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Gershon – The Breakup 2.0

The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media

by Ilana Gershon

[Gershon, Ilana. 2010. The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media, Cornell University Press]

Points & Quotes:


“Breaking up face-to-face is widely considered the ideal way to end a relationship. Most people told me that breaking up through the wrong medium can signal to others the initiator’s cowardice, lack of respect, callousness, or indifference. People’s ideas about the medium shape the ways that medium will deliver a message. No matter what is actually said, the medium becomes part of what is being communicated. … When you are breaking up, the medium is part of the message.” (3)

Media ideologies are a set of beliefs about communicative technologies with which users and designers explain perceived media structure and meaning. That is to say, what people think about the media they use will shape the way they use media.” (3)

“Sometimes what is important about a medium is how much it resembles another medium—like e-mail and letters for college students. Sometimes what is important is how distinct the medium is from other media—like e-mail and letters for me. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin use the term “remediation” to describe the ways that people interlink media, suggesting that people define every technology in terms of the other communicative technologies available to them (1999, 28).” (5)

“People don’t concoct their media ideologies on their own; they develop their beliefs about media and ways of using media within idioms of practice. By idioms of practice, I mean that people figure out together how to use different media and often agree on the appropriate social uses of technology by asking advice and sharing stories with each other…
Idioms of practice emerge out of collective discussions and shared practices. Often the implicit intuitions don’t become apparent until someone violates an expectation—perhaps by breaking up using the wrong medium” (6)

“To sum up, remediation, different media ideologies, different idioms of practice—all these analytical concepts point to how people are experiencing these media as new media.” (9)

“People are still in the process of figuring out the social rules that might govern how to use these technologies. They are also working out how using a particular medium might affect the message sent through that medium. In asking “what makes new media new?” I am making a distinction between the fact of newness and the ways in which people understand and experience the newness of technology.” (10)

“Daniel Miller and Donald Slater are ethnographers of the Internet who warn scholars not to be the ones deciding what counts as virtual. Virtual communication, they argue, is ‘a social accomplishment’ that sometimes accompanies a medium such as the Internet, but does not invariably do so (Miller and Slater 2000, 6). (13)

“I soon realized that for the people I interviewed, Facebook, video chats, or instant messaging may be done through a computer screen, but they are not virtual. That is to say, these media are not cyberrealms distinct from other interactions, but rather Facebook communication is inextricably intertwined with every other way that they communicate. They did not understand information or meaning conveyed through Facebook or instant messaging to be “virtual,” while other forms of communication conveyed “real” information or meaning.
Practically, this means that for those I interviewed, Facebook communication is but one among many ways of communicating with others. Choosing to communicate by Facebook is almost always a choice that is understood not in terms of a choice between real communication and virtual communication but rather as a choice between Facebook, phone, e-mail, instant message, or in-person communication.” (13-14)

Chapter One

“As mentioned in the introduction, people’s media ideologies—their beliefs about how a medium communicates and structures communication—makes a personal e-mail account different from a work e-mail account, or a text message different from a phone call.” (18)

Second-order information refers to the information that can guide you into understanding how particular words and statements should be interpreted. One never sends a message without the message being accompanied by second-order information; that is, without indications about how the sender would like the message received.” (18)

“Turning to the media used is just an extension of a U.S. tendency to discuss breakups by describing the way breakups took place.” (23)

“The kind of informality people agree to attribute to a particular medium, such as texting, will shape when it is appropriate to use that medium. While text messages might be too informal for a breakup, they often had the right level of informality for starting to flirt with someone. Women insisted to me that if they met someone who was interested in them, they would exchange phone numbers, but only to text each other. Calling would express too much interest; calling would be too forward a move. But texting was considered to carry low enough stakes that one could begin an exchange with the right level of ambiguity, unclear whether the exchange is about friendship or desire.” (23-24)

I have been describing some of the media ideologies at play when people break up with each other (and there are many more), in part to clarify what it means to analyze new media from an ethnographic or anthropological perspective. I could discuss the ways I think a medium functions—whether texting ensures more of an immediate answer than instant messaging or e-mail, and how that might affect a breakup—but that would be an interpretation based on my own assumptions and experiences with technology. People develop understandings of how media functions based on their own practices and conversations they have with the people they know, as well as the stories they hear and see through the media.” (32)

one should not presume to know the media ideologies that accompany a particular technology in advance without asking a person many questions to determine what his or her media ideologies and practices are.” (32)

“People always mentioned which medium was used whenever they recounted a conversation. As people of all ages told me breakup stories, they tended to tell me not only the sequence of events, who said what and when, but they also always mentioned the media in which each conversation or message took place.” (34)

“once I started paying attention, it became clear that mentioning the medium is a relatively typical feature of contemporary American breakup narratives.” (35)

“I want to suggest that because people don’t share the same media ideologies, especially about new media, part of what someone is doing by marking every medium in their story is tracing the detective work they had to do to determine which genre of story this narrative was going to become as it unfolded.” (38)

Idioms of Practice: “Groups of friends, classes, workers in an office will develop together their own ways of using media to communicate with each other.” (39)

“Two main reasons emerged from the interviews to explain why there are so many idioms of practice with new media right now, why people keep discovering that there isn’t a general consensus…

  • First, because these are new media, people haven’t had time to develop a widespread consensus about how to use a medium, especially for relatively rare communicative tasks such as breaking up
  • Second, communicating with these new media can present social dilemmas that people have to solve—and will often try to figure out with their friends.” (39-40 bullets added)

How people understand the media they use shapes the ways they will use it. As a result, determining people’s media ideologies is crucial when you are trying to figure out the ways that people communicate through different technologies. Often, people take for granted their own assumptions about how a medium shapes the information transmitted. They don’t always realize that their way of using communicative technology is but one of many ways, that what they focus on as important features of a medium may not be generally held to be the important features.” (48)

[Looking forward to chapter 2] …”To understand other people’s media ideologies, one has to figure out two primary aspects. First, what structures of that particular medium matter for people, and when do those structures matter? …
Second, people understand a particular medium only in the con- text of other media.” (49)


Media Ideologies—a set of beliefs about communicative technologies with which users and designers explain perceived media structure and meaning. That is to say, what people think about the media they use will shape the way they use media
[For a parallel definition of language ideologies, see Silverstein 1979, 193]

Idioms of Practice—people figure out together how to use different media and often agree on the appropriate social uses of technology by asking advice and sharing stories with each other

remediation—the ways that people interlink media, suggesting that people define every technology in terms of the other communicative technologies available to them (from Bolter & Grusin 1999, 28)

Second-order information—the information that can guide you into understanding how particular words and statements should be interpreted. One never sends a message without the message being accompanied by second-order information; that is, without indications about how the sender would like the message received.
This is part, but only part, of what linguistic anthropologists have called metapragmatics (see Silverstein 2001).

Selected Sources:

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. 1999. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Miller, Daniel, and Don Slater. 2000. The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford: Berg.

Silverstein, Michael. 1979. “Language Structure and Linguistic Ideology.” In The Elements: A Parasession on Linguistic Units and Levels, edited by Paul Clyne, William Hanks, and Carol Hofbauer, 193–247. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.

Silverstein, Michael. 2001. “The Limits of Awareness.” In Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader, edited by Alessandro Duranti, 382–401. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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Gershon & Manning—Language and Media

Language and Media

by Ilana Gershon and Paul Manning

[Gershon, Ilana, and Paul Manning. 2014. “Language and Media.” In The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Anthropology, edited by N.J. Enfeild, Paul Kockelman, and Jack Sidnell, 559–76. Cambridge University Press.]


examines media in terms of the materiality of the medium and how that affects mediated communication

in three parts:

  1. Materiality of the Medium
    • Bauman’s entextualization basically makes an utterance material:
      • “because it is “the process by which a text is bound and made available for circulation in other contexts … serving to “objectify it as a discrete textual unit that can be referred to, described, named, displayed, cited and otherwise treated as an object” (Bauman 2004: 4, emphasis added)” (561).
      • So—in turning to materiality “one can begin to focus on some aspects of entextualization as a process in which the ways in which a text is a material form is integral to how a text can be separated from its context and integrated into other contexts” (561).
      • thus, in the process of decontextualization and recontextualization, the slight variations of the text that cause intertextual gaps are often the direct result of a material change in medium—like a printout of a document with hyperlinks, for instance
    • Goffman’s participant framework views the materiality of media as such:
      • instead of simply a ‘speaker’ and a ‘hearer,’ Goffman breaks the message down into the
        • Principal—“someone whose position is established by the words that are spoken”
        • author—“someone who has selected the sentiments that are being expressed and the words in which they are encoded”
        • animator—“the talking machine, the body engaged in acoustic activity” (1981:144).
        • figure—not always present (a role which we argue usually complements the animator, namely the character animated by the animator
      • in this framework, “the medium will influence who can be the author of a statement, how many people can be the author, as well as who is likely to be considered the author” (564).
      • This is based partially on the affordances given by the medium
        • Through the use (trial) of the medium new uses emerge
    • “the material structure of a technology often becomes a resource for people on the ground to analyze communication itself, which in turn influences, but does not predict, how people communicate. A communication technology is not only a medium, but is also a technology that people find good to think with” (567).
      • “Every medium provides a rich supply of metaphors for analyzing unmediated communication, and in doing so, every technology also offers new ways of thinking about what it means to be human” (567).
  2. Mediation as Absence of Presence: Presence and Telepresence
    • “spoken language is aligned with the immediacy of co-present interlocutors engaging in the prototypical, indeed primordial, form of spoken language, face-to-face conversation”
    • whereas—“mediation” comes to denote what is lost when situated conversation is removed from the multi-channel indexical moorings of the face-to-face context” (568).
      • In other words—”immediacy here is once again about materiality: about the range of material channels (and associated richness of indexicality and evidential possibilities for mutual monitoring) available in face-to-face conversation. Conversations that are “mediated,” then, would be those that show a reduction of this plenitude of materiality glossed by “presence” or“situation” (568).
      • many researchers find the binarization of social and mediated/technological/etc. helpful, as they can use the social face-to-face as a baseline for communication
        • personally, I don’t understand why f-t-f  gets privileged here.
    • this opposed situation can recursively hybridized into Ito and Okabe’s “augmented ‘flesh meet'”:
      • “a face-to-face social situation that is bracketed on both sides, and sometimes permeated throughout, by telephone-mediated technosocial situations …”
      • instead of being mutually disruptive (as when one receives a cellphone call in the middle of some other social situation), or “disjunctive,” instead become “contiguous,” parts of a larger technosocial gathering” (569).
    • SO—instead of a loss of presence,‘ mediation can form new styles of telepresence, as well as affordances of “new genres of presence in public which mediate relations to urban space and infrastructures, making them analytically useful in the way their use makes the often invisible domain of urban infrastructure powerfully present and visible for mobile technology users” (570).
  3. Media, Intermediaries, and Mediators
    • speech is not only realyed over space through technological mediation (telepresence) but can also be relayed through humans themselves in ‘mediational performances
      • This involves speech passed from one person to another along a spectrum, “so that the whole routine cannot be analyzed as separate dialogs but as one synthetic dialog including both a “source dialog” and a “target dialog” (571).
      • like Occupy’s human megaphone
    • according to Latour (2005:39), there is a difference (in this sitch) between:
      • intermediary—”what transports meaning or force without transformation: defining its inputs is enough to define its outputs. For all practical purposes, an intermediary can be taken as a black box, but also a black box counting for one, even if it is internally made up of many parts …”
      • mediator—cannot be counted as just one; they might count for one, for nothing, for several, or for infinity. Their input is never a good predictor of their output … Mediators transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry” (571).
    • this system of intermediaries draws attention to the way we can “establish a symmetry between human and non-human mediation: delegation”
      • Delegation involves, essentially, the question of whether a task or competence will be assigned to a human or non-human actant.”
      • Figuration is the related ontological question of whether the actant to which the task is delegated is viewed as a human (anthropomorphism) or a non-human (technomorphism) (Latour 1988, Akrich 1992)” (572 bullets added).


  • “When linguistic anthropologists have focused on the intersection of language and media, they often found it useful to assume a fundamental distinction at play—be it a distinction between mediated and unmediated or situated and unsituated. “
  • “choosing to think about the contrast in terms of mediation and absence led to productive explorations of how a“community of time and space” (Goffman 1983: 2) often presupposes certain interactive aspects (such as immediacy) that participants must compensate for when not present. Analyses of media fromthis perspective explore what aspects of co-present communication a particular medium occludes or amplifies, affecting how people will communicate. Choosing, by contrast, to analyze conversations in terms of situatedness led to other, equally productive, investigations of how the social and the technical are co-constructed.”
  • “In both cases, analysts could figure out what was significant precisely because they were using co-presence as an analytical baseline. As we have shown, these two epistemological choices set the terms for much of the subsequent intellectual explorations of how language and media intertwine, and how materiality plays a part.”

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Kelty—Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics

Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics

by Chris Kelty

[Kelty, Christopher. 2005. “Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics.” Cultural Anthropology 20 (2): 185–214.]


Recursive public

  • “a group constituted by a shared, profound concern for the technical and legal conditions of possibility for their own association” (185)
  •  “a group of individuals who, more often than not, only associate with each other because of a shared concern for the conditions of possibility of their own association (i.e., the Internet)” (205)

Social Imaginaries

  • “ways in which people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations” (Taylor 2002: 106)

Ethnography of Geeks

  • Geeks embrace a “Stop talking and show me the code” attitude, wherein discourse takes place both verbally and through the writing and implementation of code.
  • Geek folklore of the Internet—that it senses danger and routs around it; that once something is on the Internet, it will never not be—portrays an inevitability [ex. The singularity]
  • Geek culture rallies around a rhetoric of ‘openness’ that directly acts against strictures and censorship


This article investigates the social, technical, and legal affiliations among “geeks” (hackers, lawyers, activists, and IT entrepreneurs) on the Internet. The mode of association specific to this group is that of a “recursive public sphere” constituted by a shared imaginary of the technical and legal conditions of possibility for their own association. On the basis of fieldwork conducted in the United States, Europe, and India, I argue that geeks imagine their social existence and relations as much through technical practices (hacking, networking, and code writing) as through discursive argument (rights, identities, and relations). In addition, they consider a “right to tinker” a form of free speech that takes the form of creating, implementing, modifying, or using specific kinds of software (especially Free Software) rather than verbal discourse. Continue reading Kelty—Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics