Thursday, July 3, 2008

Interview with William Uricchio

So as in the last trips, I am doing interviews. The first was with William Uricchio, (and here's his page at Utrecht) from Utrecht University, and also MIT. In fact I knew William in the context of superhero comics long before I knew his new media work, but the latter turns out to be the thing bringing us together. We talked for quite a while; a recurring idea was the extent to which different cstituencies of the new media scene are fragmented, not communicating or working together. For example, academics ad hackers are not so much in touch anymore, or journalists and artists, unless they are journalists specifically covering art. This can be problematic in terms of knowledge production because people in these different field repeat the same research and come up with the same ideas over and over. Not that that's bad in itself, but just a waste of time and also leading to quite boring repetition in scholarly papers. --And this last seems harder to avoid than I would have thought, but lately I have found as well that so much work is produced that it's hard to keep track publications across disciplines on any one topic, especially since different terms are used in each discipline.

Anyway, back to William. He has been a professor at Utrecht University in the Media Studies group --which seems to have two or more different sets of pages-- and also teaches at MIT in the Comparative Media Studies department, which is where we first met. We talked about how he got into this field, and it was as a media historian. He takes a really long view of media history and had some thought-provoking ideas about when the history of new media starts, especially if you actually mean the history of virtuality, or digitization, etc. For awhile he was chair of the department at UU, but now that he essentially has one and a half jobs (seems almost full-time at both though) he doesn't have to deal with that. --But now he's co-director of CMS! He still is thinking about the future of the department and mentioned several challenges facing schools in the Netherlands right now. One is that the Hogeschool system (they are sort of professional schools) and the University system are being unified so that Universities and Hogeschools in every city are being pushed together. this creates all kinds of difficulties because the systems are very different and I would guess that in any case, being told to work together doesn't please anyone. I was surprised to learn that while Hogeschools can restrict their admissions and class sizes, Universities cannot.

Further, and I'm not sure if this is related to the above plan, media studies programs all over the country are jockeying for position--so for example, UU is starting to focus on games and locative media, while the media studies program at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) is trying to combine with informatics--but not clear yet whether that will suceed. This reminds me strangely of what happens in California; each branch of the UC and CSU system has to be sure they don't replicate programs at another branch and we are all supposed to be finding ways of being distinct. It that certain things at UU make it harder for them to distinguish themselves, one is that their students aren't held to high enough standards--I've heard this a from a few people now--and also, in the Dutch system, it seems that people can be tenured more quickly in the US and that once they are, their departments have no leverage if they don't keep up their work. But it's hard to tell exactly how things work because there are so many different grades of faculty, and many universities are changing their systems. I get the sense though that William is frustrated with the department at the moment.

This might also be connected with what I guess have so far been unsuccessful effort to for some kind of national-level organization of new media scholars in the Netherlands. It seems everyne agrees there should be one, but no one agrees on how it should be organized and discussion devolves into everyone just trying to claim turf. Talking about this problem, which I have also heard about from some others as well, lead of course to discussing funding. I'll save that for the next post though.

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