Niamh’s response to Question 5: Users and Interface

I want to approach this question with a reflection and, then, draw on recent discussions around dissemination. In my research into the culture of users I have drawn upon thinking around the disruptive potential of technology for artists, (h)activists, amateur creators, and non-state actors. Evidently, this demands that we think of a user as more than an adopter of others creativity and design and see the capacity for user agency. Additionally, I employ disruption deliberately as a concept that is not always benign, but has potency and salience for much of this discussion. Other theories that have informed my conceptualisation of users are taken from fan studies. This has some overlaps with how we imagine disruption functioning through outliers/loners. Fans are re-mediators (pace Jay David Butler and Richard Grusin 2000), who take a creative piece and re-formulate it according to their own reading or re-imagining. Henry Jenkins, a founding theorist of fan studies, has long fashioned himself an aca-fan and has explored how (fellow) fans become “poachers who get to keep what they take and use their plundered goods as the foundations for the construction of an alternative cultural community” (1992, 223). Through digital turns and developments, these poachers are now mainstream – some business models are even founded on this premise-, and the communities they form are multi-nodal and diverse. In many ways, as diligent obsessives, academics have some of the characteristics of fans operating from a place of specialism eager to communicate to audiences the significance of their insights and research. Thanks to changes in publishing, new modes of communicating and the variety of registers expected across different platforms, audiences are varied which means that we must be adaptive and polyvalent. These shifts require academics to think of ourselves as users and consumers and, simultaneously, of our readers as users whose consumption is to be measured and understood according to an ever-evolving series of metrics and algorithms. This brings both the language of business and measures normally associated with the sciences into the humanities in ways that we are not always comfortable with, but should be adapted to fit our own needs and aims  in ethical ways.

Interfaces are the means through which we disseminate our research and reach a range of users. This can be as varied as using Facebook and Twitter to tell our academic friends and followers about our new outputs, or writing short posts that summarise or distil our reading of a text for a wide audience on a blog, or, an opportunity for building networks and readers while working through our thinking, as well as a myriad other uses. These interactions take place on a multiplicity of platforms. With this in mind, I want to pose a variety of questions, here. What is the utility of these spaces and their functionality? Do they help enhance research? Is the fact that many of them are created to sell and serve the marketplace mean that they do not fit with the creative process of academic production? How do they challenge (disrupt, even) the idea of the single brilliant mind fluidly producing works of genius, and require us to re-think what it means to write, publish, and even allow ourselves to fail in public? Whether all content should be free and freely available , and who has rights to it has been subject of much recent discussion and even lawsuits. In the light of this, how important is where you place your work to you as a user and researcher? Should it be on a “federated network in which a scholar can maintain and share their work from one profile, on a scholar-governed network, whose direction and purpose serve their own”, as Kathleen Fitzpatrick suggests? Or, are there other models that suit your work better? I look forward to your thoughts and contributions.

Butler, Jay David and Richard Grusin (2000) Remediation: Understanding New Media Cambridge, Mass & London: The MIT Press.

Jenkins, Henry (1992) Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture New York & London: Routledge.


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