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Ecomedia at COCE 2013

2013 June 9
by smonani

I’ve spent the last three days attending the International Environmental Communication Association’s COCE conference hosted for the first time outside the US. Hosted by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, the conference has been a treat. Small, relative to other conferences like ASLE, and with a smorgasbord of panel options that capture the breadth of work IECA encapsulates, from practitioners at the frontlines of journalism and community conflict management to social science researchers interested in content and discourse analysis to scholars of rhetoric and cultural studies, COCE made room for some interesting ecomedia research.

I was delighted to see the full room at the panel I was on with five other ecocinema scholars. Pietaari Kaapa chaired, and presented on audience studies, comparing the cultural heterogeneity across Chinese national and class boundaries. Pat Brereton and his PhD student Chao Ping Hong both presented on audience studies too. While Pat framed their project’s intention to bring clarity to many of our current humanitist scholarly assumptions on what we think audiences think, Chao Ping’s work dove into the Q method of analysis familiar to social science researchers to suggest ways of getting at some of this audience complexity. Both used Irish audiences as their case studies. Helen Hughes moved us from audiences to thinking about documentaries as part of an audio-visual forum for environmental debate, using Josh Fox’s Gasland and the subsequent documentary and YouTube responses (e.g., Truthland) and counter-responses (Gasland 2). I presented on Miranda Brady and my work on the ImagineNative film festival, and Steve Rust “jabbered” in to discuss the need for ecomedia scholars to engage with media ecology scholars and vice versa. Presentations were 10 minutes each, leaving lots of room for Q&A including thoughts on television as a site for productive analysis.

The panel discussion served as a nice way to segway to an interesting panel I attended the next day on Transmedia organized by Jennifer Good, which also featured Richard Doherty, Kevin DeLuca, Geo Takah, and one of the blog’s regular contributors, Joe Clark. As a whole the presenters gave us much to think about regarding the functions and purposes of transmediated forums, from Joe’s thought on the potentials of multi-user platforms (such as Second Life) to resist control of property rights and to educate about the environment to Richard’s call for a queering of transmedia platforms as a mode of resistance, to Jennifer’s exploration of the uses and gratifications of transmedia by hegemonic and counter-hegemonic affiliated groups (e.g., corporations and activists). Kevin’s argument for looking towards China as a model to explore transmedia negotiations as the West becomes less a Democracy (with a capital D) and more a site of regulated and restricted freedoms was thought-provoking, as was Geo’s creative film and extended media project to engage the Alberta Tar sands. I came away thinking about how the trans in transmedia can be used to productively push on the dichomoties of nature and technology that some of the discussions in various IECA panels still lingered on.

This morning I hopped between presentations, which further expanded media into the realm of performance (Jenny Alexander’s semiotic analysis of the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies; she also looked at Greenpeace protests) and Earth observation data (Chris Russill’s fascinating examination of GEOSS through a look at ozone discourse: how do we mediate immediately intangible phenomena such as UV indexes?).

All in all, IECA is rich with ecomedia scholarship that demonstrates communication scholars’ attempts to make sense of the many, many ways human, machine, and natural phenomena interact. It’s been a thought provoking few days made all the more memorable by collectively singing Mamma Mia at the IECA banquet hosted by our more than gracious and generous hosts here in Sweden, who also seem to have figured out that bikes are one of the best ways to solidly ground us in a human-machine relationship that makes it hard to render invisible the natural phenomena around us.

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