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<nettime> Christian Fuchs interview by Pasko Bilic on Media studies, Mar
Patrice Riemens on Tue, 22 Oct 2013 01:19:39 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Christian Fuchs interview by Pasko Bilic on Media studies, Marx, Castells, Jenkins, PRISM, Occupy, etc. etc.


Original to: http://fuchs.uti.at/959/ 

?Castells and Jenkins: ? these approaches are terribly flawed?: An
interview with Christian Fuchs
Conducted by Pasko Bilic
First published on the Sociologija Media Blog

An interview covering topics such as critical media and communication
studies, media sociology, interdisciplinarity, Karl Marx, social theory,
the digital labour theory of value, social media, the Internet, Manuel
Castells, Henry Jenkins, PRISM and global surveillance, Occupy and media
reforms.



1) What first got you interested in media and communication studies?

My background is social informatics and I was interested in computing. On
the other hand, I come from Austria where we have a far-right party ? the
FP?? that has been very strong for many decades and they were using media
for spreading right-wing extremist ideologies. J?rg Haider was not just a
right-wing extremist political and ideological phenomenon, but also a
media spectacle. So I was interested in how the media are used for
disseminating these ideologies. Austria has one of the highest media
concentrations in the press sector and a tabloid called KronenZeitung
which has often supported these extremists and their racist propaganda. So
my interests were on the one hand computing and its implications for
society and on the other hand media and ideology. Also, my academic
background is very interdisciplinary because besides my PhD in informatics
I did my habilitation in ICTs and Society within the Faculty of Cultural
and Social Sciences at the University of Salzburg. Most of my life I have
worked in interdisciplinary departments. Of course media and communication
is in itself interdisciplinary. For example, I recently looked at the
special issue of the Journal of Communication from 1983 called ?Ferment in
the Field? where scholars discussed whether Media and Communication
Studies was a discipline, a field, or even isolated &#733;frog ponds&#733;
which was actually one of the views expressed by the Swedish scholar Karl
Erik Rosengren. What makes up the interdisciplinarity of Media and
Communication Studies were for example media economics, critical
communication studies, political communication, media psychology, etc.

2) How did your interests change over the years and how do you see the
field of media and communication studies today?

My interest in computing and media ideology did not change. Of course the
media landscape changes, and the context in which the media are situated
changes. There are differences between how the World Wide Web looked like
in the nineties with the first hypertext systems and what it looks like
now. Now there are ?social media? which are in reality not that new
although the appearance has changed. We are now also in a big economic and
societal crisis. But the field in general has always been rather
administrative, serving dominant interests. On the other hand there has
always been some basis in the critical thinking of the Frankfurt school,
British cultural studies, and Marxist political economy. This special
issue of the Journal of Communication I mentioned earlier was also divided
in this way. However, later issues showed that critical voices were less
present. In the 1980s mainstream publications such as the Journal of
Communication were still putting out some critical articles but now it is
completely administrative and this is, I think, not how the media and
communication studies should look like. Since the global crisis unfolded
in 2008 critical scholarship has started flourishing again, especially
among PhD students and early stage scholars who are fed up with the
neoliberal restructuring of the academic field, with precarious employment
and so on. Young academics have all the reasons to be angry, and naturally
anger gets to a certain extent expressed in critical thinking. There is a
general turn towards critical thinking, radical theory, anti-capitalist
and Marxist theory nowadays.

3) In your work you rely heavily on the writings of Karl Marx. Where do
you see the relevance of this 19th century theorist in the 21st century?

I do not terribly like the way you phrased this question because somehow
it gives the perception of Marx as being outdated, old, that society is
new and has completely changed through neoliberalism and so on. This was
the point made by Baudrillard who said that we cannot explain postmodern
society through Marx because Marx is a 19th century theorist and he did
not talk about the media and so on. I would however have suggested to
Baudrillard that he should have read Marx more carefully because there is
a lot in Marx that helps us understand the media within the context of
society. Quite obviously there is a huge crisis of capitalism, of the
state, imperialism and ideology. It is not only a financial crisis because
it goes beyond the financial sector. In volume three of Capital Marx very
thoroughly discussed the mechanisms of financialization. He also very
closely analysed class and class relations and inequalities. Nobody can
claim today that we are not living in a class society. The ruling class
enforces austerity measures and we have deepening inequalities. So these
are all social issues. If we look at the media side and the ICTs in this
context the question is can Marx somehow help us? I think that Baudrillard
and similarly minded people were and are very superficial readers of Marx
because Marx even anticipated the information society in his claims about
the development of technological productive forces, and that knowledge in
production would become increasingly important. Some also say that Marx
did not understand the networked media, but then again Marx for example
analyses the telegraph and its importance for society and how technology
impacts society in the context of the globalization of the economy and
communication. I even claim in my forthcoming book ?Social Media: A
Critical Introduction? that Marx invented the Internet in a striking
passage of the Grundrisse. He described in a very anticipatory manner that
in the global information system people inform themselves about others and
are creating connections to each other. So the idea of social networking
is there and the idea of networked information and a hypertext of global
information are already there. So actually the World Wide Web was not
invented by Tim Berners-Lee but by Karl Marx in 1857. Of course the
technological foundations did not exist and also the computer did not
exist as technology. But I think that, conceptually, Marx did invent the
internet.

4) Karl Marx was largely focused on labour as a basic human activity. How
does his labour theory relate to contemporary media and communication
processes? Where do you see the border between labour and play in
contemporary social media environments?

There is an anthropological element that Marx stresses. How humans have
differentiated themselves from animals and how society has become
differentiated has to do with purposeful human activity and self-conscious
thinking. What distinguishes a bee from an architect is that the architect
always imagines the result of what he produces before he produces it. This
anticipatory thinking is at the heart of all human work processes. Work
takes its organisational forms through social relations within specific
societal formations ? for example in the capitalist mode of production and
the capitalist mode of the organisation of society. Then the labour theory
of value comes in. Some say this is vital for social media, some say we do
not need this theory because it is completely outdated. There is a lot of
misunderstanding about the labour theory of value. When I read articles
about this topic I always look at the basic concepts used besides value
and labour. A lot of people use the terms money and profit, not
understanding that labour theory of value is a theory of time in society
and the capitalist economy. The crucial thing about how Marx
conceptualizes value is that there is a substance of value and a measure
of value. Human labour power is the substance of value whereas labour time
in specific spaces is the measure of value. The labour value is the
average time it takes to produce a commodity. How does this relate to what
is called social media? The claim that the labour theory of value is no
longer valid implies that time plays no role in the contemporary
capitalist economy. Attention and reputation can be accumulated and
getting attention for social media does not happen simply by putting the
information there ? it requires the work of creating the attention. The
groups on Facebook and Twitter with the largest number of followers and
likes are the ones of entertainers and companies who employ people such as
social media strategists to take care of their social media presence. So
we need to conceptualize value with a theory of time. Therefore, I am
interested in establishing theories of time in society, time in economy
and media theory.

5) In his recent work Manuel Castells stated that the most fundamental
form of power lies in the ability to shape the human mind. This may be
easier to comprehend in the mass media environment where media content is
shaped with a specific purpose to control and direct human behaviour, for
example through advertising or political campaigns. However, with social
media the users produce the content themselves. Where do you see this type
of power exercised in the social media environment and how is it different
from the mass media environment?

I will try to answer this question in the context of two dominant theories
of how social media are being conceptualized: Castells? theory of media
and the network society and Henry Jenkins? theory of participatory
culture. I think both of these approaches are terribly flawed. Jenkins
celebrates corporatist capitalist culture and how it is monetized. The
concept of power from Castells is based on the Weber?s definition of power
as a coercive force that exists everywhere. However there is also
altruistic behaviour in our lives at home, with friends and elsewhere.
There is life beyond domination. Of course we live in dominative societies
but I believe in a sort of Enlightenment ideal of emancipation of society
and that people can rule themselves. For me power means the ability of
people to shape and control the structures of society. So power can be
distributed in different forms. There are also different forms of power:
economic power, decision-making power in politics, cultural power. The
problem is that these forms of power are unequally distributed. Now here
comes Jenkins who claims that culture has become participatory and we
today all create culture in a democratic process. Of course, there are
changes you cannot deny since it is easy to shoot a video on your mobile
phone and put it on the internet. But does this mean that society becomes
immediately democratized? I doubt it. Both Jenkins and Castells are
technological determinists. Jenkins does not even realize where the
concept of participation comes from in a theoretical sense and does not
mention earlier forms and attempts of creating more participation such as
the student movement?s vision of participatory democracy in the 1960s.
Structures of control in the economy today and in the political system are
based on power asymmetries. Although we produce information ourselves this
does not mean that all people benefit from it to the same extent.

6) Recent surveillance scandals exposed by Edward Snowden have shown that
the companies are not the only ones taking advantage of citizens? digital
footprints online. Do you see any alternatives to these events? How can we
achieve a truly open and participatory internet taking all these risks
into account?

The Prism scandal has shown that states have access to a lot of social
media. However, we have to put this phenomenon in a broader context. What
has emerged is a sort of surveillance-industrial complex where you have
spy agencies conducting massive surveillance in collaboration with private
companies. Facebook was involved, Skype, Apple and others. Snowden was
also working for a private security company ? Booz Allen ? and the state
outsourced surveillance to this private company and other ones. Security
is a very profitable sector within the economy. We must also see the
ideological context of these events that goes back to the post 9-11
situation. A spiral of war and violence was developing after these events
and it was claimed that there is a technological fix to terrorism and
organized crime and that there are terrorist and criminals everywhere
around us. The suggested highly ideologically motivated solution was to
introduce more surveillance technologies to prevent organized crime and
terrorism. This was very one-dimensional and short sighted. What has
developed in the online sphere is corporate and state control. From a
liberal perspective this threatens the basic liberties we have or that we
think we have in modern society. The question is how do we get out of this
situation and what changes of the Internet and society do we need? We do
have things like the Pirate party struggling for freedom of information,
people concerned about privacy, critical journalists concerned about press
freedom, the Occupy movement and so on. They all seem, however, terribly
unconnected but in the time of crisis of the whole capitalist society
their reactions, if combined in a network, would be a force for defending
society and making it more democratic. A united political movement that
would run for governments and parliaments could try to make reforms in
society. We also need to reinvent and redesign the basic structures of the
internet. However, we should not do away with social media because they do
enable people to maintain their networks. But people do not like the
aspects of control embedded in them. We need an internet controlled by
civil society. If we think of how the media can be organized there are not
just capitalist media but also public service media controlled by the
state and alternative media controlled by civil society. The idea of an
alternative internet purely controlled by the state might be dangerous,
but we need state power to make progressive changes. I would like to see a
combination of both state and civil society power in reforming the
Internet and the media because there are interesting civil society
projects that however face the problem of a lack of resources. For
example, the Occupy movement had an alternative social medium they
created. This was used by a certain minority within the movement.
My study ?OccupyMedia! The Occupy Movement and Social Media in Crisis
Capitalism? shows that the corporate platforms were also popular among
activists but that they were at the same time afraid they were monitored
by the state and also worried that as digital workers they were exploited
by Internet companies. We can only introduce changes by using already
existing structures but the history of alternative media is unfortunately
a history of voluntary, self-exploited and precarious work because of the
lack of sources of income. So a media reform movement should also channel
resources towards alternative projects. We need to tax media corporations
more, we need to tax advertising, and corporations in general. Through
participatory budgeting one could channel this money towards alternative
media projects that are non-profit and so we could create a form of
cooperation between the state and civil society that advances media
reform. Voluntary donations such as the ones on Wikipedia are also a
solution but are dependent on an unstable stream of resources.

7) How do you see the increasing push towards applied and policy oriented
research in Europe? How will it affect media studies and social sciences
and humanities in general?

Research topics and areas in the European Union are predominantly formed
in a top-down process, for example in Horizon 2020. What we need is a more
critical agenda that addresses the problems in society and then thinks
about the media and communication to see in which context they are
operating and how we can improve democracy and the internet. The EU is
framing questions about the Internet in terms of e.g. electronic
participation but what it means by this is digital bureaucracy and that
governments develop services for citizens and not the citizens?
development of an online public sphere. Administrative, quantitative and
micro-level research is also preferred while theory, ethics, or critical
theory is avoided. A critical research agenda would involve critical
social theory on the one hand and critical empirical research on the other
hand. Unfortunately a lot of critical theory does not use research
methods. At the same time there are a lot of micro studies of social life
that completely ignore theory. So a lot of empiricists do not know much
about theory and a lot of theorists do not know much about research
methods. The key is that we always need to have a societal context in mind
so that we do not loose ourselves in studying micro phenomena.

8.) Media studies are an inherently interdisciplinary field. Where do you
see the role of disciplines, especially sociology, in media studies?

Philosophy is a general meta-science, while sociology is social sciences?
meta-science. Social science was on the one hand influenced by the natural
sciences, which was reflected in the interest in research methods, and on
the other hand by the humanities and philosophy which was reflected in the
focus on social theory. Social theory is a condusing English term that can
sometimes be too micro-focused. There is a difference between ?social? and
?societal?. I would prefer the terms theory of society as in the German
term Gesellschaftstheorie. In any case, media and communication studies
should always be informed by sociology. For example, there is a difference
between research presented in associations such as ECREA and research
presented in the European Sociological Association (ESA). ESA?s Research
Network 18 (Sociology of Communications and Media Research) is more
interested in critically theorizing the media within society and in the
context of society that shapes the media. Media sociology has always been
a more critical field than media and communication studies at a whole. I
am also optimistic about the development of a critical sociology of the
media because there are a lot of young scholars who are interested in
studying the media within society and there are a lot of interesting
things happening. We need to help in institutionalizing critical media
research by running journals, organizing conferences and creating space
and time for critical media sociology. The task are: creating space where
critical people can meet and talk to each other, creating space where they
can publish; and creating time for doing critical research together with
colleagues.

--------
Dr. Christian Fuchs is Professor of Social Media at the Communication and
Media Research Institute and the Centre for Social Media Research,
University of Westminster, London, UK. He is the author of ?Internet and
society: Social theory in the information age? (Routledge 2008),
?Foundations of critical media and information studies? (Routledge 2011)
and the forthcoming monographs ?Digital labor and Karl Marx? (Routledge
2014), ?Social media: A critical introduction? (Sage 2014) and
?OccupyMedia! The Occupy movement and social media in crisis capitalism?
(Zero Books 2014). He has co-edited the collected volume ?Internet and
surveillance: The challenges of web 2.0 and social media? (Routledge 2012)
and the forthcoming volumes ?Critique, social media and the information
society? (Routledge 2014) and ?Social media, politics and the state.
Protests, revolutions, riots, crime and policing in the age of Facebook,
Twitter and YouTube? (Routledge 2014). He is editor of ?tripleC:
Communication, Capitalism & Critique?, Chair of the European Sociological
Association?s Research Network 18 ? Sociology of Communications and Media
Research, co-founder of the ICTs and Society network and Vice-Chair of the
European Union COST Action ?Dynamics of Virtual Work?. We met up with
Christian in October in Athens, Greece during the COST action meeting and
conference.


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