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New Work in the Cultural Sciences

   | 03 lug 2012


It is my pleasure to introduce this issue of Cultural Science Journal, which is devoted to work by emergent scholars in cultural sciences, and issue-edited by two of them:

Thomas Petzold: Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB Berlin:; Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG:; and CCI (

Krystina Benson: Assistant Professor in Public Relations, Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Bond University, Australia (

The other authors are:

Wen Wen: Lecturer, Institute for Cultural Industries, Shenzhen University, China (

Burcu Şimşek, Lecturer, Department of Communication Sciences, Department of Communication and Society, Hacettepe University, Turkey (

Shannon Wylie: Editor in Chief and Social Media Manager, and Souq Fashion, United Arab Emirates (see:; and Creative Industries Faculty, QUT (

Sandra Contreras: Okukan School of Shitoryu Karatedo, Brisbane, Queensland (;; and CCI: (

Woitek Konzal: Entertainment Architect, UFA-LAB Berlin (

Henry Siling Li: Deputy Director, Centre for International Courses and Programs, Department of International Exchange and Program Development, China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP:

Groups of Eight

These eight scholars represent a broad range of cultural backgrounds. They have studied and worked in many different countries: two are from China, two from Germany, and one each from Turkey, Venezuela, Canada and Australia. They are currently working in Germany, China, Australia, Dubai and Turkey in both academic and industry positions. Their background qualifications span the humanities and social sciences, from English Language to Management Science. What they have in common is that each author has recently completed a PhD at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (the CCI: at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), under my supervision.

This ‘group of eight’ shares with another group of the same name – the Go8 ( – these laudable qualities and aims: to use intensive research excellence and comprehensive professional education to:

Enhance the contribution of [members] to [their] nation’s social, economic, cultural and environmental well-being and prosperity;

Extend the contribution of [members] to the generation and preservation of the world’s stock of knowledge;

Strengthen [a country’s] capacity to engage in and benefit from global developments, respond to global and local challenges;

Expand opportunities for [a country’s] students, regardless of background, to participate in higher education of world class.

(‘Welcome to the Group of Eight’:

It seems you don’t have to be a land-grant settler university to aspire to collective excellence and mutual support in the growth of knowledge for social benefit, national advancement and personal opportunity. Other models of a ‘group of eight’ seem to exist…

In that spirit, we tried an experiment with this issue of the Cultural Science Journal, which was to ask the authors to referee each other’s articles. All eight authors reviewed two of the other papers. There are some challenges in that process, including the problem of expertise – none of the authors was an expert in the topic of another’s research. Nor could we adhere to the standard science model of ‘double-blind’ refereeing. Another challenge was practical coordination – getting this collection together has taken time, because everyone was busy packing up and moving on with life, to another place or another context. In the end, issue editors Thomas Petzold and Krystina Benson pulled everything together.

Part of the reason for wanting to produce this issue was to do just that: to pull everything together. Here was a diverse group whose collective efforts represented a significant contribution to the growth of knowledge, and who would soon be dispersed and moving on in terms of their curiosity as well as their careers. Of course, each of their PhD dissertations is available online (via QUT ePrints), but such work is not entirely individual – it is produced in the context of other work and other researchers who sometimes share ideas, sometimes the lunch-bag.

Places, Publics, Platforms

The eight topics are therefore predictably diverse but unpredictably connected: they range across historical and contemporary activities in creative cities; digital storytelling; war propaganda; love in advertising; online inter-language relations; transmedia entertainment; and online spoof videos.

There are many ways to group such interdisciplinary work and to demonstrate connections. One way is like this:


Wen Wen: ‘Scenes, Quarters and Clusters: the Formation and Governance of Creative Places in Urban China.’

Burcu Simsek: ‘Enhancing Women’s Participation in Turkey through Digital Storytelling.’

Shannon Wylie: ‘Fashion meets journalism: Mapping and evaluating Australian fashion media.’


Krystina Benson: ‘The Committee on Public Information: A transmedia war propaganda campaign.’

Sandra Contreras: ‘Project 27: Insights Into a Production-centred Study on Art Direction and Love.’


Thomas Petzold: ‘36 Million language pairs.’

Woitek Konzal: ‘Entertainment Architecture: Constructing a Framework for the Creation of an Emerging Entertainment Form.’

Henry Siling Li: ‘The platform of spoof videos: The case of’


As far as ‘Places’ go, they may be real locations such as cities and nations, or a rhetorical ‘place’ that partakes of the situated, the symbolic and the digital all at once, such as the public sphere.

Cities have attracted intense interest in recent years as crucibles for creativity (see the previous issue of Cultural Science Journal [5:1]: ). Many urban authorities seek to enhance the cultural appeal of their city – and thence its performance – by promoting creative clusters. But can creative places be planned, or must they evolve spontaneously in their own way? What kind of intervention is required – top-down economic policy, or bottom-up productivity, from artistic practices to street culture and music scenes? Wen Wen poses these questions in her research into one of China’s most ‘cultural’ cities, Hangzhou, which is a ‘second tier’ city rather than a great metropolis. How are creative scenes, city quarters, and economic clusters ‘managed’ to best effect when they are essentially beyond organisational control?

Cities have long been assumed to be the seat of the public sphere, especially that Habermasian space for discourse founded in a vision of civil society that was inventing itself in 18th-century London’s coffee houses. But in these days of ubiquitous media and global digital connectivity, the public sphere no longer needs a seat. It might be found among groups who assemble online as well as in the Town Square. And we’ve become habituated to the disruption caused to classic notions of public and private by feminism and other ‘new social movements’ of the later 20th-century, based on class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. Thus it is now possible to seek the public sphere in everyday household activities, previously regarded as private, and in virtual communities based on affinity of identity rather than civic responsibilities. Burcu Şimşek takes up these continuingly turbulent issues, in her study of one way in which diverse feminist public spheres may be built in Turkey, studying how her own practice in combining activist organisations, facilitated workshops and digital storytelling sought to make a ‘place’ for women to tell their own stories in their own ways within the context of social change. She works through some of the organisational, educational, technological and political issues arising from this newly emancipationist vision of a public sphere; one that has moved from the coffee house to the kitchen … and thence to a new ‘seat’ – narratively connected and activist social networks.

The classic locus of a public sphere is the nation, and much work has been done on the relationship between journalism and democracy in the development of national public life. But fourth-estate or ‘watchdog’ journalists (and scholars) are often strongly dismissive of media content devoted to consumerism and private life. However, a vigorous media sector has grown up in the mediation of fashion and style; so much so that this sector is providing new opportunities for journalists, even while others suffer attrition. Shannon Wylie has mapped the extent of the fashion media in Australia, including 376 home-grown and imported titles. Given the prejudicial discourses surrounding it, she analyses this important component of the national media landscape by asking a deceptively simple question: what is ‘good’ fashion journalism? An innovation in her approach is to answer that question by turning away from private consumers for the time being (whose answer might be: ‘good’ fashion is ‘what I like’), and turning instead to professional consumers of fashion media – the editors, stylists and journalists whose livings depend on the industry – to ascertain their views on ‘good’ fashion media in Australia. The answers open up some new ideas about fashion and how it is mediated; they also offer new glimpses of a version of Australian national identity that is badly neglected in most accounts.


Publics aren’t like Everest: they’re not just ‘there.’ Nor do publics precede their mediation. They are called into being by media. The next two papers, using very different approaches and focusing on very different topics, explore some of the strategies by means of which that challenge – the creation of the public – is pursued in practice.

Krystina Benson has investigated the archives of the Committee on Public Information (CPI) in the USA during World War I – an early example of an official propaganda machine in the very heart of democratic journalism. Given democratic journalism’s ostensible function of creating ‘the informed citizen,’ it seems intuitively improper for government agencies to commandeer the news media as a vehicle for propaganda. And given that the activities of the CPI extended far beyond ‘newspapers of record,’ into the heart of the popular culture of the time, especially cinema and posters, it seems that the relations among the different public rhetorical functions of persuading (propaganda), informing (news) and entertaining (popular culture) had to be rethought. The CPI worked through the practical problems of doing just this – using the expressive discourses of freedom and the persuasive techniques of propaganda, in both news and entertainment media, to promote a war effort that was (in the minds of its protagonists) dedicated to the preservation of those freedoms.

‘Campaigns’ aren’t just military, they’re also rhetorical; and propaganda can be political or commercial. Turning to the ‘private’ side of propaganda, i.e. commercial advertising, Sandra Contreras investigates what she herself poses as a ‘naïve’ question: in the context of advertising, what does ‘love’ look like? How do you bring into being a ‘public’ around such a notion? This is a practical question, as well as one that raises analytical problems, for those most closely engaged in trying to create or capture that look; namely, art directors working for commercial agencies in the advertising industry. Finding limited help from established analytical approaches used in critical cultural studies or artist-centred practice-based research, she proceeds to develop a ‘way of knowing’ that may be proper to art direction as a professional practice. Given that any discipline is constituted in its method, she seeks not only to make explicit how and what art directors know, but also to find appropriate educational models for knowledge transfer, in order to build producer-based answers to the question: what is ‘good’ art direction? Investigating how this question is answered in advertising that constructs the ‘look of love’ is one of the techniques she adopts on the road to establishing art direction as a distinct field of study.


It is clear that ‘places’ and ‘publics’ are interconnected in many different ways, not the least of which is the recurrent (but always contingent) question of what makes a ‘good’ practice or product for particular publics and places. The last three papers in this issue of Cultural Science Journal take this question further in a more specifically digital and future-facing environment, where the platforms that are used to call publics into being are themselves changing at an accelerating rate.

In this context, danah boyd makes a pertinent point about the uncertainties that beset the question of what’s ‘good’: ‘What people give their attention to depends on a whole set of factors that have nothing to do with what's best’ (cited in Petzold, herein). Such doubts about what constitutes quality, and about what people give their attention to, have surrounded various ‘new’ media of persuasion, information and entertainment as they’ve evolved over more than a century.

The very success of some of these media in calling into being giant transnational publics for corporately produced media content – whether ‘public’ (state-owned like the BBC) or ‘private’ (commercially-owned like Newscorp) – has led to the establishment of alternative, community and ‘countercultural’ media on print, broadcast and more recently digital platforms.

Thomas Petzold pursues one of the abiding interests of community media, namely, communication using what’s known in Australia as ‘LOTE’ – languages other than English – in his study of inter-lingual relations on the internet. Here the productivity of the platform for consumers becomes of paramount importance, because it no longer necessary to lobby for state-funded minority broadcasters (such as SBS-TV/Radio in Australia) to provide content in LOTE, when new platforms such as Wikipedia and new applications such as Google Translate allow users to produce such content for themselves. Making such advances possible is not only a technical matter; it requires organisational support and some very active communities of users. But as he points out, if any pair of languages can be mutually translated using an app like Google Translate, the prospects are open for massively increased potential translatability on the internet, among 36 million language pairs. Once again in media history, the marginal moves to the mainstream….

Pursuing the theme of platform-assisted user co-creation, Woitek Konzal tries to imagine what emergent entertainment forms might look like in an environment where producers’ media like cinema are joined by users’ media – alternative attractions that compete for people’s attention, including interactive media such as games, and location-based mobile media formats. In that context, he seeks to understand how entrepreneurs, producers and professionals can contribute to and benefit from such developments. His proffered solution is ‘Entertainment Architecture.’ He derives this conceptual framework for internet-based interactive entertainment not just from the existing scholarly apparatus, but also from the field of practice: using interviews with professionals around the world who are experimenting with new forms and platforms; and combining these with what he calls ‘immersive textual analysis.’ This novel method is, simply, analysing by doing; for instance getting to know how games work – and what’s ‘good’ from the immersed participant’s p.o.v. – by playing them, intensively and reflexively (i.e. as a PhD student, not simply as a consumer). Such methodological innovations are needed to explain formats that no longer conform to a simple producer/consumer (or ‘cause/effect’) relationship; including genres and formats that are yet to be imagined. ‘Entertainment architecture,’ he finds, displays four elements, which he names as story, play, ‘dance,’ and ‘glue,’ (deriving the nomenclature for the latter pair from his interviewees):

story = narrative;

play = interaction;

‘dance’ = sociality;

‘glue’ = content coherence across transmedia platforms.

How to craft a professional practice from these elements, and to make money too? Let’s find out (he concludes).

Finally, we return to China, the country with which this issue opens. Henry Siling Li rounds out the consideration of platforms by showing how the internet is being used in China for purposes that he dubs ‘seriously playful.’ His research reviews the history of popular culture and user-created content in China, before turning to spoof videos and looking at how they are produced and shared, how they travel and are diffused on the internet, and how the communities and sub-cultures forming around them are changing the overall cultural landscape in China. By acting as a participant observer and conducting face-to face as well as online interviews, he was able to identify lead users and creators of spoof videos and the social networks emerging around them. This paper focuses on the platform through which much of this burgeoning cultural activity has been carried – The paper traces some of the tensions between user-generated content and commercial or state agencies, while demonstrating how “star” users can construct both an identity and a career out of their collaborative relationship with a given platform.

Cracking the Code

It is easy to see themes running through the papers. They include methodological themes about the need to pay attention to practices as well as concepts; conceptual themes about the shifting relations of terms like public and private, producer and consumer, professional and user; and technological themes related to the rapid evolution of hardware, software and the socio-cultural networks that sustain them. But readers can work out these themes for themselves – the point is simply that common ‘codes’ underlying very different textual performances are readily discernible across the eight papers.

Instead of seeking to summarise what is already said, I thought I might close with something I found on the website of one of our authors, whilst checking on their current whereabouts. Sandra Contreras, while she pursues her career in art direction education, also runs a rather different kind of school in Brisbane, teaching a particular type of martial arts. Exotic though it may seem at first sight, this practice certainly offers up some excellent tips for the emerging scholar in the cultural sciences. The Karateka code of behaviour, or Dojo Kun, is as follows:

Seek perfection of character.

Be faithful.

Endeavour to excel.

Respect others.

Refrain from violent behaviour.


What better advice could there be for those embarking on ‘new work in the cultural sciences’?