Dr Lorraine Lim: some memories

by Scott Rodgers on September 18, 2017

Last week, Lorraine Lim, a Birkbeck colleague and friend, passed away surrounded by her partner and family in Singapore. I can still hardly believe, or accept, that I’m writing these words. And I’m not sure my blog is where I should be writing them. But over the last few days, as I’ve debated this in my head, I’ve concluded that this is a good place. Maybe it opens up a few more memories – albeit minor, fleeting and mostly work-related – to an indefinite public who knew Lorraine.

The first time I met Lorraine was when she and Sophie Hope joined me in a temporary shared office, on Tavistock Square; soon after, we were also joined by Stamatia Portanova. The four of us spent those few initial months getting to know one another, trying to figure Birkbeck out. Right away, Lorraine left an indelible impression. She was incredibly friendly and cheery. She was positive, decisive, confident and direct. She had ideas and trajectory. I could see even then that she was going to have a big impact on our then very young department.

Soon after, I had the opportunity to work with Lorraine on a project. Along with Sophie Hope, we organised a postgraduate workshop on ‘doing research amongst technologies’. We took the approach you might expect from keen early career academics: we put an awful lot of work into it. It was fun, though from my recollection, Lorraine and I also butted heads, here and there. Our ways of being in the world overlapped in some respects: we were both strong willed. But Lorraine also had a way of just cutting to the chase, of cutting out the bullshit. Something I certainly lack myself at times. The resulting workshop was a success, and it was strongly influenced by Lorraine. It’s worth linking to the workshop website and blog, because it testifies to Lorraine’s insistence that the workshops needed to have a life beyond the face-to-face sessions. She was instrumental in ensuring that the website could be a resource for others, distant and after the fact. This was a general quality that I will always remember about Lorraine: her strong sense that the academy ought to have some utility. Not utility in terms of immediate practical or commercial ends, but responsibility to think about the uses of what we do. More than most, Lorraine recognised that academics work from a privileged position of relative autonomy, and felt we should make something of that.

Lorraine was well known for her research, which sought to understand cultural policies, institutions and work through its myriad contexts, particularly in cities and in East Asia. Those of us who worked with Lorraine, though, also knew a multidimensional and deeply committed colleague. She was committed to the widening participation mission of Birkbeck. Alongside her extensive work on the postgraduate arts management programme, Lorraine spent years developing and defending the Foundation Degree in Arts and Media Management, aimed at students who otherwise would not have an opportunity at higher education. She was committed to students’ futures. Based on a very well-run student workshop, Lorraine developed a superb website aimed at preparing students for work in the cultural and creative industries (which she also late wrote about in The Guardian). She was committed to labour politics. I can remember, like it was yesterday, Lorraine quite rightly giving me a stern talking to on the steps of Gordon Square, when the fact of it being a strike day had passed me by. Suffice to say, I promptly joined the union, and the next time we were on strike, I was there in solidarity with her and others. Above all, however, I remember Lorraine as committed to ensuring that her work life had a social side, most often one involving food and drink. She was often the first to take the initiative in organising departmental drinks, or to lead us on a Szechuan dinner. She was a true Singaporean.

In the past week, my colleagues and I in FMACS (as we call our department) have been exchanging our memories of Lorraine over email, telephone, and in the corridors of Gordon Square. Her passing has underlined the ways in which our small department is like family, one which has lost a most dear sibling. Thankfully, at least one of us – Simone Wesner – was able to travel to Singapore for the funeral, to express to Lorraine’s familiar and friends how important she was to us.

Through social media, the past week has also delivered many new memories of Lorraine. People with whom I’m unacquainted, tagging Lorraine’s name, adding thoughts and images. I feel as if I’m learning about new and other sides of Lorraine, about just how wide her network of friends was, how much she was loved, and the fun things she go up to outside of academia. But it’s the images, arriving like waves, which are most haunting.

Only a few of the images coincide with the time during and around her treatment for cancer; how she looked when she came back to FMACS, so very briefly, for a party we threw to celebrate her return. An affair of sparkling wine, and chocolates, which we’d laid on as a surprise – and in hindsight, hopeful – welcome home. She didn’t drink, she couldn’t, due to the medication she was on at the time. And she had someone to meet that night, so couldn’t stay as long as she’d have liked either. It was the last time I saw her in person. She soon returned to Singapore for further treatment.

Most of the images I see on social media, though, resemble the Lorraine I knew as a colleague and friend. For now, these images conjure up the stubborn unreality of her passing away. Like the rest of my colleagues, I knew Lorraine was unwell, but the London-to-Singapore distance seemed to mean her absence, and the reasons for it, were sometimes experienced more abstractly than they might have otherwise. Now we must come to terms with this sad, and profoundly unfair, loss. Alongside my colleagues, I hope we can find ways to make sure Lorraine’s memory endures. Rest in peace, friend.

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Media,_Culture_&_SocietyI have a new journal article published today in Media, Culture and Society, titled ‘Roots and fields: excursions through place, space, and local in hyperlocal media’. I’m really pleased to have something appear in MCS. Before I became more immersed in media and cultural studies, it was the one journal I really looked to as embodying the field a whole – and I still feel it does, even with a broadened awareness of the field. The abstract for the article (which can be accessed at Sage OnlineFirst) is below. The official version requires a subscription, of course. The accepted manuscript version is freely accessible via BIROn, Birkbeck’s open-access repository.

Roots and fields: excursions through place, space, and local in hyperlocal media

Scott Rodgers

Abstract
In 2012, UK charity Nesta announced Destination Local, a program focused on future developments in ‘hyperlocal media’ based on location-based technologies. The program’s first round funded an experimental portfolio of 10 small projects. In this article, I present vignettes drawn from walking interviews with four of the project leaders, putting these into dialogue with phenomenological and practice-centered media theory, as well as growing interests in the geographies of media. My argument is that practices of so-called hyperlocal media should be understood via a phenomenological duality. On one hand, as activities rooted in place: conducting media work though situated environments. Yet, on the other hand, as inhabitations of field spaces: geographically dispersed social and technical worlds. This analysis suggests we step back in order to consider the conceptualization of place, space, and the local itself in studies of ‘hyperlocal’ as an emergent form of media production.

Keywords
digital media, field theory, hyperlocal media, journalism, local media, phenomenology, place and space, walking interviews

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CFP AAG 2018: Platform Urbanism

by Scott Rodgers on August 24, 2017

It’s hard to believe that AAG CFP season is starting already. Susan Moore and I have begun advertising a CFP for the 2018 AAG conference in New Orleans, USA. The set of paper and panel sessions will focus on the theme of ‘Platform Urbanism’, co-sponsored by the AAG’s Digital Geographies Specialty Group, Media and Communication Geography Specialty Group and Urban Geography Specialty Group.

The full CFP is below. I’d be happy to chat informally with anyone interested.

Platform Urbanism

Call for Papers/Panellists

Association of American Geographers Conference 2018
New Orleans, USA, 10-14 April 2018

Organizers

Susan Moore (University College London)
Scott Rodgers (Birkbeck, University of London)

Sponsors

Digital Geographies Specialty Group
Media and Communication Geography Specialty Group
Urban Geography Speciality Group

Outline

Talk about ‘platforms’ is today all-pervasive: platform architecture, platform design, platform ecosystem, platform governance, platform markets, platform politics, platform thinking. But just what are platforms? And how might we understand their emergent urban geographies?

As Tarleton Gillespie (2010) argues, the term ‘platform’ clearly does discursive work for commercial entities such as Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and Google. It allows them to be variably (and often ambiguously) described and imagined: as technical platforms; platforms for expression; or platforms of entrepreneurial opportunity. Indeed, as emergent spaces, platforms – both commercial and nonprofit – entail so many ambitions, activities, services, exchanges, forums, infrastructures, and ordinary practices that conceptualizing their general dynamics is difficult, perhaps even pointless.

Yet platforms do appear to have considerable implications, geographical as well as political. For Benjamin Bratton (2015), cloud-based platforms such as Facebook, Amazon and Google form a fundamental layer of what he calls planetary-scale computation, perhaps representing new forms of geopolitical sovereignty. This ‘sovereignty’ is, however, neither generalized nor homogeneous: in manifests in geographically uneven intensities and extents.

This session invites original research and conceptual reflections that explore, debate and critique the notion of an emergent ‘platform urbanism’. Recently, Nick Srnicek (2016) deployed the phrase ‘platform capitalism’ to encapsulate his argument that platforms not only mark a new kind of firm, but a new way of making economies. Here – in a move similar to Henri Lefevbre’s (1970/2003) in The urban revolution – we suggest a speculative substitution of ‘urbanism’ for ‘capitalism’, placing an emphasis on the possibility of irreducible, co-generative dynamics between platforms and the urban.

Contributions may address a wide range of commercial and nonprofit platforms – including those related to social networking, user-generated content, location-based technologies, mapping and the geoweb, goods and services, marketing, and gaming – and their relationships with various forms of urban living and urban spaces.

Expressions of Interest

We intend to organize 1-2 paper sessions, depending on quantity and quality of submissions, followed by a panel discussion session.

Expressions of interest must be emailed to both Susan Moore (susan.moore@ucl.ac.uk) and Scott Rodgers (s.rodgers@bbk.ac.uk) by 1 October 2017. Those proposing a paper presentation should send an abstract of 250 words; those interested in participating as a panellist should include a short outline of their intended contribution in their email.

References

Bratton, B. H. (2016). The stack: On software and sovereignty. MIT press.

Gillespie, T. (2010). The politics of ‘platforms’. New Media & Society, 12(3), 347-364.

Lefebvre, H. (1970/2003). The urban revolution (originally published as La révolution urbaine). University of Minnesota Press.

Srnicek, N. (2016). Platform capitalism. John Wiley & Sons.

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Infrastructure, platform, locality: A response to Motta and Georgiou (IAMCR slides)

July 14, 2017

Tomorrow I depart London for my first ever visit to South America; specifically, to Cartagena, Colombia, for the 2017 IAMCR conference. I have the honour of being the respondent to Wallis Motta and Myria Georgiou’s ‘Deep mapping communication infrastructure in super diverse London’ which has won the 2016 IAMCR Urban Communication Grant. The paper is […]

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Ordinary Digital Humanities: Video of symposium with Lesley Gourlay, Grace Halden and Tim Markham

June 5, 2017

An edited video is now available for the ‘Ordinary Digital Humanities’ symposium that I organised during Birkbeck Arts Week in mid-May 2017. The event asked what might it mean to think about the digital humanities as ordinary, and focused on the implications of digitisation at the level of everyday academic life – beyond, or perhaps […]

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Re-locating media production: IJCS special issue now online

June 1, 2017

After a slightly confusing spate of digital publishing and then re-publishing, I can finally announce that ‘Re-locating media production’, a special issue in the International Journal of Cultural Studies that I have co-edited with Helen Morgan Parmett, is now available online. I list all the abstracts below, and include links to the OnlineFirst page at […]

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Louise Amoore talk at Birkbeck 7 June 2017: Cloud futures

May 24, 2017

On Wednesday 7 June 2017, Birkbeck Interdisciplinary Research in Media and Culture and the Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology will be co-hosting a talk from Professor Louise Amoore on the subject of ‘Cloud Futures’. The event – details of which are pasted below – is free and open to all, but booking via […]

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Satellite research seminar: ‘openness’ in education

May 16, 2017

Next week I have the pleasure of hosting another very interesting research event – a presentation from my colleague Leo Havemann, a sharp Learning Technologist at Birkbeck. Leo will be speaking about just what we might mean when we invoke the idea of ‘open’ in higher education, and in particular how we tend to fall […]

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Urban change: BIMI-PITT research workshop 10-12 May 2017 (with urban media tour 13 May 2017)

May 3, 2017

Next week sees the second edition of the biennial research workshop organised by Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image (BIMI) and Film Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. It takes place between Wednesday 10 May to Friday 12 May 2017 – and extends into Saturday 13 May with a version of my well-wrought urban media […]

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Ordinary digital humanities: Free event at Birkbeck, 15 May 2017

May 2, 2017

In a couple of weeks’ time I am happy to be hosting an event as part of Birkbeck Arts Week on the subject of ‘Ordinary Digital Humanities’, featuring a talk from Lesley Gourlay (UCL Institute of Education). The publicity blurb below has more than enough information, I suspect, for you to get the idea. The […]

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