In "Crowd, Power and Post-Democracy in the 21st Century”, Zizek (2008) argues that when the normal run of things is traumatically interrupted, the field is open for a ‘discursive’ ideological competition. In other words, when there is a crisis.


After our class yesterday there was a l’UQAM  occupation. It ended late into the night with an unnecessarily large police presence in riot gear, endless tear gas burning throats, and violent dispersion strategies. The night occupation was an immediate reaction to the events of earlier that day at UQAM.

Today, on the campus of the Université du Québec à Montréal, facing a court order demanding that classes be held and the threat of expulsion issued by their administration, hundreds of students turned up to disrupt classes and enforce their democratically voted strike mandate.

In response, the university administration called in the Montreal police, who arrived in full riot gear with pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons at the ready. Paradoxically enough, their stated role there was to ensure that classes could occur as scheduled.

The students were shortly boxed in. The bulk of the reported 22 arrests happened as riot police swept onto campus. Students then set up barricades, and police formed a line and prepared to move in.

The occupation was also a response to the larger institutional issues of the different forms of violence against students (physical, economic, etc) and the austerity myth. The violence of those in power is much more insidious and invisible than the violence of destroying university property, which creates an unbalanced imaginary in this political struggle.

When we see images in the media and read the discourse of others which try to decontextualize a serious and complicated issue, and only focus on ‘violent protestors doing damage to property’ we must remember history, context, and the nuanced ways that bodies are excluded from spaces. What are the modes of recourse against the systemic and systematic violence we are faced with? Yes, all of us! Whether we recognize it or not. Although, some of us are affected by institutional violence more than others, which is where our friend intersectionality comes in. And even then, we must self-reflect what subject position we are coming from in the ways in which we orient towards events like the occupation last night. Why do we have x or y opinion on protests/protestors? What has shaped that perspective?

We must also remember the ways in which regulatory powers favor property over human bodies. When are riot gear, teargas and rubber bullets, etc. appropriate modes of policing bodies? (remember the Jason Farman example about increased security cameras pointing to computer labs and not for the safety of students on campus.)



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Photos courtesy of Caroline Ramirez.


Week 12 — Notes

“Our Bodies, ourselves; bodies are maps of power and identity. Cyborgs are no exception.” (Haraway, 1991, 180)

For today’s class we watched Ana Voog’s video she made for us, and two readings that represent  a fairly wide range of re-thinking our contemporary embodied lived experience. They offered us new understandings of city life, of embodiment, and of the production of space and bodies in that life. Elizabeth Wilson says “we need a radically new approach to the city” and Donna Haraway also argues for a radically new approach to bodies and identity.

This is how I wish to end the course — in thinking what is at stake for the future and what sorts of alternatives there are to get our problematic of “which bodies? which spaces?”

Hyperstition is a “neologism that combines the words ‘hyper’ and ‘superstition’ to describe the action of successful ideas in the arena of culture.”

Both readings operate in the spirit of “l’ecriture feminine”, feminine writing, a concept that rejects masculinist histories and instead demands that women “write the truth of their bodies”. Two main proponents of this are French feminists Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous who by using non-linear, performative and autobiographical language to describe the truth of a new kind of body: that of the cyborg/ the sphinx.

Wilson’s chapter uses many forms of scholarship to make a collage type work — fiction, essays, film, and art, as well as history and sociology, to look at London and  Paris. Wilson wanted to do that to emulate the ways in which she argues we experience and live the city, in a fragmented way with many layers of meaning reacting against the rational masculinist logic. She says there is nothing natural about the city, but we have believed this image. Haraway also undoes ideas about what is ‘natural.’ We will see that explicitly in the concept of the cyborg. 

The course has followed a similar ethos, in which I had you read poetry, epistolary exchanges, articles, and videos and maps to get a more comprehensive way to analyze the environment.

Wilson’s city also contradicts the ways in which the city is supposed to be built to showcase the rational mastery of human on environment, with buildings, towers and neatly circumscribed roads for cars and sidewalks for pedestrians and us to enact it through our spatial practice. But we know that the city is not static object, but rather a constantly changing environment. Wilson argues: “the city is in a constant process of change” so the quest is for you (yes, you!) to try to re-experience a city you know, and re-imagine it!

The city “as experience, environment, concept” which is, in other words, what we have been arguing all along. And by seeing it in this way, we can then frame a phenomenological reading of the city!

In Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway offers us not only a response to the regulatory normative system, but also a response to the gender, body and identity essentialism.

We did not have time to watch Sun Ra’s Space is the Place but it is well worth watching! Afrofuturism is a compelling analysis of the environment and one answer to the question “which bodies? which spaces?”


Questions to Consider

  • What is the cyborg and why is it useful for thinking about bodies and spaces?
  • Haraway argues that the cyborg suggests “a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves.” How so?
  • Haraway  presents a chart of the differences between “comfortable old hierarchical dominations” (p.161) which appear “natural” since they are so ingrained in our Western cultural imaginary, and the “scary new networks”(p.161) which came post-WWII. Name one pair from the chart and explain how the binaries are false and how the ‘natural’ category is false.
  • Why is sexuality such a threat to the social order of spaces and cities? Think with Wilson, Gira Grant, Knopp and Razack.

By: Ashley Plescia

In today’s society it can be appropriate to say that people are attached to their phones, to the extent that they take it to washrooms, sleep beside it and are constantly looking at it. Which is reasonable because of how access is available 24/7. When it comes to the target of this technology-obsessed trend, it seems like age has no limits. There are infants with the skills to use some applications, up to elderly. Of course, the majority of those most involved in the up to date trends of the Internet are young adults. One of the fastest trends that grew is Snapchat. “Snapchat is a mobile app which lets users share images or videos that disappear after a few seconds” (Gross). This application has affected media with much debate. Some refer to Snapchat as the “next instagram” while others refer to it as a new source for “sexting” (Gross). Snapchat’s founder has made it perfectly clear that the application is not for sexting (rivlin). As he has stated, Snapchat’s purpose is “used for banal selfies and “uglies”, videos of blokes drinking, and photos of food” (rivlin).

Snapchat founders, Evan Spiegel and Reggie Brown, may be right that the majority of the photographs and videos sent are very G rated images of food or weird pictures. There cannot be a denial that inappropriate images are not being sent as well. If you were to give a phone to someone with permission to send whatever they want to someone with the promise that it will disappear in a mere seconds, there is still a large possibility that sexting will take place. Especially for situations when one wants to reveal something that they want private and not allow them to save. Snapchat does the same job as every other social media application without the risk of it coming back to you.

The overall results of sexting are moral and media panics. The moral panics for mostly youths are often a result of parental control being loss. The media creates panic by representing society in a negative outlook resulting “in power struggles over ideological values” (Draper 222). However, beyond just this application, the fact that sexting is such a common term in today’s society does cause concern.

As the course discussed the involvement of surveillance, self-surveillance and sousveillance in spaces, Snapchat does involve them. Surveillance can relate to the notion that society is survail what you do, and with recent news reports they expose the inner truths of Snapchat, revealing the site that promises disappearing images and complete security has been hacked more then twice, once revealing people’s accounts and images and another resulting in a way to get their received images back on their phone. As well as countless Tumblr accounts showcasing images of naked people who sent it through snapchat.”The right to sext is also about the right to demand that these images are kept private” (Hasinoff 163). Self-surveillance is the media etiquette that is socially created. By which one does or does not do something on this device even though this line is very thin. One determines themselves as what they want to reveal and share. Determining how far they want to push it. Snapchat is on the borderline of public/private spaces. It takes the public space by showcasing where you are and emerging the viewer into the space, however it is also used as a private space where it is intimate between two people. At least that is what they hope.

The overall purpose had good intensions, as a space to share the world around you with others, so that they may join the space and be with friends that aren’t physically with you. However, by allowing people to have complete control in what they send resulting in many photographs deemed inappropriate. The application has made improvements with updates that notify the person when someone takes a snapshot of your image through their phone.

Society defines images of nudity from sculptures and paintings as art; even naked images of people in biology books are defined as science. Then why is the concept of sending a nudity photograph through a device considered inappropriate and social unacceptable?





Draper, Nora R.a. “Is Your Teen at Risk? Discourses of Adolescent Sexting in United States Television News.” Journal of Children and Media (2011): 222. Print.

Gross, Doug. “Snapchat: Sexting Tool, or the next Instagram?” CNN. Cable News Network, 10 Jan. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2015. <>.

Hasinoff, Amy A. “Should Teens Have the Right to Sext?” Ed. Charlene Elliott. Communication in Question: Competing Perspectives on Controversial Issues in Communication Studies. Ed. Joshua Greenberg. Toronto: Thomson Nelson, 2012. 163. Print.

Rivlin, Jack. “There’s an Obvious Reason Why Young People Don’t Use Snapchat for Sexting – Telegraph Blogs.” The Telegraph. N.p., 6 Jan. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2015. <>.

The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed

This weekend I was presenting at the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference as part of a panel arranged by Prof. Fenwick McKelvey. Sarah T Roberts was part of the two-art panel and shared with us an eye-opening presentation on commercial content moderators (CCMs) -- the people that do the labour of approving or removing objectionable content when it is flagged. They are the ones who experience the reality of the internet to keep up the internet mythology we believe in. Below is the only available article on the issue, an article that took years to put together and relied a lot on Roberts's ethnographic research.

by Adrien Chen, 23 October 2014.

THE CAMPUSES OF the tech industry are famous for their lavish cafeterias, cushy shuttles, and on-site laundry services. But on a muggy February afternoon, some of these companies’ most important work is being done 7,000 miles away, on the second floor of a former elementary school at the end of a row of auto mechanics’ stalls in Bacoor, a gritty Filipino town 13 miles southwest of Manila. When I climb the building’s narrow stairwell, I need to press against the wall to slide by workers heading down for a smoke break. Up one flight, a drowsy security guard staffs what passes for a front desk: a wooden table in a dark hallway overflowing with file folders.

Past the guard, in a large room packed with workers manning PCs on long tables, I meet Michael Baybayan, an enthusiastic 21-year-old with a jaunty pouf of reddish-brown hair. If the space does not resemble a typical startup’s office, the image on Baybayan’s screen does not resemble typical startup work: It appears to show a super-close-up photo of a two-pronged dildo wedged in a vagina. I say appearsbecause I can barely begin to make sense of the image, a baseball-card-sized abstraction of flesh and translucent pink plastic, before he disappears it with a casual flick of his mouse.

Baybayan is part of a massive labor force that handles “content moderation”—the removal of offensive material—for US social-networking sites. As social media connects more people more intimately than ever before, companies have been confronted with the Grandma Problem: Now that grandparents routinely use services like Facebook to connect with their kids and grandkids, they are potentially exposed to the Internet’s panoply of jerks, racists, creeps, criminals, and bullies. They won’t continue to log on if they find their family photos sandwiched between a gruesome Russian highway accident and a hardcore porn video. Social media’s growth into a multibillion-dollar industry, and its lasting mainstream appeal, has depended in large part on companies’ ability to police the borders of their user-generated content—to ensure that Grandma never has to see images like the one Baybayan just nuked.


So companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invisible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer of MySpace who now runs online safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrubbing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000”—that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly 14 times that of Facebook.

This work is increasingly done in the Philippines. A former US colony, the Philippines has maintained close cultural ties to the United States, which content moderation companies say helps Filipinos determine what Americans find offensive. And moderators in the Philippines can be hired for a fraction of American wages. Ryan Cardeno, a former contractor for Microsoft in the Philippines, told me that he made $500 per month by the end of his three-and-a-half-year tenure with outsourcing firm Sykes. Last year, Cardeno was offered $312 per month by another firm to moderate content for Facebook, paltry even by industry standards.

Here in the former elementary school, Baybayan and his coworkers are screening content for Whisper, an LA-based mobile startup—recently valued at $200 million by its VCs—that lets users post photos and share secrets anonymously. They work for a US-based outsourcing firm called TaskUs. It’s something of a surprise that Whisper would let a reporter in to see this process. When I asked Microsoft, Google, and Facebook for information about how they moderate their services, they offered vague statements about protecting users but declined to discuss specifics. Many tech companies make their moderators sign strict nondisclosure agreements, barring them from talking even to other employees of the same outsourcing firm about their work.

“I think if there’s not an explicit campaign to hide it, there’s certainly a tacit one,” says Sarah Roberts, a media studies scholar at the University of Western Ontario and one of the few academics who study commercial content moderation. Companies would prefer not to acknowledge the hands-on effort required to curate our social media experiences, Roberts says. “It goes to our misunderstandings about the Internet and our view of technology as being somehow magically not human.”

Read more »»»

Terri Senft answers q’s about internet life

Theresa Senft (author of Camgirls that we read) answered questions for Leandra Preston's class ""Virtual Girls: Girls and Digital Media" at the University of Central Florida in 2011 via video. These are cogent articulations of some of the issues we have been thinking about throughout the semester and inherently argue against digital dualism and the hierarchy and binary of virtual/real, online/offline.

1. Are people more honest offline or online?

2. Can you have sustainable friendships online?

3. What should be the role of the net in “real” activism offline?

4. How well do you think your viewers know you?

5. Why are all the camgirl sites devoted to porn now?

6. What about pre-teens and young teens who want to become camgirls?

7. Can you speak about creating “safe spaces” for women and others?

How ‘Defensive Architecture’ Is Ruining Our Cities

Cities have always struggled with the tension between the different needs of social classes who share the space. But as The Guardian documents, a new trend of defensive — and some times overtly hostile — architecture is changing the urban landscape, and not in a good way.

Defensive architecture refers to modifications of buildings and public space, often too subtle to be noticed by the general public, designed to discourage certain groups of people from loitering. ‘Homeless spikes’, studs in the ground that prevent people from sleeping rough, are the most obvious example, but it can include things like slanting windowsills to stop people sitting, benches with armrests that make it impossible to lie down, or sprinklers that intermittently come on but aren’t really watering anything.

But as Alex Andreou explains in the feature, defensive architecture hurts more than just the homeless:

There is a wider problem, too. These measures do not and cannot distinguish the “vagrant” posterior from others considered more deserving. When we make it impossible for the dispossessed to rest their weary bodies at a bus shelter, we also make it impossible for the elderly, for the infirm, for the pregnant woman who has had a dizzy spell. By making the city less accepting of the human frame, we make it less welcoming to all humans. By making our environment more hostile, we become more hostile within it.

Against a backdrop of increasing urbanisation, Andreou raises an important point. As cities grow in size and density, we’ll need to be careful to ensure that the space is welcoming to everyone. Sticking spikes in the ground probably isn’t a great way to ensure that.

People Vs Places

An interesting collaborative analysis of environment and the relationship between spaces and bodies through images. Inspiration for final project.

Below is a selection of “a photographic collaboration between photographers Timothy Burkhart and Stephanie Bassos. This double exposure project allows us to step back from having full control of the image making process and trust in one another while allowing coincidences to happen naturally on film. Stephanie exposes a full roll of 35mm film of only “people,” and Timothy reloads the film again into the same camera, to imprint only “places” and locations to the same roll. These images are all the end result of our ongoing series and are unedited negatives straight from the camera.”

people vs places website