Thursday, March 15, 2018

When culture reproduces state-market control

The turn to "culture" as a legitimate tool for measurement, evaluation, prescription, and implementation is intertwined with the incorporation of culture into sites of state-market control.

Culture, as the handmaiden of the neoliberal transformation of societies, is incorporated into the logics imposed by the state toward the transformation of human lives under the overarching logic of the market.

The cultural subject is an individualized self-interested consumer, participating through the state-controlled techniques of hyper-engagement to generate revenues for the market.

The authoritarian techniques deployed by the state mechanize the terms, textures, techniques, and possibilities for cultural participation.

The message, "the market rules," is incorporated into a wide range of cultural artefacts that consistently sings the song of the market. Cultural consumption, mediated through the market logics, is turned into points of profiteering, simultaneously "place branding" cultural spaces as destinations for transnational capital. 

Narrowly and monotonously captured into metrics of cultural capital, culture is turned into an instrument of accounting. Heritage sites, trails, museums, art houses, performances, theaters are accounted for by the overarching rules of cultural capital, incorporated into the techniques of the state for drawing foreign direct investments and positioning itself as an investment hub.

As an instrument of accounting, culture is assigned an economic value, and commoditized into the overarching logics of the global free market.

Cultural value is the economic value, circulated in the exchange logics of the free market.

Cultural products and artifacts, thus constituted in the logics of the market, are strictly controlled within the authoritarian techniques of the state, stripped of the dynamism, fluidity and resistive possibilities.

What will attract capital investments is culture. What will enable the branding of the state as a hub for global financial investments is culture. What will narrowly contribute to the neoliberal logics of market fundamentalism is culture.

Simultaneously, the authoritarian state deploys a wide range of techniques of control to erase the critical, contested, and tensile sites of culture.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How the "fake news" hype is a new tool of power and control

The circulation of the "fake news" discourse reinvents the Cold War narrative of geoinsecurity to reinforce the power and control of hegemonic power structures globally.

In the hands of the global elite, "fake news" is the new instrument for reproducing elite power and control, recycled as the weapon for silencing difference, working through the role of the state in carrying out techniques of social media governmentality.

The manufacturing of threats serve the strategic purpose of introducing greater and newer methods of repression.

Similar to the strategic manufacturing of the "Red threat" as a basis for authoritarian control and repression during the Cold War, the manufacturing of the "fake news" agenda serves as the pretext for the reproduction of draconian laws that fundamentally threaten free speech and freedom of expression. As in the instance of the "Red threat," the paradox of the "fake news" trope is its reproduction of the false perception of "threat" to shape public opinion in support for techniques of repression.

Authoritarian states find the premise of "fake news" as the perfect alibi for introducing new measures of authoritarian control, albeit through the performance of engagement.

Even as these measures of repression are being introduced to curtail diversity of public opinion on online spaces, nation states continue to be one of the key sites of production of fake news through their instruments of propaganda. Obfuscated in this conversation is the fact that some of the greatest sources of falsehoods are nation states, in instances working in collusion with transnational corporations, to reproduce elite power.

Although the fear of foreign governments and interests influencing local politics is the new discursive trope on the horizon, this "fear of foreign influence" has long been deployed as a strategic device for introducing laws that silence free speech and enable the reproduction of hegemonic power.

Moreover, even as the trope of "foreign influence" is introduced as a new threat on the horizon of the social media sphere, techniques of influencing and subverting democratic processes have been tried-and-tested tool of the power elite in global geopolitics.

The U.S. for instance, since the 1950s, systematically deployed overt and covert operations to destabilize democratically elected governments across the globe, and especially in the global South. The instruments of the deep state, more specifically instruments such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been the key actors in carrying out these forms of repression, albeit paradoxically in the name of promoting global geosecurity.

In the current environment, it is critical for media scholars to carefully attend to how the "fake news" agenda is being deployed as a repressive strategy for silencing difference and critique.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Metric mania and threats to academic integrity: Rent-seeking, power plays, and collaboration

Universities, as modern capitalist organizations, reproduce practices of exploitation that are often obfuscated by the gloss of projected images.

Metric mania, the drive toward simply counting in the game toward rankings, is reflected in the blind allegiance in such Universities globally to measuring dollar values of grants and numbers of publications in varieties of tiered journals (tiering itself is a form of categorization that reproduces exploitative practices).

One of the effects of this neoliberal obsession with metrics is its role in (re)producing cultures of academic practices that threaten the very nature of academic work.

Academic integrity is sacrificed to the accelerated quest for numbers.

One such threat to academic integrity is reflected in rent-seeking behaviors of senior academics. What is projected as the academic culture of collaboration driven by faculty in senior ranks within institutions is often driven by practices of exploitation (Of course, there are many forms of collaboration that are generative and nurturing, more on these in a later blog entry).

Driven to claim credits on these metrics established by managers, these senior faculty develop practices of collaborating with junior colleagues, which often turn into exercises of exploitation, creating "use-and-throw systems" where junior scholars become expendable labor in circuits of exploitation.

For instance, Professor X running such-and-such lab expects any junior colleague using an equipment in his lab to include him as a co-author. Without doing any intellectual or material work, Professor X simply adds numbers to his CV by virtue of securing a grant that funds an expensive equipment or an entire laboratory.

In other instances, such exploitation can take grotesque forms such as Professor X asking a first year Assistant Professor Dr. A to list him as the Principal Investigator (PI) on a grant written by Dr. A based on an idea Dr. A has developed.

Professor X might even simply then take the idea and write a number of manuscripts based on the idea, taking Dr. A out of the picture.

Professor X might convince Dr. A, already occupied with anxieties about navigating a metric-heavy system that listing Professor X as the Principal Investigator (PI) on the grant would get Dr. A funded.

Such unethical practices in academe are reproduced by the inequalities in distribution of power within academic institutions and the anxieties that are tied to these inequities in power. The Dr. As in academe, often the expendable labor in circuits of academic reproduction, are simply "thrown out" for not having produced original work. Institutional processes, ensconced within circuits of power, are unavailable to junior colleagues to file complaints and to secure access to justice.

In the meanwhile, Professor X goes on to develop patents, win awards, secure additional funding based on ideas that were developed by Dr. A.

Rent-seeking culture among corrupt senior academics is typically rewarded and reproduced through the structures of metrics, whose obsession with metrics does little to actually consider questions of ethics, integrity, and misconduct.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Culturally centering participatory spaces, radical democracy, and holding elites accountable

In the many culture-centered projects implemented across the globe, the development of habits of participatory communication in local cultural logics and in ongoing relationships with structures is integral to the co-construction of social change interventions.

Communication as advocacy emerges from within the infrastructures of participatory communication grounded in community life. For instance, the understanding of racism as a chronic determinant of cardiovascular disease among African Americans emerges as a site for participatory politics that seeks to transform the unhealthy structures of racism. In doing so, advocacy directed at transforming racist structures is fundamentally grounded in local participatory logics of community life.

Movements such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement emerge as grassroots-driven, community participatory spaces directed at transforming the structures. The understanding that health is constituted in the organizing of local-global structures is an anchor for participatory communication processes directed at transforming these structures.

Therefore, culture-centered participatory spaces, grounded in the rhythms of community life, and negotiated through the everyday struggles of community members, catalyze the cultivation of radical democracies. Radical democracies foster democratic practices in everyday habits of decision-making over development pathways to be taken, resources to be developed and cultivated, and trajectories to be pursued. The spaces of decision-making are (re)turned into the hands of communities. The work of academics, activists, and civil society organizations becomes one of participatory capacity building. For instance, in culture-centered collaborations with African American communities in the inner city U.S., building the evidence base on the linkage between racism and health outcomes builds community capacity for transformative advocacy, pushing toward changes in policy formations and organizing of structures that resist racism.

In building participatory spaces grounded in local cultural logics, the culture-centered approach thus inverts the logics of power that reproduce elite control. Elites are held accountable to the voices of community members at the margins of societies. The habits of elite decision-making, oblivious to community voices and struggles, are disrupted through the presence of community voices. The monolithic power of elite control is disrupted by evidence-based community participation in everyday decision-making processes.

Grassroots driven radical democracies enable the ownership of the various political, economic, social, and cultural decision-making platforms in the hands of communities, with the roles of elite actors transformed toward serving community needs. In turning toward community participatory spaces as sites of decision-making, culture-centered processes offer frameworks for local communities to participate in power sharing, examining the claims made by elites, evaluating the evidence available, and making decisions based on the emerging understanding.

The very logic of episodic stakeholder engagement campaigns and community dialogues driven by elite agendas is interrogated, instead transforming participation toward an everyday habit of community life. In this sense, in culture-centered processes, community participation is driven by communities as contested sites of decision-making rather than by the agendas of elite actors who seek to deploy community engagement toward a variety of strategic purposes. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Strategies of authoritarian control: The culture of forwarding private Facebook screen captures to authorities

One of the well-rehearsed strategies of authoritarian control is surveillance.

While technologies enable new modes of surveillance, the power and control of surveillance is reproduced through human participation.

Mechanisms of surveillance are perfected and reproduced by willing subjects that participate in the reproduction of surveillance (Andrejevic, 2002, 2007; Dubrofsky, 2011; Fuchs, 2017; Owen & Imre, 2013). Those that participate in these mechanisms are led to believe that they will somehow be rewarded by the structures.

With each new technology, authoritarian powers invent new mechanisms of control.

The power of authoritarianism lies precisely in the threat that one will be found out if they did or said anything that challenges the control of the structure. Surveillance works toward silencing critique through the culture of fear it reproduces.

Inherent in the reproduction of this culture of fear is the prevalence of mechanisms of surveillance. Everyday interactions are turned into sites of surveillance. Modes of participation are brought under the purview of surveillance.

And everyone around you is potentially an accomplice to the strategies of surveillance. Your neighbor, colleague, friend, partner-the possibility that anyone can potentially be an instrument of surveillance feeds a sense of paranoia that is antithetical to critical thought.

The global emergence of Facebook as a platform for social change, albeit within the logics of dominant capitalist structures, has also brought on new modalities of Facebook surveillance.

One such modality of surveillance is the monitoring of Facebook.

Facebook posts shared with the intent of communicating with friends (set to "friends only" settings) can be forwarded to authoritarian structures of power and control. Screen captures then can be used as tools of control.

The culture of forwarding screen captures in this sense is an extension of the overarching culture of authoritarian control. Participants in the elaborate networks of control are somehow led to believe that they will be incentivized and rewarded for passing on information, ironically themselves being under surveillance by somebody else. The paranoia enables the authoritarian system to reproduce itself, silencing critical thought and interrogation.

One of the key sites for communication advocacy in this backdrop is to hold global corporate structures such as Facebook to account. Facebook privacy settings are rendered meaningless if private Facebook posts can be treated as public.


Andrejevic, Mark. (2002). "The work of watching one another: Lateral surveillance, risk, and governance." Surveillance & Society 2.4.

Andrejevic, M. (2007). iSpy: Surveillance and power in the interactive era (p. 182). Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Dubrofsky, R. E. (2011). Surveillance on reality television and Facebook: From authenticity to flowing data. Communication Theory, 21(2), 111-129.

Fuchs, C. (2017). Social media: A critical introduction. Sage.

Owen, S., & Imre, R. (2013). Little mermaids and pro-sumers: The dilemma of authenticity and surveillance in hybrid public spaces. International Communication Gazette, 75(5-6), 470-483.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Communication theory in Science, Health, Risk Communication

Outside of the disciplinary framework of communication scholarship that systematically examines communication processes, communicative phenomena, messages, and their effects in the realms of health, science, and risk, mostly originating from within the Communication discipline in the U.S. and published in the top-tier disciplinary and sub-disciplinary journals, claims to expertise in science, health, and risk communication are often made by outsiders to the discipline of Communication in other parts of the world. This certainly seems to be the case in significant proportions of science, health, and risk communication being done, taught, and launched across the Asia-Pacific. A quick survey of these new and market-driven forays into science, health, and risk communication would suggest they have little grounding in and little to do with the scientific study of communication. Reviewing these programs, I often come away disappointed, and more importantly, with the recognition that our discipline needs to do much more in establishing and implementing the standards for what gets to be taught and practiced in programs using the Communication tag strategically and who gets to teach, offer, and practice it.

Whereas these claims to science, health, and risk communication across the Asia-Pacific are mostly responses to the burgeoning demands in the market, to the easily available funding in these industries, and to the opportunities for generating revenues in these areas, they are often poorly configured as they are not grounded in Communication theory and mostly lack knowledge of the theoretical and empirical scholarship in science, health, and risk communication. In many instances, such claims to communication knowledge without even the basic undergraduate-level exposure to Communication theory and research are dangerous as they replicate pseudo-scientific beliefs about communication, and are much more likely to produce negative effects.

Imagine your sociologist making claims to quantum theory; the situation is somewhat like that in these burgeoning knowledge industries in science, health, and risk communication in the Asia Pacific. The complete lack of exposure to the discipline is coupled with the absence of disciplinary oversight into what is being taught and practiced.

That a PhD in Physics or Chemistry or Biology or Economics is not a Communication PhD is the first point that needs to be imbibed in these outsider overtures into Communication. Without the fundamental respect for the systematic study of communicative phenomena, messages, and processes, anchored in the Communication discipline, new programs and claims of science, health, and risk communication are more like the snake oil being sold as the cure to all ailments. When these programs have the branding of legitimacy, they do more harm than good, just like the snake oil packaged as medicinal cure for cancer. In this sense, organizations that develop and sell these programs ought to be held accountable.

As one example, let's consider the basic framework in which communication  is taught in a number of these "fake" programs and "fake" degrees in communication. The basic tenets of what is termed as the magic bullet theory, that communication messages can be injected into the minds of unsuspecting recipients, long debunked by decades of empirical evidence and theorization into persuasive communication, continue to hold sway for functionalist managers of science, health, and risk communication. Driven by the simplistic notion that messages can induce the actions desired by the payers of the messages, approaches to science, health, and risk communication replicate the quest for the right technique, once again without grounding in the fundamental principles of communication. To top it all, physicists and chemists and biologists, with some basic interpersonal skills and techniques of grooming (dressing properly, with an English accent, wearing make-up etc.), are positioned as the experts on communication skills.

Second, without disciplinary oversight, there is no accountability in these programs and practices to actually engaging with the discipline. Therefore, when talking to science, health, or risk communicators, I am struck by how clueless they are about communication journals, communication scholarship, and the body of empirical evidence. For some of them, there is not even the basic knowledge that there exists a discipline called Communication.

Third, being strategic and flushed with money, these "fake" programs often mark their claim to legitimacy by attaching themselves to a world renowned name in science, health, and risk communication. When we as experts in the area lend our names to such programs, once again, we do more harm than good as we legitimize the pseudo-science. I am therefore very careful in evaluating a program, its objectives, content, and intent before accepting to speak for or serve in a Visiting role for a program. Say for instance, a Chinese University launches a program in health communication in a medical school. My first task then is to do my research and see if there is a Communication or Communication-related school in the same University, and if the proposed program has engaged in a collaborative partnership with the disciplinary representatives within the University. Second, I look up if the program has trained Communication scholars and researchers housed in it. If the answer to the question is no, I am likely to respond in the negative regarding lending my name, with the polite suggestion that the program needs to first and foremost recruit Communication scholars if it wants to have anything to do with Communication. At this stage, I am also very clear that I am unlikely as a health communication scholar to lend my legitimacy to a program that is disengaged with the discipline.

Fourth, and this relates to the point about strategy and access to resources, "fake" programs find out that one quick way to build legitimacy is to co-brand with an US university (say, a well-known Communication department). What this tells me is that the program is well aware of the discipline and intentionally ignores it because it wants to profit without investing in the discipline. Such instances of intentional snake oil-salesmanship are all the more problematic as they deliberately choose to not engage the discipline. In such instances, it is the role and responsibility of established global Communication departments to do their homework before identifying and partnering with organizations in the Asia-Pacific, even if these organizations are flush with money. It is irresponsible to lend the credibility to such "fake" programs as it does more harm to the discipline than good, and contributes to its delegitimization.

The proliferation of these "fake" degrees and programs in science, health, and risk communication needs to be held accountable as in many instances, they cheat students and organizations, and in other instances, deliberately mislead them into believing they are getting a communication education when they are not. Moreover, they give a bad name to the discipline as they teach and reproduce practices that are not based on sound scientific knowledge of communication. Framed as soft skills, communication is pitched as something that can be taught and practiced by anybody, devoid of the theorizing and empiricism that goes into the scholarship that is generated in the discipline.

Therefore, there is a pivotal role for the discipline to use standards and metrics of accreditation globally to ensure that what is being taught in these areas of science, health, and risk is legitimate, is anchored in empiricism and theory, and most importantly, is embedded within the scientific anchors of the discipline. The International Communication Association @ICA and the National Communication Association @natcomm, much like the World Medical Association in the case of medical education, have leadership roles to play to ensure that what is offered as communication education is rooted in the best practices and knowledge frameworks of the discipline and is legitimate content drawn from the fundamental tenets of Communication science.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Voices of resistance

from #fieldnotes2011

When the tides of voices
emerging from the margins,
tell their stories,
they offer lessons
that disrupt your draconian rules.

When the tides of voices
emerging from the margins
speak their truth,
they shake up
the lies that you have carefully woven.

When the tides of voices
emerging from the margins,
sing their songs,
they sow the
seeds of hope.

When the tides of voices
emerging from the margins,
make new rhythms,
they remind you
the end of your repression is near.