Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Delivered a keynote on Automating Culture


A few days ago, I delivered a keynote on ‘Automating culture: How Digital Platforms are Shaping the Art World’ for an international conference organized by Prof. Filip Vermeylen. For about a decade now, we both have been working on the democratization possibilities of the art world through the rise of social media and globalization through the new cultural commons project.

The talk was about how the art world has entered the platform economy. The art industry is being subjected to similar fears and possible opportunities of automation as other cultural industries such as the music, film and the publishing business. Hence, it asks some key questions: Can the traditional art intermediaries still compete in the platform economy as data mining companies enter the fray? Has the divide between the high and the popular culture collapsed as user behavior, platform design and engineering staff circulate between these worlds? Do customers no longer care about the aura of the art piece before buying it online? In other words,

...do algorithms rule today and are they making the art world more democratic?

With the rise of automation and platformization, the International Art Market Studies Association (TIAMSA) second international conference organized itself around the theme and key question of, “Art for the People? Questioning the Democratization of the Art Market.”

The call reflects some of the contemporary issues and debates taking place in the art world nowadays. The art world and the market have traditionally been the domain of the elites and have thrived on exclusivity. However, the art world has arguably become much more democratic in recent years thanks to the digital revolution, the inclusion of emerging economies in the world art market system, and the vastly improved access to art and information. The price histories of works of art can nowadays easily be reconstructed using online databases; the threshold for art buying is significantly lowered by online sales platforms; and new buyers in emerging economies are making the art market much less Western-oriented. Moreover, an ever broader range of artworks in different price categories has put (fine) art within reach of the middle classes across the globe. At the same time, art institutions such as museums are under tremendous pressure to be less exclusive. Some of these democratizing tendencies are of course not new. For instance, publishing houses in Europe started disseminating prints on a massive scale already in the sixteenth century, thereby enabling larger segments of the population to acquire images. Whether or not the internet and globalization are genuine game changers in the contemporary art world, we can assume that new platforms through which art is mediated – both offline and online – are reconstituting the manner in which art is being viewed, valorized, acquired and enjoyed. These developments could have far reaching implications.

TIAMSA’s second annual conference explored to what extent the art market was affected by comparable developments in the past, how it is embracing today’s democratic potential, and at what cost. Are digital innovations, from search engines and big data analytics to virtual auctions, transforming the long-existing modus operandi of the art world and the traditional structure of the art market? And if the art market is indeed living up to its democratic promise, is it also becoming less opaque and therefore more transparent?

This event was held in Vienna from Thursday 27 Sept –  Saturday 29 Sept 2018. It was the result of a joint collaboration of the Belvedere ResearchCenter, the Dorotheum and the Department of Art History at Vienna University. The conference presented a selection of papers approaching the theme from different, fascinating viewpoints, and combined it with two special events, namely a guided tour of Viennacontemporary, Austria’s international art fair, and a tour of the Belvedere Research Center. There was also a round table on the art market and the internet. 



Friday, September 14, 2018

Appointed Editor for the Communication and Media Section in the new University of California Press Journal-Global Perspectives


Global Perspectives (GP) is an online-only, peer-reviewed, transdisciplinary journal seeking to advance social science research and debates in a globalizing world, specifically in terms of concepts, theories, methodologies, and evidence bases. GP is devoted to the study of global patterns and developments across a wide range of topics and fields, among them trade and markets, security and sustainability, communication and media, justice and law, governance and regulation, culture and value systems, identities, environmental interfaces, technology-society interfaces, shifting geographies and migration.

I will be leading the Communication and media section with Helmut K. Anheier from the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, Germany serving as the Editor-in-Chief. 

GP sets out to help overcome national and disciplinary fragmentation and isolation.  GP starts from the premise that the world that gave rise to the social sciences in their present form is no more. The national and disciplinary approaches that developed over the last century are increasingly insufficient to capture the complexities of the global realities of a world that has changed significantly in a relatively short period of time.  New concepts, approaches and forms of academic discourse may be called for. GP has been organized by subject sections carrying equal weight, which are informed by major conceptual or empirical issues or grounded in traditional disciplines, while always inviting significant interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches.

I have an amazing board of global and renowned scholars to work with for the launch of this new endeavor. The members are as follows:

-          Lina Dencik, Cardiff University, UK
-          Terry Flew, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
-          Mark Graham, University of Oxford, UK
-          MinJiang, UNC Charlotte, USA
-          KoenLeurs, Utrecht University, Netherlands
-          Cornelius Puschmann, Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research, Germany
-          Nimmi Rangaswamy, IIIT Hyderabad, India
-          Anita Say Chan, University of Illinois, USA
-          Fabro Steibel, Institute for Technology and Society, Brazil
-          Wendy Willems, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
-          Guobin Yang, University of Pennsylvania, USA

I have written a brief theoretical launching point for this section:

The ‘global turn’ in media and communication demands new ways of conceptualizing relations and boundaries between the local, the national and the transnational. In recent years, ubiquitous computing, mobile technologies and social media have amplified the urgency to unpack the globalizing of media platforms, communication patterns and processes as well as their underlying politics and policies.
While the media continues to be implicated in the “disjunctures between economy, culture, and politics” as Arjun Appadurai astutely observed a quarter century ago, their digital cultures have created new opportunities and discontinuities at a global scale that require a prolonged and thoughtful investigation.
Speculations about the fate of traditional mass media like print, radio and television continue to be of rising concern in academic and industrial research. The rise of user-generated content has challenged conventional framings of media producers and audiences bound by the nation state. For example, bloggers, podcasters, online celebrities, digital activists and citizen journalists can shape global public opinion and the media landscape at large.

As a few digital platforms control the vast amount of data generated through everyday communicative practices worldwide, scholars across disciplines are rightfully concerned about who gets to collect, curate, store and moderate such media content. What is driving the expansions in media infrastructures and policies and is there a unified and shared logic to their organization? What are the implications of new media technologies for politics and governance at national and international levels?  

We have witnessed a significant shift in discourses surrounding globalization and media, from a celebratory to a more critical stance. Only a decade ago, studies were tethered to the notion of the “networked society” of collective intelligence, participatory knowledge-making, community-building and activism. Today, we appear less optimistic, as scholars sound the alarm on new forms of discrimination, alienation, and victimization through uninterrupted datafication, predictive analytics and automation of the “surveillance society.”
While big data did not reify into an “end of theory” as prematurely envisioned, we hesitate to ask the big questions that can best encapsulate the interconnectedness of information flows and the intersectionality of their datasets. It remains a challenge to “decenter” and “decolonize” the global to stay clear of a singular and universal logic to explain the social order of global media. This endeavour beseeches a re-examination of past formulations of information/media systems, as well as a critical assessment with the velocity, variety and volume and other such rubrics posited to define new media architectures and practices.

Global Perspectives invite scholars across disciplines and fields to submit their empirical and theoretical studies that are at the fulcrum of deliberations on the “global” in media and communication networks. We find ourselves at an important juncture that requires moving beyond staid dualities, traditional framings, and descriptive media comparative work.

How do we transcend the binaries of the online-offline, the public-private media sphere, “data rich” and “data poor,” producer and consumer, homogenization and heterogenization, media convergence and divergence, disembodiments and the situated materiality of media imaginaries to the contextual integrity of the media event? What alternative frameworks, systems, etymologies and ontologies are on offer to reconfigure our understandings of how global media are organizing the power relations in society?

In this context, we invite papers to propose methodological innovations and conceptual alternatives to the approach of the dialect between media and the global. Should we continue to use the nation state as a central unit of analysis or push for a provincializing or translocating of the global in Media studies? Are we giving too much primacy to data in untangling global digital cultures and overestimating their influence? How do we conceptualize the global transformations of the traditional media without being too medium or user centric? These are some of the many issues contributor to the Global Perspectives are welcome to address.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Invited to the Advisory Commission initiative by Facebook

I have been invited to be on the new advisory committee by Facebook to help scholars independently assess Facebook’s impact on elections, misinformation, privacy and other contemporary and critical issues regarding its usage.
 In April, Facebook announced it would be working with a group of academics to establish an independent research commission to look into issues of social and political significance using the company’s own extensive data collection. That commission, called Social Science One has just launched in early July. I will be on the Asian regional committee and partake in collaborations to assess the impact of Facebook in this region.

In the last two years, Facebook tools have not just helped politicians connect with their constituents — and different communities to debate the issues but as we have witnessed, it can be misused to manipulate and deceive. 

To keep this independent, it will be funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

At the heart of this initiative will be a group of prominent and global scholars who will:
-          Define the research agenda;
-          Solicit proposals for independent research on a range of different topics; and
-          Manage a peer review process to select scholars who will receive funding for their research, as well as access to privacy-protected datasets from Facebook which they can analyze.

Facebook will not have any right to review or approve their research findings prior to publication. In consultation with the foundations funding the initiative, Facebook has invited respected academic experts to form a commission which will then develop a research agenda about the impact of social media on society — starting with elections. I am excited to be part of the commission to closely examine Facebook activities and its implications on democracy to help in constructing future policy decisions on platform transparency and accountability.

The issues to be addressed range across diverse research areas, namely Political Advertising, Civic Engagement, Election Integrity, Polarization and Disinformation. The regional advisory committees include Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the United States.

Along with a team of other academic experts, I will assist in surfacing research questions and variable requests for the datasets that will be shared as part of the project.  Scholars serving on these committees can apply for grants and data access as part of these processes.

The advisory committee will provide critical advice on how the project might be best tailored to deal with concerns and issues specific to different regions.  For example, as specific elections occur in the respective regions, country-specific datasets are developed for analysis. Moreover, certain academic surveys are region-specific and these committees may help facilitate the joining of Facebook data with such surveys. Finally, because different countries’ legal regulations, concerning privacy and research such as this, differ greatly, the advisory committee will assist the project in working with regulators to understand the limits and opportunities for the project in the respective regions. 

Anyway, a new adventure awaits with this unique opportunity! 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Invited to talk on privacy at the EuroScience Open Forum

I have been invited to talk on a EuroScience Open Forum panel that focuses on how big data affects travel behavior, transport planning and autonomous transport, while accounting for data quality, privacy and pan European standardization aspects. This is part of the COST initiative, an EU-funded programme that enables researchers to set up their interdisciplinary research networks in Europe and beyond.

ESOF (EuroScience Open Forum) is the largest interdisciplinary science meeting in Europe. It is dedicated to scientific research and innovation and offers a unique framework for interaction and debate for scientists, innovators, policy makers, business people and the general public.

Created in 2004 by EuroScience, this biennial European forum brings together over 4 000 researchers, educators, business actors, policy makers and journalists from all over the world to discuss breakthroughs in science.

My talk will cover the ethical implications on automating movement across society in public space, considering notions of anonymity, data aggregation, privacy harms and concerns and other factors that help us consider the future of our transport economy.

I think this will be a fascinating discussion in a very policy oriented setting!



Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Talk on Talent at the Transfer of Rectorship

Dutch academia takes their ceremonies seriously! I was invited to speak on talent at the transfer of rectorship event, where the outgoing rector of Erasmus University Rotterdam, Professor Huibert Pols handed over the position of Rector Magnificus to incoming Rector Professor Rutger Engels.

Each faculty wore their robes in their distinct colors marching in, the stage looked rather Oscar like than a setting at a university and there was the right mix of humor and emotion fitting to this occasion. 

I spoke on 'the pursuit of the extraordinary' drawing from my experiences and life choices, be it at an alternative commune in the South of India to being a struggling artist in San Francisco. Was fun to go down this path as I have a policy of not looking back. But sometimes, our past can give you perspective and maybe even courage to take on the ongoing and future battles ahead.








Sunday, June 17, 2018

Social media campaign on diversity launched with students

The diversity discourse at Erasmus University Rotterdam has been polarizing and is now tremendously heated. While these discussions go ahead, few students appear to be participating or driving these conversations. Hence, my organization Catalyst Lab alongside a group of highly driven masters students from the Erasmus Faculty of History Culture and Communication (ESHCC) have come up with a social media campaign to engage students on this very topic, supported by the faculty.

After all, we know so little about what diversity means to the youth. Working closely with young student film makers, comedians and with targeted mentoring and guidance by professional media people,this week ‘Diversify,’ this student led initiative has now gone live!

Click here to follow the campaign and see what youth think about diversity through their own narratives, personal experiences and identities. What is astonishing is how honest these students have been on topics that are very sensitive and way under-discussed like bullying, sexual harassment, self worth, body perceptions, racism, religion and more.

  

Thursday, May 31, 2018

EM Opinion Piece: The academic frontier

The academic frontier

By acknowledging that the academic frontier isn’t as fair as it would like to appear, maybe we will be kinder to one another as we plod ahead.

Payal AroraAcademia is all about marking territory. Grab hold of a trending topic and make it yours. Invent a term, coin a concept and hope it sticks. Knowledge is propertied. Sometimes the game gets vicious. Predatory. Perhaps a senior scholar in need of renewal may prey on the work of their doctoral student or younger colleagues. A ‘rock star’ academic can encroach on well established and poorly marketed scholarship and brand it around him or her. A major grant can buy an emerging scholar a ‘reputation’ overnight that others have spent years struggling to build through the long road of committed research.
This is no free market. Scholars from less wealthy institutions and countries struggle to be visible, to be heard and often to hold on to the ownership of their ideas. In desperation, they may put their work on ResearchGate or Academia.edu, hoping that this new digital frontier plays to a different set of rules. In reality, they may be read but not cited due to their relatively unknown status. Worse yet, their ideas may be appropriated by others and published with the right kind of dressing up.
Click here for the rest of the opinion piece.