My book, 'The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0' has just been published by the Routledge Science, Technology & Society Series.
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.
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