Interrogating the Democratization of Media


cris cheek and Nicole Starosielski, Altman Fellows


Networked Environments brought 9 Miami faculty and 5 undergraduates into a year-long think-tank on the way that democracy is facilitated and undermined by communication networks.  The program also included an original undergraduate course, numerous individual research projects, and a large slate of public events, including a fall symposium ("Networks and Power") and an spring international conference  The conference, "Network Archeologies," borough 40 scholars to Oxford from as far away as Berlin, London, Montreal, Cambridge, Seoul, Ontario, and Doha, Qatar for 38 plenary talks on the structure and consequences of human communication networks.  Keynote speakers included Wendy Chun (Brown), Lisa Parks (UCS), Adrian Johns (Chicago), Richard John (Columbia), Lisa Gitelman (NYU), Jussi Parikka (Southampton), and Alan Liu (USSB).  

In 2013, "The Network Archeologies” conference resulted in a peer-reviewed collection of essays in a special edition of the journal Amodern.  The volume is unusually ambitious--21 essays totaling almost 500 pages, including contributions from Alan Liu, Adrian Johns, Lisa Gitelman, Jussi Parikka, and  cris cheek (English), and Nicole Starosielski (Communications), and Altman Scholar Braxton Soderman (Media, Journalism, and Film).   The project is available on-line at and

Program Description

In our increasingly networked worlds and mediated experiences, the systems of interdependence that organize our social lives and lived identities are in transition. New media technologies—such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook—and older ones—like broadcast radio, the printed book, handwritten correspondence and undersea cables—are playing complex roles in these changes.

Profound contradictions characterize our networked environments. Across and between disciplines, networks have emerged as a common site for the examination and understanding of platforms, systems, and structures that support local and global circulations and flows. Networks are systems of interrelationality and interdependence.  They may be informational or biological, technical or natural, social, or intimate.  Many of the changes amplified by emerging network technologies have destabilized existing strategies of centralized ownership and control.  On one hand, they have enabled many more people to produce and distribute mediated messages, decentralizing cultural production. On the other hand, they have extended the surveillance capabilities of centralized power. Most of the infrastructure on which so much new media production circulates is market-driven, requiring high levels of capital investment. Much of that infrastructure carries ideological content. Some networks are the outcomes of corporate innovation, some remain the work of small collaborative teams of start-up D.I.Y. geek programmers, some is techno-anarchist.

Central questions of this Altman Program included the following: have networks fostered globalization at the expense of social fragmentation? What does it mean that networks generated by a military industrial complex have facilitated protest and the rise of oppositional voices?  How have established industries and corporations responded to new technologies and the democratizing dynamics of networked production? In what ways can networks be understood to service the interests of power, of empowerment and of disempowerment?  Who owns these networked environments, and to what degree do corporate policies affect network activities?  How are the private and the public being remodeled?  What new models of authorship and creativity are developing in this environment?  How are contemporary networks related to the historical development of transportation and communications routes? 

2011-12 Altman Fellows

cris cheek (Ph.D., English, Lancaster) is a widely published and anthologized British poet-scholar and interdisciplinary live writer. His work has frequently explored models of creative collaboration and questions of shared and sharable value. Born in London in 1955, where he lived and worked until the mid 1990s, he worked alongside Bob Cobbing and the Writers Forum group and co-founded the Chisenhale Dance Space in 1981. Prior to choosing exile in the USA he taught Performance Writing (1995-2002) at Dartington College of Arts where he became a Research Fellow in interdisciplinary text (2000-2002). More recently he has been exploring inter-relations between the document and the live.   During his Altman Fellowship, he is working on an electronic book about ink, the histories of its development for writing, printing, and circulating objects that narrate human imagination and invention. 

Nicole Starosielski (Ph.D., film and media studies, UC-Santa Barbara) studies the material infrastructures of digital media, and the relationships between technology, society, and the environment. She has recently published on environmental animation in the International Communication Gazette, on Fiji’s media circulation in Media Fields Journal, and on Guam’s role in transpacific exchange in Amerasia. She is currently working on a book on the social, political, and environmental dimensions of undersea cables, the technologies supporting much global media exchange.  During the Altman program, she is working on an interactive digital mapping project that enables users to navigate the cultural histories and politics of undersea cables.


2011-12 Altman Scholars

P. Renée Baernstein (Ph.D., history, Harvard University) studies gender, family, and religion in Renaissance Italy.  She is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and has held fellowships or residencies of the Fulbright-Hays Commission, the Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti, and the University of Wisconsin's Society for the Humanities.  Her first book, A Convent Tale: A Century of Sisterhood in Spanish Milan (Routledge, 2002) studied nuns' activities as family members and as subjects, sometimes resisters, of church discipline.  She is currently at work on a book about marriage in sixteenth-century Rome, based on unpublished letters.  This project brings a long-term historical perspective to bear on the Altman program theme:  letters served as the communications technology women used to build social and political networks across Italy. 

Ron Becker (Ph.D., media and cultural studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison) studies U.S. television history, cultural theory, and the politics of sexuality.  He has published on the presentation of television at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, on the neoliberal politics of family make-over reality series like Supernanny, and on the rise of gay-themed programming on 1990s U.S. network television. He is currently working on history of the Prime Time Access Rule, a FCC regulation from 1970 aimed at undermining the oligopolistic power of the major broadcast television networks.  He is particularly interested in understanding how competing visions television’s public role have been affected by networking practices.  He is also examining about how networks and systems of interdependence are being cultural represented.    

Vitaly Chernetsky (Ph.D., comparative literature and literary theory, University of Pennsylvania) is Associate Professor of Russian, Director of Film Studies, and Affiliate of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Jewish Studies.  A native of Ukraine, he received his education at Moscow State University, Duke University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to coming to Miami, he taught at Columbia and Northeastern Universities, and he held postdoctoral fellowships at Cornell and Harvard.  Chernetsky is the author of Mapping Postcommunist Cultures: Russia and Ukraine in the Context of Globalization(McGill-Queen's UP, 2007) and the editor or co-editor of several volumes: Crossing Centuries: The New Generation in Russian Poetry (2000) the annotated Ukrainian edition of Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism (2007); and a special issue of the online journal KinoKultura.  His current scholarly projects include a book on displaced writers and their relationships to diasporic communities.

Cindy Klestinec (Ph.D. Comparative Literature, University of Chicago) studies early modern literature, medicine and science. She has recently published a monograph on the cultural dynamics of the first anatomy theaters in the West, Theaters of Anatomy: Students, Teachers and Traditions of Dissection in Renaissance Venice (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). She has been a fellow at the Villa I Tatti, Harvard's center for the study of the Italian Renaissance, and received grants from the ACLS, the NEH, and the Delmas Foundation. She is currently studying representations of labor in the early modern, especially the production and circulation of surgery texts in the Renaissance among practitioners, learned readers, and patients. Not only were these texts the occasion for the surgeon to represent his skills and his work, they also established liaisons and networks between practitioners, readers, and patients. 

Glenn W. Muschert (Ph.D., University of Colorado) joined Miami’s Department of Sociology and Gerontology in 2003, after a one-year appointment on the Law and Society Faculty at Purdue University.  He studies crime and social problems, including the mass media framing of high profile crimes, school shootings, missing persons, and social control through surveillance technologies.  His research has appeared in a variety of journals in sociology, criminology, and media studies.  He is co-editor (with Massimo Ragnedda, University of Sassari, Italy) of The Digital Divide in International Context (Routledge) and co-editor (with Johanna Sumiala, University of Helsinki, Finland) of Mediatized Violence (Emerald), which examines the media facets of school shooting phenomena in a variety of countries.

Braxton Soderman, (Ph.D., modern culture and media, Brown University), studies digital media, video games, and the history of analog and digital technologies. He is working on a book manuscript which extends his dissertation, Interpreting Video Games through the Lens of Modernity. He recently received an ACLS/Mellon Recent Doctoral Recipient Fellowship where he began a new project studying the history of the representation of clouds through early photography to contemporary video games and networked systems. For the Altman project he is investigating the cultural and technical rise of cloud computing and the use of the figure of the cloud in contemporary and historical network diagrams of the Internet.  

Susan V. Spellman (Ph.D., history, Carnegie Mellon University) is a historian of nineteenth and twentieth century American business and technology.  She has published articles on the business and cultural function of traveling grocery salesmen and women as consumers of automobile culture.  She has been a fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, and the Library of Congress, and she has received grants from the American Historical Association and the Massachusetts Historical Society.  Her work on the trade and credit networks traveling salesmen crafted in the expanding commercial economy of the nineteenth century informs her participation in the Altman program.  She is currently completing a book on the business innovativeness of independent grocers.

Pepper Stetler (Ph.D., art history, University of Delaware) studies late nineteenth and early twentieth-century art and visual culture of Europe.  She is working on a book manuscript, “Stop Reading! Look!: Modern Vision and the Weimar Photographic Book,” that investigates a number of photographic books published during Germany's Weimar Republic (1918-1933) that attempt to create a new visual language through photography.  She has received funding for her research from the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Getty Research Institute, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. “Networked Environments” is helping her think through issues of media transformation and cultural change.  She is particularly interested in how the intermingling of “new” and "old" media effect cognitive and perceptual practices. 


2011-12 Altman Student Fellows

Annie Marie Clark is a senior majoring in English and political science.  She has served as secretary to the Miami Pre-Law Committee, Vice-President of the Amicus Curiae Pre-Law Society, and Undergraduate Assistant in “Journalism, Law, and Ethics”  In the summer of 2011, she was a Press Intern for Congressman Kevin Yoder, Republican of Kentucky, and in the summer of 2012, she interned at Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates.

Traci Kim is a senior with a double major in Creative Writing and Spanish Literature.  She is the writing director of Inklings, Miami University’s undergraduate magazine of Arts & Letters.  In August 2011, she published Amsterdamned If You Do: an anthology about setting with Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.  After graduation, Traci plans to live abroad, and upon her return to the United States pursue an MFA in creative fiction.

Alexandra Tirrell is a sophomore political science and journalism major. She is involved with Dance Marathon and the Miami Quarterly on the Miami University campus, and is a writing tutor for the Howe Writing Center for Excellence. Her passion is for politics and writing about politics, and when she graduates she hopes to work in Washington D.C..

Alex Underwood is a Senior with a double-major in Anthropology and French. Originally from Long Grove, IL, he spent last year studying abroad in Nantes, France, where he worked at a local high school teaching English. His interests include cultural studies, archaeology, the French language, game design and analysis, and music composition.  Alex hopes to continue onto graduate school, with a focus in Digital Humanities.


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