Tag Archives: Research Proposals

Why Blog for Documentary?

Sounds like that bumper sticker about fighting for war. After the OzDox panel the other night, and being a guest at Mediamatic and IDFA in Amsterdam, I realised that I don’t think a very clear discussion, or case, had been made for why you might have a blog if you were a documentary practitioner (as opposed to thinking about developing a documentary that was part blog, part distributed media). So, if you were in the business, craft, or profession of making documentaries, why would you have a blog?

This is my rough quick list (this is not a ranking).

  1. to document, discuss, reflect and engage with your own practice
  2. to promote and build awareness around your current project
  3. to spread promotion and recognition across the life of the entire project, and not just post-release
  4. so you have a network identity (when someone Googles you, or your project, they find what you say about things first)
  5. to present work in progress (brief rough cuts, for example)
  6. to present parts or all of your footage that ends up on the floor
  7. to solicit, by invitation or discovery, new material (people find you – see 4) relevant to your project
  8. to develop your own network skills so that the leap from old to new is lessened
  9. transparency about your process, which complements the implicit ethics of documentary as a practice
  10. to provide another way of contributing to your community (of documentary filmmakers, and the subject or subjects of your documentary work)
  11. Any others that I’ve missed? I can see I should turn this list into an essay. (Reference to future self, this should be an interactive video essay.)

Time and Tag Clouds

This project has developed some text parsing software that generates tag clouds of key words of US presidential speeches. What is very interesting about it is that there is a timeline so you can see changes in time. This temporal dimension is generally lacking from a lot of mashups, though I don’t know why. I think, for example, a mashup that showed photos from a specific location, with a timeline, would be historically and narratively very powerful. Same with a mashup (for instance ontop of a googlemap) that had video. You could see what ‘happened’ yesterday, last week, etc. The key thing about social software is time (it is the passage of time that turns space into place, for instance) so hopefully we will shortly see timelines in our all mashup social software thingiemajigs (TM technical web 2.0 term).

That Moment Might Do

This long post refers to a draft experimental interactive text movie, 40MB at moment to download and play locally (url will be available shortly). The post is published since there is a link from inside the text movie to here…

A post on method. I often find myself needing to write them to contextualise the sort of academic things I make (1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2005). This year I have been writing interactive QuickTime essays. In fact been doing this in lieu of ‘videoblogging’. I have written two so far, both need a bit more work before they’re properly finished, and both are not quite all there. The first one was written for the Learning Technologies conference I participated in late last year, while the second was in response to the Artifact issue on soft design. Now I’m working on a third, “That Moment Might Do”, hopefully for an issue of an international peer reviewed journal, which is going to try to think about Deleuze’s description of the pose and the any-instant-whatever from Cinema One in relation to videoblogging. Now this is experimental work, in several ways.

FORM
I would think it obvious that the form of the essay falls into the experimental. It is to be peer reviewed as an interactive QuickTime vog essay, and if it passes muster, published as same. This aspect of the experimental looks towards my continuing (and slow) interest and exploration of new genres that utilise the affordances of new media to express knowldege in other ways. This is in the spirit of Ulmer’s general electracy and includes his interest and use of what, in a moment of academic shorthand, we could characterise as other ways of writing. Here ‘other’ does not (though it does include) only mean writing with things that are not words, for instance voice, image and video (and remember that the more significant consequence of this other writing is not the ability to use a variety of media, but is the intertwingling intersection of these various media into a common -though distributed – discursive space that really matters, not video or voice, but what happens when you have video alongside text, still image embedded into video) but it also means other forms of logic.

(Poetic tropes, for example in how Bachelard may think about a phenomenologically inspired reading of childhood, the home, or each of the four elements. Ulmer’s mystory and its recipes, even Paul Carter’s recent book. Barbara Maria Stafford’s work on the logic of images and their disavowal in print literacy should also be flagged, and perhaps even a nod to Ron Burnett’s recent “How Images Think” too. A good introduction to poetic research and metaphor is through Rosenberg’s “The Reservoir” paper.)

So a vog essay is going to try to utilise poetic metaphors, or at least other-than-print-logic forms of association, relation, argument and idea, and I’ll call them poetic only because at this point I’m not sure what else they ought to be called without turning something elegant into the unnecessarily belaboured (for example it could be a rhizomatic logic, except the poetic can be a possible rhizomatic flow but it doesn’t follow that all rhizomatic flows are therefore poetic, that’s just silly). If this works then it would be analogous to Chris Marker’s essay films rather than Attenborough – or current affairs for that matter. If it doesn’t work then, like podcasting and most videoblogging, it will be not much more than monolingual documentary by other means.

PROCESS
The work is experimental in terms of a process where the work is a thinking through in situ, where this process is a making and where this activity is to cast not so much its shadow as a light over or within the ‘finished’ artefact. (Note to self, slow down here.)

In most humanities academic practice the journal essay is the canonical form. This is sometimes (and commonly) extended into the detailed treatment of the book – though even here books are regularly previously published essays that have been repurposed for the book – and so of necessity expresses all of the key qualities of print logic and literacy. This is not a criticism. One of the consequences of this general practice (yes, there are always exceptions) is that the ‘good’ essay tends to be a closed object. It is closed to ideas that fall outside of its orbit (an orbit that, like royal reason, it gets to define for itself), closed or at least mute in relation to other logics (for example of sound, music, moving image and even the pictorial) and of course, as it wends its way towards its conclusion, is generally closed to other possibilities. After all a ‘good’ essay, if nothing else, is supremely teleological (introduction, body and conclusion, woe betide the student who misses understanding the intimate mirror of introduction to conclusion and its inevitable domestic opportunity for closure) and as a consequence narrows its fields of possibilities through the time of writing and reading.

This work does not follow this particular economy of closure. It is all over the place, quite literally as it turns out with this part here in a blog, the video existing elsewhere, and the video in turn ‘calling in’ or linking to other distributed objects. It is not so much messy as just distributed, more like what your desktop (your real desk, not the faux one on screen in front of you) actually looks like while engaged in writing as a doing. The clutter of opened books, scribbled notes, things pinned, bluetacked or otherwise stuck around your peripheral vision.

As a form it is also open in the contrary sense to the closure of the good essay. It traverses some ideas, probes some possibilities to see what comes of them, more like the sketch book than the monumental canvas, and like the sketch it is as much about experiencing and documenting the élan of the line as it is trying to be complete. So the conclusions are less about closure than in their turn offered as further points of departure, exploration and criticism. They might even be in error.

EVENT
The work itself is written in, and as, an interactive networked based interactive video. Just as this reflection is written in my blog, using my blog software. It isn’t written in Word and then copied and pasted elsewhere becoming that sort of faux blog which misunderstands the networked aspect of networked practice. Similarly the interactive work that forms this minor project is all written in the medium, from the ground up as it were – after all, you don’t sketch elsewhere to then translate your sketch into your sketch book!

(In the same vein when writing music you write music, you may even play an instrument, or when designing architecture you sketch, build models, draw sections, and so on. In each case there is a language of the discipline that is embedded within the very practice of the discipline (see Downton for a useful example and discussion), and which is also understood to make relevant and appropriate knowledge claims for that discipline (quick glance over shoulder to check if Foucault here yet). This has not, to make a generalisation, been the case in much of own practice – for legitimate and not so legitimate reasons. We don’t generally make paintings about paintings (well we do, all the time, but they’re recognised in the academy as ‘knowledge’), or films about films (ditto) and so on. We write about them. Writing makes a lot of things possible – for example it is very hard to make an image that says “not” (for example how would an image say “this is not a gun”?), yet on the other hand the act of translation that the turn to print entails is necessarily at some loss (always excessive and always other to the economy of print) to the object ostensibly being written of. This simple ability to negate, perhaps the founding act of what it means to be print literate, could be used to explain a great deal about our particular tribe’s habits, since we do spend inordinate amounts of time demonstrating the falsity of this and that, of building by destruction (note to postgraduate authors, begin with a survey to show you are a member, move to demonstrate why particular theoretical father has made a mistake to show that you know better and that you’ve gained admission, then, and only then, attempt to say something new) and of being deeply suspicious of anything that is not expressed in the very specific argots of our printerly gods.) Phew.

That Moment Might Do is a working with the materiality of distributed, networked rich media. To make a very preliminary, and no doubt naive, step towards what it might be to turn such works from mere representations to becoming knowledge objects in their own right. Of course this might not happen, may never happen, it may emerge that the form simply is not suited to argument, though my inclination and intuition very strongly suggests otherwise (and as Kolb’s example in hypertext provides) and that the point is much more likely that the form of argument is sufficiently distinct and distant from that which has been canonised by print to be difficult to identify, let alone endorse from within existing standards. It is not that other literacies are better, it is that they are different. It may be that such literacies are more appropriate, and will gain more purchase, for those places where writing slides away from text on a page, even text on a screen, into the possibilities of video, text, sound and image as distinct media bought into sufficient proximity that each bleeds into the other and in that breach establishes their distance from each other.

References, well, more allusions and partners in Thinking as a Doing

Bachelard, Gaston. Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement. Trans. Edith R. Farrell and C. Frederick Farrell. Dallas: Dallas Institute Publications
Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 1988.

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos. Trans. Daniel Russell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971.

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Trans. Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.

Burnett, Ron. How Images Think. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004.

Carter, Paul. Material Thinking.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema One: The Movement–Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

Downton, Peter. Design Research. Melbourne: RMIT Publishing, 2004.

Downton, Peter. Studies in Design Research: Ten Epistemological Pavilions. Melbourne: RMIT Publishing, 2004.

Kolb, David. Socrates in the Labyrinth. Computer software. Eastgate Systems, 1994, Macintosh Software.

Rosenberg, Terence. “‘The Reservoir': Towards a Poetic Model of Research in Design.” Proceedings of the Research into Practice Conference: Selected Papers Volume One, 2000. Vol. 1.

Stafford, Barbara Maria. Good Looking: Essays on the Virtue of Images. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press, 1998.

Stafford, Barbara Maria. Visual Analogy: Consciousness as the Art of Connecting. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press, 1999.

Ulmer, Gregory. Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video. New York: Routledge, 1989.

Ulmer, Gregory L. Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. New York: Longman, 2003.

Scholarships

I received this via email recently:

The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) is pleased to announce its new Digital Innovation Fellowship program, in support of digitally based research projects in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. These fellowships, created with the generous help of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, are intended to support an academic year dedicated to work on a major scholarly project of a digital character that advances humanistic studies and best exemplifies the integration of such research with use of computing, networking, and other information technology-based tools. The online application for the fellowship program is located at http://ofa.acls.org; applications must be completed by November 10, 2005 (decisions to be announced in late March 2006).

Don’t you think that’s amazing? They’re providing enough money for up to 10 academics to spend a year on a major digital scholarly project. The ambition, and the recognition that this ought to produce major work, is admirable.

Peer Review, Academic Labor, and Publishing

Picking up from many of the discussions about academic publishing that have occurred in the sciences, I recently made this suggestion on the (primarily) Australian Fibreculture email list:

Imagine a database which publishes peer reviewed work via http. The system is designed to offer structured feedback and mentoring not only of those receiving reviews, but also those doing the reviewing.

  1. I submit a paper and nominate the fields and/or discplines (from set choices) that I
  2. think it fits into
  3. as a possible author I agree to also be a reviewer (this is a requirement)
  4. where I also nominate a series of fields and/or disciplines that I have expertise in
  5. these fields which represent the disciplines would be derived from an existing metadata standard,
  6. and if one doesn’t exist then the project would develop one
  7. the system automatically allocates 3 anonymous reviewers based on the preferences made by each contributor
  8. my paper is anonymously reviewed by 3 others
  9. these reviews are well structured (template and process driven)
  10. and the author gets access to these reviews and
  11. the author is able to rate these reviews (template and process driven)
  12. during this process, which would support resubmission, the paper must meet miminum requirements for publication
  13. this minimum number would be determined by averaging the reviews received, measured against the reviewers ranks as reviewers
  14. if accepted the paper is published and identified as peer reviewed
  15. probably only after you have completed your 3 reviews (quid pro quo)
  16. since reviewers are rated by authors and authors are rated by reviewers
  17. over time an expert peer driven system is built which can then weight participants so that
  18. reviewer A is known as high quality and receives a high review rank, while
  19. reviewer B who is not much chop receives a low review rank

The benefits of this are multiple.

First of all the academic labour that constitutes a great deal of scholarly publishing is made visible, not only in the requirements of becoming a reviewer to publish, but by the use of straight forward and standardised feedback protocols to structure feedback. This models good practice, so provides professional development for new academics, and may also improve the quality of feedback generally (which in the humanities can be abysmal).

Once established, there is virtually zero cost involved, apart from bandwidth (which could admittedly be considerable), as the system is more or less self organising and self sustaining.

The engine could be entirely scalable so that new discipline groups could be easily added.

It moves scholarly publication into a quite different temporal model because rather than being volume based articles would appear whenever sufficient reviews had been completed and appropriate ‘criteria’ met. This would mean that in some cases publication would in fact be issue based, though in the more usual sense of timely interest, as a spate of papers may appear dealing with a specific theme because of interest or debate.

Finally, the criteria used throughout this system would be explicit, and though qualitative would have some quantitative index (a rank) so not only the papers but the values that constitute ‘good’ work would also then be subject to peer review and discussion. In the same manner reviewing as a professional practice would be subject to review. Of course all indicators would be anonymous, so that my reviewer identity would be some sort of number, for instance, which only I would know.

This would, of course, be just the beginning. Complex visualisation strategies could be employed to represent content and the emergent clusters that developed through such a system, generating in itself a whole series of new research problems and programs. For example the system could easily build and represent citational frequency clusters, visualise link patterns, and so forth. It might even help some parts of the humanities catch up to the sciences in reimagining what constitutes knowledge production, expression, and dissemination.