[-empyre-] Welcome Kevin Hamilton, Carl DiSalvo, Yiannis Colakides and Beatriz de Costa.

Christiane Robbins cpr at mindspring.com
Thu Apr 29 03:53:09 EST 2010

I, too, have been reading these exchanges with interest.  For me it  
represents a rather fascinating evolution of theories, strategies,  
actions and struggles that have been taking place for the latter part  
of the 20thc and clearly continue to this day.  Ironically, a pivotal  
voice in arguing these cogent positions of resistance was another  
academic appointment at UCSD in the 60's, Herbert Schiller

“Schiller warned of two major trends in his prolific writings and  
speeches: the private takeover of public space and public institutions  
at home, and U.S. corporate domination of cultural life abroad,  
especially in the developing nations.”

  “  Mass Communications and American Empire concluded with a call for  
"a democratic reconstruction of mass communications." Schiller  
correctly forecast that government-financed public broadcasting would  
not produce "the scope of change, either in outlook or allegiance,  
that the current social situation demands." Instead, he saw the best  
possibility for significant change in disaffected social groups of the  
time, such as black power militants, student activists, university  
faculty and public sector employees, who he hoped would claim access  
to mass communications technology and put it to useful social  
purposes. This, he acknowledged, would require concerted political  
action to achieve (198-206). Thirty years later, we are no closer to  
achieving it with respect to television and radio, although the  
Internet now provides a means for oppositional groups to create  
grassroots information networks that circumvent these corporate- 
controlled media.” Mark Hudson

I first became acquainted with his writings while in school and  
viewing videotapes distributed by Deep Dish TV.  On a personal level,  
he was instrumental to my own decision to enter the academy –  
specifically at a Research University.  In accepting his appointment  
at UCSD, he clearly believed in the viability and merit of  
intellectual exchange, and to effect change through his teaching,  
students, academic research and writings.

Quite obviously, his was a distinctly different moment and academic/ 
cultural landscape .  His critics are quick to say that he was just  
another Marxist  “pissing in the winds of neo-liberalism.”  However,  
if that cynical perspective were truly accurate, would we even be  
having this discussion on empyre today?  Would an activist academic,  
such as Ricardo, and several others (who voices now seem mute) have  
secured an initial appointment – let alone earn tenure and then retain  
it within the constrictions of research conventions?

We cannot afford to forget our own value as artists, media makers  
cultural producers (!)  in this onslaught of privatization that  
accords us a token use value inscribed by the narrowcasting of a  
blinded technocratic system.  This dismissive framing is one that we  
cannot afford to internalize and is only a gross disservice to  
ourselves as well as to cultural and society at large.

What has happened with Ricardo and with bang lab is simply indicative  
that artists now possess tools of agency that are viewed as (mis)  
representing a threat.  It harkens back to a moment writ large in the  
culture wars of the USA – where Newt Gingrich, then leader of the  
House of Representatives, set his sights on disemboweling the media  
arts program of the NEA in 1995.  He recognized the power of  
independent  and experimental media – such as that of Marlon Riggs –  
as providing expansive perspectives that were not sanctioned by the  
conservative forces – and that might reach viewing audiences of  
millions.  Telling enough, he was not at all really concerned about  
the visual arts program as that was safely framed by monied interests  
of the market place and what he viewed as conservative institutions.  
He merely cut funding to the NEA’s regional re-granting programs ( not  
overseen by the Feds) alternative spaces, venues and individual  
artists and media makers that could not easily be corralled to toe the  

Obviously, an analogy can easily be drawn to the internet and the  
logarithmic development of tactical media during the past 20 years +.   
The DIY underpinnings of these tactics have repeatedly run in conflict  
with their host institutions ( if you will.)  Kevin’s 4th paragraph is  
spot on.  The core difference now being the full fledged realization  
of the reach of the privatization of the public research university.   
Who is defining the public interest these days of scarcity, gaming the  
system and limited vision.  To my mind,  the responsible voice of the  
public academic is to take on this debate - to enlarge it - struggle  
with it – if not now, when?

All best,


P.S.  Kevin - I believe that Herb's son, Dan Schiller is a colleague  
of your at Champaign -Urbana.

On Apr 27, 2010, at 11:56 PM, Kevin Hamilton wrote:

> I've been reading this exchange with much interest, and am very  
> thankful to have seen some new voices here. We hardly need invited  
> guests to keep the momentum going, but I've been saving up my  
> response anyway.
> So far I've been thinking about how untenable the strategic choices  
> are for university workers with a heart for justice work.
> With Tactical Media "in the cracks," work like banglab's finds a  
> home from time to time precisely because the host institution  
> doesn't know what it's in for. The gigs are short, the labor  
> precarious, perhaps small gains made for justice at the level of  
> mere redirection of resources. As Beatriz said, if this describes  
> many of the likes of us empyre readers, the gig may be up.
> On the other hand, with Tactical Media as a recognized academic  
> track, workers will likely still find themselves in precarious  
> situations. Knowledge structures and taxonomies may bend to include  
> this work, even earning positive attention  and critical credibility  
> to their hosts. But as long as University infrastructures are  
> determined by protection of Intellectual Property, National  
> Security, and individualist careerism, "tenured radicals" will find  
> that there is no institutional foundation for their work. Scandals  
> like the present one will erupt, administrators will beg ignorance  
> and perhaps be right. Jobs will hang in the balance until the right  
> middle-level manager is found to assign the blame for  
> misunderstanding, or until another scandal shifts the heat.  
> Occasionally some middle-level Limbaugh-devotee will refuse to allow  
> University leaders to let the issue go away, and someone will get  
> fired.
> I'm in solidarity with banglab, and also not sanguine about the  
> prospects for academic tenure as a protection for work that targets  
> systemic injustice. If all this blows over for Ricardo, I will be so  
> grateful for that crew to see some relief from this emotional  
> violence. That is worth the world. But in the long run, even if  
> Yudoff starts dropping positive references to Tactical Media in his  
> research agenda, it's hard for me to see how academic valuation of a  
> project like the Transborder Tool could happen without shifting the  
> focus of reception away from the desert, and to the board room. (I  
> can hear it now..."We are lucky to have projects like this exciting  
> intervention, calling into question our tired systems of academic  
> evaluation, pushing us onwards to greater innovation!")
> For those who choose either of these tracks or both, seeking direct  
> legitimation or "wearing the wig," I hope we can find some ways to  
> collectively support them, to soften the blow of the inevitable job  
> precarity somehow. (Sponsored wigs? "Cells" funded from abroad?)
> Meanwhile, of course we should continue to push at the top levels  
> for more recognition of our institutions' roles in systemic injustice.
> But I also believe in seeking out opportunities for transparent  
> dialogue about values and ethics in relation to research -  
> especially with peers outside the humanities and the arts. Gestures  
> toward critical reflection and even overt appeals to social justice  
> may be rewarded in the humanities, but the sciences beg an apolitics  
> - despite being staffed by politically-aware, intelligent people!
> I have some hope that we might help foment a greater sort of civic  
> consciousness among our university peers, through looking together  
> and arguing about the social effects of our institutional shapes and  
> flows. I don't pretend to believe that even one Computer Science  
> department refusing DARPA contracts will make it easier for places  
> like banglab to exist. But a collection of workers more conscious of  
> spaces of affect and action might form a net large enough to catch a  
> few more crusaders before they leave looking for a battle.
> In other words, if some opportunities call for a wig, others depend  
> on utter transparency, and even dialogical vulnerability.
> -Kevin
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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