Beyond Utopia products

Alter/native Imagi/nations - 'semi-virtual' workshop


13 & 14 April 2012
Leiden University
Arsenaal building
Green Room
Friday 13 April 10.00 - 15.00
Saturday 14 April 10.00 - 15.00
Martin Roth (Leiden University, The Netherlands / The University of Tokyo) - PhD student Beyond Utopia project
Love Kindstrand (Sophia University, Japan)
Patrick W. Galbraith (Duke University, USA)
Further info
- open to public
- no attendance fee
- conference programme in pdf

Workshop outline

The tragic events of March 11, 2011, in particular the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima, have urged contemporary societies around the world to reflect on their future direction. At the same time, public discourse and political discussions in Japan reveal limitations: a capitalist system that stifles attempts to pursue alternative visions on a local or regional level, and leads to reforms that sustain rather than change the status quo. At far too high a cost, the Fukushima disaster and public discourse that followed demonstrate an acute lack of, and urgent need for, alternative visions to present society; an affliction of global capitalism pointed out by scholars from Frederic Jameson to Karatani Kojin.
In the last few decades, despite the high hopes for democratization and innovation once expressed towards contemporary media and their capacities to create global and local networks of knowledge, communities and spaces of imagination seem diminished. The recent catastrophe in Japan nevertheless urges critical inquiry into the potentials and limitations of media spaces, in an attempt to contribute to more general, global discussions about the present and future of society. One year after the earthquake that physically rocked the nation, this workshop aims to uncover a variety of possible contributions that contemporary Japanese media spaces can make to shaping and realizing alternative visions.
Contemporary media are increasingly complex and facilitate spaces of expression and engagement that increasingly outreach local or national boundaries and framings, as well as academic disciplines. In order to engage with this “ambiguity,” the workshop will bring together from around the globe a group of interdisciplinary scholars with multiple and varied perspectives on contemporary Japanese media, specifically the potentials and limitations that “media as space” and “space as media” might have for political alternatives and t he “imaginary” and “community.” We call for engagement that goes beyond established fields and methodologies. At the same time, the focus on “Japan” as an overarching theme itself demands a careful reflection on the role that the nation, or rather the imagi(ned)nation, plays and can play in scholarly work, thereby addressing methodological problems raised by area-specific engagement with contemporary, seemingly global media culture.

Semi-virtual workshop

Recognizing the search for the conditions of an alternative not only as a theoretical perspective, but also as a profoundly practical agenda, the workshop will actively explore the possibilities that contemporary media open for global academic engagements and their dissemination to an equally global, participating audience. In concrete terms, the workshop will consist of two groups of participants locally gathering at Leiden University, The Netherlands, and The University of Tokyo, Japan, linked by videoconferencing and social media. A master ustream channel will show the digital presentation and, alternatively, will combine video feeds of the two locations during the discussions. Both locations will further have visual access to their counterpart during the discussions, whereas the feed will concentrate on the material during presentations. Presenters and remote audience alike will, with exception of their time of presentation, be able to participate, on different levels, from any place they like.

The value and importance of face-to-face encounters is beyond doubt and will be encouraged as much as possible for this workshop. However, with limited financial resources in mind, this approach at the same time aims to be a first step towards adopting new formats of interaction in academic contexts by generating in media space dynamics that facilitate different means, channels and approaches to discourse as such. The characteristics of a media space of this kind urges us to think of new forms of presentation as much as it demands innovative ways of structuring discussion, which might, bearing both risks and potentials, lead to new viewpoints and approaches towards the core concepts and aims of the workshop. Multimedia presentations will be broadcast through screen sharing, so all that is needed in Leiden and Tokyo is a computer and a video camera, connected to the internet. This setup demands from the presenters to prepare digitalized visual material that can be fed directly into the ustream channel. Oral comments or statements on the visual material can be either recorded, or made on the spot in traditional manner.

Further, locating the workshop online will allow for a broader, active and participatory audience. In order to make the discussion accessible to and allow for interventions from an audience beyond the limits of physical presence at the workshop locations, we will employ technologies of online streaming, as well as tools for real-time communication such as Twitter. In this sense, the workshop not only aims at generating alternative discursive spaces for the participants present in Leiden and Tokyo, but experiments with the potentials and limitations a diffusion of the separation between the “speakers” and the “audience” itself might hold. If possible, we will work towards making the results of the workshop available for free online and inquire about the possibilities of print publishing.

The presenting participants will gather in Leiden and Tokyo for two days and will, keeping different time zones in mind, convene online for approximately six hours each day.
Choosing Leiden and Tokyo as nodal points, at which the presenters will gather, will allow us to bring together two geographically separated spaces/research environments concerned with the similar questions about Japanese media environments and their larger implications for society. The “semi-virtual” character of the workshop will empower the transnational network of scholars who understand their engagements with media and Japan as a contribution to the global field of critical media studies oriented towards political implications of an ever more complex, diversifying but also converging, media landscape.
The Beyond Utopia project is based at Leiden University's Institute for Area Studies and is made possible through the generosity and support of:
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