Learnings from an East London-night walk

When venturing into new-to-me-places for ethnographic research, I do like to either chat up-taxi drivers or random people in the streets in order to get to know their framing and perspective on their place. This helps me with settling-in and also with what you could call ‘cultural calibration’.

This time round, I took a spontaneous night walk in East London, just after prepping the following day’s research activities. While street-strolling, I chatted up a Bangladeshi dude that had just tossed away the remainders of what was a joint. He said that he would walk East London’s streets at nights endlessly, and that he would love taking me for a ride, if I were up for it.

The alleys and corridors of East London were full of energy and subversive art. Mostly graffiti. At some point, we passed by a brick wall, plastered with tiles of miniature artwork. While I generally photo-shot the hell out of the district, I also took an image of a ‘Mr. Dick Pic’-tile. Just because I thought it was a good laugh, I shared this image with my spontaneous night-guide – right from the back-display of the camera.

Now, it turned out that this photograph elicits quite a story in my new-found-friend:

He went on narrating that this tile must refer to what we might call subversion or street hacking: because parts of East London were pretty run down, and because of the city government refusing to refurbish, an artist was seeking own inventive ways. Spraying ‘dick pics’ onto public space, it turned out, made the government fresh-paint walls and even redo street-asphalt, all in an effort to erase the disturbing imagery from public gaze.

Turned out this ‘adverse effect’ encouraged many more people in East London to roam out into the streets, and to do just the very same: ‘dick pic-mark’ whatever they considered to be in need of some fresh paint or renovation. The rule was simple but straightforward: spray a dick-grafiti onto whatever, and the next day it will be all covered-up, in new fresh color.

The learning of the story might be three things:

  1. The power of cultural calibration as a technique of settling into the scene;
  2. the power of an image as a research stimuli to generate rich narrative insight; as well as
  3. the inventiveness of people to life-hack, subvert and appropriate their immediate life-world.

Book-chapter on “Media and Cultural Education” published

It has been a little while that I had the pleasure to attend the conference „Education is Relation not Output? – Scenes of Knowledge and Knowledge Acquisition“ (May 17th-19th 2016) at Linnaeus University in Växjö, Sweden.

The talk and workshop that I gave within the panel „Art, Visual Culture and Media” has now been published as a book chapter:

Waltinger, Michael (2017): Media and Cultural Education – A Means to Social Cohesion in a Multicultural (Media) World. In: Rodríguez Sieweke, Lara (ed.): Learning Scenarios for Social and Cultural Change. Bildung through Academic Teaching. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Edition, pp. 171 – 183.

Here is the abstract:

In an increasingly mediatized world (Lundby; Hepp & Krotz)media usage is as much entangled in everyday life as everyday life is mediated (Röser; Paus-Hasebrink). The media are important agents of socialization (Hoffmann & Mikos)and are involved in the social construction of the world, as they carry social meaning and reproduce dominant social norms and ideologies (Devereux). In doing so, the media contribute to audiences forms of knowledge, not only about their immediate social surroundings but also about more distant contexts, places and cultures (ibid.).

As the world also becomes an increasingly globalized place, the flow of media images generally follows this trend. It does so, however, in a quite unequal fashion, creating what might be called a divided global village, whereas uneven flows of media images in their „re-presentation“ (ibid.) often reproduce the inequalities of the social world (Waltinger; Hall, Evans & Nixon).⁠ Additionally, both immigration countries where good parts of the population are foreign-born and the current refugee situation testify that it is also the flow of people that tends to become more global, making the world a smaller and denser place.

When globalized media worlds increasingly become intercultural life worlds, media education has to become part of essential education, because it is desirable that people are able to competently navigate through and participate in those media-life-worlds (Süss, Lampert & Wijnen).  Cultural education needs to become integral, since the concepts of cultural relativism and cultural sensitivity (Jandt) allow to appreciate different cultures without measuring them against own standards. The university as a place for social development could and should be a forum in which such knowledge is actively formed.

Talk on “Interrogating M4D-tales: some sociostructural aspects of ICTs and social change in everyday-life” at the Nordic Africa Days 2016 (Uppsala University)


Photograph of the conference-bag (© Michael Waltinger, 2016)

Having been able to contribute to the Nordic Africa Institutes (NAI) Nordic Africa Days 2016 at Uppsala University was a great pleasure as well as a fruitful and stimulating experience.

It is not often that one has the opportunity to meet over 200 researchers from more than 36 countries, of which a vast part were African nations. Not only was it very exciting from an academic point of view, but also culturally enriching and great to make new friends and deepen existing relationships.

Personally, I have mostly attended panels around the broader areas of “ICT and Mobile Media”“Feminism” and “Urbanity and Urban Infrastructure”, which again, was a very enriching experience.

I have contributed to the first area myself with a talk in Panel 10: Gender at the cutting edge: ICTs, social media and social change in East Africa. The panel was organized by Ylva Ekström (Uppsala University, Sweden) and Hilda Arntsen ( Oslo and Akershus College, Norway), who have done a stellar job in putting the panel together in such a thoughtful way.

My contribution was a talk titled
Interrogating M4D-tales: some sociostructural aspects of ICTs and social change in everyday-life. 

Here is an abstract of the talk:

Author: Michael Waltinger (University of Education, Ludwigsburg Germany)

The integration of new media into the everyday and different dimensions of social life are deeply intertwined. Life structures are reflected by the way how media are embedded and given meaning to. The mobile phone in that regard allows, for instance, to examine aspects of the social structures (e.g. roles and mutual expectations) of men and women in society.

While the agency of the subject and increasing availability of media devices need to be stressed in media participation and social change, the importance of structural challenges must not be overlooked. As issues of media access diminish, issues of knowledge, skills and resources gain importance – especially in lower-income urban settings and among women.

Media participation is no sure-fire success initiated by media availability – techno-euphoria needs to be ‘handled with care’. While people certainly bring media competencies with them and also appropriate new competencies in their daily media usage, structural constraints are real and self-socialisation in media usage has its boundaries – these are marked by the life conditions of and (educational) resources available to people.

Women in urban Kenya often are part of the informal economy, do not advance much beyond primary education, and there often is a lack in public media education. At the same time, women do often voice need and interest in maximizing their knowledge in order to fully utilize mobile media to their needs. Structural constraints, however, keep them from attending workshops, skill trainings, and the like. The daily hustle and struggle as well as the social responsibility of woman for caring (and often providing) for their families make it difficult to attend trainings or workshops. Hence, while it is often the less-educated and socio-economically disadvantaged that would want assistance the most, these are exactly the people for whom it is most difficult to benefit from respective opportunities.