School of Culture and Communication - Theses

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    Rococo Film Aesthetics
    Harvey, Samuel ( 2021)
    This thesis conceives of film design as an art of surface that is rococo in nature. I analyse the films of Sofia Coppola as decorative rococo spaces that present emotional topographies. I then further argue that the surface of film design sparks the imagination, and its moving forms activate perceptual journeys.
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    A Stream Come True? The Rise Of Online TV In Australia And Its Impact On Drama Production (2015-2020)
    Scarlata, Alexa Francesca ( 2022)
    This thesis was concerned with the recent history of television drama production in Australia. From 2015-2020 an influx of new online TV services from both new, independent players and an ensuing focus by legacy providers on their own online platforms fundamentally disrupted broadcast and cable consumption and business models, such that television was increasingly online. Local television drama has traditionally been heavily regulated and subsidised by local government intervention but entering the market over the top of legislation that predated its existence, online TV threatened to disrupt its continued production. Given the scale of these industrial developments, I needed to consider two elements to conduct this analysis. First, what television ultimately was in Australia by the end of this period – how the local television ecology embraced online TV – and then what was made and how – the effect online TV had on the production of local television drama. Part A first considered the rapid uptake of subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) platforms – how these led audiences online with gusto. I catalogued Australia’s anticipation and informal engagement with these, the early causalities, niche players, and recent conglomerate entrants in the sector, before tracking the development, branding, and growth of local market leaders Stan and Netflix. There are now myriad SVOD services operating in Australia, but 2015-2020 was also riddled with experiments, failures, protraction, and disruption. The next two chapters assessed how television natives in Australia tried to follow audiences online with varying levels of success. Commercial incumbents followed audiences online with their respective broadcaster video-on-demand (BVOD) services. While launched somewhat begrudgingly, these have become integral to the brand identity and accessibility of these legacy players, as well as to the measurement of their ratings success and advertising value. Given their largely non-commercial remit and different metrics of success, Australia’s public service broadcasters (PSBs) have been able to embrace online TV, reframing their operations as multiplatform entities by trying to afford broadcast television an ‘equal digital life’ (Guthrie as cited by Hayes, 2016). Part B then looked to the impact that online TV has had on local drama production, a culturally significant but arguably endangered genre. I found that the formal arrival of online TV exacerbated decades-long decreases in its production. First, despite initial anticipation about a potential drama boom being precipitated by SVODs, growth was much slower and restrained than many expected or hoped. New original commissions by these services were limited up until 2020 and production strategies were restrained by the reach of the service. Commercial incumbents have met their content obligations in recent years, but they have by no means exceeded them. Australian audiences have been watching drama on free-to-air BVODs and so broadcasters have experimented with early online premieres and companion web series, but the prohibitive cost of producing drama has seen it maintain a secondary role to lucrative reality primetime programming. Investment in drama by the ABC and SBS also waned over the period considered, but release strategies and commissioning processes of the PSBs have shifted to respond to online logics. The remaining chapters reflected on some of the lessons and opportunities that can be gleaned from this recent history about the symbiotic relationship between old and new TV players. This thesis asked whether the rise of online TV has been a “stream come true” for Australian drama producers. It found that while online TV has provided rather limited support for the development of original Australian television drama, it has proven advantageous for the distribution of existing local drama and the likely future production of content with an increasingly global focus.
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    Public life data and placemaking: Reflections from Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market
    Whitworth, Fiona Jane ( 2022)
    Over the past decade, the promise of digital data to reveal new insights on the public life of the city has encouraged civic investment in data infrastructures. Sensor technologies are now embedded within the city and measures of pedestrian activity are routinely presented as indicators of city vibrancy. Yet despite this prevalence, opportunities to study the processes, relationships and motivations driving contemporary place-based data practices have eluded scholars. Practices are often evasive and hidden from view. Publicly disseminated accounts of new technologies regularly promote the benefits, remaining silent on the challenges of deploying new technologies. Consequently, empirical research is difficult for non-practitioners to undertake. The aim of this dissertation is to demystify the production of digital data and examine its implications for placemaking practice. To do so, I play dual roles; practitioner and researcher. My work as a practitioner allows me access to unique data sources, while my perspective as a researcher provides the methods and tools with which to evaluate my own experiences. This dissertation begins by situating contemporary forms of (big, digital) data collection as part of a longer history of place-based data collection, emanating from the grounded research that has characterised placemaking practice from its beginnings. Drawing on critical data studies, I review the work of early practitioners, focusing on Jacobs and Whyte to find evidence of the long entanglement of placemaking with data practices. This foregrounds my empirical contribution in this work; an auto-ethnographic case study of technology deployment at Queen Victoria Market. Through this contextualised account, I argue that recent opportunities for placemaking to apply contemporary data practices and advance the study public life have been diverted by broader trends towards urban datafication and quantification. The first and second chapters of the dissertation set out the aims, key ideas and scholarly concerns of the study. Then, to support my argument, chapters three and four trace the origins of placemaking to examine how early research methods have evolved through the introduction of digital technologies and automation. The fifth chapter shifts focus to Melbourne in the 1990s and allows me to contextualise developing place data practices and techniques as evidence of an emergent ‘indicator culture’. I then introduce Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market in the sixth chapter through an exploration of the various ways of knowing that have been construed and mobilised at the marketplace through data. The seventh chapter presents an auto-ethnographic account of people counting technologies trialled at Queen Victoria Market. My description of the four systems: their commissioning, deployment and, in some cases, their demise, is largely drawn from evidence I gathered during the period 2014-2018 when I worked for market management. This positionality is an unavoidable by-product of my research: my practitioner role afforded me access yet complicates my relationship to the subject. Through these accounts, I describe the behind-the-scenes processes involved in the production of ‘raw data’ to reveal that through its construction and presentation digital data is never neutral. I close by calling for a critically engaged placemaking practice, one that seeks to proactively explore the potential for data to advance and develop the field, rather than passively participate in processes that undermine its humanistic ambitions.
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    Specta(c)torship in Net Art(?): Individuation After Simondon
    Bacaran, Mihai ( 2022)
    This thesis constructs a new theoretical framework for understanding the process of spectatorship in net art. Recent theoretical debates in this field have problematized the concepts of 'artwork' and 'artist' by understanding the production of net art as an ongoing negotiation of a complex network of relations. Complementing these discourses, I aim to problematize in a similar sense the figure of the embodied spectator, to show that the body engaged in the process of spectatorship is not and cannot be assumed to be a 'human' body. In order to do so, this thesis critically engages with Gilbert Simondon’s philosophy, proposing to understand net art spectatorship as a process of individuation through which the embodied thinking subject emerges, always unequal with itself, as a product of relations. At the same time, the problematic of spectatorship requires rethinking the fundamental premisses of Simondon’s theory of individuation. I argue that the ontogenetic problematic outlined by Simondon (the becoming of being) has to be complemented by a phenomenogenetic one (the question of genesis of genesis of phenomena: the genesis of specific ways in which phenomena emerge). Upon this background, the process of spectatorship is understood as the problematization of the conjunction between the ontogenetic and phenomenogenetic dimensions of individuation. The specificity of net art spectatorship rests upon the type of embodied subjectivity that is problematized and deconstructed in this process, namely a particular instantiation of the modern 'human' subject contingent on the functioning of contemporary digital objects.
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    A ‘standard’ Topic?: Theatre, Young People and the Everyday Postdigital
    Trott, Abbie Victoria ( 2021)
    This thesis investigates how theatre examines and interrogates the integration of young people’s everyday experience of digital technologies into theatrical performance. Using a multimodal approach, I examine what I describe as everyday postdigital theatre across four contemporary Australian theatre productions involving young people aged 13-22 in different ways. These case studies engage with everyday postdigital theatre across five mechanisms: networks, replication and simulation, real and virtual, time and space and glitches and mess. These mechanisms are traced across an examination of changed approaches to storytelling, aesthetic innovations and theatre’s technical reconfiguration within larger networks of information and image production. The central contribution of this thesis is that theatre involving young people highlights fundamental shifts that are currently underway in the relationship between digital culture and theatre. These shifts point to the ways in which the digital is an increasingly everyday aspect of the way we perceive and realise theatre, rather than a spectacular feature in its own right. This study is significant because it recognises that theatre ‘post’ the digital does not negate digitality, but rather acknowledges that theatre is now made with reference to, and by often seamlessly integrating, the everyday digital environment surrounding it. By focusing on young people, the thesis provides concrete examples of successes in navigating contemporary digital manifestations. It is a close reading of the subtle pervasiveness of the digital beyond overt mediation and argues for the realness of the everyday digital in theatre.
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    Communicative Practices and Online Clothes Shopping: Algorithms, Identity and Circulation
    Relf, Ella Phoebe Joy ( 2022)
    This thesis interrogates the relationship between personalised digital environments, their users, and practices of identity-portrayal through a critical inquiry into communicative exchanges surrounding clothing. As participatory communicative environments and algorithmic recommendation systems have become more pervasive, users have been increasingly enfolded into the content of online commerce. We still have limited insight into how these curated experiences are perceived, ‘felt’ and narrativised by individuals, and do not well understand how people integrate iterative systems with modes of identity and sense of self. To gain insight into this space, this thesis focuses on the circulation of clothing through digital environments. It asks what communicative practices surrounding online clothing consumption and digital algorithmic environments can tell us about current modes of identity work. In so doing, it proposes that examining a consumer object (like clothing) can serve as a gateway to cross-sectional understandings of digital marketing strategies, targeted content, algorithmic environments, brand and style communities, interest groups, and user practices across the fragmented spaces of digital media. Data was collected using a mixed methods approach based on semi-structured, in-depth interviews combined with digital ethnography and trace interview techniques. Two groups of adult women were selected as participants, one described as online clothing shoppers, and the other described as ‘experts’, responsible for disseminating clothing-based media and engaging with a female-skewed digital audience. Collected data was then analysed using discourse analysis and grounded theory techniques, to evaluate how individuals negotiated, experienced, and represented identity through communications in online media use. The findings are discussed in the context of multidisciplinary research across media communication, platform studies, digital marketing, and identity literature involving communication, consumption and clothing. This discussion evaluates communicative practices as modes of identity work in three ways: arguing first that the way participants imagined algorithmic environments had iterative effects on their experience, impelling them to self-reflexively narrativise their behaviour through a constant imaginative movement linking content to its potential source. Second, that affordances for self-expression across social media have compounded this imaginative space through questions of authenticity, motivating participants to manage their online content in ways that sought to resolve tensions between intuitive modes of expression and calculative performances of self. Third, that participant embeddedness in digital economies also branched into socio-material practices of exchange, which imposed on users new social relations, consumption labours and affective energies. These findings show how digital environments begin to open up simultaneously as marketplaces where individuals make identity-laden choices by navigating moral principles and consumption desires, and as communicative spaces where identities are performed.
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    Reorienting the Art of Looking: Contemplating Emptiness in the Cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul
    Caillard, Duncan Alexander ( 2022)
    This thesis presents a systematic investigation of the moving image works of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, concentrating on the contemplative and non-representational dimensions of his creative practice. Apichatpong’s practice operates in the space between transnational art cinema and contemporary art and draws from a wide range of creative and conceptual influences from Theravada Buddhism to post-war American experimental filmmaking and contemporary ‘slow cinema,’ often diverging from conventional expectations of narrative cinema to dwell in moments of emptiness, contemplation and dead time. In this thesis, I trace these influences through Apichatpong’s feature films, short films and installations the formal appearances of stillness, silence and extended duration, and reflect upon the broader political and phenomenological implications of these empty moments. Rather than understand emptiness as an incidental feature of his creative practice, I argue that emptiness is integral to Apichatpong’s understanding of film form and the world. Through this investigation, I argue that Apichatpong’s idiosyncratic film practice challenges many of the basic structures of conventional film form and spectatorship by orienting away from narrative logics of cinematic meaning to instead sensitise spectators to other ways of being in and experiencing the world.
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    Reassembling Digital Placemaking: Participation and Politics
    Lu, Fangyi ( 2021)
    Digital placemaking is an emerging phenomenon generally understood as the intersection of placemaking practices with digital media technologies. This thesis explores how citizens participate in digital placemaking and how digital placemaking can inform urban politics. Viewing digital placemaking through an assemblage lens, I use a single-site case study and ANT-informed ethnography to demonstrate digital placemaking as a relational site of contentions and collaborations among activists, professionals and governments without observance of strict boundaries. This thesis interrogates the participatory practices of digital placemaking, challenges existing hierarchical participatory models and conceptualises the politics of digital placemaking. Overall, I argue that digital placemaking provides a new testing ground for urban democracy.
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    Trainable Tongues: Performing English Speech Pedagogies in the Philippines from the American Colonial Classroom to Online Tutorial Platforms
    Serquiña, Jr., Oscar Tantoco ( 2021)
    Since the American colonial period, Filipinos have been performing English speech pedagogies to generate socioeconomic capital. Remarkably, despite how much Filipinos take pride in the sheer number of Anglophone speakers among their ranks, there have been no previous in-depth studies explaining how Filipinos teach, study, and perform English speech. How do they hone their proficiencies in speaking? What discursive mechanisms construct their ideas and ideals about public speakers or oral communicators? And what embodied practices do they take up in order to attain a degree of communicative competence? This thesis fills this scholarly gap by assembling a myriad of archival materials from the 20th to the 21st centuries that demonstrates how Filipinos have occupied five main sites—namely, colonial classrooms, modern universities, academic departments, privately-owned training centers, and online tutorial platforms—in which they engender various types of English speech pedagogies that determine what kinds of speakers deserve attention and reproduction. Furthermore, in these locations, Filipinos mount numerous performances through which they fulfill an array of communicative roles and emphasize the centrality of the spoken word in their lives. Employing historiographical, performance, and discourse analyses, this thesis illustrates that the study and practice of speech in the Philippines have manifested as a colonial apparatus, a form of social capital, a disciplinary knowledge and practice, a commodity, and a kind of digital labor. Collectively considered, these manifestations point to how speech, especially in the English language, has served as a vital mode of social reproducibility among Filipinos and an important marker of their modernity. This is to say that how they speak, how they represent themselves as speaking subjects, and how they participate in speech-related activities or events become the primary means for them to be remarkable to and remarked upon by other people in and beyond their country. Another key finding of this thesis relates to how more than a century’s worth of speech pedagogies and performances in the Philippines rests upon ideologies such as civility, rationality, efficiency, marketability, and progress. These ideologies give importance to fluent speeches and competent speakers, while at the same time marginalizing or, even worse, excluding those that are classified as otherwise. Hence, this thesis calls for accounts that not only bring to the fore these biases and blind spots of speech study and practice, but also work toward critically interrogating, if not imaginatively reworking, the enduring epistemologies and methodologies that comprise educational systems in charge of training Filipinos how to use a language, take control of a stage, and communicate with or before varied publics.
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    Platform publishing in the entertainment ecosystem: Experiences of marginalised authors on Amazon and Wattpad
    Parnell, Claire Louise ( 2022)
    Digital platforms have reshaped the cultural industries and restructured relationships between media sectors, including book publishing. Digital platforms, which facilitate greater access to forms of cultural production and in doing so promise a potential for greater cultural inclusion in the book industry, act as powerful mediators for self-published authors. This thesis examines the experiences of authors of colour and queer authors who self-publish romance fiction on Amazon and Wattpad as case studies of the platformisation of publishing. This thesis is guided by the questions: 1) What are the experiences of historically marginalised romance authors on digital publishing platforms? 2) How do platforms mediate the publishing experiences of these authors by encouraging or limiting their opportunities? 3) How do digital publishing platforms fit within the broader entertainment ecosystem of traditional publishing and media production? And finally, 4) What are the experiences of romance authors from historically marginalised groups in this expanded entertainment ecosystem? Located at the intersection of platform studies, publishing studies, and media ecology, this thesis uses Jose van Dijck’s (2013) connective ecosystem framework to investigate the social, cultural, technological, and economic features of Amazon and Wattpad’s platform microsystems. Extending van Dijck’s theorisation of the social media ecosystem, this thesis conceives of a broader entertainment ecosystem that positions digital publishing platforms alongside traditional cultural producers. The methods include in-depth interviews with 14 authors of colour and queer authors, a walkthrough of websites, metadata analysis, discourse analysis of terms of service, and a review of grey literature, including industry reports and blogs. This thesis argues that digital publishing platforms are transforming processes of production and adaptation in the cultural industries but reinforce systems of marginalisation and exclusion through their interfaces and affordances, commercial structures, governance systems, and algorithms, and thus undermine the potential for greater cultural diversity and inclusion in media and publishing.