The impetus for Making Publics, Making Places was a desire to map the connections and disjunctions between scholarly approaches to understanding the making of publics and places. Primarily, the approaches in this collection represent the broad field of media scholarship complemented by perspectives from adjacent disciplines. The collection is exploratory, a boldly heterogeneous reaffirmation that places and publics continue to be the focus of investigations into cultural practices in a hypermediated era.
In accounts of mediation and societal change, digital technologies are often framed as taking on an agency of their own. Nigel Thrift's (2014) editorial commentary for an issue of Environment and Planning A on data, space and place notes an important limitation in taking up either side of the Manichean divide on technological and human determinism. He argues that not only is technology ‘more mundane than it is generally portrayed, it is part of people's practices and adapts to them’. Its impact is therefore more likely to result in a ‘slow upheaval’ of change made by mostly invisible technology infrastructure, rather than ‘some kind of ecstatic change’ (p. 1264). Taking on Thrift's argument about the symbiotic nature of advances in technology and people's practices of use, our aim in the call for chapters was to invite contributors to help shape a collection illustrating the breadth and variety of approaches to understanding new media's generative power in everyday life.
The volume thus attends to two specific areas of disruption and generative change which are often taken up separately, despite their intrinsically linked nature: understandings of publics, and understandings of place. Following Couldry's advice on the opening up of cultural theory, we aimed to include perspectives beyond those in our disciplinary location as new media researchers — perspectives with the potential to ‘open up possible empirical work on culture’ (2000, p. 14). Couldry notes the benefits of stepping out of theoretical straightjackets, and refers to Stuart Hall's advice that ‘the only theory worth having is the theory you have to fight off, not the one you speak with profound fluency’ (1992 in Couldry 2000, p. 280).
The elasticity of the public sphere: Expansion, contraction and ‘other’ Media
This chapter traces the shifting conceptual contours and parameters of the public sphere as they relate to ethnic minority, transnational and diasporic media. The chapter focuses on two developments in understandings of the public sphere, and the communicative landscapes so central to rational debate. The first concerns the fragmentation of the public sphere into smaller sphericules or spheres, coalescing with ideas of subnational publics and identity politics (Fraser 1990; Gitlin 1998; Cunningham 2001). The second concerns what Fraser calls the transnationalisation of the public sphere — that is, the way that, through increasingly prominent movements of people, goods and media across borders, the ideas of society, nation and community have been wrenched clear of their nation-state home (Cammaerts & van Audenhove 2005; Fraser 2014). The aim of this chapter is to examine these reconceptualisations and to think about the place of ethnic, transnational and diasporic media in each.
'Imagine if our cities talked to us': Questions about the making of ‘responsive’ places and urban publics.
A key feature of the urban Internet of Things and ‘smartification’ is the immediacy of the information collected from, and deliverable to, city inhabitants in ambient environments. These flows create, according to proponents, a smart city that ‘talks back’ efficiently to the public by eliminating human error, simplifying and automating decision making, and thus solving the problems that municipalities face in times of exponential urban population growth and diminishing resources. The chapter explores what follows from considering big data as a ‘collective achievement’ (Ruppert 2015), arguing that liveable, sustainable and participatory cities are created when based on a partnership between governments and urban publics, appropriate public engagement strategies and citizen-user advocacy. Beginning with a brief overview of the UN's Urban Renewal initiative as it pertains to guiding principles for the protection of rights to the city and the encouragement of transparent, multilevel governance, the chapter moves through a series of illustrations and propositions about traditions of placemaking, ambient environments and smart cities.
The media landscape is in a profound moment of transition. Perhaps this statement has been true since the development of moveable type, but the impact of the transformation in media environments as a result of digital technologies, particularly those which are utilised through internet services, is significant in all realms of everyday life, and in the organisation of forms of modernity.
What constitutes ‘publics’ is contextual and contested, as Warner's work on the concept convincingly illustrates (2002). His analysis begins by examining the many confusing overlapping uses of the terms ‘the public’, ‘publics’ and ‘a public’. He notes that individuals may belong simultaneously to many publics, and that this fact contributes to the ambiguity and circularity of many publics constituting ‘the public’, making research ‘difficult’. In dealing with defining elements of a public, he states, ‘space and physical presence do not make much difference; a public is understood to be different from a crowd, an audience, or any other group that requires co-presence’ (p. 53). His argument is that a public is best understood as formed around textual practices and self-organised relationships with strangers.
In the last decade of burgeoning many-to-many communications, as the chapters in this collection show, publics are forming and fragmenting around access to particular technology — platform, website, application, game, profile, group, hashtag — although accessibility to information, space and discourse has always been a determinant to one's membership within a public. Such publics have an increasingly nebulous quality, forming and dispersing, being created and fractured through adoption, insertion or rejection. The fragmentation of mass audiences since the turn of the century has accelerated in the last decade. What replaces the mass audience includes the ubiquitous mobilisations of social media; the segmentation of readerships during the adaptation of print and broadcast media to internet delivery; and the increasing power of media technology companies like Google and Facebook as content providers and corporate stewards of the ‘walled gardens’, where publics form around news, entertainment and politics. The process of making and unmaking publics continues to be dynamic, initiating this book's explorations of the ways they can be conceptualised, how makers of publics function, and the practices of inclusion and exclusion, which shape disparate, sometimes ephemeral, and geographically distant publics.
The digital world is converging with the physical world, and this phenomenon, known as the Internet of Things, represents the next era of computing. It is one where just about anything can be connected, through sensors and data to other objects, environments, people and, of course, the Internet. (Altimeter Group 2015)
The range of technical, social, environmental and political issues raised by the possibility of ‘just about anything’ being invisibly connected is overwhelming in breadth, scale and depth. The seamlessness of the connectivity predicted is unprecedented in human history and there are as yet few convincing full-scale examples in connected buildings, or in consumer supply chains enabled by the Internet of Things [IoT], or in smart cities, to illustrate how it works in practice. Critical issues already identified include a controversial means of data collection, which makes new forms of urban planning and placemaking as a ‘whole-ofcity’ enterprise possible; and related governmental techniques through which city populations (and specific publics) can be involved in designing their own governance. Yet initiatives exist (some of which will be used to illustrate this chapter's arguments) which cast light on the ways that smart technologies are starting to shape everyday experiences of the material world, and generate new relations of power.
In this chapter, the making of places and publics is addressed through the prism offered by the nascent Internet of Things and locative technologies in the ‘smart city’. The smart city can be defined as an urban digital infrastructure supporting, amongst other activities, technologically-enabled responsive environments. These spaces are governed by big data collected by various means, which allow ‘the city’ to talk back to its inhabitants by offering real time information and a range of choices designed to alter behaviour or encourage different relationships to place. The chapter aims firstly to identify the drivers of the rapid adoption of ‘smartification’ by cities and users, and then to canvass the democratic and participatory factors involved in implementing radical change, noting the risks which may occur in the rush to connect on such a global scale.
The Media discipline has a vibrant, entrepreneurial history, marked by creative innovation and problem-solving capacities. It emerged from cross-disciplinary teaching from the late 1970s to 2002 and then, as a sub-discipline of English, constructed the Bachelor of Media. It became a separate intellectual and administrative group in late 2006, growing rapidly and known today for innovative teaching and research, and lively engagement with its profession, community and industry. In a relatively short period, it has twice recalibrated the original degree, and established an Honours program, a growing postgraduate cohort, research agendas, valuable international connections, and a record of scholarship and publications, which includes the dynamic field of digital media.
Program and discipline differ markedly from the more modest proposals in 2001. The crucial turn in 2006 to a discipline-defining contemporary program in digital and participatory media, with a distinctive, attractive niche among its South Australian competitors, was not easy to achieve. Media education's beginnings in technical tertiary institutions as ‘craft’ training explain certain strongly held misconceptions about the value of critical and creative media studies — which also produce technically adept graduates — to a prestigious research university. Those leading Media developments have encountered the common challenges originating from prevalent preconceptions, even prejudices, about contemporary media, which have in turn shaped judgements about tertiary media education; and a supposed contradiction in the discipline's ‘theory plus praxis’ approach has at times impeded the discipline's establishment.
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