A Woman’s World

Historically, sociology research has been undertaken predominantly by middle-to-upper class white men, resulting in findings impacted by their privileged social position and bias.


Sociology “founding fathers” Weber, Marx and Durkheim

Research topics have focused mainly on men and boys, participants have been mostly male and despite this, research findings have been universally applied to the population as a whole rather than just to males, leading to very little real understanding of womens’ lives and experiences. Womens’ issues haven’t been seen as important or worthy enough of investigating. Mainstream research has been weighted in the use of empirical data to seek answers, however quantitative data alone is not enough to give depth and insight into the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of peoples’ lives. Mainstream research has even been given the nickname ‘malestream’ by feminist researchers, who have criticised its male bias and reliance on empirical data to only tell half the story. This focus on males in research has conditioned society to think that men are the only legitimate producers and keepers of knowledge, silenced women from sharing or understanding their lived experiences and is actively used to justify societal belief that women are inferior.

Feminist research was born of the rise of feminism and its aim of disrupting the systematic oppression of women. Feminist epistemology sought to understand how gender impacts on knowledge and challenge dominant ‘ways of knowing’, supported by the feminist standpoint theory of representing the world from womens’ social perspective. Female researchers began working in this traditionally male-dominated field, driven by a need to address the gap in understanding we have about womens’ lives, bring their voices to the fore and facilitate transformational social change. Hesse-Biber (2010) contends that feminist research “probes questions of power, difference, silence, and oppression, with the goal of moving toward a more just society for women and other oppressed groups”.

Challenging a status quo that serves only male interests hasn’t been an easy undertaking, with feminist researchers experiencing push-back from male academics who aren’t interested in taking feminist research seriously. This isn’t an issue confined to the sociology world – we’ve seen countless examples in media and pop culture of women experiencing misogyny when they’ve moved into traditionally male-dominated arenas like politics or hip-hop. Remember that time Julia Gillard – a WOMAN – was the Australian Prime Minister? She was subjected to public hate campaigns targeting her gender in a way that male politicians would never be faced with.

Feminist researchers rely on qualitative approaches to research design, often employing a mixed methods approach to gain a holistic, in-depth understanding of womens’ lived experiences. They work from a feminist standpoint, making womens’ issues the foundational focus from which to undertake their research. And since it’s women they’re seeking to learn more about, they actually use female participants!

Hesse-Biber (2010) examined several case studies where this mixed methods approach was used. It gave researchers a number of different ways of understanding gender roles in varying cultural contexts, by giving equal positioning to the findings of each method instead of relying on triangulated findings – another criticism of mainstream research. One example of this was Andrea Nightingale’s study of community forestry usage in Nepal, specifically with regard to the lived experience of women. Using qualitative techniques like oral histories, participant observation and in-depth interviewing, as well as quantitative ones like aerial photo interpretation and vegetation inventory, Nightingale was able to expose subjugated knowledge about land use and give previously-silenced women a voice. Her work revealed the vital role women played in forest usage, as well as the ways that forest management practices perpetuated gender inequality. The case studies overall showed the value and importance of feminist approaches to mixed methods because they give women a voice to talk about their lives, empower women and promote social transformation.

Hesse-Biber, S.N. 2010, Feminist Approaches to Mixed Methods, Mixed Methods Research: Merging theory with practice, The Guilford Press, New York, pp. 128-152

Abbott, P., Wallace, C. & Tyler, M. 2005, An Introduction to Sociology: Feminist Perspectives, Routledge, New York, London pp. 1-15


Trans Inclusivity in Australian News Media

I looked myself up and down in the full-length mirror. Blouse tucked in? Check. Pearl earrings on? Check. Lipstick flawless? Check. After a few minutes of primping, posing and deep breathing, I was off to my first day at a new job.

But one question loomed above all others as I started my job last week: what should I wear to work?

In many ways, it’s a concern everyone faces. On the first day, everyone wants to get their outfit just right. The morning before a new job, most of us spend an extra ten, twenty or thirty minutes making sure that our hair is properly coiffed, our deodorant is both effective and unobtrusive and our outfit is on point.

But for transgender and gender non-conforming people like myself, the question of what to wear to work becomes an exhausting question of identity and of survival. For us, the question changes from “how do I present my best self at work?” to “can I present my best self at work?”

– Jacob Tobia on Why I’m Genderqueer, Professional and Unafraid

While not strictly transgender, Jacob Tobia is a genderqueer advocate, writer, speaker, and artist. Their blog post, quoted above, on the challenges of professional etiquette for those who identify outside of the gender binary was an enlightening read for this cis person. But it barely scratches the surface in terms of our understanding of the challenges trans peoples’ experiences in the workplace, and in particular, their experiences of trans inequality. Little research has been conducted on this particular subject, particularly in an Australian context. To date, there has been no qualitative research undertaken on trans peoples’ experiences of employment in news media.

A look at Australia’s public broadcaster, the ABC’s Equity and Diversity Plan 2016-18 to see what they’re doing to support the inclusion of staff who identify as transgender or gender diverse, reveals.. well, not much at all really. The only mention of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) in this document says that their coverage of this community should be broader.

We know that despite amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 in 2013, which provided new protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, workplace discrimination is a real and serious issue for transgender and intersex people in Australia, thanks to The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Resilient Individuals report and Beyond Blue’s First Australian National Trans Mental Health study. But there are no studies that indicate what the situation is like specifically for trans people employed in Australian news media.

In seeking to find out more about transgender equality (or otherwise) in an Australian news media context, I recently spent a day with Australian journalist and transgender woman, Kate Doak. Kate has a broad journalism repertoire, but amongst her greatest loves are radio journalism and production, and investigative journalism. Kate’s story, shared below, highlights the urgent need for further research into this area, so that news media organisations can use the results to inform their employment and diversity policies. There is much work to be done before Australian news media organisations can say they are genuinely inclusive of staff who identify as trans.


2013, Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013, Parliament of Australia, viewed 8 May 2016, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=r5026

Australian Human Rights Commission 2015, Resilient Individuals: Sexual Orientation Gender Identity & Intersex Rights 2015, Australian Human Rights Commission, Sydney.

Beyond Blue 2013, The First Australian National Trans Mental Health Study: Summary of Results, Beyond Blue, viewed 8 May 2016, https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/research-project-files/bw0288_the-first-australian-national-trans-mental-health-study—summary-of-results.pdf?sfvrsn=2

I feel you

Famine, Mali c.1985. Image by Sebastião Salgado.

Famine, Mali c.1985. Image by Sebastião Salgado.

It strikes me about Salgado’s photographs – images of human suffering, famine, destruction, the exploitation of mineral resource workers – that yes, there is an element of ‘beauty’ to them, but I think it’s incredibly important to articulate where that beauty comes from. To me, the photographs’ story and its technicality can be separated in order to see the beauty – it’s not from the subject’s suffering – it’s in the technical skill of the photographer to capture that moment – the light, the framing, a story that is no longer confined to one dimension because it’s leapt off the page straight into your right supramarginal gyrus.

It’s when you start to look at the subjects, and the story the images convey, that you see there is no beauty in looking at a starved-to-the-bone child crumpled in a heap at death’s door, a vulture watching and waiting until the photographer leaves the scene so it can move in. There is no beauty in the incredible suffering humans inflict on each other, or the immense, irreparable depletion of the earth’s resources. Kaplan’s (2008 p.3) observation of Salgado’s style is that he “…shows the dignity and grace of people living on the edge of catastrophe, who have not deserved their suffering.”

In thinking about mediated suffering and the ethics of such – when is it ok to look, or in the case of a content producer, publish? I think it comes down to the intent of the producer and the empathetic capacity of the viewer. If the person doing the publishing is selfishly exploiting peoples’ suffering for personal gain – in particular financial gain or notoriety – that is all kinds of wrong. If their intent is to promote awareness of an issue in order to drive a compassionate response from viewers, I think it’s justified. A viewer is justified in looking if their gaze isn’t one of voyeurism, but is one of empathy.

I also think it’s important that we have these graphic images to tell these brutal stories. Kaplan (2008 p.3) explained how images of suffering and trauma can provoke three types of responses: “a) secondary or vicarious trauma (VT), a response where the viewer is shocked to the extent of being emotionally over‐aroused; b) “empty empathy,” which indicates the fleeting nature of empathic emotions that viewers often experience; and finally c) witnessing – a response that transforms the viewer in a positive pro‐social manner, and that, unlike the first sorts of response, involves ethics along with empathy”. At times, words alone aren’t enough to convey the horror and provoke a compassionate, empathetic response, and in those times, I feel it is appropriate to use images for the purposes of evoking empathy.

We also need to have this horror conveyed so that people can reach consensus – ‘yes it is terrible / no we don’t want to support actions that result in this horror / yes we do want to fix the issues so that people don’t have to suffer in this way’. As Ibrahim (2010 p. 123) stated, “…the media appropriates a social role to transform tragic events into platforms for global communion… inviting a moral gaze, as well as facilitating national and (perhaps) global conversations on suffering… The news media becomes a platform for this brief national consensus.”

In the case of Selgado, he is documenting places and people that would otherwise fly under the radar of humanitarian consciousness. At least if we know about something terrible, we have an opportunity to do something to help fix it.

  • Ibrahim, Y 2010, ‘Distant Suffering and Postmodern Subjectivity: the Communal Politics of Pity’, Nebula, vol. 7, no. 1/2, pp. 122-135.
  • Kaplan, EA 2008, ‘Global trauma and public feelings: Viewing images of catastrophe’, Consumption, Markets & Culture, vol. 11, no. 1, p. 3.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you

I’ve just watched Gary Wolf’s TED talk The Quantified Self and Katina Michael discussing Big Data and the Dangers of Over-Quantifying Oneself and am leaning towards the risk-averse take on the quantified self.

I’m a borderline tech geek and find the advancements in the technology that we use to track our everyday activities seriously impressive, but I think it’s a little naïve to think that humans will stick to only using it in the way it was initially intended for – “self-awareness, self-discovery, self-improvement, self-knowledge – to act more effectively in the world by getting to know ourselves better”, as Gary Wolf put it. That all sounds great when you’re trying to sell me the device that’s going to track me / measure me / record everything I see and do – and I might sound a little conspiracy theorist when I say this – but I don’t trust the implications of what could happen with all my incredibly personal info if it got into the “wrong” hands – say, a corporation or other organisation, perhaps one with exploitative or even sinister intentions.  Hacking, data theft – these are all very real issues in the technological age.

I also question the usefulness of all this data being accessed by people who aren’t trained to understand what all the numbers really mean. Not to mention the fact that numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. To get a holistic picture, you need the qualitative data as well (as mixed methodologies utilise the strengths of both approaches Creswell J.W. 2009 p. 203), and I think really, it’s people trained in data research that are best placed to tell the story with that data. There is a risk of people thinking they’ve found meaning in numbers so small they cannot possibly tell an accurate picture, or numbers that are so complex, an untrained mind could think they’ve interpreted the story accurately, but they’re way off the mark. The subsequent reliance on numbers could lead to people training themselves out of “listening” to their bodies – gauging their subjective sense of health – which may actually be a better indicator of health than biometrics.

I also find this inward, constant focus on the ‘self’ somewhat unsettling. If your entire day is spent measuring everything you do, working out what’s going well, what’s not working and how you might fix it – are you really “living”? There’s a whole world passing you by while you’re busy staring at all your numbers and trying to make sense of them, and “better” them. IMHO, life’s too short – that’s a clichéd saying for a reason. My time here is too short and too precious to waste trying to make the numbers “right”. Who, on their deathbed, wants to be cheering about that time all the numbers lined up perfectly? Wouldn’t you rather cheer about all the love you had, all the fun, the travel, the feasts, the music, the times spent doing what you really love, the lives you had a positive impact on…??

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts – William Bruce Cameron

Alexandra Carmichael is case in point that overdoing the ‘quantified self’ leads to immense self-criticism and self-loathing when your numbers don’t say the right things. That’s not healthy.

There is a lot of money to be made in the health, wellbeing and medical industry – insurance sits in amongst that lot too. A lot of money has already been made, and a portion of this money is being spent on finding ways for this industry to make even more money! A major factor in that is the media – this is an industry that uses all kinds of media platforms to get their messaging out there and convince us all that sickness and death are imminent unless we buy their product or service.

For all these reasons, I too think that we should be looking to more than numbers to gauge our sense of health and wellbeing.

Image of 3 elderly women with their thumbs and index fingers joined together to form a full circle, which is a gesture used in meditation practice.

Keeping healthy and happy old school style. Image taken in 1965, held by the Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre.

The Musician/Audience Exchange

The musician/audience exchange: an interview with musician, performer and producer, Ronny van Dyk, about his experience of creating for an audience of Oz rock music fans over many years. The aim of this collaborative ethnography project was to show how media practices and audience experiences are spatial in nature. The outcome is Ronny’s story, told in his own words, exploring what he thinks he’s creating for his audience.

I’m interested to hear your feedback and experiences of the musician/audience exchange – do you create content for a music audience? Are you a music fan? Where and how do you connect with your audience or the musicians you love? Share your thoughts in the comment section below, or talk to me on Twitter.

Reflecting on Writing In Public As A Researcher

In my first year of university, I spent hours, days and weeks constructing a big old Excel spreadsheet that maps out my degree, which I’m studying part time over the course of four years. It factors in all the compulsory subjects, electives and adds up all the credit points so I know exactly where I’ve been, and where I’m headed. My map included the subject Media, Audience, Place which, according to the course descriptor, involved writing blog posts and completing a digital storytelling project relating to audience motivation, behaviour and experience, with an emphasis on the theoretical aspects of these. It sounded like a subject that was right up my alley, as I have a background in arts marketing and a nerdy interest in understanding what motivates audiences to engage; the employee who loves nothing more than poring over analytics data and survey feedback in an effort to improve her communication with people. It had to be for the love of it because, as anyone working in creative industries will tell you, it sure wasn’t about the money!

Not an arts worker. Source: magnumarts.blogspot.com

When we received the subject outline at the start of the semester, I saw that it mentioned developing my own research focus, thinking spatially about media (when I’d only ever thought about Pigs in Space previously), time geography (what?! Is this a Dr Who reference?) and public space ethnography (huh? you what now??). I read the words over and over trying to make meaning out of them, but all that happened was a few tumbleweeds rolled from one side of my brain to the other.

My brain activity in the first couple of weeks of BCM240. Source: giphy.com

At this point, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into and was concerned I’d chosen a subject that was not actually at all what I’d envisaged. And the worst of it was, I’d have to put my ignorance on display for all the world to see (in particular friends, family, work colleagues, tutors, lecturer and fellow students who make up the majority of my audience) via my blog posts and Twitter. Being a relatively tenacious type however, I told myself that these concepts couldn’t possibly be too difficult to grasp or no-one would’ve passed the subject previously, so I put those thoughts aside and got on with it.

For me, the most meaningful experiences in the subject were defining ‘media spaces’ that audience behaviour is housed in, the opportunities to undertake face-to-face ethnographic research and making refinements to my WordPress site and its promotion in an attempt to improve the experience for readers.

The idea of there being multiple ‘media spaces’ is not something I’ve thought much about before, so to start looking at various media platforms and broadening my thinking about them to seeing what public and private spaces their consumption takes place in, and how that’s changing over time, has been really useful. Looking at the fragmentation of media audiences and the complexities in trying to research their behaviour highlighted the importance of using a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to create a more holistic picture than just using one approach alone. I can see that there are opportunities for researchers to focus on developing innovative new research approaches, because there are gaps in the ways it currently takes place, e.g. instead of thinking of the audience as static, think of them as dynamic and develop methodologies to suit. Finding ways of understanding audiences that are constantly on the move is challenging, but as media researchers Balnaves, O’Regan and Goldsmith point out, the lure of big advertising dollars will drive commercial media research organisations to evolve their approach (2012). Policy makers will also drive this push, since to legislate, they really need to understand who audiences are and the ‘hows and whys’ of their behaviour.

Ethnography was a brand new concept for me; my own experiences of audience research had always been faceless – online, over the phone or via a posted letter. Initially, I really struggled to understand what ethnography was, so I took my time reading through the resources on Moodle, internet searches (about ethnographic media research and collaborative ethnography), reading other students’ blog posts to see what their understandings were and searching for journal articles on the University library website. In previous media, communication and journalism subjects I’ve undertaken, it’s become apparent that my curiousness about and desire to hear people’s stories makes me a natural interviewer; I really enjoy talking to people about who they are and what’s shaped them, and feedback from my audience (teachers, peers and friends) before I started studying BCM240 indicated that it’s one of my strong points. So to have research tasks involving interviews and documenting my experience as a cinema audience-goer was enjoyable and easy to write about. It was good to also put into practice my learnings about the ethical and legal considerations of private and public space ethnography, such as getting permission from participants to take part in my research and making sure they understood the process, and getting their ok to publish the interviews I did with them on my blog. This thinking is essential to media researchers whose work is made publicly available, as they need to find ways of operating ethically and lawfully, but still get the information they need to answer a research question.

Communicating my research and digested thoughts to my WordPress and Twitter audience – a broad mix of academics, peers and non-academics – meant packaging things in a way that could be accessed easily, so I made sure to keep the tone fairly conversational, using plain English. As I discovered, researchers can be prone to using jargon which can create barriers to clear communication: “To various degrees, depending on backgrounds and training, readers will have to decipher the jargon and guess at its meaning. They may not decipher it correctly, or they may get the meaning wrong, or they may simply stop reading. Whatever the case, jargon gets in the way of disseminating research findings to lay audiences” (Dynarski, M & Kisker, E 2014). I also included an image with each post, to break up what would have been a very text heavy, visually off-putting post otherwise. In promoting my posts, I used WordPress and Twitter tags to encourage an audience beyond #BCM240 to stumble across them. My most engaged-with posts (according to the stats available on the platforms I was publishing on) were the ones that’d had an extra Twitter push from elsewhere; when I’d tagged well-known media producers who favourited or retweeted my tweet; used popular hashtags; and the couple of times my posts were included in the mapHUB weekly reads. I responded to the limited number of comments I received on my posts, and sought out a couple of other blogs to comment on, but I feel it’s going to take a bit more time and effort on my part to generate conversation and engage with others’ posts before I will see increased activity on my site. My take away from this is to write with enough substance to ensure my visitors come back for more.

Balnaves, M, O’Regan, T, & Goldsmith, B 2012, Rating The Audience: The Business Of Media, n.p.: New York : Bloomsbury Publishing Jan. 2012 Gordonsville : Macmillan [Distributor], UOW Catalogue, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 October 2015.

Dynarski, M, Kisker, E, & National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional, A 2014, ‘Going Public: Writing about Research in Everyday Language. REL 2014-051’, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

That time FBi was investigated…

In case it hasn’t been apparent in other posts, I’m a mad keen music fan. It’s lifeblood kinda stuff for me. I’ve just signed up to become an FBi radio supporter because although I don’t live in Sydney, I still listen to this community radio station pretty regularly and value the importance of independent broadcasting because of diversity in reporting and content, no ads in atrociously OTT radio voices, listening to new music from local unsigned artists (for free!) and finding out what events I might like to go to next time I’m in the neighbourhood.

FBi operates under a community radio licence that has numerous conditions (e.g. not being allowed to broadcast ads), as set out by Broadcasting Services Act 1992. The Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) has developed codes of practice that also guides how they should operate. “The codes cover the responsibilities of broadcasting to the community, principles of diversity and independence, general programming guidelines and guidelines for news and current affairs, Australian music content, sponsorship, volunteers, conflict resolution, handling complaints and review of codes” (Department of Communications 2015). The body that ensures they’re meeting their licensing conditions and following the codes is the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

FBi has to adhere to the codes and licensing conditions, or it risks enforcement in the form of suspension or cancellation of their license, having extra conditions added to their license, remedial directions (instructs on action to take to ensure they don’t breach the code in future, and is enforceable in a court), financial penalty or, if the breach is serious enough, civil proceedings or criminal prosecution.

From what I can gather, they’ve only done the wrong thing once in their 12 years of broadcasting. In October 2003, the Arvo program played a Richard Cheese remix of NIN’s Closer (with a preceding language warning):

The “explicit and offensive language” and the fact that it aired just before 4pm on a weekday prompted someone to complain:

I do not know if permitting such unnecessary language on FBi is part of your programming policy but to allow this to be broadcast at a time when school children are in the car travelling home with their parent is unacceptable. Such blatant and filthy language is totally uncalled for no matter what time of day it is… I am very distressed by this especially that my children have been exposed to such explicit material on the radio at what should have been I assume a safe time of day. I am dismayed that your male and female hosts at that time even played such a track… (ACMA 2013).

The supposed breaches of the Community Broadcasting Code of Practice 2002 that triggered the complainants social anxieties and moral concerns were:

  • sub-clause 2.2 in relation to the consideration given to audience, context, degree of explicitness, propensity to alarm, distress or shock, and the social importance of the event; and
  • sub-clause 2.4 in relation to the establishment of programming practices which protect children from harmful programming practices

Moral panic alert: the Devil’s music will harm your children!

Source: Aurore on Twitter

FBi’s defence of having breached sub-clause 2.2 stated that their target demographic was 16-35 year olds, heaps of other stations played the track without any drama and they’d pre-warned their audience of the upcoming rude content, so therefore they hadn’t done the wrong thing. ACMA agreed. Their defence of having breached sub-clause 2.4 didn’t go over as well – language warnings, ensuring presenters and other volunteers understand the code and a program committee that monitors content were not enough to satisfy ACMA that their programming practices would protect kids from being exposed to harmful content. As a result, FBi developed guidelines for presenters, and broadcast information about their approach to educate their listeners. The guidelines included notes on “appropriate material and your responsibility to your listeners”, thinking about whether the songs to be played are explicit, offensive or shocking, and what to consider in respecting listeners.

For all the concern about the damage that music might do to our vulnerable young ones, there is little evidence on which to base it on. “The research that exists is mainly content analytic rather than based on audience reactions, except for occasional opinion surveys, and is mainly focused on popular music lyrics. These studies reveal consistent messages in music lyrics that may be considered harmful and are considered offensive by some…” (Hargrave, AM, & Livingstone, SM 2009 p. 18). So what this review highlights is that what little evidence there is only shows that people think it’s harmful, not what the harm actually is (if any).

Regulation of community radio protects the business interests of (often independent) music producers and artists, especially those working in the Australian industry: if listeners are happy listening to a station that their music is played on, it’s good promotion that could lead to them selling a few more records, show tickets or merchandise. And that’s alright by me.

Hargrave, AM, & Livingstone, SM 2009, Harm and offence in media content : a review of the evidence, Bristol, UK; Chicago, USA: Intellect, 2009.

Pay attention

Today I’ve ventured into the world of neuropsychology to research attentional capacity. As this Google report explains, consumers of media are increasingly switching their attention between multiple devices instead of focusing on one at a time, like TV watchers in days of old. This is posing problems for advertisers who aren’t sure of the lay of the land when it comes to the right platform to promote their products on, so it’s of particular interest to them to understand the behaviours associated with multiscreening.

I once again roped in my go-to-guy for ethnographic research, Ronny, to participate in a simple task that compared his attentional capacity with mine. As my research objective was similar in part to 2012 study Audience Behavior in the Multi-Screen “Video-Verse” (Phalen, PF, & Ducey, RV 2012 p.150), my methodology was also reflective of their ethnographic approach to make observations during viewing: we watched television together for an evening, in reach of our smartphones and laptop, and I made note of the different times and ways we engaged with traditional and digital media, and if we switched, what the reasons were for doing so.


The results of us having watched SBS2 for a couple of hours on a Tuesday evening weren’t unexpected: while the programs were screening they held our attention, but pretty much every time the ads came on, we reached for our phones to check email, Facebook, send messages or play Scrabble. Ronny also did a bit of life admin, making a doctor’s appointment. Why? Because the ads were mind-numbingly dull. Neither of us reached for the laptop because we would’ve had to get off the couch to do that; there wasn’t any point when the devices we had right next to us could perform all the functions we were interested in at the time. While keeping a diary for a longer stretch would provide a clearer picture of our multi-screening behaviour, this task was sufficient enough to show that we have fairly similar attentional capacity while watching television.

Microsoft’s Attention Report tells advertisers that our behaviour puts us in their Pragmatist Mode category – “comfortable switching, they are good at prioritising so will quickly move away from content that isn’t suiting their needs at that moment in time” and that to successfully get their messaging across to us, they need to “be engaging, entertaining and if possible interactive to ensure that engagement is maximised” (Microsoft 2015 p.16). I can’t agree more, but it’s rare I actually see an ad that ticks all those boxes.

Reflecting on his experience of the task, Ronny said “For the most part I’m not a fan of TV anymore, but the shows we watched last night were engaging and I wasn’t distracted during the shows, only during the ads. I wasn’t surprised by the results, I was already aware that I switch between watching TV and looking at my phone as often as I do. There’s not enough stimulation from the ads – there’s more interesting stuff on my phone.”

Phalen, PF, & Ducey, RV 2012, ‘Audience Behavior in the Multi-Screen “Video-Verse”’, JMM: The International Journal on Media Management, vol. 14, no. 2, p. 150.

Unguarded moments

I, like so many others nowadays, like to document my activities using my smartphone, sometimes just for my own amusement, and other times for sharing with people via social media. There are moments in time when you’re out in the world and spot something special – the light, the people, the setting, the action – that you know might not ever be repeated again, and pocket-sized smartphone cameras are perfect for capturing those moments. And sometimes what you capture isn’t that special – it’s downright ordinary – but it’s those moments that are important to ethnographers; those candid, everyday shots documenting people’s lived existence at different times and places.

But public space photography brings into play a series of potential ethical dilemmas for consideration, particularly when it comes to people’s perceived right to privacy (Miles, M. 2015 p. 273).

The photo below is one I took of Baby Machine performing at Safety Dance in August 2015. The gig is at Rad Bar – a public bar in Wollongong. You can see that there’s a few people in the crowd holding lit-up smartphone screens; some are taking photos of the band, others are – at an educated guess given previous gig observations – sending messages or looking at social media – I couldn’t really tell from where I stood and you can’t tell from the photo. What you see in this scene is pretty typical for a gig these days.

Baby Machine with guest vocalist Ronny van Dyk performing at Safety Dance – Rad Bar, August 2015.

I haven’t asked anyone in this photo for their permission to take the photo or post it here, but the law in Australia says that’s ok. There’s nothing in this photo to suggest voyeurism or obscenity – no-one’s taking a shower, using the loo, has their genitals or bumholio on display (not unheard of at a Wollongong gig), or is making sweet sweet (private) love. There’s no defamatory content – in fact, the people in this photo now have added coolness and awesomeness as a result of being shown to attend a live rock music event raising money for local domestic violence support services. I’m also not making any money from posting this image.

Just because it’s legal doesn’t necessarily make it ethical however. So, to operate in a way that I felt was ethical,  before posting the photo, I checked to make sure there was nothing of a sensitive nature inadvertently on show – no-one’s bank details, home address or nudie pics on a screen. If someone in this photo was to take issue with with me posting it and asked me to take it down, I would. I’m also happy to provide anyone in the photo with a copy of it if they’d like it – they can contact me via this here blog.

In my own practice, I try to work ethically (not just legally) while still capturing those unguarded moments, taking a leaf out of street photographer Eric Kim‘s book:

Based on my experiences shooting street photography, I think the best way to approach someone is openly and honestly. This means if you take a photo of someone (without permission) you don’t pretend you didn’t take the shot. You then approach the person and tell them why you took the photo and what you found interesting about them. You then take a potentially negative experience and make it into a positive one in which people actually feel humbled to have gotten a photograph taken of them.


Miles, M 2015, ‘Photography, Privacy and the Public’, Law, Culture & the Humanities, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 270-293

Cinema going: a communal indulgence

25 August 2015:

I’m going on a date. With my husband Ronny. To the movies.

I missed this week’s BCM240 lecture due to the inclement weather, so I played catch up in the cosy comfort of my living room with Ronny beside me. This worked out rather conveniently, because he happened to overhear the bit where our lecturer said we had to go to the movies for this week’s blogging task.

Have to. Dr Bowles said.

(Neither of us actually needs any convincing – we’re regular movie-goers anyway…)

Ronny’s been informed of the date, time, venue and film we’re going to see. He’s even looking forward to it. No coupling constraints here! I’ve pre-booked, not because I think we’ll miss out on tickets by the time we arrive, but so we can enjoy dinner and drinks beforehand then stroll into the cinema afterwards without having to queue for tickets. We’re busy people – time is precious, and we’d rather spend ours not standing around in mind-numbingly long lines where possible.

Friday night after work, we’ll drive to Sydney (unhindered by capability constraints) to disentangle ourselves of parental responsibilities before frolicking gaily towards Dendy Newtown, free to enjoy ourselves without having to worry about silly authority constraints like attempting to watch an MA15+ movie while accompanied by a 12 year old.

28 August 2015:

7.30pm: We’re child free! And have just spent almost half an hour navigating narrow Newtown backstreets trying to find a legal parking spot. We almost succeeded.
8pm: A wander up King St lands us in a conveniently-located café inside the cinema complex – we’re hungry for dinner and really, really want a glass of wine. It’s Friday night, and the end of a long working week after all… I can see the box office from our table and feel a little foolish for having been concerned about queues.

8.40pm: We’re close to being done with indulging in the café’s offerings, and feeling pretty cruisy.
8.50pm: Queues. Queues everywhere. It seems a couple of films have just finished screening and there are long lines for the loos, which I now also have to join. And the whole of Newtown seems to have suddenly decided to go to whatever’s screening next. There are queues for tickets and popcorn snaking all the way out to the entrance.
9pm: Scheduled start of the movie. Feeling less cruisy:

9.10pm: We hurry into the cinema. I’m surprised at how small it is – there’s only 7 rows with 7 seats per row – but I quite like the intimacy of it. There’s also a couple of 2-seater couches in front of the first row with people curled up on them. The screen isn’t very large and my eyesight isn’t as good as it once was, so we choose the 4th row back from the screen, and head for the end of the row because 3 of the other seats are already taken. There’s one seat between me and another couple, who have one seat between them and a lone fella. The pattern is repeated across the cinema, with all the groups separated from strangers by one or two spaces. People are chattering quietly amongst themselves and it’s a cosy, cheerful atmosphere. The seats are really cushy and super comfortable.
9.15pm: The emotional rollercoaster commences. People are audibly responsive throughout – gasps, sorrowful moans, sniffling, a couple of laughs. The first sound of shocked muttering during a sad scene early on seemed to be a green light for everyone else to respond in kind. Even though I’ve never met these other people and we’re not even making eye contact let alone conversation, I’m still connecting and bonding with them on this momentary shared journey. We’re all completely immersed to the very end.

This shared experience and human connection is the reason I think that cinemas will still have audiences in future. We all have a need to connect with others, especially those with shared interests. Having a sense of community is a powerful driver. Some of us choose direct interactions like face-to-face gatherings, while others prefer experiences that are indirect, such as cinema-going or connecting with like-minded souls online. I think that cinemas will continue their evolution of communal indulgence, essentially being relaxed, comfortable home-theatre-style spaces (with delicious snacks and drinks on offer) where friends, and the friends you haven’t met yet, can unite briefly in escape or adventure to new worlds.