McLuhan Program: Culture & Technology Lecture

09Apr14

The Materiality of Rumor April 29, 2014 • 7:00PM   –   Fisher Rare Book Library • 120 St. George Street

Abstract:
In this talk I will discuss rumors as a type of small media and as ‘secondhand accounts’ rather than ‘false tales.’ Over the years, I have encountered a number of rumors while doing ethnographic fieldwork in Ghana including one about Bill Gates – the illiterate dropout, rumors about young Ghanaians who got rich off the Internet, and a rumor about an impending earthquake (spread, in part, by mobile phone) that led people to flee into the streets one night in 2010. The study of rumor has served as a useful lens for thinking about how digital technologies are received by new populations of users. Among youth in Ghanaian Internet cafes, the accounting work done in rumors resolved issues of morality and efficacy related to Internet use. Rumors compel retelling and have a bodily existence through the people who spread them. The consequences of rumor are often overwhelmingly and undeniably material. The durability of rumor offers a way to rethink an overdrawn dichotomy between material and symbolic that often subtly (or not so subtly) informs the social study of digital technologies.

Bio: Jenna Burrell is an Associate Professor in the School of Information at UC Berkeley. Her first book Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafes of Urban Ghana (The MIT Press) came out in May 2012. She completed her PhD in 2007 in the department of Sociology at the London School of Economics. Before pursuing her PhD she was an Application Concept Developer in the People and Practices Research Group at Intel Corporation. Her interests span many research topics including theories of materiality, user agency, transnationalism, post-colonial relations, digital representation, and especially the appropriation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) by individuals and groups on the African continent. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/mwrg6rq )

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