the collective confers a level of legitimacy, solidarity with a movement and a sense of community between other members. They were also positive about the listserv, the resources we share and our desire to work collaboratively for more ethical open access publishing futures. In practice, though, many members had yet to experience any ‘tangible’ benefits from participation and some of our newer members were perhaps unsure of what the collective does. This was particularly alienating for those outside of the Global North who felt a strong sense of detachment from the ROAC community (and maybe assumed that the collective is more active offline than it in fact is). The results highlight that the community aspects are highly valued and need to be nurtured in order to maximise benefits for the ROAC’s members.

We also heard that members were positive about collaborative approaches to marketing and promotion at various conferences around the world (and we received many excellent suggestions for conferences we could attend in the future). The ROAC is non-competitive and encourages its members to work together to promote their activities and not-for-profit community-led approaches to publishing. Members were enthusiastic about this collaborative approach to cross-promotion and encouraged the ROAC to look beyond the collective and build links with other organisations for alternative publishing practices. They also saw the listserv as a valuable source for planning in this regard.

Given the survey findings, Janneke and I have identified two immediate initiatives to focus on (and more for the longer term), which we wanted to outline to the collective in a series of blogposts. The first of which is to identify a light-touch governance model – with input from ROAC members –  that will allow the ROAC to do more by bringing others in to help steer the collective and increase linguistic (and other kinds of) diversity. This may entail better geographical representation, more input from interested parties, or simply help from those who want to stimulate activity on the listserv or who want to contribute to the ROAC information platform. I will be working on issues of governance over the next few months (as part of a book project on the relationship between open access publishing and the commons), but expect a more detailed blogpost on governance and what might best suit the ROAC in the coming weeks.

Secondly, the survey made clear that the ROAC should aim to be more proactive in facilitating collaboration between its members and should provide more tools/resources for them to promote not-for-profit and scholar-led publishing and to showcase its members publications at various online and offline fora.

One idea we had is to build on the fantastic bookcase our friends and colleagues from ScholarLed (all also ROAC members) developed, a version of which is currently held at the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University. We have been using this book stand to also promote ROAC publications and initiatives. A key feature of this book stand has always been that is should be ‘open source’ and we are hoping to work with the original designers to put the designs for the book stand online for members to set up their own ROAC or member-branded book stands at events they attend. This is a simple set of printable materials for displaying physical publications and promotional literature at events. We also hope to find funding for a branded flash drive containing member publications that can be distributed at conferences. We will be describing these ideas in more detail in a forthcoming blogpost and would love to see collaborative promotion being adopted by ROAC members and others in the community.

The Bookstand

Radical open access in the wild

Pirate Care conference

Many ROAC members will be attending the Pirate Care conference at Coventry University on 19-20 June – all are welcome to attend. The term Pirate Care condenses two processes that are particularly visible at present. On the one hand, basic care provisions that were previously considered cornerstones of social life are now being pushed towards illegality, as a consequence of geopolitical reordering and the marketisation of social services. At the same time new, technologically-enabled care networks are emerging in opposition to this drive toward illegality. The conference will feature projects providing various forms of pirate care ranging from refugee assistance, healthcare, reproductive care, childcare, access to public transport, access to knowledge, a number of reflections from and on such practices, and a film programme.

Janneke and I also discussed the Radical Open Access Collective or hosted the book stand at the following events:

  • Janneke presented the ROAC most recently as part of a keynote at the Digital Humanities Institute Beirut 2019 (DHIB). Next to the Pirate Care conference, Janneke will bring the book stand with her to the Association for Cultural Studies Summer Institute 2019: The Future of Publics. 22nd – 27th July, Friedrichshafen (Germany)
  • Sam presented a paper entitled ‘‘Sneak into the university and steal what one can’: Locating the commons in small press publishing’ at the Poetics in Commons meeting last month.
  • Radical OA was also an important topic at Critical Issues in Open Access and Scholarly Communications hosted by Goldsmiths on May 24th.
  • Finally, members of the Collective discussed alternative forms of open access at the recent ELPUB meeting in Marseille.

[i] Made possible due to the generous support of the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University, which has provided funding for the ROAC to develop an outreach project

The dialectic of open

Presentation to the Canadian Communication Association, Vancouver, British Columbia, June 6, 2019.

Abstract

In contemporary Western society the word open is used as if the concept were essentially good. This is a logical fallacy; the only concept that is in essence good is the concept good itself. In this paper I will argue that this is a dangerous fallacy that opens the door to misdirection and co-optation of genuine advocates of the public good accidentally through misconception and deliberately by actors whose motives are far from open, that a critical dialectic approach is useful to unravel and counter such fallacies, and present a simple pedagogical technique that I have found to be effective to teach critical thinking to university students in this area. The province of Ontario under the Ford government describes itself as open for business. In this context, open means open for exploitation, and closure is protection for the environment and vulnerable people. This is one example of openwashing, taking advantage of the use of the term by large numbers of “open” advocates whose work is based on very different motives.

Open access, according to the Budapest Open Access Initiative, is a potential unprecedented public good, a collective global sharing of the scholarly knowledge of humankind. A sizable portion of the open access movement is adamant that open access requires nothing less than all of the world’s scholars making their work not only free of charge, but free for downstream manipulation and re-use for commercial purposes. This frees up knowledge for creative new approaches to more rapidly advance our knowledge; it is also a new area for capitalist expansion and can be seen as selling out scholarship. Is this necessary, sufficient, or even desirable to achieve the vision of global sharing of open access? Open education can be seen as the next phase in the democratization of education, a new field for capitalist expansion, a tool for authoritarian control and/or a tool for further control of the next generation proletariat or precariat. Open government can facilitate an expansion of democracy, to further engage citizens in decision-making, a means of enhancing and improving government services, and/or another means of transitioning public services to the private sector that is typical of the (perhaps post) neoliberal era. Proactive open government can mean more transparent, accountable government; it can also mean open access to the documents and data that those in power choose to share. This paper will analyze the rhetoric of key documents from the open movements, evidence presented to support these beliefs, and explore whether these belief systems reflect myth based on misconception and/or misdirection by actors with ulterior motives using a theoretical lens drawn from the political economics, particularly Hegelian dialectics in the tradition of the Frankfurt School and contemporary Marxist analysis.

Link to full presentation:

https://ruor.uottawa.ca/handle/10393/39300

Dɔnko. Études culturelles africaines

Sous la direction d’Isaac Bazié et Salaka Sanou

Pour accéder au livre en version html, cliquez ici.

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Pour commander le livre en version imprimée au Québec, en France ou en Afrique, cliquez sur le bouton Paypal ci-dessous (information à venir).

Acheter un livre, c’est nous soutenir et permettre à ceux et celles qui ne peuvent l’acheter de le lire en libre accès.

Comment lire et comprendre les pratiques culturelles africaines? Comment mobiliser les savoirs sur l’Afrique, ses arts et ses cultures sans verser dans la réification ou le folklorisme? Profondément novateur, cet ouvrage collectif mobilise les outils théoriques des cultural studies pour proposer un généreux panorama de l’étude de la culture en Afrique. Il rassemble des textes d’auteurs et d’autrices d’Afrique de l’Ouest, théoriques ou descriptifs, qui mettent en lumière la réévaluation passionnante des modes d’appréhension des pratiques et objets en contexte africain que proposent les études culturelles africaines. L’épilogue qui clôt le livre n’est donc point fermeture, mais plutôt ouverture sur les enjeux relatifs à ce nouveau champ d’études, plein de promesses pour rendre compte de l’extraordinaire créativité des cultures africaines.

ISBN ePub : 978-2-924661-82-6
ISBN pour l’impression : 978-2-924661-81-9
501 pages
Date de publication : juin 2019

Utilisez le bouton Paypal ci-dessous (à venir) pour commander le livre imprimé au Canada ou en Europe ou l’obtenir en format ePub (prêtable).  Le livre sera bientôt disponible dans nos librairies dépositaires : la Librairie du Quartier à Québec, Zone libre à Montréal, à venir pour Paris, Genève et l’Afrique.

Table des matières

Table des matières

Introduction

Regards pluriels sur les cultures africaines comme lieux de savoirs
Isaac Bazié et Salaka Sanou

Le recyclage : un paradigme des études culturelles africaines
Philip Amangoua Atcha

Littérature-monde ou littérature-mode? Éloge du copiage chez Sami Tchak et Alain Mabanckou
Adama Coulibaly

La critique africaine : de l’autorégulation à la systématisation
Kaoum Boulama

Sociologie des petits récits. Essai sur « les écritures de la rue » en contexte africain
David Koffi N’Goran

Littératures africaines et lecture comme médiation. Réflexions sur l’appréhension des cultures africaines à partir des violences collectives dans le roman francophone
Isaac Bazié

Pour une taxinomie des genres littéraires bààtɔnù
Gniré Tatiana Dafia

Le mariage polygamique dans les arts en Afrique. La polyandrie comme parodie de la polygynie dans deux œuvres africaines
Aïssata Soumana Kindo

Masques, alliances et parentés à plaisanterie au Burkina 173 Faso : le jeu verbal et non verbal
Alain Joseph Sissao

Épilogue. D’hier à demain, les études culturelles africaines
Salaka Sanou

Amsterdam Launch of Sad by Design @droog June 18, 5 PM

Amsterdam Booklaunch of Geert Lovink, Sad by Design, On Platform Nihilism, Pluto Press, London, 2019

Date: June 18, 2019, 5 PM

Where: @Droog, Staalstraat 7A/B, Amsterdam.

More on the location at www.selfdesign.nl.
Contact: yara@imagesociety.nl, arina@imagesociety.nl

The book will be for sale at the event.

Geert Lovink will give an introduction to the book and have a dialogue with Miriam Rasch (Institute of Network Cultures) about the background of the different chapters.

The event will be closed by the presentation of the musical collaboration between John Haltiwanger and Geert Lovink called ‘We Are Not Sick’. John Haltiwanger will present several newly composed theory songs of the upcoming album and will do a brief presentation about the custom instruments driving the songs and the sloganistic ‘ambient theory machine’ that works with key words and phrases taken from the Sad by Design essay, as heard during the opening and closing of the event.

Book

Just out: the English edition of the Sad by Design book

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SO! Reads: Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow’s Personal Stereo

In Personal Stereo, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow’s eminently readable history of the Walkman and its kind, it is telling to learn that Sony founders Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita were prone to conversing in ‘something akin to a private shared language’ or idioglossia. “They would sit there,” recounts Morita’s eldest son, “and we would listen but we had no idea what they were saying” (21).  In later life, following strokes, both lost the ability to speak; Ibuka’s son characterises their subsequent relationship as “communicating without words’.” Even the name Sony itself, notes Tuhus-Dubrow, with its origins in the Latin sonus and the English slang “sonny,” was ultimately “a word in no language’” (13).  It is as though aural perception, delivered on an intimate scale, is somehow revelatory in a way that transcends the typical organising principles of language. The incorporation of the sonic into everyday life forever approaches a kind of affective intensity.

Personal Stereo tunes into this frequency and – by virtue of its array of research and skilful marshalling of social and cultural history – offers a compelling map of its coordinates. If, as part of Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series, one of its central tasks is to apprehend the affective resonance of the inanimate, it is testament to Tuhus-Dubrow’s work that she is able to manage the breadth of her material into an adroit and concise narrative while at the same time allowing space for her writing to approach these contained moments of intensity. “When I think of [the Walkman] now, I think of joy,” she writes in the introduction (1). While acknowledging that undue celebration of the past can stymie the present, she offers a quietly persuasive case for an examination of nostalgia amid the anxiety of contemporary life, which almost serves as a rallying cry for a generation pinioned between the two: ‘The past, whatever its shortcomings, has the virtue of having already happened. And we survived it.’

The story of the Walkman begins in the bombed-out ruins of 1940s Tokyo, as Ibuka and Morita establish the foundations of the company that would become a consumer electronics giant as part of Japan’s ill-fated post-war boom. It is striking how much of the Walkman’s development was shaped by the ravages of warfare: Tuhus-Dubrow notes how its antecedent, the tape recorder, was first used in the German military, and early headphones were issued to fighter pilots. It is possible to read the subsequent commercial adoption of personal listening devices as an attempted refashioning of the domestic interior, transgressed so violently in acts of conflict. One of Ibuka’s founding principles for Sony was to “apply highly advanced technologies…developed in various sectors during the war to common households” (12).  Tuhus-Dubrow also recounts the case of Andreas Pavel, a native of post-war Berlin, who emigrated with his family to São Paulo and developed what we might term a “counter-prototype” to the Walkman, partly inspired by the internal acoustics of his mother’s home – “a mecca of sound” – in Cidade Jardim. Object lessons are formed through disintegration and salvaged materials. Morita compares his formative partnership with the older Ibuka to a newly-established familial unit: “It was almost as though an adoption were taking place” (13).

Akio Morita (left) and Masaru Ibuka (right), 1961. Courtesy of Sony

This elides neatly with Tuhus-Dubrow’s central chapter, which is also the strongest. Here, she discusses the reception of private listening within the public domain, and how existing societal norms apprehended this new sonic phenomenon. It is intriguing, and at times hilarious, how much of the reaction operates as moral critique: from a 1923 article comparing the very act of solo listening to alcohol abuse or a drug habit, to rather more recent takes that foreshadow the current intergenerational culture wars. “The personal stereo,” harrumphs A.N. Wilson, ‘became the archetypal accessory of the me-generation” (68).

Tuhus-Dubrow’s research is smart and on point, not least because it leads to a productive consideration of how the cathartic element of the private soundtrack becomes something that society struggles to assimilate. She takes to time to weave in personal testimonies and reminiscences that are effective and somehow touching: “the Walkman,” she admits, “was a source of elation and comfort” (85). A friend recalls how “[my] inner world was enriched by the freedom to explore music on my own” (84).  Pavel describes how the first use of his prototype, in the snows of St Moritz, evoked “a state of ecstasy,” in which life temporarily assumed a cinematic quality. “Suddenly,” he remembers, curiously switching to the present tense, “I’m inside a film” (27).

Darryl with a new Walkman, December 25, 1982, Image by Flickr User Kent Kanouse

Others speak of how musical accompaniment aids a more immersive interaction with the world around them, and it is here that perhaps the real strength of Tuhus-Dubrow’s work emerges: the generosity of an approach that permits mutual recognition; the summoning of an experiential quality that is elusive in its definition but vivid and immediate in its resonance. It is a mode of writing – and indeed a mode of listening – that is resolutely contemporary, formed in a firestorm of technological innovation that was both oppressive and liberatory, attuning us to new ways of being at the same time as it degrades and erodes old certainties.

It bears resemblance to what Tuhus-Dubrow recognises as “the logic of our own bodies, with organs and limbs whose motions are connected to their functions, and which are susceptible to injury and gradual breakdown” (102).  Earlier she writes, “as one song neared its end, I would begin to hear the opening chords of the next in my head.”

What is it, this sense of auditory anticipation?

It is the forming of new waves. We have blood in our ears.

Featured Image: “Walkman through the cassette” by Flicker User Narisa (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lewis Jones  just completed an MA in Literature & Theory at the University of Sussex, UK, with a particular interest in the affective quality of certain technological modes of representation and their repercussions within social consciousness. He is currently researching and writing on the impact of cinema on urban space.

tape reelREWIND! . . .If you liked this post, you may also dig:

SO! Reads: Hiromu Nagahara’s Tokyo Boogie-Woogie: Japan’s Pop Era and Its Discontents–Shawn Higgins

SO! Reads: Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder’s Designed For Hi Fi Living–Gina Arnold

SO! Reads: Susan Schmidt Horning’s Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP— Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo

SO! Reads: Steph Ceraso’s Sounding Composition: Multimodal Pedagogies for Embodied Listening–Airek Beauchamp

SO! Reads: Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow’s Personal Stereo

In Personal Stereo, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow’s eminently readable history of the Walkman and its kind, it is telling to learn that Sony founders Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita were prone to conversing in ‘something akin to a private shared language’ or idioglossia. “They would sit there,” recounts Morita’s eldest son, “and we would listen but we had no idea what they were saying” (21).  In later life, following strokes, both lost the ability to speak; Ibuka’s son characterises their subsequent relationship as “communicating without words’.” Even the name Sony itself, notes Tuhus-Dubrow, with its origins in the Latin sonus and the English slang “sonny,” was ultimately “a word in no language’” (13).  It is as though aural perception, delivered on an intimate scale, is somehow revelatory in a way that transcends the typical organising principles of language. The incorporation of the sonic into everyday life forever approaches a kind of affective intensity.

Personal Stereo tunes into this frequency and – by virtue of its array of research and skilful marshalling of social and cultural history – offers a compelling map of its coordinates. If, as part of Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series, one of its central tasks is to apprehend the affective resonance of the inanimate, it is testament to Tuhus-Dubrow’s work that she is able to manage the breadth of her material into an adroit and concise narrative while at the same time allowing space for her writing to approach these contained moments of intensity. “When I think of [the Walkman] now, I think of joy,” she writes in the introduction (1). While acknowledging that undue celebration of the past can stymie the present, she offers a quietly persuasive case for an examination of nostalgia amid the anxiety of contemporary life, which almost serves as a rallying cry for a generation pinioned between the two: ‘The past, whatever its shortcomings, has the virtue of having already happened. And we survived it.’

The story of the Walkman begins in the bombed-out ruins of 1940s Tokyo, as Ibuka and Morita establish the foundations of the company that would become a consumer electronics giant as part of Japan’s ill-fated post-war boom. It is striking how much of the Walkman’s development was shaped by the ravages of warfare: Tuhus-Dubrow notes how its antecedent, the tape recorder, was first used in the German military, and early headphones were issued to fighter pilots. It is possible to read the subsequent commercial adoption of personal listening devices as an attempted refashioning of the domestic interior, transgressed so violently in acts of conflict. One of Ibuka’s founding principles for Sony was to “apply highly advanced technologies…developed in various sectors during the war to common households” (12).  Tuhus-Dubrow also recounts the case of Andreas Pavel, a native of post-war Berlin, who emigrated with his family to São Paulo and developed what we might term a “counter-prototype” to the Walkman, partly inspired by the internal acoustics of his mother’s home – “a mecca of sound” – in Cidade Jardim. Object lessons are formed through disintegration and salvaged materials. Morita compares his formative partnership with the older Ibuka to a newly-established familial unit: “It was almost as though an adoption were taking place” (13).

Akio Morita (left) and Masaru Ibuka (right), 1961. Courtesy of Sony

This elides neatly with Tuhus-Dubrow’s central chapter, which is also the strongest. Here, she discusses the reception of private listening within the public domain, and how existing societal norms apprehended this new sonic phenomenon. It is intriguing, and at times hilarious, how much of the reaction operates as moral critique: from a 1923 article comparing the very act of solo listening to alcohol abuse or a drug habit, to rather more recent takes that foreshadow the current intergenerational culture wars. “The personal stereo,” harrumphs A.N. Wilson, ‘became the archetypal accessory of the me-generation” (68).

Tuhus-Dubrow’s research is smart and on point, not least because it leads to a productive consideration of how the cathartic element of the private soundtrack becomes something that society struggles to assimilate. She takes to time to weave in personal testimonies and reminiscences that are effective and somehow touching: “the Walkman,” she admits, “was a source of elation and comfort” (85). A friend recalls how “[my] inner world was enriched by the freedom to explore music on my own” (84).  Pavel describes how the first use of his prototype, in the snows of St Moritz, evoked “a state of ecstasy,” in which life temporarily assumed a cinematic quality. “Suddenly,” he remembers, curiously switching to the present tense, “I’m inside a film” (27).

Darryl with a new Walkman, December 25, 1982, Image by Flickr User Kent Kanouse

Others speak of how musical accompaniment aids a more immersive interaction with the world around them, and it is here that perhaps the real strength of Tuhus-Dubrow’s work emerges: the generosity of an approach that permits mutual recognition; the summoning of an experiential quality that is elusive in its definition but vivid and immediate in its resonance. It is a mode of writing – and indeed a mode of listening – that is resolutely contemporary, formed in a firestorm of technological innovation that was both oppressive and liberatory, attuning us to new ways of being at the same time as it degrades and erodes old certainties.

It bears resemblance to what Tuhus-Dubrow recognises as “the logic of our own bodies, with organs and limbs whose motions are connected to their functions, and which are susceptible to injury and gradual breakdown” (102).  Earlier she writes, “as one song neared its end, I would begin to hear the opening chords of the next in my head.”

What is it, this sense of auditory anticipation?

It is the forming of new waves. We have blood in our ears.

Featured Image: “Walkman through the cassette” by Flicker User Narisa (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lewis Jones  just completed an MA in Literature & Theory at the University of Sussex, UK, with a particular interest in the affective quality of certain technological modes of representation and their repercussions within social consciousness. He is currently researching and writing on the impact of cinema on urban space.

tape reelREWIND! . . .If you liked this post, you may also dig:

SO! Reads: Hiromu Nagahara’s Tokyo Boogie-Woogie: Japan’s Pop Era and Its Discontents–Shawn Higgins

SO! Reads: Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder’s Designed For Hi Fi Living–Gina Arnold

SO! Reads: Susan Schmidt Horning’s Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP— Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo

SO! Reads: Steph Ceraso’s Sounding Composition: Multimodal Pedagogies for Embodied Listening–Airek Beauchamp