Reading group: Aesthetics, Media & Cultural studies

School of Media, Film and Journalism academics Elizabeth Coleman, Justin O’Connor, and Paul Atkinson have established a new reading group – Aesthetics, Media and Cultural studies.

Description of the Field

Cultural and Media Studies in Australia and the UK emerged as much from older literary and artistic disciplines as from sociology, communications and other social sciences.

Juno Ludovisi.
Juno Ludovisi.

Indeed, much of the power of CMS came out of its conceptual critique of aesthetic theory and its historical and methodological critique of art as social practice (cf. Paul Willis in the reading list).

Rather than disappearing, in the last thirty years aesthetics and art history/ theory have undergone some radical transformations.

Many of older works in art and aesthetics have been revisited as pertinent to the contemporary cultural and media scene (Dewey, Read, Marcuse, Adorno) and many new approaches, coming out of post-structuralist (Lyotard, Deleuze, Rancière) and contemporary sociological thought (Habermas, Bourdieu, Luhmann), have suggested a possible rapprochement between aesthetics and cultural and media studies.

In many respects “art” and “cultural and media studies” have remained two distinct, though highly proximate worlds.

In addition, the current crisis in cultural policy – where the value of culture has been radically undermined by the discourse and technologies of economic innovation and efficiency – has also required a return to aesthetic history and theory.

In order to explore these issues, the Communications and Media Studies section of MFJ will be hosting four seminars, which will be based around one or two set readings.

Participants are welcome to suggest supplementary readings, however the discussion will be conducted under the assumption that the core texts have been read. Participation is open to all.

Reading List

The readings can be accessed online through the library website.

First Session

Wednesday, April 15, 12pm – 1pm, T2.26/7,  Caulfield Campus

rules-art-pierre-bourdieu-paperback-cover-artIn this seminar we will be reading sections of Jacques Rancière’s latest book Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art and Pierre Bourdieu’s The Rules of Art.

In addition we will be looking at Tony Bennett’s trenchant critique of Rancière in “Guided Freedom: Aesthetics, Tutelage and the Interpretation of Art” in Making Culture, Changing Society. London Routledge.

Second Session

Wednesday, April 29, 12pm – 1pm, T2.26/7, Caulfield Campus

In this seminar we will read through the opening chapter of John Dewey’s Art as Experience, “The Live Creature” pp. 1-19, where he discusses the importance of quotidian experience in the generation and evaluation of art.

In doing so, he critiques those aesthetic approaches that place art within museums for the purpose of disinterested aesthetic contemplation.

Susanne Langer.
Susanne Langer.

We will also read through chapter three “The Symbol of Feeling” pp. 24-41 of Susanne Langer’s Feeling and Form, in which she critiques Dewey and proposes her own definition of art as “significant form.”

Third Session

Wednesday 20th May 12pm – 1pm, T2.26/7, Caulfield Campus

Cultural studies and cultural economy approaches to the study of arts practices frequently rely on institutional theories of art and art worlds, such as those associated with Howard Becker and Pierre Bourdieu.

One weakness of institutional theories is that they cannot account for the value of art as a practice, or distinguish between aesthetic value and other values of arts.

artful_species (1)In the “The nature of art” (from his book The Artful Species), Stephen Davies critiques some of the arguments for the institutional theory, and in “Dissanayake’s evolutionary aesthetic” he critiques an alternative, evolutionary account of art and its value.

In “What Philosophers say the arts do,” Hans van Maanen explores the different kinds of value ascribed to art in order to articulate a framework for thinking about value in empirical studies of art practices and institutions.

Fourth Session

Readings and date to be announced.


Bohemian Melbourne celebrates city’s history with film festival and lecture series

This summer, the State Library Victoria has showcased Melbourne’s vibrant bohemian history with an exhibition on Melburnian characters and their contribution to the city’s art, music and literary scene.

As part of this series, SLV, with the help of academic adviser and Monash scholar Dr Tony Moore, are hosting a film festival and a series of public lectures to accompany the exhibition.

Screening Bohemians

A two day film festival, Screening Bohemians, will be held at the Village Roadshow Theatrette (at the State Library) on the 6th and 7th of February.

The festival will showcase Melbourne’s bohemian film culture and feature screenings of films, documentaries and shorts, curated with the help of academic adviser Dr. Tony Moore, who, as author of Dancing with Empty Pockets: Australia’s Bohemians, and a documentary maker himself, will participate in a panel discussion and introduce some of the films.

Highlights include: Ruth Cullen’s portrait of Vali Myers, The Painted Lady; Tim Burstall’s Stork; Richard Lowenstein’s Dog’s in Space and We’re Living on Dog Food; Ken Cameron’s Monkey Grip, Sue Davis and Tony Stephen’s Punkline; Head On, Anna Kokkinos’ film of Christos Tsiolkas’ novel Loaded; Darius Devas This City Speaks to Me series of shorts about young Melbourne artists; and Barry Humphries’ Comfort Station, a rare 1966 personal journey through Melbourne together with Edna Everage’s once banned performance of ‘True British Spunk’ on TDT, a spoof on the follies of empire.

Bookings are essential and available on the State Library Vic website.

Bohemian Like You? Panel Discussion

Mick Conway, Elizabeth Gilliam, 1989, State Library of Victoria
Mick Conway, Elizabeth Gilliam, 1989, State Library of Victoria

What does it mean to be bohemian today? Join Dr Tony Moore, Jane Clifton and Noel Tovey, with char Richard Watts, for a discussion on Melbourne’s bohemian past as well as its future – what it means to be ‘bohemian’ in today’s world.

Date: 5th February

Time: 6:00-7:15 pm

Where: Village Roadshow Theatrette

Bookings are essential and available on the State Library Vic Website.

Bohemian Melbourne, a celebration of counter-culture

Alongside the exhibition, which will be open until February 22nd, Bohemian Melbourne will also include a cabaret, pop-up performances, walking tours and curator tours of the exhibition. A full listing of events are available on the State Library Victoria website.

Find out more:


Our Staff

Associate Professor Mark Gibson Head of Program
Dr Dan Black  Honours Coordinator (Section and School)
Dr Elizabeth Burns Coleman
Associate Professor Kevin Foster  Deputy Head of School – Finance and Planning
Associate Professor Gil-Soo Han Undergraduate Program Coordinator
Dr David Holmes
Associate Professor Shane Homan
Associate Professor Brett Hutchins Australian Research Council Future Fellow
Dr Tony Moore  Coordinator – Master of Communications and Media
Professor Justin O’Connor  Co-Director, Research Unit of Media Studies (RUMS); Coordinator, Master  of Cultural Economy
Dr Andy Ruddock Postgraduate CoordinatorMIGR Director
Dr Jinna Tay  Co-Director, RUMS
Dr John Tebbutt

Master of Communications and Media Studies

Further your understanding of communications and media systems both locally and globally, and focus on the challenges posed by the emergence of digital media, globalisation and increasing levels of cross-cultural exchange.


Master of Cultural Economy

Develop your expertise in the independent arts and creative/cultural industries and working in cultural policy, governance and community development.



Links below refer to the Monash University Handbook and the Monash University Course Finder.

Our school offers honours programs in many areas:




Our school offers individual units, major and minor sequences in following areas of study:

For further course and unit information about undergraduate degrees please contact the Faculty of Arts.


Our love-hate relationship with Facebook

 David Holmes and Anna Matwijiw

More than 50% of young Australians have seriously considered shutting down their Facebook accounts, even while many of them check the site compulsively through the day.

While Facebook grew exponentially since launching in 2004, especially in its first three years, recent research has found many users fatigued and wanting a break.

And this trend has only been exacerbated by the appearance of articles and blogs including a list of reasons to leave Facebookwhy leaving Facebook improves lifewhy teenagers no longer care for Facebook, and how Facebook makes you feel bad about yourself.

A recent Pew Research survey found that 61% of Facebook users in the US have taken a voluntary break from using the site and 27% plan to spend less time on the site this coming year.

Notably, young adults aged 19 to 29 were the most likely anticipators of decreased engagement, with 38% expecting to spend less time on Facebook this year.

The Pew study did not try to determine how many users actually deactivated accounts as opposed to “taking breaks,” nor did it examine non-American user trends. It is unclear whether the incidence of deactivation is a growing trend in Australia as, up until now, no conclusive research has been conducted on the topic and Facebook refuses to release the data.

But a new study of 19 to 29 year old Facebook users in Australia gives us a much clearer picture of Facebook attachment in Australia. The survey was divided into a student sample and a non-student sample.

Whilst 75.5% of respondents reported checking their Facebook feed over five times per day, indicating a substantial attachment to Facebook, 56.3% reported having seriously considered deactivating their accounts.

And 25.9% had deactivated their account at some point in the last twelve months. Nearly 40% had deactivated their account at least once in the last seven years.


Why deactivate?

Fifteen students were also asked to give longer answers on their views on deactivation.

Of these, 5 had deactivated in the past 12 months, 5 were seriously considering deactivating and 5 had never seriously considered deactivating.

The study showed a consistent trend across all three of these interviewees, that users started off with active status posting but increasingly became silent lurkers. In fact, the usage of facebook actually increased in terms of how often they logged in to the point where many felt it to be an unhealthy addiction. One respondent reported checking their facebook account: “10 x an hour, 18 hours a day, so like 175 – 190 [time a day]”. The more addictive behaviour was attributed to having Facebook as a mobile app, where there was no log in and it enabled continual short bursts of updates all day.

Interviewees also reported the ambient nature of facebook, the sense of always needing to be connected to it on their phone or computer. This constant pressure that users felt from facebook had negative consequences on mood: summed up by one participant who said:

I think interacting with people on a platform like that is so performative that it’s almost like being in one of the worst social situations but constantly being there, like you can’t leave. Like a terrible club where you can’t talk to anyone and they’re all there and they all look fantastic and they’re all really drunk but no-one is really saying anything to one another.

Time-wasting was another source of frustration leading to thoughts of deactivation:

[People deactivate because] it’s actually sucking life out of them, in the sense that they don’t get anything from Facebook. It’s not a social media that enriched your life. You just realise that your reading all this stuff about people who you don’t care about and I think a lot of people, when they realise that they don’t actually care about any of those people and that it’s a waste of their time, then they deactivate.

But while there is pressure to deactivate, there is the validation that some users get out of Facebook, and a high level of FoMo: fear of missing out.

Every time I deactivate there are things I don’t get invited to and people are like, why didn’t you come to that or whatever, which is kinda bad because people are so fully reliant on it.

The study has revealed a paradox in current Facebook use. Although people are checking it more frequently, they are simultaneously becoming more passive in their use. The more passive the use, the more intense are the feelings of isolation, and the more the user will agonise over whether to deactivate.

You can read the analysis piece on this study here.

This article first appeared in The Conversation



Feast at the Melbourne Writers Festival

Monash University’s Dr Tony Moore is helming two major events at the Melbourne Writers Festival in August.

Dr Moore, a lecturer in Communication and Media Studies, is delivering a key note public lecture ‘Death or Liberty’, at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, Ballarat, at 11am on Saturday, August 23.

 Dr Tony Moore’s 2010 history Death or Liberty: rebels and radicals transported to Australia.
Dr Tony Moore’s 2010 history Death or Liberty: rebels and radicals transported to Australia.

The talk will examine the impact on Australian political culture and the Eureka Stockade rebellion specifically, of political prisoners transported as convicts to Australia in the nineteenth century.

Click here for more information and to book

The talk draws on Death or Liberty, Dr Moore’s 2010 history, that is being adapted as an ABC documentary to broadcast in 2015.
For the third year running Dr Moore leads a walking tour of ‘Bohemian Melbourne’ on 24th, 29th and 30th August.

Together with Monash Adjunct John Arnold, Tony takes MWF patrons in the footsteps of Marcus Clarke to tour the haunts of Melbourne’s bohemian writers, artists and performers, from the Heidelberg painters to the more recent avant-garde and counter-cultures.

To view Dr Moore’s profile, click here

Dancing with Empty Pockets: Australia's Bohemians Since 1860, written by Dr Tony Moore.
Dancing with Empty Pockets: Australia’s Bohemians Since 1860, written by Dr Tony Moore.

The popular walking tour is an output from Tony’s 2012 history of Australian bohemia, Dancing with Empty Pockets, about which he was interviewed for the MWF’s Youtube channel.

Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australia’s Bohemians Since 1860, a who’s who of painters, writers, larrikin journalists, actors, filmmakers, comedians and hackers who have become as famous for their controversial, eccentric lifestyles as for the subversive work they produced.

Dr Moore said the word ‘bohemian’ came from nineteenth-century Europe where it was used to describe the primitive, exotic and mysterious power of gypsies and was soon adopted by renegade writers and artists.

“I’ve always been attracted to free spirits; subversives who buck against conformity and servility and especially champions of the carnivalesque in life, which in Australia is often characterised as larrikinism,” Dr Moore said.

“As an historian I also like to map cultural and political traditions, so we can make sense of what is going on in the present.”


Moore on urban bohemia at Seminar on the City

Dr Tony Moore.
Dr Tony Moore.

Dr Tony Moore, a senior lecturer in Communications and Media Studies at Monash Unviersity, will present the paper Romancing the City – Australian bohemia and the urban to the cross-disciplinary Faculty of Arts  ‘Seminar on the City’ series, Thursday, July 31 at 4pm.

The series is designed to share, stretch and challenge our thinking about cities and urbanization.

Moore.Seminar on the City flyer 31.07.2014 copy


‘Fringe to Famous’ project presented in China

Dr Tony Moore.
Dr Tony Moore.

Dr Tony Moore, Senior Lecturer in Communications and Media Studies in the School of Media, Film and Journalism, presented a paper at the International Conference of Australian Studies on July 12 and 13 in China, at Mudanjiang Normal University, in the far north of China.

The conference theme was ‘Creativity and Development’ and brought together leading Chinese Australianists from humanities and social science with Australian scholars spanning history, economics, international relations, politics, media and cultural industries.

A former Director of the National Centre for Australian Studies, Dr Moore helped establish the China-Australian Research Network in 2013, and was invited to speak at the Mudanjiang conference about the ARC Discovery project he leads, ‘Fringe to Famous; contemporary Australian culture as an innovation system’.

Other participants included Professors David Walker, Stephen Garton, Stephanie Fay, David Carter and and Kate Darian-Smith from Australia and Professors Hong Chen, Quinlong Peng, Keli Dao and Feng Han from China.


Communications and Media Studies earn respect

By Barbara Legaspi

An examination of the problems of media reportage in war zones is just one of the projects that earned Monash University’s Communications and Media Studies department Australia’s highest international ranking.

Associate Professor Brett Hutchins.
Associate Professor Brett Hutchins.

The department’s research program earned five stars in the QS World University Rankings last month, earning 19th place overall, three places ahead of Melbourne University.

The department is also conducting research on media audiences, nationalism and multiculturalism in South Korea, popular music and cultural policy, environmental conflict and the media and digital media and sport.

Monash University was also successful in the last round of Australian Research Council (ARC) grants and has been given funding for a number of projects.

A Future Fellowship project is lead by Associate Professor Brett Hutchins on mobile media and sport, a Discovery project granted to Dr Tony Moore and Associate Professor Mark Gibson to examine Australian culture and innovation.

Dr John Tebbutt has bought an ARC discovery project examining Radio National and public broadcasting and Professor Justin O’Connor is examining the success of the Museum of Old and New Art and it’s effect on the Tasmanian economy, under an ARC grant.

Associate Professor and Head of Communications and Media Studies, Shane Homan, said Monash would continue to build on the high standards set by the department.

“I’d like to think it’s a small reward for sustained excellence in research-led teaching of our undergraduate and postgraduate students, and where we are increasingly sharing our expertise with governments, interested communities and key academic groups globally,” Associate Prof Homan said.

“In terms of research, the list of imminent books and current research grants speaks well to our core knowledge and expertise on a whole range of national and global media debates.”

“In terms of teaching, we will continue to build on the excellent links forged by Professor Justin O’Connor with Jiao Tong University, Shanghai which includes a Cultural Economy Summer School and a Masters unit, Shanghai City Lab.”

Monash Univserity’s Masters of Communications and Media is the most popular Master course in the Arts Faculty.

The Master of Culture Economy is “Australia’s most innovative postgraduate program” which combines the areas of culture, economy, government and policy. It is a new course offered in 2014.

In the university rankings, Melbourne University came in at 22, the University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and the University of Sydney at  26, 27 and 39, respectively.


Is the Afghan war the worst reported conflict?

Monash University’s Associate Professor Kevin Foster has published a new book, Don’t Mention the War: The Australian Defence Force, the Media and the Afghan Conflict.

Associate Professor Foster will discuss his new book at the Matheson’s 50th Anniversary celebrations on May 20 at Clayton campus.

Associate Professor Kevin Foster.
Associate Professor Kevin Foster.

The war in Afghanistan is now the longest and, arguably, worst reported conflict in Australian history.

In Don’t Mention the War, Kevin Foster explores why this is so and considers who engineered and who has benefitted from its impoverished coverage. He examines how and why the ADF restricted the media’s access to and freedom of movement among its troops in Afghanistan and what we can learn about their motives and methods from the more liberal media policies of the Dutch and Canadian militaries.

He analyses how the ADF ensured positive coverage of its endeavours by bringing many aspects of the reporting of the war in-house and why some among the fourth estate were only too happy to hand over responsibility for newsgathering to the military.

The book also investigates how political responses to the conflict, and the discourse that framed them, served to conceal the facts and neuter public debate about the war. After more than a decade of evasion and obstruction, half-truths and hype, Don’t Mention the War reveals how politicians, the military and the media failed the public over the Afghan conflict.

Here is the real story behind the Australian story of the war.

Click here to read an extract of Don’t Mention the War

“It is an important question of our time. Why is this longest war in Afghanistan Australia’s worst reported war? Kevin Foster’s thorough and insightful analysis delivers important answers.”

— Chris Masters

‘Don’t Mention the War sheds a revealing light on how one of our most important institutions resists independent scrutiny and open communication about what it does in the public’s name.’

— Tom Hyland, Inside Story

About Kevin Foster

Kevin Foster was born in Manchester in 1961 and has degrees from the University of Manchester, the University of Saskatchewan and Monash University. He currently teaches Media and Cultural Studies at Monash University. He has written widely on war, cultural history and national identity and his work has appeared in a range of national and international journals. His books include a study of the Falklands Conflict, Fighting Fictions: War, Narrative and National Identity (1999), What are we doing in Afghanistan? The Military and the Media at War (2009) and The Information Battlefield: Representing Australians at War (2011).

Kevin Foster will discuss his book at the Matheson’s 50th Anniversary celebrations on Tuesday, May 20 at 1pm, ground floor, Matheson Library, Clayton Campus.

Kevin Foster: “Our Longest and Worst Reported War”- All welcome.

How is it that the nation’s longest military commitment, in Afghanistan, was far and away its worst reported? Kevin Foster will talk about why, in an effort to answer this question, he came to write his 2013 book, Don’t Mention the War: the Australian Defence Force, the Media and the Afghan Conflict.


Humphries’ pranks of yesteryear

Barry Humphries.
Barry Humphries.
A portrait of a young Barry Humphries.

Monash University’s historian Dr Tony Moore spoke on ABC radio recently, offering insight into Barry Humphries’ recollection of a prank on a Melbourne tram in 1952.

The “pranks” episode was aired nationally on popular ABC program, Conversations with Richard Fidler. It is also available online.

Dr Moore, the author of Death or Liberty: rebels and radicals transported to Australia, chats with Fidler about Humphries’ fascinating story, recalled to Terry Lane on radio, and other related artists.

Listen to Dr Moore’s comments on pranks here …


Communications and Media Studies world class

Monash University’s Communications and Media Studies program has been ranked 19th in the QS World University Rankings.

Monash rated five-plus stars based on eight categories, including research, employability, teaching, facilities, internationalization, innovation, specialist and access.

The top-ranked university worldwide for this subject is the University of Wisconsin (Madison), followed by the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the University of California – Berkeley.

 Monash was ranked just behind Ivy League institution, Cornell University (17th) and New York University (18th).

Associate Professor Shane Homan.
Associate Professor Shane Homan.

Monash University’s Head of Communications and Media Studies, Associate Professor Shane Homan, said Monash’s place in the top 20 universities was pleasing. 

“This confirms our commitment to preparing students to actively think about the role of communications and media in contemporary life in a range of critical and practical ways,” Associate Prof Homan said.

 “It’s also a testament to the research impact and global reputation of our staff, who often lead key debates about social, industrial and cultural change related to the media.” 

Associate Professor Mia Lindgren.
Associate Professor Mia Lindgren.

 Monash University’s Head of the School of Media, Film and Journalism, Associate Professor Mia Lindgren, said the world-class ranking was a great achievement for the school.

 “It highlights the quality of the work done by our staff in the new school and it confirms our international reputation.”


Monash’s Communications and Media studies’ team:

 Associate Professor Shane Homan

Dr Dan Black 

Dr Elizabeth Burns Coleman

Associate Professor Kevin Foster 

Associate Professor Mark Gibson

Associate Professor Gil-Soo Han

Dr David Holmes

Associate Professor Brett Hutchins

Dr Tony Moore

Professor Justin O’Connor

Dr Andy Ruddock

Dr Jinna Tay




The rise of footy datatainment

Associate Professor Brett Hutchins.
Associate Professor Brett Hutchins.

By  Associate Professor Brett Hutchins

The AFL season is about to kick off again. Tens of thousands of fans are presently registering for fantasy footy competitions, scoping possible team selections, picking players, and forming leagues with friends and strangers.

Many are downloading the tablet and smartphone apps that deliver breaking team and player news, injury updates, and live fantasy scores. Others are paying for and updating the league and broadcaster apps so they can access live coverage and match highlights, in addition to perusing their club’s latest mobile offering.

Followers are also combing Twitter to ensure they are following the journalists, commentators, and armchair experts able to deliver the latest gossip, rumours, and even the occasional fact.

Enormous value is now attached to the digital media habits, social media accounts, user details and online preferences of football fans. This value is generated not so much by the individual preferences of fans, but what happens when this information and activity is aggregated. It is at this point that the rivers of data begin to flow.

Sitting at the heart of these developments is the expansion and power of digital sports data and the rise of so-called datatainment. As the current infatuation with Big Data indicates, data comes in many forms. In the case of sport, much of it is directed towards making money in a multi-screen media environment where internet-connected smartphones, tablets, and computers sit alongside television in the engagement of fans and the harvesting of user data.

For instance, fantasy sports are the product of a worldwide market for software packages, data sets and the processing of real-time athlete performance data. According to a major US study, the fantasy sports industry now has ‘participants in the millions’ and delivers ‘a financial impact in the billions’.

Similar types of player data are used in the creation of regularly updated sports video games such as AFL Live for Xbox and PlayStation. This data ensures that the most skilled players on the field are the most sought after by gamers.

There is also a growing smartphone and tablet ‘app economy’ in which leagues, clubs, sponsors and advertisers are playing a notable role. Specialist stats and infographic apps such as Stats Zone (soccer) and #Numbeez (multiple US sports and soccer) are fast becoming a focus of fan attention in the UK, Europe, US and Australia.

These types of mobile apps are delivering mountains of data about users, consumer behaviour and fan preferences. For leagues and clubs, this data underpins new social media strategies designed to capture the eyes of fans, and then their wallets through membership, ticket and merchandise sales.

Sitting beneath the eye-line of many fans is a lucrative market in the supply of athlete performance data to wealthy sports, clubs, broadcasters, and news media outlets. Timing tools and wearable media devices that use GPS technologies, accelerometers, and gyroscopes deliver extensive analytics to coaches and sports scientists. Many observers will recognise the name Champion Data, the company that supplies statistics to top-flight Australian football.

But this provider is only one operator in the global sports data marketplace, which includes the likes of STATSOpta, andCatapult Sports – an Australian-based company that boasts a host of international clients. This is a market that services the likes of Manchester City, the moneyed English Premier League soccer club that reportedly employs 10 full-time data analysts to work with their first team alone.

An expanding array of athlete performance measures and commercial datatainment probably excites fans obsessed by the AFL. It allows the consumption of more media and information about footy than ever before.

The problem with this pattern is the widening gulf it creates between the ‘data-rich’, including all-powerful football codes like the AFL, and the ‘data poor’. The latter include many women’s, semi-professional, and disability sports and competitions that have long struggled to attract significant media attention, sponsorship, and spectators.

The considerable financial, human and technological resources needed to generate and access comprehensive data suggests that this gulf will continue to widen.

Datatainment might be a superficially exciting addition to the sports media landscape. At a more fundamental level, however, it demonstrates that the old inequalities between the sporting ‘haves and have-nots’ are not changing. They are just appearing on new screens.

Associate Professor Brett Hutchins is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at Monash University and co-author of the book, Sport Beyond Television: The Internet, Digital Media and the Rise of Networked Media Sport.


I am a Girl: lessons from 1970s feminism

 By Andy Ruddock

Dr Andy Ruddock.

On March 5, ABC2 aired I am a Girl. Rebecca Barry’s documentary introduced us to six young women from around the world. They hail from Cambodia, Cameroon, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, the USA and Australia.

The doco features girls such as Kimsey, a 14-year-old sex worker who supports her entire family, and Katie, a wealthy, middle-class student getting ready for exams. Their lives may be different but they all share a common dilemma: they live in a world where it’s dangerous to be a girl.

When it comes to girls and media, 2014 looks like a refreshing change from Miley-obsessed 2013.

But funnily enough, I am a Girl helps us understand the hoo-hah over Mouseketeer twerking. How? By reminding audiences of the feminist media scholarship of the 1970s. It was on the money then, and it still is now.

I am a Girl’s premise is that technological and social advances have not produced gender equality. Too many girls are murdered, assaulted and exploited because of their gender. Their resilience and ingenuity simply underlines the need for systematic intervention.

Ironically, it’s the courage and wit of ordinary girls that masks the grinding evil of gender oppression. If you want to think about girls, media and reality, think Malala Yousafzai, not Miley Cyrus.

Barry’s work reflects the influence of British 1970s feminist media research.

Back then, a collective called the Women’s Study Group at Birmingham University argued that any effort to understand the significance of how girls are depicted in the media had to start with an analysis of their social and physical experience. They argued that debates over the liberating or oppressing qualities of onscreen images had to connect with simple political facts: for example, that in the post-war period, social policy wanted women to stay at home and reproduce.

In other words, ideological battles weren’t just being fought on screen: they were being written on women’s bodies.

Are things getting better for girls?

Cultural theorist Angela McRobbie is a key figure here. In recent years, she’s argued that time has only deepened the essential problems with the media. Back in the 70s, media offered girls little to aspire to; they were either invisible, victims or dogsbodies.

Now, things are arguably worse – because they are cosmetically better. Today’s screens are full of girls who can do anything. The real world is full of others who can’t, because they shoulder the burden of economic and social exploitation.

According to McRobbie, thinking about real and media girls means remembering two things.

First, being smart and sassy doesn’t solve anything. Second, because this is true for most girls in most parts of the world, it’s vital to think about how gender inequality is powerful because it acclimatises to different circumstances.

Which is precisely I am a Girl’s point.

There isn’t so much difference between Kimsey, the Cambodian sex worker and Katie, the Australian schoolgirl battling depression against in a world of impossible demands. The documentary doesn’t just open eyes to places that aren’t like the one that viewers live in. It also invites us to consider what these worlds share. Perhaps that is its strongest feature.

The lessons take last year’s controversies about Miley Cyrus in new directions. According to this logic, there’s no contradiction between the arguments that the incident that propelled “twerking” into the Oxford English Dictionary dramatised the inherent sexual exploitation of media industries, versus the counter that it was a feisty piss-take.

The world is full of feisty girls who know what time it is. It’s just that this changes less than we might imagine.

The genius of I am a Girl is that it doesn’t just teach us about a world that we don’t see. It also sheds new light on the media world that we do see.

I am a Girl screens on ABC2 at 8.35pm tonight. Details here.

This story first appeared in The Conversation



Australia’s radical media sphere link

Monash University senior lecturer Dr Tony Moore has presented his historical research from his book, Death or Liberty, at the Monash European and EU Centre’s summer school program.

Dr Moore, who teaches in Communications and Media Studies section, contributed to the summer school’s history and commemoration program, aimed at Australian and New Zealand secondary school teachers.

 Dr Tony Moore’s 2010 history Death or Liberty: rebels and radicals transported to Australia.
Dr Tony Moore’s 2010 history Death or Liberty: rebels and radicals transported to Australia.

The summer school program showcased the work of Victorian academics in the following themes: Crisis and Concilliation in Contemporary Europe, History and Commemoration, and Religion and Identity in Europe and Australia.

The  ABC recently commissioned a television documentary adaptation of Dr Tony Moore’s 2010 history Death or Liberty: rebels and radicals transported to Australia.

The documentary is produced by innovative Tasmanian-based Roar Films, in association with leading Irish production house Tile Films. 

Producer Stephen Thomas say: “Based on Tony Moore’s book, Death or Liberty will be a dynamic telling of history melding drama, music and song, landscape and voice.

“Spoken word testimony is sourced from original letters, poems, documents, newspapers, memoirs, trial transcripts and orders of the governors and Crown”.  

Death or Liberty Powerpoint presentation


Abstract: ‘Death or Liberty’: Transnationality and the Transported Political Rebels to Australia 1788-1868

 Drawing on my book Death or Liberty: rebels and radicals transported to Australia 1788-1868 (2010) this paper engages with the connection of the Australian colonies to an emerging transnational and Euro-centred public sphere in the late eighteenth century and nineteenth century via political radicals transported as convicts.

The paper touches on the experiences of the ‘Scottish Martyrs’, the United Irishmen, Luddites, Swing Rioters, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, Chartists, Canadian rebels, Young Ireland movement, the Fenians, and other radicals transported for sedition, treason, rebellion and protest in the nineteenth century to demonstrate how teachers can engage students about the mobility of people, ideas and politics within and beyond the British empire.

The political prisoners transported to Australia move outside one nation to traverse the globe, contributing to the different places in which they live, and even making a virtue of their status as citizens of the world.

A particular problem for a country with colonial origins is that many of the people who made a difference in Australia’s past were mobile within a global empire as governors, soldiers, sailors, immigrants, explorers, scientists, missionaries, travellers and of course convicts.

Happily, the study of Australia’s past at universities has benefited from a turn towards a new critical imperial history that reframes and refreshes colonial Australia as part of a global empire shaped by people on the move, demands for popular participation and a new media age.

Building on the work of George Rude, Nigel Leask and Seán McConeville as well as theoretical insights of Habermas and media studies scholar John Hartley, I pay particular attention to the contribution of these exiles as new media activists producing pamphlets, books, journalism, songs, poetry, cartoons and symbols that had an impact within the empire and beyond, akin to present-day innovations such as Wikileaks.

The Empire’s exiled rebels should be understood not just for their role in the movements they left behind, but for the places and people they touched during their often involuntary journeys, revealing Australian colonies vitally connected to the ‘republic of letters’.



Young celebs & LGBT rights: what would Hall say?

By Andy Ruddock

andy2Any lingering doubts about the political power of popular culture have surely been dispelled in the last couple of weeks.

When actor Ellen Page courageously fought tears to come out before a global audience, she became the latest in a string of young celebrities who have chosen to embody the struggle for LGBT rights.

Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff arrived at the Winter Olympics in Sochi determined to take a stand against state-sanctioned homophobia. Brockhoff, who is gay, has been subjected to social media abuse because of this.

American NFL prospect Michael Sam announced recently that he, too, is gay. With the NFL draft fast approaching, Sam has knowingly jeopardised his professional future.

The draft – a highly anticipated and cherished media event in its own right – transforms college athletes into multi-millionaire superstars overnight.

Sports Illustrated reported that Sam’s disclosure reduces the chances of this happening to him. This prompted an apoplectic commentary piece from US sports presenter Dale Hansen, comparing Sam to baseball and civil rights hero Jackie Robinson

 Each young star has found their simple ambition – to shred, play ball and act – caught in a gossamer, created by global media’s voracious appetite for dramatised politics.

They’ve also taught the world why we should all care about LGBT rights. 

While you’ve heard of Brockhoff, Sam and Page, you probably haven’t heard of sociologist Stuart Hall.

Brockhoff, Sam and Page have used their celebrity status to make the world a better place. But it’s Hall, who died last week, who clarifies why their actions matter.

As young celebrities adeptly exploit the political potential of global media, their actions underline the significance of Hall’s insights.

Hall was one smart cookie. Obituaries hailed him as “the godfather of multiculturalism” and the creator of the term “Thatcherism”.

Arriving at Oxford from Jamaica in the 1950s, Hall lived on the frontline of changing post-war British cultural politics, and then told everyone what these changes meant.

Among his many intellectual achievements, Hall translated the complex theoretical work of Italian marxist Antonio Gramsciinto a sophisticated tool for explaining the connections between entertainment, popular common sense and political leadership.

This feat continues to inform public political thought.

Yet Hall’s fearsome intellectual skill came wrapped in a polite disdain for academia. He didn’t see much point in scholarship that didn’t speak to a non-academic audience.

Hall’s reasons were deeply personal. As a young man, he had witnessed his sister’s decline into devastating mental illness, brought on by a failed love affair.

A simple relationship with a young doctor was torn apart because it crossed barriers of race and class in colonial Jamaica.

For Hall, his sister’s fate tragically embodied a savage truth: that there is no personal life, and we are all children of political histories that can ruin us. But, crucially, knowing this is first step to salvation.

Hall thought that the road to happiness, for ordinary people, lies in being able to decipher how personal experience reflects broader political realities.

As his work progressed, so it centred more and more on popular culture and political consciousness.

In the 1980s, the man who had made his name making sense of impenetrable Marxist theory lauded Live Aid, Bob Geldof and Bruce Springsteen for breathing life into apparently moribund ideas.

British Labour struggled to convince voters that class still mattered and unfettered free markets were socially corrosive. “The Boss” and Geldof used entertainment to get audiences singing along to the same ideas.

This dramatised key themes in Hall’s work: that global entertainment shows us where we are in the world, how we got here, and can create compelling images of where we should go.

Despite its sophistication and fascinating history, there’s a distinct Australian simplicity to Hall’s main conviction. It’s just about giving people a fair go.

A touching, funny story emerged about Hall last week. At a dinner in the later years of his life, so the story goes, Hall was asked what he wanted.

The question was about his political aspirations. So was his answer: “a power shower”.

The answer was a characteristically polite and humorous rebuke. Effective politics starts with the ordinary hopes of ordinary people.

And that’s where the scholar meets the stars. Brockhoff just wants to shred, Page just wants to act, Sam just wants to play ball. But they all know that their simple ambitions are affected by how the global sport/entertainment/media complex processes their sexuality.

And right now, things don’t look too good for Sam, while Brockhoff has been subjected to vile abuse. Hall would have said that we need to listen to these young people very carefully. We should hear that.

This story first appeared in The Conversation



The great global warming subsidy

By David Holmes

Dr David Holmes.
Dr David Holmes.

The demise of manufacturing in this country has captured the news headlines for weeks now.

It is about jobs, about sentimentality toward companies that have long been part of Australian life, and about the future of Australian productivity.

Caterpillar, SPC Ardmona, Electrolux, the car manufacturers: each have seen the withdrawal or denial of subsidies that has gone directly to job losses.

The Abbott government has supposedly declared an end to corporate welfare, consistent with a neoliberal, even Darwinian, outlook that companies and individuals must solely bear responsibility for their decisions, circumstances and activities.

But is this really true? Has such welfare ended? We have been told that the taxpayer cannot afford these subsidies to companies that are not profitable, in some cases suggesting that they should change their industrial relations agreements to turn around such profitability.

But as the headlines become captivated by these stories that understandably look at the tangible threat to real jobs, with narratives about communities and individuals who can be interviewed, we are not getting to the cruel irony at the heart of their suffering.

The government is involved in gargantuan subsidies to the mining and pastoral sectors and these subsidies are about to get a whole lot bigger.

These are subsidies that are getting no scrutiny at all in these headlines.

The largest of these subsidies that has been operating since the Howard years – and continued during Labor’s two terms – is the fuel tax credit scheme to the mining industry. In 2011, for example, the mining industry accounted for A$2 billion of the $5.2 billion total claimed from this scheme.

An analysis by Environment Victoria suggests that in 2012-16, the claims will average approximately $2.3 billion per year. In short, the mining industry receives and takes advantage of a huge discount on its fuel use which has encouraged it to become a highly intensive liquid fuel user.

Ever wondered why mining companies consider ‘fly-in-fly-out’ labour sourcing such an affordable option? Taxpayers are paying for this practice and big mining is happy to take the money. Mining is a carbon-intensive industry in the production process, even where it is not drilling or digging up fossil fuels – in which case its footprint is pretty much peaked to the max.

So, why does mining get such preferential treatment, hidden in plain sight, and left alone by the mainstream media?

One way to understand this is to explain the historical alliance that the major parties in Australia have had with the different business sectors. Here, it is worth focusing on mining, pastoral and manufacturing capital.

Very few analyses are conducted on this neglected minority in Australian political life – the capitalist class – but mining and pastoral capital have long been aligned more closely with the Liberal-National Party, and the Labor Party aligned with manufacturing capital. Political party donations from the mining sector for 2011-12 show that the LNP is a spectacular beneficiary. The ALP received only 3% of the donations handed out from mining companies during this time, with the Queensland LNP and the then-federal opposition Liberal and National parties receiving 97%.

However, it is not as easily divided as that. As manufacturing in Australia steadily declined from the 1990s onwards, Labor began to support mining capital by default to pick up the shortfalls in productivity.

But the Labor power base is with the manufacturing sector where Australian unions have their most influence, and where ‘looking after workers’ conforms to a more traditional industrial relations framework, based on workforces that aren’t transient like jet-about miners are.

Where there is a clear line of division between the parties is that while Labor will always try and support manufacturing capital, the LNP has had an uneasy relationship with that sector and is more prepared to see a company fail unless it is based in a marginal seat (for example) or is related to basic infrastructure.

Then there is the behaviour of mining capital itself. As far back as 1967 when mining capital first became centrally represented by the formation of the Australian Mining Industry Council, the mining lobby has attacked industrial capital.

In those days, mining was led by Hugh Morgan and Ray Evans at Western Mining and Charles Copeman of Consolidated GoldFields.

The mining lobby is very powerful today. Treasury minutes reveal meetings have been held with the Association of Mining and Explorations Companies over the importance of retaining the fuel tax credit scheme.

It is a bit rich for the government to say it cannot afford $25 million for SPC Ardmona when it is committed to handing over $2.3 billion to mining companies that goes to their direct bottom line and the personal wealth of some of the richest people in Australia.

Corporate welfare indeed.

The Abbott government is no friend of manufacturing capital.

And in a political climate where a return to a ballot-toxic Workchoices path to controlling such capital and its unions is looking unlikely, it seems that Abbott has decided that it’s easier just to turn its back on the sector altogether.

The twist of the knife here is that having suffered the carpet of subsidy protection being pulled from underneath, these manufacturing workers – if they ever find another job – will be paying subsidies to the mining sector.

This is a sector that is also going to add to the potential suffering of future generations.


This story first appeared on The Conversation