Friday, May 27, 2005

At the 55th annual ICA conference

The buzz in the lobby is deafening. I can imagine it must be quite annoying to the peope who happens to live at the Sheraton and NOT attend the conference. People with lap-tops and badges in red lineyards are all over the place, eagerly greeting old friends or actively networking. And even a shy Norwegian country girl has managed to hook up with somebody I know. Unknown to me, one of the wonderful people I have known since my first year of media studies, Ingunn Hagen, is here, and we were at the same presentation this morning. I hadn't seen her for at least three years before this, and now I haven't seen her since. This conference is big enough that we may go the entire rest of the period without meeting again.

Another surprise was Knut Lundby, looking tall, elegant and official, deeply in discussion with some other official looking distinguished gentlemen. Knut Lundby is one of those people who will greet you at a conference and make you feel noticed and recognized, no matter how busy he is, so that helped to reduce my alienization at ICA.

Then I ran into Alex Halavais, as I hoped I would, and met a couple of his advicees - he obviously enjoyed the role, surrounded by cute little asian girls listening to him seriously and still trying on the irreverence he invites so easily.

But the really fun surprise was meeting Francis F Steen. I have known about this Norwegian who works at UCLA and is interested in Computer games for quite some time. And at one of the panels today, there he was! The conference is on such a tight time schedule, I did not have time to linger and chat with him, but I will try to return to the game panels and catch up again, and if everything fails, I have his card firmly tucked into my wallet now.

The conference is extremely busy. Accustomed as I am to organised lunches, where we actually get time to talk, it is a little frustrating to know I have to drop something to be able to have lunch. Sheraton is also not entirely up to the challenge of 2000 academics loose in the corridors, running from one session to the next (but that is of course a BIG challenge). After some exploration I managed to find my way through the labyrinth from 5th floor and down the stairs to 3rd floor. Supposedly we should use the elevators, but the lines in front of them between 3rd and 5th floor was staggering, and quite enough to make me late to a panel. Add that to the internet access only in the lobby, leaving the lobby PACKED, and the lack of coffee-serving facilities inhouse, well, then you have my main gripes. So, you see, not much, at the logistics side, at least.

The content gripe isn't really a gripe. It is just a confirmation of something I have experienced and had Americans point out before. Scandinavian media research is diversified, open, cross-disciplinary and quite up-to-date on theory and methodology compared to the US. For a conference this size I find that the presenters move within a surprisingly narrow range of methodology and theory. Now it may be that I am just incidentally picking the presentations which are all of a certain type, but I don't think so. I have been listening to teaching and education presentations, game presentations and alternative media presentations, and it is all more or less the same: What do we want to test, what can we do to our human labrats, count the responses and present the findings. Or sometimes the labrats are online, and all we need is to count the work they do anyway.

I guess if I went to the purely theory sessions, I would get a different impression, but still. Where are the discussions inherent in the papers between different views and the meaning of their results? Where is the awareness of the theoretical framework? Where is the cross-diciplinary awareness? After listening to a man who presented as if he had singlehandedly discovered remediation in blogs and called it reframing, without once mentioning either cultural studies, semiotics, intertextuality, reader-response theory, postmodern media theory or even Bolter, Grusin and remediation, I am starting to think that perhaps there's a trend here. It's not only that I experience a certain lack of awareness of what is happening in Europe ("All game studies have up to this point been centered on violence in computer games" is one of those unforgettable quotes from a conference in 2005), but even a certain lack of knowledge about what is happening in the next state.

Still, the USA and this conference is so big, I will be having plenty of new experiences. I set out with a plan to blog live for you, but with the lack of internet access, I will not be able to keep that up. But I expect I will blog some, as the impressions stack up and insist on getting out through the fingers.


Anne said...

Scandinavian media research is diversified, open, cross-disciplinary and quite up-to-date on theory and methodology compared to the US. For a conference this size I find that the presenters move within a surprisingly narrow range of methodology and theory.

This has also been my experience although the narrowness does seem to be most pronounced at the "human meets computer" conferences I've attended. I've often wondered why that is...

Hope to run into you at a conference soon! Have fun.

Torill said...

I really hope we manage to meet up soon as well!

But I had a very good explanation to this phenomenon from a Norwegian who is working in the United States. He claims that the status of "science" is so much more powerful than the status of "theory" that the humanistically flavoured methods and theories are a certain way not to get funding. This leads to a certain defensiveness from the studies we in Norway would call "humaniora", that is the arts and to a certain extent philosphy, to counter the overwhelming favouritism of empirical studies and quantitative methodology.