Printed at: 25/03/2017  – 00:03 AM



Polity blog posts highlight new and recent books published by us, often with the comments and views of the authors themselves.


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Posted 333 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Social Media, politics / 0 Comments

In my book Social Media and Everyday Politics, I examine how social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr are used for both playing with and participating in political activity,for engaging with politics. Drawing upon research that I conducted over the last few years, this work extends beyond considerations of the political as just politicians, governments, and elections: politics includes issues of race,gender, sexual identity, class, and more.


Politics forms part of peoples’ everyday lives, and is reflected in (and influences) their every day activity on social media. My consideration of social media also goes past popular platforms to other digital technologies and online platforms used and implicated within political discussions and experiences. There is more going on than just what is happening on Twitter, for instance, and the platforms, users,practices, and experiences in question will also differ vastly across countries and contexts.


One of the most exciting things about studying social and digital media is how everything evolves: practices, platforms, communities, cultures, users, content…  The evolution of social media practices and platforms, and of political issues, means that there is an ever-growing list of examples in which social media and politics are intertwined. As I was writing in late 2014 and early 2015, for instance, movements like Black Lives Matter were (and are) important demonstrations of the intersection of the digital and the political through their campaigning and activism for civil rights. While not being social media-only movements, they make use of digital media as tools for visibility, support, awareness, and protest. Similarly, the responses to the Charlie Hebdo attack, in Paris in early 2015, saw visual social media and the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag as particularly prominent ways of commenting and reacting, across multiple platforms.


These examples also form part of ongoing trends and practices further linking social media and politics, responding to new events and actors as well as current issues. The#JeSuis solidarity style hashtag has been adopted in response to attacks in Paris, Bruxelles, Lahore, and more, as well as displays of support in other contexts (and its presence, meaning, and motivations have also been debated).Sentiments and movements get distilled into hashtag forms that can be concisely integrated into messages: #LetThemStay in Australia, campaigning to process asylum seekers in Australia instead of in detention on Nauru; #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgainfrom the comedian John Oliver, playing on Donald Trump’s campaign slogan to oppose and mock him; #PutOutYourOnions, the public schadenfreude accompanying Tony Abbott being replaced as Australian Prime Minister in a party leadership vote.


Social and digital media are also used to respond to events and issues in immediate and new ways:tweeting breaking news, sharing content on Facebook, posting visual commentary and reactions on Instagram, and spreading information and opinion across platforms and networks. Such content comes from established media and political actors as well as from user-generated and -created means. Engaging effectively with social media and its users is important, and news media have been adapting their coverage to embrace new forms. Footage is posted using Vine, press conferences streamed with Periscope, moments and infographics looped using animated GIFs, and apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat tested out for further content delivery.  Similarly, in addition to maintaining Twitter and Facebook presences, political parties, politicians,and candidates may engage (successfully or otherwise) with social media cultures through creating and sharing memetic content or using emoji in their commentary and campaigns.


Of course, social media are not without their own issues, and the politics of platforms is interlinked with the politics happening on these spaces. How platforms like Twitter and Facebook deal with abuse directed at users, hate speech, racist and sexist content, and user privacy is both ongoing and inconsistent. This affect show users decide which platforms to use: for activists, for example, security and surveillance are considered alongside the visibility and reach of popular social media. The announcement in April 2016 that WhatsApp had turned on encryption has particular relevance here, setting it apart from other popular messaging apps (although WhatsApp is also owned by Facebook, which may raise further questions for users). The impact of algorithms on user experiences,content provision, and the work of platforms is also a major part of current debate. For example, in March 2016 Microsoft’s Tay bot attracted widespread attention for how the responsive bot was (very quickly) taught to share offensive and bigoted messages.


What this means is that social media and politics are connected in more ways than just sharing links about Bernie or Hillary, posting a status about an election, or live-tweeting a debate. In Social Media and Everyday Politics, I offer an exploration of the diverse ways in which the political and the digital overlap, through experiences and examples which may be mundane, tangential, or irreverent, as well as the extraordinary. The flexibility of content and practices means that everyday activity on social media can be applied to the political as necessary, directed by users and not just by established political actors or by platforms. This is not to say, of course, that social media alone will change views, make protests and revolutions succeed, or determine elections, nor that there is a singular‘social media user base’ or way of using these platforms. However, as social media are popular means for engaging with political issues and events, what happens on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more cannot be automatically discounted as purely frivolous, narcissistic, or uninformed.

Tim Highfield is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Sessional Academic at Queensland University of Technology

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Posted 389 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Internet, Intelligence Services, Technology / 0 Comments

The Closing of the Net 

What is meant by The Closing of the Net? Iptegrity readers will already have their own interpretation. The notion has been helpfully or otherwise referred to by  Donald Trump who called for "closing that Internet up in some way".  Trump was reflecting calls by various political interests, including the intelligence services, for the technology companies to 'do something'. Do something about what? He was calling for restrictions on content reflecting undesirable agendas such as extremism.  Closing the net entails 

restrictions on Internet content, applications and services. Technology companies do have the capability to impose such restrictions. They can block. They can filter. They can monitor. There are many interests, including the companies themselves, who desire such restrictions.   We know it's happening and some researchers are beginning together the evidence, for example, the Lumen project at Stanford University. The political issue concerns the relationship between the Internet corporations and the State, and  under what terms they should be allowed to do it, if at all. 


In liberal democracies, closing the net is when you get a notice that the content you are looking for has been restricted by copyright holders. Closing the net is when your website is incorrectly filtered because it contains a keyword that's on a block-list, even though your content is legal. As a consequence, your customers cannot find you, and your readers go elsewhere. Closing the net is when your broadband provider charges you multiples of the standard price to watch video from a site they don't have a deal with. Call it preferential traffic management or call it zero rating, the effect is the same.


Of course, there is another interpretation of closing the net that applies in non-liberal regimes, where governments impose blanket monitoring of  all websites, content platforms and personal communications  and order the  shut down, sometimes of the entire Internet,  for political reasons. That is called censorship.  This kind of authoritarian censorship is not specifically addressed in my book.


 Instead I address the more subtle politics of restriction  in liberal democracies. It's a scenario where restrictions are imposed by private actors, often, although not always, for commercial reasons. Those private actors tend to be  large corporations who seek to exert political  influence in order to protect their perceived business interests. The effect may well result in a form censorship, although many would argue that this is not the intent. It is this subtlety of influence and non-transparency of intention that makes it critically important for citizens to understand it. 


In my analysis, closing the net is also about preferential display of content on a smartphone screen. Smaller than the traditional postcard, this screen is now how many people receive their news, entertainment and personal communications. The size implies a limitation on what people can see, but when the large platform corporations, such as Facebook, are deciding on what should be limited by means of 'personalisation' techniques, it implies a form of closure. The data that is used for personalisation is also sought by States for intelligence purposes, and in that regard, the relationship between States and corporations takes on a new significance.


A particular difficulty arises when political interests, such as the intelligence services,  begin to demand restrictions. This is the Trump agenda. For example, when an EU government blocks  a site to help migrants fleeing Syria, this is another form of closing the net. How far does it go before we do end up with an authoritarian censorship?  In this context,  the relationship between the technology industries and governments becomes very tricky. The technology companies fear an increase in  liabilities but at the same time, they increase their power over States.


 The Closing of the Net discusses that relationship of  States versus corporations.  It considers how the large network providers and content platforms seek to influence public policy.  It analyses the various calls for technology companies to 'do something' and the policy responses. All of this is discussed in the context of multiple, apparently unconnected agendas. Those agendas are copyright, net neutrality, data protection, mass surveillance,  content filtering and cloud computing. The assumption behind my analysis is an academic theory of structural power, evolved by the former LSE professor Susan Strange in the 1980s, and very much resonant with today's Internet policy agendas. Structural power suggests that these corporations control the means of access to knowledge because they control the structures through which knowledge is disseminated. They control the transmission, storage and retrieval of information. They know who is communicating what and when. The political activity of the corporations is intended to protect this power.


 The point is that if they get their way, the outcome would be a form of restriction. If they win every agenda point, the combined impact of such restrictions could be severe. The Closing of the Net will not be a single dropping of the portcullis. It will be a slow, subtle imposition that will not be noticed until it is too late.

Posted 371 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Technology, education / 1 Comments

Digital technology is clearly integral to twenty-first century education. Schools, colleges and universities are replete with digital devices, systems and applications. Silicon Valley is awash with talk of ‘massive open online courses’, ‘personalized learning’ and ‘learning analytics’. The ways in which people find things out and learn on a day-to-day basis increasingly involves Google, Wikipedia and YouTube. In short, digital technology now lies at the heart of how information is consumed, how knowledge is created, and how people communicate with each other.

Unfortunately, discussions about the use of technology in education often tend toward over-enthusiasm and hype. Many people inside education believe that digital technology supports forms of teaching and learning that are more democratic, flexible and appropriate to life in the digital age. Many people outside education are more radical still – seeing digital technologies a ready ‘fix’ or ‘solution’ to what is presumed to be a broken system. Yet as we know from the digitization of most other areas of society, technological change is rarely straightforward. As such, it is foolhardy to expect new forms of technology-based education to be without their own limitations and problems.

This book strives to take a more balanced approach. While emerging forms of digital technology clearly have much to offer the future of education,it is inevitable that these technologies have other consequences. The book therefore raises a series of questions that are rarely asked of technology and education.For example:

· what is lost with the ongoing virtualization of education – i.e. teaching and learning on a ‘remote’ rather than face-to-face basis?

· what aspects of education are not accurately represented in the data and algorithms that underpin online learning systems and analytics?

· are digital technologies merely advantaging the already advantaged – i.e. well-resourced, well-educated individuals who are confident in taking control of their own education?

· how does the highly individualized nature of digital education fit with the idea of ‘public’ education that is of common benefit rather than just individual gain?

· is digital education raising unrealistic expectations that complex social problems can be solved quickly through the innovative and ‘disruptive’ application of technology?

These are all tricky questions that are fundamental to improving technology use in education. Most importantly, these are not technical questions of ‘what works?’ but questions about the values and ideals that education is based upon. Given the significance of education to all of our futures there is clearly a need to start genuinely inclusive debates around the complexities and contradictions of technology and education. Digital technology needs to be seen as the starting point of a conversations about the future of education … not simply as the definitive answer.

Neil Selwyn is Professor at the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Melbourne. His latest work, Is Technology Good for Education? is available in April 2016

Posted 394 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Foucault, sexuality / 0 Comments

Foucault’s Last Decade is a study of the work Foucault conducted between 1974 and his death in 1984.In 1974, Foucault began writing the first volume of his History of Sexuality, developing work he had already begun to present in his Collège de France lecture courses. In that first volume,published in late 1976, Foucault promised five further volumes, and indicated some other studies he intended to write. But none of those books actually appeared,and Foucault’s work – which we can now closely track from his courses – went in very different directions. At the very end of his life, two further volumes of the History of Sexuality we republished, and a fourth was close to completion. In contrast to the originally planned thematic treatment, the final version was a much more historical study,returning to antiquity and early Christianity.

The Paris courses, other lectures, shorter publications, and related materials – some collaborative and some unpublished – are used in this book to provide an intellectual history of this final project of Foucault’s career. Research for this book was conducted in archives in France and California, and the account shows how Foucault’s pursuit of a problem led him to re conceive the project in scope and shape. The book is broadly chronological, and shows how all of Foucault’s concerns in this period – from race to confession, from governmentality to neoliberalism – are all, in various ways, connected to the project on sexuality or, as he re conceived it, on the relation between truth and subjectivity.

The book is partnered with a second study, on the period immediately preceding the last decade, tracing how Foucault moved from The Archaeology of Knowledge to Discipline and Punish. That book, Foucault: The Birth of Power, is forthcoming with Polity in 2017, and it analyses Foucault’s early Collège de France courses in relation to his political activism and research on health, madness and discipline.

Stuart Elden is Professor of Political Theory and Geography at Monash University

Foucault's Last Decade, written by Stuart Elden, will be available soon from Polity

Posted 402 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Psychology, Nursing / 0 Comments

Increasingly, nurses, alongside other healthcare professionals are under public and political scrutiny.  In recent years, there have been high profile cases of  failures of care leading to high mortality rates, where care staff have been described as showing a “disturbing lack of compassion towards patients” (Francis, 2013).  One of the key recommendations following the inquiry at Mid Staffordshire Hospital for example, was that “there should be an increased focus on a culture of compassion and caring in nurse recruitment,training and education”.  High profile cases, such as Mid Staffordshire, highlight how the ability to listen, respond and engage therapeutically with patients is pivotal to delivering person-centered and collaborative care.

But how?

A central theme in our upcoming book, Psychology for Nursing, is the importance of subjectivity. How can nurses understand the subjective experience of being a patient?  Alongside the importance of subjectivity, a second central theme explored is the binary concept of health and illness. Viewing people as either healthy or ill,diseased or disease-free is a fundamentally flawed perception. We actually exist on a continuum of health (or ill-health, if you like) that constantly changes.  Our subjective experience of our health and well-being is influenced by internal and external factors - and the interaction between these two.  As our circumstances change, so does our subjective experience of our health status .

It’s clear that nurses need to develop an understanding of the shifting nature of patients’ health experiences. To do this, they need to understand the clinical encounter and, in particular, the psychological aspects of the clinical counter. Only then can they develop a skillset to respond effectively to patients.

Psychology for Nursing aims to help nurses do just this. Aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate nurses, the book draws not only on psychology as a generic discipline, but also on health psychology to understand how nurses can work in partnership with patients in order to deliver high quality patient-centered care.

With nurses increasingly being held to public and professional account, how can psychology equip nurses of the future to contribute to the delivery high quality, patient-centered care? 

Alison Torn is a lecturer in psychology at Leeds Trinity University.
Psychology for Nursing, co-written by Alison Torn and Pete Greasley, is available now, published by Polity.

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