Sunday, December 21, 2014

New Paper out on 'YouTube as the art commons' in the Digital Culture & Education Journal


I am so proud of my recently graduated master students Jessica Verboom and Daria Gladysheva for successfully working together on this paper and getting it published in the Digital Culture and Education Journal. So far, in the last 5 years, I have co-published 4 articles with my students and I hope many more to come. Its good to see their work reaching the public as we are mainly targeting open access journals for wider readership.

So this paper is about the phenomenon of museum communication through online video hostings, either by using YouTube or a customized platform. The videos uploaded by museums present a combination of educational and entertaining content depending on their objectives, attracting users to watch art content online. While the literature on uses and gratification is highly represented in media studies, few studies exist about the specific user motivations and gratifications of new media platforms in a museum context. Three types of users were identified in this study. The first type – art-oriented users – display extrinsic motivation towards art exploration and seek for videos with educational content. The second type and the most widespread on these spaces – entertainment-oriented users – are intrinsically motivated and concentrate on the entertaining content of museum videos. Users of the last type are averse to exploring art content online, unless they are defined as non-art related. Overall, this paper argues that as art becomes a cultural product to be consumed online, popular video portals such as YouTube serve as an important platform to facilitate this democratizing effect, with varied implications for the art world.

We should not be too quick to celebrate democratization though as quality comes to question and the age old issue of pandering to the popular taste lingers through this conversation. That said, this has most promise to engage the youth and folks in emerging economies who perceive museums as a predominantly white and elite institution that excludes rather than democratizes culture. For more details on this, click on the link here

Digital Labor talk on the 'Googlization of Workspace' at New School

Fascinating conference with artists, activists, neo-marxists, anarchists and oh yes, academics congregating to pontificate, demonstrate, and debate the relation between labor and leisure, the neoliberal agenda of the so called sharing economies, pleasure and compensation and more. Definitely worth going next year! Here's a short video on my argument on what I coin as the Googlization of Workspace. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Romance with "self-directed" and "autonomous" learning as a design gaming solution for universal education

Educational gaming is becoming big business and definitely seen as a solution to the chronic issues of poor/ absentee teachers in schools in poor and disadvantaged contexts, particularly in the developing world. Sugata Mitra and his Hole-in-the-Wall project inspired the director of SlumDog Millionaire and resulted in him winning the TED prize for innovation


The Global XPrize for Education also holds a similar perspective of emphasizing how the youth need to be empowered by gaming with the assumption that they will teach themselves and don’t need to rely on others, especially bad teachers. But is there such a thing as 'self-directed' learning? Does this imply no intervention at all and that these gaming platforms fill the human gap? Do children make the best decisions for their own personal growth? When we talk about autonomous learning, are we talking about being independent of schooling as we know it? Are we saying its an institution that has failed our children and thereby, we require novel interventions in this digital age- and what better platform than games that is most loved by children?

Sounds appealing for sure. But would anyone in the West seriously propose the poor kids in say, the Bronx to play learning games as a potential solution, given the school system has failed them? Hardly. We instead fight the system, protest, partner with teachers, and bring in new inspiration through mentors, activists, and success stories from within. While schools are limited as an institution no doubt, nobody would seriously propose to rid them from society as we have not found an alternative ideal for socializing our children. Learning games are important to diversify our means of engagements but to seek in them a schooling substitute, is to give up on these children altogether.

A recent NPR article by Anya Kamenetz 'With the Right Technology, Can Children Teach Themselves? explores this further especially in light of the new announcement by Global XPrize.
Check it out. ..

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Special Guest Editorial on 'ICTs for Leisure in Development' is out now!


Nimmi Rangaswamy and I served as Guest editors for the Information Technologies and International Development Journal on the theme of 'ICTs for Leisure in Development.' This is a nice step towards our book  Poor@Play that is expected to come out with Harvard University Press in mid 2016.

So why this Special Issue? Well, contrary to the peripheral connotation of leisure, this Special Issue makes the case of it being central to technology adoption and use in the development context. In this issue, we put together various original research studies that reconceptualize ICT mobilization and serviceability to extend beyond a conservative understanding of developmental value. We strive to drive home the following points, namely:

Leisure is a critical area of technology infusion that leads to discovery and magnification of digital literacies. Moreover, leisure offers an experimental space to informally diffuse learnings and impart social impacts that bind people and technologies.

As mobile technologies move beyond urban areas and the upper classes who can afford them, it is essential to bring together stories about crafting technologies that include a spectrum of playful behaviors as mainstream ICTD research.

The ICTD community at large is poised at a juncture where interdisciplinary crossings are pushing the boundaries of established themes and subject matters, providing an opportunity to move away from ICTD’s established viewpoints.

Authors for this Leisure in Development Special Section are:
Pamela Abbott, Brunel University, UK
Brian Ekdale, University of Iowa, USA
Radhika Gajjala, Bowling Green State University, USA
Beth Kolko, University of Washington, USA
Elisa Oreglia, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Peppino Ortoleva, University of Torino, Italy
Robert Racadio, University of Washington, USA
Araba Sey, University of Washington, USA
Dinah Tetteh, Bowling Green State University, USA
Melissa Tully, University of Iowa, USA

Read these ITID articles published September 10, 2014 at http://itidjournal.org


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

New Book out! The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0 (Routledge)




About the book: There is much excitement about Web 2.0 as an unprecedented, novel, community-building space for experiencing, producing, and consuming leisure, particularly through social network sites. What is needed is a perspective that is invested in neither a utopian or dystopian posture but sees historical continuity to this cyberleisure geography. This book investigates the digital public sphere by drawing parallels to another leisure space that shares its rhetoric of being open, democratic, and free for all: the urban park. It makes the case that the history and politics of public parks as an urban commons provides fresh insight into contemporary debates on corporatization, democratization and privatization of the digital commons. This book takes the reader on a metaphorical journey through multiple forms of public parks such as Protest Parks, Walled Gardens, Corporate Parks, Fantasy Parks, and Global Parks, addressing issues such as virtual activism, online privacy/surveillance, digital labor, branding, and globalization of digital networks. Ranging from the 19th century British factory garden to Tokyo Disneyland, this book offers numerous spatial metaphors to bring to life aspects of new media spaces. Readers looking for an interdisciplinary, historical and spatial approach to staid Web 2.0 discourses will undoubtedly benefit from this text.

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So, I had the idea for this book way back in my student days at Columbia and it even reached a point of crisis. I was torn between two topics as some of you may have experienced as a doctorate student- of staying with my topic and conducting ethnographic fieldwork on social computing in the Himalayas or taking on this new topic which required a more sociological/ interdisciplinary lens and an extra 2 years.Changing mentors, methods, plans!! I chose the former and thankfully I did as it was an amazing and unforgettable experience in the field. It got published by Ashgate titled, 'Dot Com Mantra: Social Computing in the Central Himalayas.' 

When I came to Holland, the idea still persisted; hovered in the back of my mind constantly, so I decided to pursue it. After all, if an idea nags you this much and stays with you for years, then you owe it! You need to see it through and so that's what I did. I wrote a couple of grants for it and was super happy when I learnt that I had won the EUR Fellowship that would give me two years of funding to just write this book! What a rare luxury in academia. So I guess persistence pays :) 

 It has been tremendous fun working on this as it has taken me to such different disciplines and scarily, made me an expert on every possible type of park you can think of :) It took me to the field of architecture, urban planning, cultural geography and law. What a trip!

So yes, this book is definitely interdisciplinary. People love to encourage it. The challenge though about pursuing this track is that often you get punished for it. You have no one home that you can be truly loyal to and somehow academia demands loyalty; academia is all about territoriality. And not to forget that you are encroaching on fields and pastures that you are unfamiliar with and then demanding  from yourself something thoughtful and reflective of that field. That was by far the hardest part of this book but also the most rewarding!

So when it came to reviewers for the book, of course I chose diverse disciplines as I could not commit to one- it just would not reflect the efforts of this book: top scholars  such as Saskia Sassen (sociologist), Paul Adams (geographer), Arjun Appadurai (anthropologist), and Zizi Papacharissi (media scholar) volunteered to review this book. I have to admit, it was nerve-wrecking but am so happy that when the reviews came out, they were positive! So perhaps interdisciplinary work can work sometimes :-) 

Here are the Reviews! 
"Arora offers us another invitation, which is a refreshing departure from the breathlessness of many studies of the new technologies, and that is the chance to slow down, to pause, to contemplate our surroundings, to smell a possibly political rose. That she finds this potential in the very heart of digitality is one of the many surprises of this thoughtful and wide-ranging book." - From the Foreword by Arjun Appadurai,Paulette Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New YorkUniversity

"This is a brilliant navigation of worlds that are not usually brought in conversation: digital space and thick situated struggles engaged in claim-making in the urban sphere. Payal Arora has deep knowledge and experience of both these worlds. Out of this encounter comes a concept the author deploys in diverse ways to mark digital space: the leisure commons." - Saskia Sassen, Columbia University and author ofExpulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy

"In this engaging volume, Arora applies the rich metaphor of the public park to explicate the many ways in which net-based technologies facilitate, but also converge activities of a social, political, cultural and economic nature. Technology as architecture invites, amplifies, but also conceals or discourages. It disrupts and it sustains our daily endeavors into sociality, work, play and fantasy. Arora uses the metaphor of public parks to tell the story of how digital media support us through our daily lives. Through lively writing and layers of intriguing analogies, she compels the reader to think with her, as she explores what technology does to space. Arora lays out an intriguing vision of online environments as technology supported meta-parks that facilitate not just limitless connection, but, better living." - Zizi Papacharissi, Professor and Head of Communications,University of Illinois at Chicago


"Payal Arora offers the insight that social media are the latest chapter in a long history of spaces including city parks, walled gardens, office parks, fantasy theme parks and other semi-public, leisure-oriented environments. By framing new technological trends in terms of a 'leisure commons,' her work fills a gap that remained between the spatial metaphors that have proven helpful to make sense of new technologies, and a nuanced realization of how thoroughly leisure practices have permeated daily life." - Paul C. Adams, Associate Professor of Geography andDirector of Urban Studies, University of Texas at Austin

Thursday, April 10, 2014

NIAS Grant -Exploring the Democratization and Globalization of the art world in the Digital Era


My colleague Filip Vermeylen and I have been working for a number of years on the extent to which the internet serves as a game changer in the art world. We have already published quite a bit on this, including our article on 'the end of the art connoisseur?' and 'digital art markets.

It has been an exciting journey so far working with someone from a completely different discipline -cultural economics and art history. Perhaps because of this unusual mix of bringing Media Studies with Art Economics, we have had quite an adventure in our invited lectures, be it at 'Sotheby'sDuke's Visual Studies Initiative to the Swiss Institute for Art Research.

NIAS venue-Netherlands
We keep hearing how academia pays only lip-service to interdisciplinary work, especially in grant acquisition. Yet, we persisted as we believe that it is essential if we are to find some original answers to these hyped and revolutionizing notions on how the art world is transforming with the onset of new media technologies. So we applied to NIAS (Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study) , a wonderful venue with a rich intellectual heritage, to host a workshop on this topic.

In a nutshell, our workshop intends to explore contemporary trends on digitization in the art world and market of the twenty-first century and focus on the visual arts as it is exhibited, discussed and traded online. Thereby, this workshop questions how and under what circumstances the internet gives rise to new and democratic forms of art product consumption and knowledge circulation, and how the specific characteristics of the digital medium,the audiences and cultural contexts contribute to this novel phenomenon. Hence, our objective is to fill an important gap in the framing of the cultural commons today. We are aiming for an interdisciplinary workshop inviting people from the fields of art history, communication and media, anthropology, cultural economics, and sociology of the arts. The outcomes of this workshop will not just be theoretically relevant but also of practical use for public art institutions under tremendous pressure to be less exclusive and more economically viable.

So will keep you guys posted on the outcome of this workshop that is planned for November of this year!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New publication out in the Space and Culture Journal on digital activism

My publication in the Space and Culture journal is finally out!


This paper draws parallels between the use of public leisure spaces in the city such as parks and squares, and the use of certain forms of digital networks. Similarities between these two sorts of social contexts are worth considering, particularly their political dimension. This efforts ituates the current conversation about social media as sites of political mobilization into dialogue with the historical analysis of public parks as spaces that, in a similar fashion, were designed for leisure and consumption but was appropriated as sites of resistance. It brings together the literature on urban parks as centers of democracy and the literature on new media spaces as portals of cyber-protest, extending the spatial history of digital politics.

Video talk: Search across borders by Institute of Network Cultures: Society of the Query#2

I was invited to speak at the Society of the Query#2 on 'The making of art knowledge via Google Images in rural India'. It was one of the more exciting venues I have been to in 2013 and much credit goes to the Institute of Network Cultures -a vibrant space for innovation and learning in Amsterdam.