November 23, 2008
FOE3 Liveblog: Session 6 - Intersection of Academy and Industry

The sixth panel of FOE put together a number of academics and industry specialists to talk over how the two areas could be mutually beneficial to one another. The panel was moderated by C3 alum Sam Ford and liveblogging provided by CMS graduate student Lan Le.

Amanda Lotz, The Television Will be Revolutionized (NYU Press), University of Michigan.
She was trained in a text-based manner that was probably typical of media studies. She now looks into how texts are made, investigating the gaps in our understanding of TV history, the norms of production, and TV's role in US culture. While not strictly ethnographic, her work is informed by industry interviews and observing how industry talks to itself. She did not feel the previous theories were adequate in addressing the granularity of industrial case studies. But what can we say about media industries?

John Caldwell, Production Culture (Duke University Press), UCLA.
He has a background in production and film. He works in film, TV, labor, and ethnographic work in Los Angeles. The last few days has made him feel like a dinosaur, even though he writes about the same subjects -- but on the side of the workers and not the marketing. He feels that branding is merely the crust of a much larger space, and focuses on the "below the line" workers in this industry whose stories are not often seen. He has always advocated the integration of production and theory, but realized eventually that there's a lot of antipathy between the two sides. Distributed creativity occurs in professional workforces, not just in fan bases. There's a real contention about who is authorized to talk about the industry. Often failed academics will be most angry at the study of industry. We are dealing with the construction of two things: industry and academics. There are a multiplicity of industries, not a monolith. They are only willing to work together so long as the money keeps flowing. Academics are themselves not comfortable with acknowledge themselves as a construction.

Grant McCracken, Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture (Indiana University Press).
He sees himself as an anthropologist of contemporary culture. He splits his time between academic and industrial consulting work. The dual identity is rough, which points to issues of integration.

Peter Kim, Dachis Corporation.
He feels that he represents industry, working for Razorfish in Cambridge. He began working for General Electric at age 18 in the Audit Staff, proceeding to move through many industry positions and companies. His work at Puma was in corporate digital branding.


Sam: What is the value of the flow of information between industry and academia? What does each side need to give and recieve to make this a valuable exchange?

Grant: Transfer of intellectual capital through Henry's language. Hollywood is already using these terms created by C3 and Henry and the work done at MIT. There is an asymmetrical relationship, but reciprocity is a notion of equal exchange. Our notion is that if we are useful to them, industry will let us in. We entertain ourselves as special parties looking for favors, which ends in trouble.

Peter: There's a structural tension in industry that keeps academia out of it.

Grant: You can never set the terms of the debate. I have to reengineer what's being said and being party to. It's a conversation already in place.

John: On the high level market research, it's proprietary and difficult to get to, but very important. I have to turn to workers, to "talk shop." Direct access to industry is very important.

Sam: The ecomics o industry is obvious. The interests of academy is different. The desire is for amore access for research and more understanding of processes. there are two different economies at work. Is this a fair assumption to make? Do we need to take into account academy's desire for prublication and tenure.

Grant: Everyone in industry is actually working on an intellectual problem. They have topics that we consider worthy of our intellectual pursuit. By helping them, we do engage in a kind of trade that all

Amanda: I think the dichotomy is a false one. Industry is interested in thinking about this from a larger perspective. I veiw what I do as a luxury instead of thinking of the bottom line. They are very curious about my perspectives, even if money is everything.

Sam: Media scholars have often embraced political agendas that are critical of industry. Can we maintain these political stances and still work maintain a conversation with industry with out being patronizing.

John: There's a lot of name calling and representation of ourselves as things like Marxists. We really need to think about the issue - is concern about marginization interesting or not? We need to scrape away the labels. We need to throw away charicatures, which has academia on one side as "the left" and the real world. WE participate in the same economy and exchanges. There are lot of gradiations from left to right in and out of industry. This conference is a great example of making critical studies meaningful to industry. For 50 years, Comm departments were trying to make social sciences meaningful to industry, ???

Peter: People are very afraid of taking a stance that might offend. It would be great to have stronger positions, rather than creating appeal to the largest mass. It would be good to see more flavor, distinction, and greater niche appeal.

Amanda: The questions are important. Three networks were trying to target the same audience - women through women's networks. What the question you are asking can often keep you from the head to head negative engagement. My training is to uncover the life of these networks and understand what was going on there. Shifts in programming, revising of the branding, etc. You are often trying to critically reading your engagement with your interviewee. You would be a poor academic if you take the industry discourse without looking at the programming and asking about what is being said about men and masculinity, for example. I did not come in with a feminist axe to grind about Stripperella. There is an interesting history in the question about who men are and how to market to them.

SpikeTV has a research department that is doing research in to men's values and attitudes that are supplemented with focus groups and interviews. These networks know a great deal about their audiences, their advertisors, etc., and it's difficult to get your hands on them. It would be so helpful to see this from the academic side, b/c the data is only useful for about 6 months. It sits in archives to be destroyed, and the academy would be enriched by these data. We don't have a coherent way of understanding what is at stake and how to go beyond these concerns.

Sam: This conference has promoted relationships of the kind we're seeking. Can you describe a successful industry relationship and what made it successful ofr the indusry partner?

John: Industry has large-scale academic relationships through fellowships and interns. It can feel one-way. They need their message to get out, and we explain to our students out the syndicated system works. It sometimes does not feel two way. Great R&D is sometimes done in industry, but it's locked down. No one can share it, and it's not the collegial relationship that we want to see happening. An educational arm is valuable in being able to communicate what your institution does.

Amanda: It has to do with the many different hats we wear as academics. Industry sometimes sees me as a teacher. So they talk about things that might help me teach my students. Sometimes they see me as researcher, but they often just tell me things to help my students get jobs. We need someone from industry to say, "This is something valuable we got out of it." I feel like i take more from industry than give back.

John: I was reading a blog on 20 academics that you should know. Each one got 1 sentence on their work. It was a toolkit on paradigms that you can use. The appetite for academically producded insight seems to be with the consumers. But most people don't want ethnographic studies of institutions. They don't see the value. But an analysis of work flow is often very important. It would be useful to help them understand what's going on as jobs are cut in the streamlining of work. There needs to be systematic analysis of that situation.

Peter: Industry is broad and so is academia. But in a public company, there is a quarter to quarter pressure. I don't know what time cycle you work on -- semesters or terms. How do you synch up with your pressures and time demands to the industry's workflow. They don't have time to keep up with your year-long projects. Only large organizations have the capital to be interested in a long term focus. It requires a broad scope of focus to contract that sort of work.

Sam: How do you do research when you can get information? How can academics make this research valuable to industry? How do academics avoid pitfalls of questions that industry already knows is useless work? How do we start a systematic collaboration in stead of a series of one-offs?

Grant: The mutuality or community of interest -- i wonder if we can't work out a collaboration. Let's make it a trade, a mutual movement. If we do exchanges often enough, then you do have a system of trade. We will learn what questions to ask, what leads to follow? But it's part of the relationship that we need to build.

John: If we give people the right space to do things that they dont' have time to think about during their 80 hour work week. The conversation is not one that these industry people have been able to have in a long time. I like the reciprocity of safe environments of exchange. Waht the heck do we have to offer industry? I've noticed that every claim of radical innovation is wrong. These claims are ahistorical in some ways. The one thing that academics have is time to do systematic historical research. OFten people don't know the history of their own company. Specific historicla rearch on precedents would be very useful. Corporate employees don't have time to wade through archives, but Masters students do. There are kids of skills and resrouces that we can deliver on a shorter bases than year long field work.

Sam: What does industry see as meaningful for their work? What can academics contribute?

Peter: Balance at a macro level, people in industry are used at a maximal level in their companies. But this is not reasonable, and Google gives employees 20% time to do other projects. Things that Ph.Ds know are broader frameworks that corporate people don't have time to learn. It feels like a game of Jenga or Speed the movie. YOu can't look back, because you have to keep moving foward.

Grant: The value we deliver in corporate circumstances is in processes of pattern recognition. That's what we know how to do. More practically, what that means is identifying the problem. They need to parse teh world so that industry can figure out the answer to the problem. We're not heat-seeking like consultants are. Consultants burn through data and home in on the real-time solution. But that's not the kind of work we do. We need to get better at instaneous solutions. That would make us more useful to industry. You can't get on the bus once it's moving. You ahve to be in the intellectual moment or you won't be useful.

Audience Comment: Industry person -- the conference he went to found the most popular speakers were the academics. It's the complexity and the walls tumbling down between disciplines. That's the value - historical and cultural broad perspective - that industry is seeking.

Peter: Industry conferences value the academics that have something new to say that industry has yet to hear. Industry people just sell the whole time. It's the same all around. But academics bring new messages. Giving us new messages that htey can use, such as telling industry to listen to their customers. They value these insights that give them new relationships ot their market. The market is ripe for academics that give industry new paradigms to work with.

Sam: Language is the value of academia -- finding words like "consumer" without thought to what that means. It presupposes an individual adult male who is completely rational. There is no thought to social relationships, families, children, etc. By thinking of people as "consumers," we discard the true social units of our population. Industry needs academic relationships to help reveal???

Josh Green: Is the tension of this - the academy is more interested in working with indusry adn sharing work than necessarily than industry is? Is part of the difficulty of the relationship, academics are supposed to be free agents. contact iwth industry is within hierarchies who are not in authorized to speak for the industry. Mnay of hte people you might speak to are answerabel to authority, unlike in the academy.

Amanda: I don't think industry is uninterested considering the amount of $ they pay to consultants. What's mroe unclear is what can be gained by talking to a voice you dont' normally hear from. It comes bck to waht kind of knowledge is valued and how? You make a good point with your second quesiton. Talking to hte r ight person is the issue. Different people within an organiziation has different needs. Each position in a hierarchy has different demands for data. Outside thought is valuable in identifying these problems and offering solutions. Academic's knowledge is valuable because it's just different.

John: Is it ever possible to get industrial information that is not spin. It's difficult to find someone who won't just give you the corporate script. They speak in perfect 8-second sound bites. These people are not even conscious. They misrecognize my role, which troubles me. Many grad students come from industry, broken and alienated. Their anecdotes are about being trained to lie and representing themselves as something their not on line. My instinct is never to trust anyone who calls themselves a fan - it might be a corporate employee. Trade writing is prostitution and we all know it. No one has time to write about what's going on. This is a world of spin, disembly adn deception. If you come to a place like this, people open up and it's different. But spin is an "artistic" expression taht we need to decode.

Peter: But in that way, industry is being honest about their intentions. Making money. Waht is being in academia about? What are you trying to do by publishing and tenure? The motive is the same at the end of the day.

John: We participate in the same culture. It is the same. The ground rules are that there is mutual spinning here.

Grant: The discourse you're describing is when there is not trust at all. We don't know what the other guy wants. We don't know who you are. That's the need for building trust.

John: There is good discussion from people who are interested in academics or becoming academics. There's a way that things work on the ground that isn't the way we describe in our work.

Grant: They're exactly like us. I'm nervous about the notion that if you're governed by seslf interest that somehow you are intellectually inferior and morally dubious. That misrepresents whose on the other side.

John: I'm not generalizing. These are cultural practices, if you're not identifying them, then you're not being honest. The problem with research is that they trust the interview and press releases, because they work so hard to get it.

Sam: (Lana) His own experiences defining his job as part time academic. The experience of bringing in a consultant versus an academic?

Amanda: All academics are not the same.

Peter: The tags are interchangeable at some level. Some academics are interested in things that consultants would be working on. Some consultants are brought into academic settings. Academics often don't have an idea of the commercial value of their work. Industry is thirsty for content.

Grant: When you go to industry as an academic, you come to hold forth. I hate that modality. There's a status shift as a consultant. You work for them at their leisure. The latter is more fun.

Audience Question: There is often a failure in that exchange. People forget who is in the audience and don't think about what that audience might need. There is a huge diversity of people in this room, and yet there is a level of communication in this room that is a rare experience. There is an intention and knowing your audience within this room.

Grant: What youre pointing out is Henry's accomplishment. Until Textual Poachers, the standing wisdome is that commerce nad culture should not mix. His work gave us increasingly sophisticated ideas about what commerce and culture mean. These two things have a mutuality and commonality.

John: Industries ask me about my reserach and what I've done. And they are unhappy and misinterpret the labor involved in academic work. The universities should tap into the alumni network of industry. Hwo do they shape industry with the knowledge they learn at MIT. There's knowlege production in the academy and in industry. There are very specific individuals who move back and forth between the two with great sophistication about the language of both. We could learn a lot from them.

Sam: It's commonsense that when students graduate, they look back and see "a different world"

Amanda: Which gap are we talking about? There's also the disconnect between what students think they need and what industry tells them they need. There was an event at Michigan with alums - tell students we're going to teach you how to critique and think - you need to leave here able to write well and communicate. Know the history of the medium - not classes on advertising and lesson. This very good for not being an applied program. We can't necessarily prepare them because they're not in it, either. Journalism programs have the same issue. What kind of education and instititution are you at? The goals are different.

Peter: It's a structural issue. I really appreciated the case study method at business school. The best way to close the gap is to intern, coop. Do we hold some sort of grudge that that's not as academically pure a program? Experience is a tough thing. I was never taught to fire someone, how to allocate budget with emotions, etc.

Sam: In your undergrad experience, you learned how to communicate eloquently, but didn't have a lot to communicate. They required you to take classes in economics. Journalists need to know stuff.

Audience Question: The resistence in the West Coast is complex, but born from a studio structure. Who is the visionary? You might get called in as an expert behind closed doors. It's about control and who has the right to it.

John: That's what I'm talking about. We need a unifying vision. Being in a professional school is a research opportunity unto itself. NDA occurs in classes. A well known executive producer - we present pitches to him and what ends up happening is strip mining of creative ideas. Unpaid labor is a feauture of Hollywood, a certain kind of producer used to controlling and embodying the agency of a film. We need to get students to think clearly about cultural practices.

Audience Question: There is research on emerging new media literacies. We don't know how it works, the technology... Is there a way to work that out? Information is time sensitive, and we hold it until it's not time sensitive anymore. This is also an issue of the tenure clock.

Peter: Rich Dad, Poor Dad. If your idea is the razor, you want it released as quickly as possible. If it's the point - platform or application.

Amanda: With the academic publishing machine, it can take forever anyhow. Teaching on new media industries is tough. What is the academic model today? Teaching through case study? How long does it take for research to come out? Don't count things that are printed outside of those systems in regimes of value?

Sam: What kind of machine is it? For the twitter audience...

Audience Question: The Media Lab who went to Hollywood. They went and got legal documents from the LA County Courthouse, which was great dirty laundry, free to sign up on the website.

Grant: Pattern recognition as a powerful metaphor. What are creators thinking? What they have to do is commit to an action. The the action benefits from all the pattern recognition that comes before it. The action itself is going to be different from the action of doing research.

Sam: By virtue of us being here, we all believe in the value of talking - what more can we do to convince others?

Peter: Optimistic, democratic access, engagement, connection - pessimism. The Nascar or Walmart problem - we live in a Nascar world, you'll never be able to bridge gap.

Sam: Isn't that why we should pay attention to the fly over states?

Grant: People on the industrial side are becoming more like us. Are we doing the same? We're not working through a constant stream of patterns that we have to solve by the end of the day.

Mauricio: Priv as a Brazilian, very US-discussion, research is not a tradition in Brazil. The last year taught me a lot. We have to bring C3 to Brazil, and are closing the deals now. In the end, there had to be deliverables. R&D is now Risk & Detachment