Call for Papers – Special Issue Cultural Science

23 08 2010

Special Issue Cultural Science (
Internet Research Methods as Moments of Evolution

Editor: Thomas Petzold, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

Call for Papers

This special issue of Cultural Science explores Internet research methods at the intersection of socio-cultural and evolutionary research. It invites contributions that combine innovative research design on the Internet with an evolutionary treatment of socio-cultural change to reconsider the dynamics of institutions, identities, and socio-cultural relations. By doing so this special issue seeks to identify and further develop discussions of specific methods as well as wider considerations of underlying propositions that deal with evolutionary approaches to culture.

Methods as moments of evolution relates to phenomena Internet researchers seek to unravel by using specific approaches and techniques as well as to the more general idea that Internet research methods must be understood as part of an evolutionary process of scientific working and thinking.

For this special issue, contributions are welcome that take methods and concepts from disciplines previously unrelated or but marginally related to cultural research and the humanities and apply, adapt and adjust these to Internet related research into structural and dynamic changes. Such an approach, it is expected, shares methods with other emerging disciplines and fields such as computational social sciences (Lazer et al 2009), digital humanities (Schreibman, Siemens and Unsworth 2004), and web science (Berners-Lee, Hall, and Hendler 2006).

This special issue welcomes case studies as well as broader methodological analyses of:

* Internet research methods and instruments exploring evolutionary processes of
Internet related issues in general,

* the dynamics and structural change of culture and language on the Internet in

* the challenges and limits of both visualising large data sets and/or small nuances of micro-case studies, and asks

* what it means for Internet researchers to consider methods as moments of evolution.

Prospective authors are asked to submit contributions (full papers, essays, visualisations, think pieces, in PDF or Word format, with references in Harvard style) of up to 8000 words to Thomas Petzold, Henry Li and Woitek Konzal by 30 September 2010. All submissions will be peer-reviewed. Early-career researchers and doctoral students are encouraged to contribute to this special edition. Accepted papers will be published in December 2010.

Special Issue of Cultural Science:

Deadline for submissions: 30 September 2010

Final revised papers due: 15 November 2010

Publication: December 2010


Berners-Lee, T., W. Hall and J.A. Hendler. 2006. A Framework for Web Science. Now Publishers Inc.

Lazer, D. et al. 2009. Computational Social Science. Science 323: 721-3.

Schreibman, S., R. Siemens and J. Unsworth. 2004. A Companion to Digital Humanities. Oxford: Blackwell.

The Room – the cult phenomenon

23 08 2010

I am a bit partial to chasing the free tickets sometimes offered by community radio 2xxfm, where I am a subscriber and past volunteer. Most of the films I have seen have been quite obscure and best defined as international, art house (for example Let the right one in). I don’t think I have ever scored tickets to a film that could be considered bad as I love films that are not mainstream cinema.

This time I was fortunate to score tickets to The Room, (2003, Tommy Wiseau, Dir) a D grade film that has cult status. I arrived at the cinema with no expectations, aside from the email promotion stating that it was the “Citizen Kane of bad movies”. If I had more time beforehand, I would have done some reasearch and looked at reviews like The Crazy Cult of ‘The Room’, so I would have been prepared.

The first thing I noticed was the audience, who my companion commented were ‘hyperactive’. There were instruction sheets on the chair for audience participation and I wondered if this was like Rocky Horror Picture show, where people can engage in the action. Some guys were throwing a football around and the people seated close to us were very sociable, reassuring us that we would enjoy it. And that we did.

Originally promoted by the slogan “A film with the passion of Tennessee Williams”, the movie tells the story of Johnny, a San Francisco banker played by Wiseau, whose fiancée Lisa has an affair with his best friend Mark. At the beginning of the film, Lisa has become inexplicably dissatisfied with Johnny, confiding to her best friend Michelle and her mother Claudette that she finds him boring. Lisa seduces Mark, and they begin an affair that continues throughout the film, even as Mark more than once tries to break it off. Throughout the film there are numerous sub-plots that are never followed up – for example Lisa’s mum being diagnosed with breast cancer. Then there is the random guy who shows up at Johnny’s party who is not introduced, though he seems closely connected with the main characters. In one scene, the characters are wearing tuxedos and in another they are passing around a football, both for no apparent reason.

As soon as the film credits started the audience cheered wildly. It appears that Wiseau directed, wrote and producted this film as well as having the starring role. Every time his name came up the audience called out “Tommy, Tommy”. From that point the interaction was constant, from throwing plastic sppons (a reference to a framed picture), running around the cinema and passing footballs, calling out “Hi Johnny”, “Hi Danny”, jeering at the unerotic love scenes (the one with Wiseau is quite revolting), and clapping along to the RB music used during Lisa and Mark’s sex scenes.

Clark Collis comments that “Late-night showings of cult films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Big Lebowski are known for their rowdy and strange behavior too. But people who go to see Rocky Horror and Lebowski think those films are good.” I must agree, Rocky Horror is a film I have seen many times at the cinema and on video and I used to have the soundtrack on vinyl and probably could still sing along word for word. I do think it is a good film, it is smart and funny and challenges traditional ideas of gender and sexuality.

The Room is not a good film, but it IS so bad it is good. Would I see it again? Well, yes, if I get to enjoy the antics of audience and have my own plastic spoons to throw at the screen.

The Will to Freedom – Street Theatre

21 08 2010

The Will to Freedom is a new production as part of the “Made in Canberra” series at the Street Theatre in Canberra.

The play is about Sophie Freibach, a 38-year-old German doctor, who recounts the story of Raja, an African Muslim woman fleeing a forced marriage. Sophie, compassionate and deeply disturbed by Raja’s experiences, tries to understand what it means for Raja to become an independent woman. In The Will to Freedom, the journeys of these two women are mapped and entwined: Raja’s towards freedom and Sophie’s towards understanding.

In terms of describing the style of this piece of theatre, and I am no expert, I would define it as musical theatre. The show’s New York-based director Joanne Schultz, who is acclaimed for her socially engaged, hybrid theatre productions across diverse performance genres, describes this music-driven work as “part feminist fable, part noir-cabaret.” Schultz’s description is apt as the story is focused on subject matter that is very difficult, sensitive and culturally specific. Herein lies my biggest criticism of the work, which I will discuss later.

The play is an original independent work for solo voice with the libretto written and sung by German-born singer and voice trainer Maike Brill and piano music composed by pianist and musicologist Anthony Smith. The music draws on a range of musical styles from late-19th-century European art music, through 12-tone music, tango and African drumming, to contemporary music – a diversity of styles intended to reflect The Will to Freedom’s emotional and psychological journey on the pathways to understanding.

Although I found the story and the performance very powerful, I walked away with a range of questions about the political correctness and the cultural, religious content of the story. My first ‘problem’ was that this was a story written about a particular kind of cultural experience, one that is written (I assume) from a spectator’s position, albeit one informed from a range of reliable sources. The references include Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s autobiographical book, Mijn Vrijheid (Infidel), and a number of news articles, which are referred to in the performance.

I question why is it OK to talk about one type of experience and not another? For example in The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, the writer Thomas Keneally wrote the story through the eyes of the central character, a young Aboriginal man, which he later regretted, saying that it should have been narrated from a white person’s perspective (see On the Integrity of the Narrator in The Lover and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith by Colin Giesbrecht). Keneally recognised the inappropriateness of speaking for another in the preface of the 2001 edition. Given the wealth of work done in the field of postcolonialism since the late 1980s, it is clear that to speak in such a way about another does not empower the cultural/racial/religious group – it only denies them a voice.

In the Will to Freedom Raja’s story is told by Sophie, but for the majority of the play, we see Raja speaking for herself – telling her story. There are no surprises in the westernised perpective in the telling of her story, as the relationship between religion and culture is blurred and homogenised. I do not wish to claim myself as an authority in this area, as I would fall in the same trap, but from my past experience with Islam (I was married to a Muslim for 3 years), there is a huge difference between what is written in the Koran and what is practiced as part of culture. Indeed, there are vast differences in cultural practices across the Islamic world. For example, the practice of female circumcision referred to in the play, is considered abhorrent in many Muslim cultures.

My personal experience was of North African, Berber Muslim culture and I found the women I met to be strong, educated and vocal, whilst at the same time modest, submissive to Islam and the teachings of the Koran. As I write this review I am also conscious that we are in the holy month of Ramadan, a time when Muslims focus on their faith and family and despite the difficulty of fasting it is a happy time where the breaking of the fast is celebrated with family and friends. I do not know if the performance was intentionally scheduled during Ramadan, but it is noteworthy that it coincided with this significant event in the Islamic calendar.

There is no denying that many women are oppressed in many parts of the world, including behind closed doors in our supposed free society. But why do we need to keep singling out Islam as the perpetrator of these oppressions?

That all said, I enjoyed The Will to Freedom and think it does raise many legitimate issues about human rights and the rights of women. As this play raises questions about the ability of people to speak, it is a valuable piece of work, even for its limitations. Maike Brill’s deft ability to slip between Sophie and Raja by the simple use of the headscarf is evocative and convincing and the piano accompaniment is emotive, as is much of the monologue. What stays with me is Raja’s most powerful line, “Human rights above religion”, which is a most worthy sentiment, no matter where you stand.

A long time between posts!

15 08 2010

Well, what can I say! There has been much change in the web space since my last post. I thought it was about time that I reinvigorate my mediakult blog as my website does not have the functionality of wordpress. My website at will still be maintained for publications and exhibitions listings, but my current research into mapping will be explored on mediakult from now on.