Summertime, Scrapy and Civic Media

When a semester finishes, there are really two options:

  1. Act like you’re a kid and enjoy three months of slip-‘n-slides, riding bikes, slumber parties, junk food and TV.
  2. Keep working.

As tempting as that first option is, after you finish grade school, it’s not very feasible. If you’re a teacher, you have to prepare for the next semester, writing syllabi, class plans, course outlines, and taking the time to pursue studies in the field you chose (if you’re into that sort of thing). If you’re an undergrad, you probably have to get a job, but you might do an internship. And if you’re a grad student like me, you continue the awkward shuffle of “extremely-busy-yet-seemingly-lazy.” You have to plan for your thesis. There is always research to do. If you’re motivated, you could think about conferences and submitting papers or abstracts. And the amount of reading material available to self-starters never ends – presumably you know of Negri and Hardt’s Empire, yes? did you know it’s the first part of a trilogy? You’d better get cracking!

I’d really love to sit around, watch old episodes of Star Trek: TNG, and spend time with my summer reading. I’m getting back into fiction, slowly. I’m halfway through The Name of the Rose, and I have another Eco book, as well as Wittgenstein’s Mistress and Infinite Jest waiting for me. Color me ambitious. But as much as I need a break, I’m crucially aware that I have one more year of coursework, then when my master’s thesis is done I better have my plans together for a doctoral program if I want to stay on track.

Thesis Work & Scrapy

I laid out a basic methodology for my thesis project I’m working on last semester, and I’m continuing to refine the subject (though I really like where it’s at right now) before I even submit the proposal, but it deals with participatory rhetoric and framing of new political movements mediated by digital networks. I’d like to do a critical discourse analysis between the types of framing that a movement applies to itself or the way they articulate their ideology and the way the “greater public” conceives it. This all deals with digital content or texts found online, so I’m trying to determine what’s the best way to gather my data. And I have a pretty neat solution (which I wish I’d come up with doing my methodologies class).

Scrapy is, in it’s own words, “an application framework for crawling web sites and extracting structured data which can be used for a wide range of useful applications, like data mining, information processing or historical archival.” With it, you can create web spiders that capture anything on the pages you specify. We’d talked a little about data mining in class, but this tool looks like it could specifically suit my needs – if I can only figure it out!

I spent the whole day figuring out some basics of Python on Mac OSX, but it’s been a long time since I’ve done any sort of programming. I’m not really fond of it, but I knew it’d be inevitable before I needed to learn again. The thing is, data mining and web crawling would be an excellent data collection tool for digital research methods – so long as I can wrap my head around it! I’d love to explain more, but it will take a few more days before I really know what I’m doing.

Youth Rights Media & Remember Me

Beyond that, work at Youth Rights Media continues: a few more weeks until the kids are done with the spring semester, then our summer program begins. Last Wednesday they screened the rough cut of Unspoken, a documentary film about gun violence in New Haven. In our programing meetings, the staff is trying to decide how things can change for the better. We’ve been talking about how we’ll structure the fall semester to begin with a focus on journalism skills and media literacy – that way, they’ll be utilizing those abilities as documentarians, and hopefully, they’ll be able to create a better film with more personal ownership from each student.

Unfortunately I think our first civic media/public art project “Remember Me” will not be completed. Two major issues stand in our way; first, outreaching for the project has always been hard, as it deals with a sensitive topic and requires a deep knowledge of our goals to communicate. Second, we tried to go through official channels to make it happen – contacting various city to get approval to install the signs in the locations where victims of homicide were murdered. The bureaucratic mess this entails makes completing even one of the signs an absolute nightmare. We can’t mount them to existing poles, for whatever reason. So then we have to create our own mount. Which means digging and pouring concrete on city property. Which means getting that patch of grass on the side of the road reviewed by the utility company so that we know there are no wires/water lines/whatever.

Beyond that, board members and community supporters of YRM have expressed… reservations with the very nature of the project. While I have, shall we say, very strong reactions to these reservations, I can understand how YRM as an organization cannot continue supporting this project to completion. It just makes me wish I’d done the whole thing under the radar ala the Tactical Design/Guerrilla Media principles by which it was inspired.

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