Category Archives: tv

Influence and Butterflies

Seems like “influence” is a key theme in social media, these days. An example among several others:

Influenceur, autorité, passeur de culture ou l’un de ces singes exubérants | Mario tout de go.

In that post, Mario Asselin brings together a number of notions which are at the centre of current discussions about social media. The core notion seems to be that “influence” replaces “authority” as a quality or skill some people have, more than others. Some people are “influencers” and, as such, they have a specific power over others. Such a notion seems to be widely held in social media and numerous services exist which are based on the notion that “influence” can be measured.
I don’t disagree. There’s something important, online, which can be called “influence” and which can be measured. To a large extent, it’s related to a large number of other concepts such as fame and readership, popularity and network centrality. There are significant differences between all of those concepts but they’re still related. They still depict “social power” which isn’t coercive but is the basis of an obvious stratification.
In some contexts, this is what people mean by “social capital.” I originally thought people meant something closer to Bourdieu but a fellow social scientist made me realise that people are probably using Putnam’s concept instead. I recently learnt that George W. Bush himself used “political capital” in a sense which is fairly similar to what most people seem to mean by “social capital.” Even in that context, “capital” is more specific than “influence.” But the core notion is the same.
To put it bluntly:
Some people are more “important” than others.
Social marketers are especially interested in such a notion. Marketing as a whole is about influence. Social marketing, because it allows for social groups to be relatively amorphous, opposes influence to authority. But influence maintains a connection with “top-down” approaches to marketing.
My own point would be that there’s another kind of influence which is difficult to pinpoint but which is highly significant in social networks: the social butterfly effect.
Yep, I’m still at it after more than three years. It’s even more relevant now than it was then. And I’m now able to describe it more clearly and define it more precisely.
The social butterfly effect is a social network analogue to the Edward Lorenz’s well-known “butterfly effect. ” As any analogy, this connection is partial but telling. Like Lorenz’s phrase, “social butterfly effect” is more meaningful than precise. One thing which makes the phrase more important for me is the connection with the notion of a “social butterfly,” which is both a characteristic I have been said to have and a concept I deem important in social science.
I define social butterflies as people who connect to diverse network clusters. Community enthusiast Christine Prefontaine defined social butterflies within (clustered) networks, but I think it’s useful to separate out network clusters. A social butterfly’s network is rather sparse as, on the whole, a small number of people in it have direct connections with one another. But given the topography of most social groups, there likely are clusters within that network. The social butterfly connects these clusters. When the social butterfly is the only node which can connect these clusters directly, her/his “influence” can be as strong as that of a central node in one of these clusters since s/he may be able to bring some new element from one cluster to another.
I like the notion of “repercussion” because it has an auditory sense and it resonates with all sorts of notions I think important without being too buzzwordy. For instance, as expressions like “ripple effect” and “domino effect” are frequently used, they sound like clichés. Obviously, so does “butterfly effect” but I like puns too much to abandon it. From a social perspective, the behaviour of a social butterfly has important “repercussions” in diverse social groups.
Since I define myself as a social butterfly, this all sounds self-serving. And I do pride myself in being a “connector.” Not only in generational terms (I dislike some generational metaphors). But in social terms. I’m rarely, if ever, central to any group. But I’m also especially good at serving as a contact between people from different groups.
Yay, me! 🙂
My thinking about the social butterfly effect isn’t an attempt to put myself on some kind of pedestal. Social butterflies typically don’t have much “power” or “prestige.” Our status is fluid/precarious. I enjoy being a social butterfly but I don’t think we’re better or even more important than anybody else. But I do think that social marketers and other people concerned with “influence” should take us into account.
I say all of this as a social scientist. Some parts of my description are personalized but I’m thinking about a broad stance “from society’s perspective.” In diverse contexts, including this blog, I have been using “sociocentric” in at least three distinct senses: class-based ethnocentrism, a special form of “altrocentrism,” and this “society-centred perspective.” These meanings are distinct enough that they imply homonyms. Social network analysis is typically “egocentric” (“ego-centred”) in that each individual is the centre of her/his own network. This “egocentricity” is both a characteristic of social networks in opposition to other social groups and a methodological issue. It specifically doesn’t imply egotism but it does imply a move away from pre-established social categories. In this sense, social network analysis isn’t “society-centred” and it’s one reason I put so much emphasis on social networks.
In the context of discussions of influence, however, there is a “society-centredness” which needs to be taken into account. The type of “influence” social marketers and others are so interested in relies on defined “spaces.” In some ways, if “so-and-so is influential,” s/he has influence within a specific space, sphere, or context, the boundaries of which may be difficult to define. For marketers, this can bring about the notion of a “market,” including in its regional and demographic senses. This seems to be the main reason for the importance of clusters but it also sounds like a way to recuperate older marketing concepts which seem outdated online.
A related point is the “vertical” dimension of this notion of “influence.” Whether or not it can be measured accurately, it implies some sort of scale. Some people are at the top of the scale, they’re influencers. Those at the bottom are the masses, since we take for granted that pyramids are the main models for social structure. To those of us who favour egalitarianism, there’s something unpalatable about this.
And I would say that online contacts tend toward some form of egalitarianism. To go back to one of my favourite buzzphrases, the notion of attention relates to reciprocity:

It’s an attention economy: you need to pay attention to get attention.

This is one thing journalism tends to “forget.” Relationships between journalists and “people” are asymmetrical. Before writing this post, I read Brian Storm’s commencement speech for the Mizzou J-School. While it does contain some interesting tidbits about the future of journalism, it positions journalists (in this case, recent graduates from an allegedly prestigious school of journalism) away from the masses. To oversimplify, journalists are constructed as those who capture people’s attention by the quality of their work, not by any two-way relationship. Though they rarely discuss this, journalists, especially those in mainstream media, typically perceive themselves as influencers.

Attention often has a temporal dimension which relates to journalism’s obsession with time. Journalists work in time-sensitive contexts, news are timely, audiences spend time with journalistic contents, and journalists fight for this audience time as a scarce resource, especially in connection to radio and television. Much of this likely has to do with the fact that journalism is intimately tied to advertising.

As I write this post, I hear on a radio talk show a short discussion about media coverage of Africa. The topic wakes up the africanist in me. The time devoted to Africa in almost any media outside of Africa is not only very limited but spent on very specific issues having to do with Africa. In mainstream media, Africa only “matters” when major problems occur. Even though most parts of Africa are peaceful and there many fabulously interesting things occuring throughout the continent, Africa is the “forgotten” continent.

A connection I perceive is that, regardless of any other factor, Africans are taken to not be “influential.” What makes this notion especially strange to an africanist is that influence tends to be a very important matter throughout the continent. Most Africans I know or have heard about have displayed a very nuanced and acute sense of “influence” to the extent that “power” often seems less relevant when working in Africa than different elements of influence. I know full well that, to outsiders to African studies, these claims may sound far-fetched. But there’s a lot to be said about the importance of social networks in Africa and this could help refine a number of notions that I have tagged in this post.

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Gender and Culture

A friend sent me a link to the following video:

JC Penney: Beware of the Doghouse | Creativity Online.

In that video, a man is “sent to the doghouse” (a kind of prison for insensitive men) because he offered a vacuum cleaner to his wife. It’s part of a marketing campaign through which men are expected to buy diamonds to their wives and girlfriends.

The campaign is quite elaborate and the main website for the campaign makes interesting uses of social media.

For instance, that site makes use of Facebook Connect as a way to tap viewers’ online social network. FC is a relatively new feature (the general release was last week) and few sites have been putting it to the test. In this campaign’s case, a woman can use her Facebook account to connect to her husband or boyfriend and either send him a warning about his insensitivity to her needs (of diamonds) or “put him in the doghouse.” From a social media perspective, it can accurately be described as “neat.”

The site also uses Share This to facilitate the video‘s diffusion  through various social media services, from WordPress.com to Diigo. This tends to be an effective strategy to encourage “viral marketing.” (And, yes, I fully realize that I actively contribute to this campaign’s “viral spread.”)

The campaign could be a case study in social marketing.

But, this time, I’m mostly thinking about gender.

Simply put, I think that this campaign would fare rather badly in Quebec because of its use of culturally inappropriate gender stereotypes.

As I write this post, I receive feedback from Swedish ethnomusicologist Maria Ljungdahl who shares some insight about gender stereotypes. As Maria says, the stereotypes in this ad are “global.” But my sense is that these “global stereotypes” are not that compatible with local culture, at least among Québécois (French-speaking Quebeckers).

See, as a Québécois born and raised as a (male) feminist, I tend to be quite gender-conscious. I might even say that my gender awareness may be somewhat above the Québécois average and gender relationships are frequently used in definitions of Québécois identity.

In Québécois media, advertising campaigns portraying men as naïve and subservient have frequently been discussed. Ten or so years ago, these portrayals were a hot topic (searches for Brault & Martineau, Tim Hortons, and Un gars, une fille should eventually lead to appropriate evidence). Current advertising campaigns seem to me more subtle in terms of male figures, but careful analysis would be warranted as discussions of those portrayals are more infrequent than they have been in the past.

That video and campaign are, to me, very US-specific. Because I spent a significant amount of time in Indiana, Massachusetts, and Texas, my initial reaction while watching the video had more to do with being glad that it wasn’t the typical macrobrewery-style sexist ad. This reaction also has to do with the context for my watching that video as I was unclear as to the gender perspective of the friend who sent me the link (a male homebrewer from the MidWest currently living in Texas).

By the end of the video, however, I reverted to my Québécois sensibility. I also reacted to the obvious commercialism, partly because one of my students has been working on engagement rings in our material culture course.

But my main issue was with the presumed insensitivity of men.

Granted, part of this is personal. I define myself as a “sweet and tendre man” and I’m quite happy about my degree of sensitivity, which may in fact be slightly higher than average, even among Québécois. But my hunch is that this presumption of male insensitivity may not have very positive effects on the perception of such a campaign. Québécois watching this video may not groan but they may not find it that funny either.

There’s a generational component involved and, partly because of a discussion of writing styles in a generational perspective, I have been thinking about “generations” as a useful model for explaining cultural diversity to non-ethnographers.

See, such perceived generational groups as “Baby Boomers” and “Generation X” need not be defined as monolithic, monadic, bounded entities and they have none of the problems associated with notions of “ethnicity” in the general public. “Generations” aren’t “faraway tribes” nor do they imply complete isolation. Some people may tend to use “generational” labels in such terms that they appear clearly defined (“Baby Boomers are those individuals born between such and such years”). And there is some confusion between this use of “historical generations” and what the concept of “generation” means in, say, the study of kinship systems. But it’s still relatively easy to get people to think about generations in cultural terms: they’re not “different cultures” but they still seem to be “culturally different.”

Going back to gender… The JC Penney marketing campaign visibly lumps together people of different ages. The notion seems to be that doghouse-worthy male insensitivity isn’t age-specific or related to inexperience. The one man who was able to leave the doghouse based on his purchase of diamonds is relatively “age-neutral” as he doesn’t really seem to represent a given age. Because this attempt at crossing age divisions seems so obvious, I would assume that it came in the context of perceived differences in gender relationships. Using the logic of those who perceive the second part of the 20th Century as a period of social emancipation, one might presume that younger men are less insensitive than older men (who were “brought up” in a cultural context which was “still sexist”). If there are wide differences in the degree of sensitivity of men of different ages, a campaign aiming at a broad age range needs to diminish the importance of these differences. “The joke needs to be funny to men of all ages.”

The Quebec context is, I think, different. While we do perceive the second part of the 20th Century (and, especially, the 1970s) as a period of social emancipation (known as the “Quiet Revolution” or «Révolution Tranquille»), the degree of sensitivity to gender issues appears to be relatively level, across the population. At a certain point in time, one might have argued that older men were still insensitive (at the same time as divorcées in their forties might have been regarded as very assertive) but it seems difficult to make such a distinction in the current context.

All this to say that the JC Penney commercial is culturally inappropriate for Québécois society? Not quite. Though the example I used was this JC Penney campaign, I’m thinking about broader contexts for Québécois identity (for a variety of personal reasons, including the fact that I have been back in Québec for several months, now).

My claim is…

Ethnographic field research would go a long way to unearth culturally appropriate categories which might eventually help marketers cater to Québécois.

Of course, the agency which produced that JC Penney ad (Saatchi & Saatchi) was targeting the US market (JC Penney doesn’t have locations in Quebec) and I received the link through a friend in the US. But it was an interesting opportunity for me to think and write about a few issues related to the cultural specificity of gender stereotypes.


Pédagogie active

Beau portrait vidéo d’un pédagogue dans le sens fort du terme. Réalisé de main de maître par Yannick Gélinas et Sylvain Carle.

Dziit! » Blog Archive » Monsieur Pierre

Certains disent qu’il a sauvé une école de Trois-Rivières. D’autres que sa passion pour les arts drama-cirques est contagieuse. Chose certaine, il est convaincu que l’on peut apprendre dans le plaisir. Les enfants qui l’entourent sont du même avis.  (via i never knew)

J’aime beaucoup l’idée du droit à l’erreur. Celle de l’heure de plaisir par jour. Et celle, venant du directeur d’école, de «délinquance créatrice». En appliquant ces idées, certains profs arrivent à de grandes et belles choses.  L’enseignement, c’est pas d’inculquer de la matière. C’est de permettre à l’apprentissage de suivre son cours…

Ç’aurait été bien d’entendre un peu plus les enfants, d’en apprendre plus sur le contenu pédagogique et de suivre cette initiative dans d’autres écoles. Mais l’effet est déjà là.

Ça m’a beaucoup fait pensé à des épisodes de Méchant Contraste,  une de mes émissions préférées (mais malheureusement pas disponible en balado).


Redevenir Québécois

C’est le moment.

J’ai pas mal d’affaires à faire, y compris me trouver une (ou de la) job. Pis finir ma thèse pour de vrai. Mais ça empêche pas que c’est le moment pour moi de redevenir un Québécois.

«Mais t’es déjà Québécois!», dites-vous, à grand renfort de «Bin voyons donc!».

Oui, d’une certaine façon. Pure laine, même. Il a fallu que je le devienne après un certain temps. J’étais tanné de me faire traiter de «maudit français», à l’école. Et j’ai un peu cessé de l’être, à certains moments de ma vie.

Souvent, je redeviens Québécois quand je suis à l’extérieur du Québec. C’est la nostalgie qui fait ça. Pis le fait que le Québec est une société pas mal spéciale.

Mais là, je redeviens Québécois à la fin de  mon dernier hiver au Québec. Ça fait que le timing est bon.

C’est peut-être pas mon dernier été au Québec, par exemple. Je risque de venir passer des étés ici, après avoir déménagé à Austin avec (et grâce à) ma chère Catherine. Mais ça sera jamais la même chose que maintenant.

Une des choses qui me fait penser à ça, de redevenir Québécois, c’est que j’ai manqué le dernier YulBlog. Alors je me suis mis à commenter sur tout un tas de blogues montréalais, surtout francophones. Ça m’a fait comprendre que je fittais pas pis que je devais me mettre à fitter plus.

Une des raisons que je fitte pas, c’est que je sais plus ce qui se passe ailleurs dans le monde que ce qui se passe au Québec.

Quoique… J’écoute quelques balados québécoises et j’arrive à me faire une idée de ce qui se passe ici en entendant parler d’événements plus spécifiques. Mais comme c’est plutôt des balados de musique et de shows plutôt que celles de RadCan, c’est pas la façon la plus efficace de connaître les dernières actus de la vie québécoise.

En plus, je regarde peu la télé. Maintenant que la saison régulière de Télé-Québec est terminée, me privant de nouvelles émissions de Méchant contraste, Pure laine et La vie en vert, je regarde à peu près juste DSwJS (yeah, I know), au détriment de ma québécitude.

J’ai beau aimer Concordia pis y’a beau y avoir pas mal de Francophones là-bas, le fait d’enseigner en anglais (comme d’habitude), ça me pousse pas nécessairement à vivre en québécois.

Sans oublier que ma chère Catherine, qui devrait revenir à Montréal en fin de semaine, est pas locutrice native de la langue québécoise.

Donc, pour être Québécois et parler québécois, je dois un peu me forcer.  Pas que ça me tente pas. Mais j’ai besoin d’occasions.

Et hier, j’ai commencé à me donner l’occasion. De la salle d’attente d’un super médecin sympathique et efficace (pour un renouvellement de prescription), à la bibliothèque nationale en passant par le Marché Jean-Talon, le Cheval blanc et Une grenouille dans une théière (un salon de thé près de chez moi), j’ai pu vivre au Québec.  Entre autres, en entendant parler quelques personnes au salon de thé. Ou en marchant depuis le Cheval blanc jusqu’à chez moi (de Chateaubriand et Bellechasse).

L’affaire, avec Montréal, c’est qu’on peut très facilement ne pas se sentir au Québec. Pas surtout une question de langue. Plutôt une question d’identité culturelle qui inclut non seulement la langue mais les modes de communication et l’«accent». Alors, si on se tient pas au courant, qu’on va pas aux bons endroits, on peut passer à côté de beaucoup des choses qui font de Montréal la métropole du Québec.

C’est d’autant plus facile à manquer qu’il faut déjà comprendre ce qu’est le Québec. Ça c’est quelque-chose que beaucoup de monde qui a passé du temps à Montréal sans sortir dans le reste du Québec a de la misère à comprendre. Malgré les différences énormes entre Montréal et le reste du Québec (comme les différences entre Genève et le reste de la Suisse Romande ou entre Paris et le reste de la France), il y a des choses qui sont vraiment québécoises, à Montréal. Comme la façon de vivre de beaucoup d’adolescents. Ou bedon la bouffe. Pis les banlieues.

C’est pas folklorique: c’est typique.

Donc, pour me remettre dans le bain, m’as essayer d’écrire plus souvent en québécois.

Après avoir vu certains avantages de CanalBlog, je me suis dit que j’y aurais un blogue exclusivement en français. Mais, finalement, j’me rends compte que j’aime pas ça tant que ça, CanalBlog. Fa-que, plutôt que de multiplier les blogues distincts, m’as bloguer en québécois ici-même, sur mon blogue principal.


Jeunes francophones au Canada

En réponse à mon billet sur l’émission Les pieds dans la marge (de Radio-Canada), un lien sur l’émission VOLT de TFO-TVOntario. Cette émission ontarienne semble avoir été le lieu de rencontre du trio marginal de RadCan. Les deux émissions se ressemblent dans une certaine mesure mais Volt me fait l’effet d’une émission dirigée vers un public légèrement plus jeune et, surtout, [après avoir regardé On se French, mais est-ce qu’on se connaît?, il me semble clair que le public cible a le même âge que pour Les pieds dans la marge] spécifiquement franco-ontarien. Puisque les Québécois connaissent généralement très peu de choses des francophones canadiens hors-Québec, les liens entre les deux émissions sont plutôt intéressants.

Là où Volt a l’avantage, c’est que plusieurs portions de l’émission sont disponibles en balado-diffusion. Idéal pour un «Canadien errant mais non banni de ses foyers». Ça veut donc dire qu’il me sera possible de voir certains bouts de Volt depuis le Texas, à partir de la fin de l’année.

Si au moins Radio-Canada pouvait faire la même chose avec Les pieds dans la marge et Infoman, rendant ces émissions disponibles en-ligne. Et si Télé-Québec pouvait suivre la tendance en diffusant, en-ligne, des épisodes complets de Pure laine, Méchant contraste et les séries du Rebut Global. À tout bien penser, ce sont les seules émissions que je regarde, à l’occasion.

Dans une certaine mesure, la mission de TFO ressemble à celle de Télé-Québec. Dans les deux cas, l’aspect régionaliste et décentralisateur semble important. Pour le reste, il y a toute la portion éducative, la question de la diversité culturelle, etc. Historiquement, ces deux réseaux de télévision me semblent avoir été fondés dans des contextes socio-politiques assez semblables mais désormais distincts.

Évidemment, à moi qui ne regarde que très peu la télévision, il m’est facile de me méprendre sur le sens de certaines politiques de programmation.


Took a While

The latest episode of Télé-Québec’s Les Francs Tireurs had a segment on international humatarian aid. (Especially of the Euro-American CICR and Reporters sans frontières style.) Maybe there are more (I don’t to watch much television) but this one was the first television report which had a thoughtful and insightful discussion of the negative impacts of humanitarian aid.

Of course, several parts of the discussion were probably edited out (hosts on the show are sometimes explicit about the “need” for editing) and it did sound at times like discussions that most anthropology students have had at one point or another (usually pretty early on in their training) but it was quite refreshing, especially when compared to the usual news reports on how bad the situation is supposed to be anywhere else in the world (i.e., any place where people live a different lifestyle).

What’s funny is that the two main participants in the show were quite honest about the biases of Quebec society in terms of humanitarian aid. This is a society (my own upbringing) in which people pride themselves to be “open-minded” (often meaning “more open-minded that you“). Yet people take humanitarian aid as a sacred principle, not to be criticised. Some aid workers in Africa and elsewhere seem to think that their mission (the religious connotations were discussed on the television show) is to help Others become more like them. Pretty charitable when you see your own habits as the only appropriate way to live, but pretty damaging when you transform knowledgeable human beings into the object of pity.


IT and Classrooms

Two sections of the current episode of Télé-Québec’s Méchant Contraste! social issues television show are on information technology in classrooms:

Instead of a debate on whether or not technology literacy is important for young Quebeckers, the show presents articulate comments on the apparent lack of training in computer and information technologies in the Quebec educational system. Perhaps most interesting, the ideas revolve mostly around what should be done to help teachers adapt to new situations. Instead of “throwing money at the problem,” the idea here is to adopt a clear vision of what technology may do to help both students and teachers enhance learning and teaching strategies.

Of course, as a technology enthusiast, I’m specifically biased. But I do notice a disconnect between the “school administration” side of the equation (whether working in a high school or a university) and the learning/teaching community on the other side. IMHO, adopting technologies in the classroom isn’t a matter of dazzling students with technical proficiency. It’s about finding the most appropriate tools for the tasks that we set out to accomplish.

Perhaps a detail but one worth mentioning: schools still seem to give courses on specific software packages, as they did a number of years ago. Such a strategy is, IMHO, ill-advised because (as explained in this show) students are probably more adept than teachers with most of these tools. But, more importantly, what students should get is a way to connect tools with aspects of learning. Yup, the good ol’ “learning how to learn” idea, applied to a domain where the characteristics of the learning tools are less important than the principles of learning. In other words, training high school students to use Microsoft Office Powerpoint 2007 is much less efficient than helping students at any age understand the principles behind information processing and software-mediated presentations. Having fun with the software is a good way to go, with many students, but concepts and methods shouldn’t be tied to a specific piece of software.

Anyhoo…