Niels Kerssens: Politics of Use: Computer Application as Culture-Technical Configuration (2012-2015)

Niels Kerssens | Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis (ASCA), University of Amsterdam, Department of Mediastudies | José van Dijck (Promotor) and Bernhard Rieder (Co-Promotor) | January 2012 – December 2015 | N.Kerssens[at]uva[dot]nl

In the midst of new media usage being dominated by ‘apps’, this project examines the historico-political dimensions of personal computer application, or, in more general terms, the utilitarian computing practice now simply known as use. These dimensions are examined through the exploration of use as culture-technical configuration, which principles of organization, arguably, are fundamental to a contemporary app culture that has the user as its main subject, the computer as central technology, and application as its core practice.

As a culture-technical history of computer use, central to this project, however, is not the historical formation of a technological object – the personal computer – nor that of a human subject – the user – but the study of personal computing as utilitarian practice. In other words, historicized are applications – practices of use – key to the utilization of the personal computer. On the basis of a vast array of source material from (once) popular computer magazines and books tuned to the computer user, such applications are approached as culture-technical configurations, with use examined as a historically situated nexus of interconnected ideas, processes, techniques and technologies.

In each of three case studies the configuration of an application key to the formation of personal computing is critically examined. To grasp the specificities of each configuration, the application is approached as re­-configuration of a closely affiliated computer practice that historically preceded it. In the first case study (1970s-80s) word processing is examined as reconfiguration of an earlier systems approach to electronic text production. The second case study (1980s) explores the productivity application as utilitarian reconfiguration of a former intellectual and educational practice of computer programming. The third case study (1980s-1990s) examines web browsing as reconfiguration of an earlier information retrieval practice connected to online database services.

Simone Driessen: Localized Music Histories and their Significance to Audiences (2012-2016)

Simone Driessen | research: part of the international, HERA funded research project Popular Music Heritage, Cultural Memory and Cultural Identity (POPiD) Erasmus University Rotterdam, department of Media & Communication (from the Erasmus School of History, Culture & Communication) | supervisor: Prof. dr. Susanne Janssen and dr. Jiska Engelbert |  September 2011- September 2016 | driessen[at]eshcc[dot]eur[dot]nl

My dissertation is entitled ‘Localized Music Histories and their Significance to Audiences’, and the main aim of the project is to research ‘how music-related narratives constructed by various audiences relate to questions of cultural identity, cultural memory and popular music heritage’. In four qualitative case studies I explore and analyze how different audiences (ranging from ‘a general audience’ to ‘fans’) negotiate their connectedness to popular music and how this relates to their everyday lives. The concepts of cultural identity, cultural memory and popular music heritage serve as common threads throughout my thesis. The first case study focuses on how music from one’s regional roots is of importance in one’s cultural identity construction and what role it plays in the creation of (collective) memories. The second case study explores the cultural memories of aging gabbers, specifically in relation to their involvement and participation (attachment and detachment) in the local scene of Rotterdam. My further studies will continue focusing on ‘aging minds’ by researching how ‘post-youth’ produce meanings of the (current) revival (or survival in some cases) of music they grew up with (e.g. re-uniting boy- and girl-bands from the late ‘90s). Certain music and fandoms can become (ir)relevant to one’s cultural identity at specific times; this leaves unaddressed the important question of how these fans currently give meaning to their fan-being and what we can learn from this in relation to cultural identity, memory and popular music heritage.

Christian Olesen: Film History in the Making: Digital Archives and Film Historiography – Historical and Future Perspectives (2012-2016)

Christian Olesen: Film History in the Making: Digital Archives and Film Historiography – Historical and Future Perspectives

September 2012 – September 2016
University of Amsterdam, Department of Mediastudies
Supervised by: Prof.dr. Julia Noordegraaf

My project investigates the implications which digitization in film archives bears upon film historical research in primarily academic settings. Never before have so many moving images and film-related materials been available for film historical research while digital scholarship in historical disciplines is concurrently proliferating. With regard to this development, my dissertation addresses the need for understanding its consequences for film historical methodology in order to develop a critical framework for evaluating and conceptualizing digital archives-based scholarship. From this point of departure, my dissertation aspires to produce both a historical account of digital film historiography and suggestions for further developments of digital research methodology. To this end, my dissertation discusses in a historical perspective, how the conception of film archives as a source of film history has developed, from the ”first wave” of scientific film archives founded in the 1910s to scholarly Hyperkino presentations of silent cinema a century later. Subsequently, my dissertation conducts a case study of a digitized collection of early silent film and related material, from a digital humanities perspective to reflect upon what it means to do film history in a digital research environment.

My research’s conceptual frame is rooted in science and technology studies and media history. Lending a central notion from sociologist Bruno Latour’s key work Science in Action (Harvard University Press, 1987) I regard current developments in digital film historiography as film history ”in the making” with attention to the research agendas that guide the design of digital tools of analysis. To add a historical perspective to this framework which will enable me to compare digital to earlier forms of film historiography, I combine it with the related dispositif-approach as (re-)defined by film scholars Maria Tortajada and François Albera in Cinema Beyond Film. Media Epistemology in the Modern Era (Amsterdam University Press, 2010), which investigates the development and applications of audiovisual technologies in scientific research contexts historically.

Ari Purnama: The Historical Poetics of Contemporary Southeast Asian Cinemas: Film Styles, Modes of Production, and Social Conditions (1997-present) (2012-2016)

Ari Purnama: The Historical Poetics of Contemporary Southeast Asian Cinemas: Film Styles, Modes of Production, and Social Conditions (1997-present)

University of Groningen, Department of Arts, Culture and Media— This research is a part of The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG)
Prof. Dr. E.J. (Liesbeth) Korthals Altes
Dr. Julian Hanich
September, 2012—August, 2016

This research project investigates fiction filmmaking in five Southeast Asian countries, namely Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines, since 1997 up to the present. The core focus of the study is to look at the interplay between aspects of film style, modes of production, and social conditions that surround the filmic works by approaching it from the ‘historical poetics of cinema’ framework. As such, the project examines the creative choices that the new generation of Southeast Asian filmmakers made and the enabling circumstances that accommodated their choice-making actions given the following constraints that they face in these historically and politically complicated nations: cultural taboos; strict government censorship; lack of infrastructure; non-existing government support; monopolized production and exhibition practices; competition with Hollywood films;  technological limitation; artistic traditions. The study tackles a threefold inquiry. First, at the stylistic level, it asks: How is the filmic medium (film style) employed to transform thematic materials? Second, at the historical-contextual level, it asks: What is the interplay between the films’ stylistic features and the contexts where the films are located (e.g. infrastructural conditions, regulatory frameworks, artistic conventions, critical reception, cultural traditions, and social dynamics)? Third, at the comparative-theoretical level, it asks: Are there shared commonalities and regularities among the films? What can these commonalities and regularities tell us about contemporary Southeast Asian fiction films in aesthetics terms? Moreover, what can they tell us about the artistic accomplishments of contemporary Southeast Asian fiction filmmakers and their positions in the globalized cinematic cultures today?

The study has several objectives. First, it seeks to generate fine-grained explanations on the poetics of these seemingly “culturally distant” and “exotic” films. Second, it attempts to expand and advance the scholarship of Southeast Asian cinemas by incorporating an objects-centered and historically sensitive approach to film study, i.e. ‘the historical poetics of cinema’, as its conceptual and methodological framework. Thirdly, it aims to contribute to the theorizing of Asian Cinema as a broader field of inquiry, and to generate knowledge about the complexity of film artistry and creative practices in Asian cinematic cultures.

Alex Gekker: Digital maps as objects of playful-casual power (2012-2016)

Alex Gekker: Digital maps as objects of playful-casual power

PhD candidate and researcher in “Charting the Digital” European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC Grant  agreement n° 283464.
Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICON)Media and Performance Studies
Promoters and Supervisors: Prof. Joost Raessens (Utrecht University), Dr. Sybille Lammes (University of Warwick) and Chris Perkins (University of Manchester).
September 2012-August 2016


My research looks into the interrelations of digital maps, power, technology and interfaces, asking how is power (or attempts of it) being exerted through mutable reconfiguration of geographical signs on screens and the databases behind them. I examine this through ethnographic case studies, Actor-Network Theory and software studies.

Challenging the notion of the map as an objective depiction or as a scientific image has led to a renewed understanding of historic maps and their contemporary counterparts, but it was still bound to the unchanging, unyielding immutable mobiles (Latour 1988) paper maps created to keep the territory stable while being moved about.

That changes with the introduction of the digital map, a mutable mobile (Lammes 2009), consisting of a complex composite of materials, software and practices. The digital map is present in our phones, our navigational equipment, our games and our apps. It mundanely changes our relation to our environment and has an aspect of co-creation between the map maker and user largely absent from previous mapping practices. The map becomes a habitual practice, and there exist an increasingly growing cultural capital of usage and interaction with such maps.

This poses a new set of question, and, coupled with trends in contemporary cartography, allows for a re-examination of digital maps’ roles in the politic and power relations. If we take mapping as a navigational rather than mimetic practice, agreeing that the map does not resemble the territory but serves as a series of referents which assists a user in reaching a certain goal (November, Camacho-Hübner, and Latour 2010) then from an Actor-Network Perspective (Latour 1987; 2005), the digital map can be understood as a translational actor that allows effective combination of people, locations, objects, practices and policies to create change.