Keynote speakers

Standards, Disruptions and Values in Digital Culture and Communication
ECREA DCC Section Conference at the University of Salzburg

26-27 November 2015


We are very pleased to announce the following keynote speakers:

Prof Charles Melvin Ess

Charles Melvin Ess is professor at the University of Oslo Department of Media and Communication. He has authored and edited several books and articles on digital media, media and information ethics, and Internet research, including “The Handbook of Internet Studies” (Blackwell 2011) and “Digital Media Ethics” (Polity Press 2009; 2nd edition in 2013). He has published in journals such as New Media and Society, Nordicom Information, Javnost, and AI and Society, as well as edited special issues of New Media and Society, Philosophy and Technology, Ethics and Information Technology, Etikk i Praksis, and the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

A co-author of the first ethical guidelines for Internet research endorsed by the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR 2002) and continuing member of the AoIR ethics working committee, he is regularly invited to lead ‘hands-on’ workshops on IRE for faculty and PhD students attempting to come to grips with the multiple ethical challenges in research in communication venues facilitated by the Internet. A former President of AoIR (2007-2009), he currently serves as President of the International Society for Ethics and Information Technology (INSEIT), with responsibilities for conference organization for both INSEIT’s CEPE’13 (Computer Ethics: Professional Inquiries) and ETHICOMP’14 Conferences.

Abstract: Cultural diversity, globalized media, ethical norms: can cultural imperialism be avoided?

My comments seek to address especially four closely interrelated questions from the Conference Call:

  • What is the relationship between technological standardisation and cultural diversity?
  • How do values, technology and media production relate to one another?
  • How are values put on play in technology design, mass media production and popular culture processes of standardization?
  • How can local adaptations of global formats in different communities and cultural backgrounds be regarded as sources of power, agency or new identities?

I will try to do so through a two-pronged approach.

First, I will review the rise of what I have called “computer-mediated colonization” – i.e., beginning in the early 1990s as computer-mediated communication exploded across the globe via the rapid expansion of the Internet. Not surprisingly, in the early days of the Internet, when both designers and users were overwhelmingly located in and shaped by U.S. cultural norms, practices, and worldviews, CMC designs embedded these in both gross and subtle ways. As I will document (drawing primarily on the empirical work gathered from the biennial conference series on Cultural Attitudes towards Technology and Communication [CaTaC]), the upshot was an array of cultural and communicative conflicts that exposed the often deep contrasts between the norms and practices of the designer culture(s) and those of the “target” cultures. The good news here is that gradually designers and practitioners became more and more aware of the cultural dimensions of communication and technology, resulting in more nuanced and appropriate designs – i.e., ones that worked more to foster local values and practices.

At the same time, however, these increasing understandings rendered “culture” increasingly difficult to define, much less operationalize – leading designers away from notions of “culture” as such towards more nuanced understandings of how to articulate and incorporate culturally-variable norms and practices.

Second – and, I will argue, not accidentally – there has been increasing attention to virtue ethics in Information and Computing Ethics, Media and Communication Studies, including journalism ethics, and in recent work on ethical design in ICT. These developments, along with increasingly normative approaches within media innovations, complement our increasing sophistication regarding culturally-variable elements in design, thereby foregrounding ethical norms and frameworks that are thus strong candidates for contemporary and future designs. In particular, I will show both virtue ethics and parallel normative frameworks begin with an insistence on the norms of emancipation, agency, and flourishing – but in pluralistic ways that thereby protect and foster cultural diversity.

Read more about Charles Ess in the section blog Interview


Prof Helen Kennedy

Helen Kennedy is professor of Digital Society at the University of Sheffield Department of Sociological Studies. She has been researching digital media for almost 20 years. Her numerous publications and projects have addressed various aspects of digital and social media, and many of them have been informed by an interest in forms of digital inequality and mechanisms for greater inclusion, for example in relation to class, gender, race and disability. Helen Kennedy is currently researching social media data mining (funded by an AHRC Fellowship) as well as the reception of data visualisations (funded by an AHRC Digital Transformation Big Data grant). She is interested in critical approaches to big data analytics, especially big data visualisations, and in how to make data more accessible to ordinary citizens, or how to make the social life of data more public.

Previous research focused on the digital labour. In 2011, her book “Net Work: Ethics and Values in Web Design”, published by Palgrave MacMillan, engaged with the recent ‘turn to values’ in cultural industries research, to trace the ethics and values that underlie much of the work of web design. It argued that the ideals that underpinned the development of the WWW in 1991 – openness, accessibility and interoperability – influences people who work on the web, and their reasons for doing web work. It is based on more than 10 years spent researching, teaching and doing web design and other forms of new media theory and practice.

Abstract: Numbers as Standards

Standards provide frameworks within which practices are normalised. They are the embodiment of commonly held views about what is considered ‘good practice’; they embody a set of assumptions about the good and the bad. But as the call for papers for this conference notes, standards also generate common understandings and shared meanings, and can be a source of inequality and exclusion, as not all people contribute equally to the creation of new standards. Standards often prioritise certain voices and, as also noted in the CfP, this fact raises questions about where power is located in relation to their definition, development and implementation. Today, standards are increasingly produced through data and metrics; numbers and measurement are increasingly becoming the standard. So numbers, their application and circulation increasingly generate common understandings about what is good and bad. In this presentation, I unpack what is at stake when this happens. But I also look beyond metrics and statistics, to reflect on how they are often experienced – that is, through visual representations, which in turn deploy standards, or conventions, to communicate, produce and imagine data in particular ways. These standards sometimes conflict with the values of designers who are constrained by them. This paper, then, unravels the multiple entanglements of numbers, their visualisation, standards, values and power.

Read more about Helen Kennedy in the section blog Interview