The Neil Postman Conference | New York University | October 6, 2017
Keynote: Zeynep Tufekci
CFP Deadline: Monday, May 1, 2017
Submit an abstract.
At 3:30 a.m. on November 9, just after the 2016 U.S. election results were announced, The New York Times published an article entitled “How Did the Media—How Did We—Get This Wrong?”. In the piece, four NYT correspondents struggled to find answers to how the media—they, themselves—might have partially abetted the electoral outcome. Their concerns reflect the contradictory position of news media facing authoritarian populist political figures. According to political communication scholar Gianpietro Mazzoleni, savvy media use (often articulated through media critique) is indispensable to the success of populist political figures, regardless of ideology. Mazzoleni claims that news media have undergone a process of “popularization,” increasing their focus on personalities over political content, thereby lending themselves more readily to the “diffusion” of populist ideas. Can populism exist independently of its mediation? And if media are involuntarily complicit in the spread of authoritarian populism specifically, what room do they have in resisting it?
In this conference we will explore the relationship between “populism,” across ideological spectrums and national boundaries, and media—that is, the practices, economies, and politics of information circulation, production, and consumption through various industries, networks, and technologies. If we understand populism to be a political “logic” rather than orientation, as Ernesto Laclau famously argued in 2005, how is this logic mediated differently across a range of political alternatives? In what ways does the conflation of political logic and orientation foreclose political possibilities? How are multiple techniques and technologies—old and new—leveraged to assert or deny populist discourse? Crucially, this conference is interested in the relationship between the charge of “populism” perpetuated by information industries, its cultural and technological mediation, and the equating of divergent political platforms.
This conference invites scholars to interrogate the role of media in the ongoing global rise of populist leaders and movements. For example, how do we understand the similarities that bridge these groups—their anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ, and ethno-nationalist foundations—while each has emerged within distinct economic, racial, and religious contexts? How can these similarities hold when national media industries are shaped by distinct market pressures and degrees of government regulation? With the election, nomination, and/or rise of leaders from Modi to Erdogan, Trump to Berlusconi, Le Pen to Orbán, and the implementation of nativist political maneuvers like Brexit and immigration bans, how have media represented these figures and actions as anti-establishment? As representative of the desires of “the people”? Can populism be said to have globalized? How have media promoted facile comparisons between leaders of opposing political movements, e.g., Castro and Chávez in Latin America to Trump and Erdogan in the U.S. and Turkey? As today’s right-wing populisms amplify anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, what are media’s responsibility to their viewerships?
Further topics of consideration might include: the production of populist nostalgia; how algorithmically customized or personally curated news sources nurture and solidify popular followings; mediated predictors of human behavior, such as polling or behavioral analysis of social media use in relation to the securing of a populist base; historical examples that shed light on today’s context; the denigration of class politics through facile use of the term “populism”; the “logic” of populist representations and re-presentations through text, image, video, and sound.
In considering the role and responsibility of media users, professionals, and scholars in resisting authoritarian populism, this conference calls for an investigation of industries, markets, algorithms, networks, policies, technologies, and practices as they shape politics and media landscapes. Possible frames of analysis include (but are by no means limited to):
Media and Information Industries – news media; social media; network-mediated political topographies; national, transnational, and multinational political-economic and relevant legal frameworks; governance, regulation, intellectual property; infrastructure; sovereignty; institutional transformations; privatization; public interest and policy; market logics; big data; measure; audience; production, circulation, and distribution.
Digital Inequalities: power relations in technology; white supremacy; trolling; online racism; digital sociology; infrastructures and systems of control; labor; online performance; network dynamics; politics of code; algorithmic biases and big data; accessibility; politics of space; digital transformations within capitalism.
Activist Media: social movements; race, violence, and citizen journalism; witnessing; solidarity, coalition, and alliance; networked protest; privacy and surveillance; social justice; feminist media; politics of representation; affect and politics; environmental justice; pipelines and jobs.
Political Futurity: decolonization; indigenous sovereignty and futurity; queer of color critique; Black studies; feminist technoscience; afrofuturism; afro pessimism; speculative methods; settler colonial critique; migration; mobility and territory; transpolitics; job creation; the abolition of the wage; critiques of liberalism; complicity; affinity; vulnerability; (in)security and threat; imperialism and empire; crisis; risk and precarity.
The New York University Department of Media, Culture, and Communication invites graduate students, academics, activists, workers, and artists to submit conference paper proposals. Paper proposal submissions (no more than 250 words) should be submitted by Monday, May 1, 2017 to the Google Form below. The conference will be held on Friday, October 6 at NYU.
KEYNOTE: Zeynep Tufekci is an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with an affiliate appointment at the Department of Sociology. She is also a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and was previously a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at the Princeton University. Tufekci’s research interests revolve around the intersection of technology and society. Her academic work focuses on social movements and civics, privacy and surveillance, and social interaction. She is also increasingly known for her work on “big data” and algorithmic decision making. Originally from Turkey, and formerly a computer programmer, Tufekci became interested in the social impacts of technology and began to focus on how digital and computational technology interact with social, political and cultural dynamics. Her work has appeared in a wide range of outlets, from peer-reviewed journals to traditional media and blogging platforms. Her forthcoming book Beautiful Teargas: The Ecstatic, Fragile Politics of Networked Protest in the 21st Century, to be published by Yale University Press, will examine the dynamics, strengths and weaknesses of 21st century social movements.
 Gianpietro Mazzoleni, “Populism and the Media,” in Twenty-First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western European Democracy, edited by Danielle Albertazzi and Duncan McConnell (Boulder: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 53.
 Ibid, 54.
 Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason (New York: Verso Books, 2005), 117.