Friday, 7 December 2012

For Your Eyes Only

I’ve returned from the 2012 FYEO conference in Brussels full of fresh ideas and impetus. Lots to take away, but an overriding impression is the need for more social understanding of privacy. While we often fixate on policy, regulatory and technical solutions to privacy (and these are all useful discussion and endeavours), I was more struck by the ways in which privacy is embedded in everyday life and the ways in which the “personal is political”, to borrow the feminist adage.

Day 1 saw a number of ethnographic and qualitative approaches that totally skewed public/private divisions by means of highlighting the ways in which may be surveilled in the domestic sphere, yet enjoy anonymity in public. My own panel on commodification (along with Rob Heyman, Claudia Diaz, Vincent Toubiana, and ably chaired by Jo Pierson and summarised by Ike Picone) accounted for changes in advertising. My own presentation (slides on the right-hand-side) focused on changes in the character of advertising,). This was a philosophical discussion on how the function of advertising has developed from attempts to fix the “being” of things (items, objects, experience and social processes). The latter part of my talk addressed the move away from representation in critical theory to political economy approaches (audience-as-commodity), progressing to posit a Whiteheadian and ‘event’-based take on advertising that sees fleeting arrangements, aggregation, disaggregation and advertising that is of a temporary character as we negotiate the heterogeneous web.

Day 2 saw some fascinating talks beginning with computer scientists and tech folk. What surprised me was their call for a broader and more holistic approach to privacy. This theme continued into the second panel that clearly laid out the need for a social constructionist account of privacy, particularly in relation to social over institutional/paternalistic norms. This progressed to think about privacy in terms of power and what struck me most were the clear connections to classical media and cultural studies, and the need to better understand the ‘micropolitics’ of everyday life. This situates privacy, commodification of users’ traces and sociality within a wider much field that historically has included power, gender, race and mainstays of cultural studies. I think it’s time to dust off some of those undergrad cultural studies books!

And, finally, a comedy moment: I'm on the train heading out of Manchester Piccadilly at 1am writing up this post along with other ideas from the conference. Lots of jolly very worse for wear folk wondering what I’m dong typing so fervently: “You writing the next 50 Shades of Grey?” “Well, I am typing up notes for a book?” “What’s the book about?” “Privacy.” (Cue raucous laughter!)

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I am director of the Media and Persuasive Communication (MPC) network at Bangor University where I also lecture on political-economy of the media. I am currently working on a book provisionally titled Deconstructing Privacy for Peter Lang and leading two empirical projects in connection with privacy perception and the use of new media for smoking cessation. I am author of Creativity and Advertising: Affect, Events and Process (Routledge, 2013); The Mood of Information: A Critique of Behavioural Advertising (Continuum, 2011); and Digital Advertising (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2009). Please contact me at if you are interested in Ph.D supervision or consultancy services.