New directions in television studies

08Nov06

As I sit watching election results (and filled with joy over the election of Bernie and many other progressives), I thought I’d braindump about a few recent developments in television studies – less about recent scholarly or theoretical arguments, but transformations in how the field is expressing itself. First, Flow has emerged over the past couple of years as a vibrant space for publishing ideas in almost real time – for a field that tackles contemporary issues in programming, technology, and industry, the glacial pace of print publishing is a huge challenge for television scholars. I’ve published a number of pieces on Flow, and more importantly read & commented on dozens of other articles that put ideas out there that simply could not be dealt with adequately with a print timelag, and the ability to get immediate feedback & discussion generates the type of dialogue that scholarship ideally should spawn. One of Flow’s goals has been less successful, as the readership for the site has not extended much outside of the relatively closed realm of the academy – I don’t know if it hasn’t gotten good “viral” coverage on blogs, or if the clunky design turns off casual readers, or if the writing is too scholarly for many, but I think many of the articles could be quite broadly read & enjoyed by a range of reader types.

Flow’s success in showing how digital publication might transform the mode of scholarly expression has impacted a few other sites and events. Besides many academic bloggers (see some of note on my blogroll), Making Media Commons is offering an “in development” space to digitally publish media studies works, including a fun page of video clips with informal comments. I’ve contributed both as commenter and “curator” of clips – it’s worth exploring both as a way to discuss media in a more immediate & present way than typical, and as a chance to flex the muscle of fair use, pushing back against ridiculous copyright protectionism sweeping the world. More challenging to the underlying paradigm of publishing is their attempt to create electronic monographs & anthologies, offering a more immediate & transparent publishing alternative to fight against the market logic of contemporary academic publishing (where a volume’s imagined potential for course adoption drives publication decisions instead of traditional peer reviewing). I’m mulling what it might mean to try to publish a book via MediaCommons – would such a book get more or different readership than via print, and how might the ideas be taken differently in a digital form? I’ll continue mulling until I get a firmer idea of what that hypothetical book might be.

Finally I want to mention the Flow Conference. At the end of October, dozens of media scholars, and a few non-scholars from the industry & fan sphere gathered in Austin. It was a brilliant conference, as it shifted away from passive listening to folks reading papers (and often passive reading of papers). Some of my blogrolled friends have offered more details of roundtables, but I’m curious about thinking more meta-ly. Is there something particularly fitting between the form of Flow and the content of media studies? I think that one important facet of media studies is that the field’s youth and contemporary relevancee forces most of us to be generalists (plus few universities have more than one of us, so we have to cover many bases). I know very few TV scholars who focus their attention as narrowly as in most other fields, and given the breadth of television’s scope, we must be at least somewhat in touch with news, advertising, soap operas, game shows, etc., plus policy, technology, globalization, and so on. So at a conference like Flow, it seems that everyone was interested in everything, leading to discussions that spanned across people’s specialties and core interests in ways I find unlikely in most fields. Of course, I’m not in most fields, so maybe I’m misunderestimating them…



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