[Air-L] Let's Talk About AoIR

Alison Powell a.powell at lse.ac.uk
Sat Jun 1 01:50:40 PDT 2013


It's my turn, apparently. I've been really enjoying this discussion, not 
least because some of my favorite thinking-people have been 
contributing, and I don't get to see those people IRL as much any more.

My first EVER academic conference was AoIR in Toronto. I was a MASTER'S 
student and I felt completely out of my league. But people were really, 
really nice and good to me. Not just nice as in "remembering my name", 
but nice as in, "providing constructive criticism and treating me like a 
colleague". To me, that was the key difference between AoIR and other 
conferences - the collegiality. That collegiality also extended to the 
list, and to the interactions I had with AoIR folks outside of conferences.

I haven't been able to make it to an AoIR conference in a couple of 
years, but I participated remotely in Terri's Kissing Booth in 2011 and 
last year I attempted to virtually "crash" the last AoIR banquet using 
Twitter. The lovely people who were so nice to me in 2003 perhaps 
appreciated that too; as a Master's student I didn't have enough money 
to go to the banquet and AoIR let me go anyway. Then they sat me with 
real live professors who I had hilarious conversations with.

Ten years is a long time. It's enough time for edgy grad students to 
finish their studies and struggle through postdocs and finally find 
jobs, and it's enough time for technologies too to become 
institutionalized.  The thing that was still "emerging" and "hybrid" and 
strange and weird and exciting (at least to academics) in 2003 is now 
the main infrastructure of commerce, government information, and vast 
parts of our everyday social interaction.

This means that many more people want to study it, and makes conference 
organizing much more work because the conference has to negotiate with 
the broader institutionalization of 1. the phenomenon and 2. the 
scholarship of the phenomenon. That's hard to do, especially if you want 
to leave room for creative and edgy stuff, as well as leaving room to be 
really nice to people who are just getting their ideas and careers 

I'm in favour of retaining the "big tent" approach in conferences, on 
the list and in other venues. I think it represents what's best and most 
interesting about AoIR - the collegiality and open-mindedness. There are 
now dozens of other entities that are trying to get a piece of internet 
studies. I've been to the Web Science conferences. I'm now apparently 
part of a network of experts on Internet Science (!! My reflexive STS 
scholar-self finds this hilarious !!).

These places are not doing what AoIR has been doing, although they are 
also contributing to attempts to make Internet Studies into a 
recognizable field. I'm not sure that's exactly what's required. We all 
know that the Internet is not one thing, and even if it were, it 
wouldn't stay that way. AoIR has been a place to be thoughtful about the 
messiness of this process, from a variety of perspectives. We still need 
to have places to explore the margins of technology/society 
interactions, even when there's pressure to form and defend a single centre.

I'm sorry I won't see you in Denver. It's too far for this time. But if 
I have even the slightest opportunity, you'll find me squatting the 
Twitter feed, IM-ing in questions for the keynote speakers, or generally 
trying to be as productively disruptive as possible - on the internet.


Dr Alison Powell
Lecturer in Media and Communication
London School of Economics
Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE
a.powell at lse.ac.uk
Twitter: @a_b_powell

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