College Quarterly
Summer 2004 - Volume 7 Number 3
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Wonderful Websites

by Howard Doughty

Though sometimes dismissed as a technophobe (untrue) and a Luddite (true, and proud of it), I can confidently say that I programmed my first computer when the parents of most contemporary "techies" had barely busted into puberty. In the autumn of 1967, I had to punch out hundreds of IBM cards to get a monstrous machine, tended by intense men in white (lab coats), to perform mathematical operations that would take my now antique desk top computer a nanosecond to complete and send off to Australia, if that were needed. I am not intimidated. So it goes.

Now, I begin my daily routine by browsing through the morning papers—The New York Times, The Washington Post and Britain's Guardian, all on-line. Friends send me articles from Harper's, The New Yorker and the Village Voice. I reciprocate with whatever I have at hand. Instantaneously (or as close to it as I can notice), virtual words fly back and forth across my many personal "networks" constructing what passes for a set of enlightening electronic seminars with former teachers (yes, some are still alive), friends and colleagues, and former students in Honolulu, Vancouver, Kelowna, Edmonton, Kansas City, Thunder Bay, Kingston, Ottawa and, occasionally, Wolfville, Nova Scotia—to say nothing of England, India, Mexico and Chile.

What is astonishing about this pattern of life is that there is nothing astonishing about it. Many people do similar things, some on a very much grander scale, with their own web pages and blogs and so on. When I consider that my father was born in the year that the Wright brothers took to the air at Kitty Hawk, and that I was thirteen before my family purchased its first television, the winds of change can easily seem like a twister.

When, however, I find myself e-mailing messages to the person whose desk is three metres from mine, or carrying on a year-long dialogue with a person (his name is Joe Goeller) I have never met and whose location I do not know (I believe that it is somewhere in the US Central time zone), I sense the shade of Ned Ludd stirring. Before General Ludd arrives in high dudgeon declaiming the inhumanity of IT, the evident destruction of the Queen's English and all manner of social, economic and political catastrophes up to and including the merry extinction of indigenous cultures by Western technological hegemony, I thought it might be well to share (and to encourage others to share) a word or two about wonderful websites. Lacking brief "book" notes for this issue, here are some worthy websites that you may find of interest.

ctheory
<www.ctheory.net>

If there is a single person with a claim to the mantle of Marshall McLuhan, it is probably Arthur Kroker.

He created The Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory and published it from 1976 to 1991 as an exemplary peer-reviewed journal of critical thought. Envisioned as an independent intellectual publication, the CJPST quickly attracted to its pages an expanding circle of academics, writers, artists, and poets who explored forms of critical thinking that were historically engaged, politically critical, and theoretically diverse. The essence of the CJPST was its publication of new critical theory, from feminism and cultural studies to film theory and psychoanalysis. Its contributors included Stanley Aronowitz, Jean Baudrillard, Zymunt Bauman, Terry Eagleton, Anthony Giddens, Jurgen Habermas, Russell Jacoby, Ernesto Leclau, Claude Lefort, Herbert Marcuse, Toril Moi and Susan Sontag. No small potatoes!

Arthur Kroker, however, has long since abandoned the printed page. Moving from Concordia University in Montréal to the University of Victoria, he now heads the Pacific Centre for Technology and Culture.

On his website is an extraordinary inventory of books, articles and "event scenes" that express, explain and criticize what is fashionably called "postmodernism." Kroker and his colleagues are not for the faint of intellectual heart. His contributors sometimes offer dense analyses and can often be properly faulted for failing to make common language suffice when self-indulgence seems more attractive.

Nonetheless, thoughtful interpreters and practitioners of contemporary communications who remain willfully ignorant of Kroker's ideas are selling themselves unnecessarily short.

counterpunch
<www.counterpunch.com>

There are plenty of highly charged political venues in the print, broadcast and "cyber" media. Right-wing talk seems to dominate radio, with occasional exceptions such as National Public Radio in the US and the sensible middle road taken by the CBC in Canada. Corporate agendas generally triumph on television. The Internet, however, is wide-open. It takes little wit to locate cranked-up and cranky political websites and, considering the sensibilities of educators and their employers, sites such as counterpunch will no doubt earn their adversaries. Still, for well-written, forceful and usefully antidotal information to the normal fare on CNN and its host of derivative "news" programs, counterpunch is most certainly a fine alternative.

Journal of Mundane Behavior
<www.millersville.edu/~schaffer>

This is where you can find the thoroughly delightful Journal of Mundane Behavior. Launched by Scott Schaffer, a Ph.D. in Social and Political Thought from Toronto's York University (2000), JMD fills a nice niche in what may usefully be called the study of popular culture. Co-hosted by the Department of Sociology/Anthropology at Millersville University in Pennsylvania and the Department of Sociology and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at California State University, Fullerton, JMB is a blind peer-reviewed scholarly and publicly-oriented journal devoted to the study of the "unmarked"—those aspects of our everyday lives that typically go unnoticed by us, both as academics and as everyday individuals.

In addition to its more serious articles, JMB also provides for discussion groups and is currently calling for Rants for its new feature, Outburst. My hopes are high. In the late 1950s, there was a short-lived magazine called Grump: The Magazine for People Who Are Against All the Dumb Things that Are Going On. By providing this "virtual soapbox," I would like to think that JMB is carrying on the tradition of Grump's Henry Morgan, one time I've Got a Secret panelist and commendable curmudgeon-at-large.

The Innovation Journal
<www.innovation.cc>

Almost a decade ago, a career civil servant named Eleanor Glor began a labour of love. She created The Innovation Journal, a professional electronic journal dedicated to what many would imagine to be an oxymoron—a creative, socially aware and innovative civil service. In recommending it, I must immediately declare a "conflict of interest" because I have played a small part in the development of The Innovation Journal. Nonetheless, its regular publication, its participation in international programs and workshops and its tremendously stimulating "salons" are all the singular product of this remarkable woman. Not simply an online periodical, The Innovation Journal is also a forum for exchange of imaginative ideas readers wish to share. The Innovation Journal has been listed as one of the ten best public administration sites on the world-wide-web by both the Australian Public Administration Association and the American Society for Public Administration, the largest public administration organization in the world.

Anyone who easily denigrates bureaucracy but is willing to read The Innovation Journal will be in for a pleasant surprise.

Bad Subjects
<eserver.org/bs/>

I have saved the best for last. Bad Subjects is the whimsical title of a very fine website with a very important purpose. It has received rave reviews in the mainstream press but is nicely described by the Globe and Mail as an exemplary example of "the wired left," a site that Liz McMillen says (in the Chronicle of Higher Education) "revels in a self-consciously renegade spirit."

It is, however, not just fun. Bad Subjects takes its mandate to provide "political education for everyday life" very seriously indeed. Founded in September 1992, at the University of California at Berkeley, it is a non-dogmatic, jargon-free but academically credible, and genuinely "interactive" journal that has published some of the best essays on topics as diverse as film and popular culture, family and the state and war and revolution world-wide. Although it no longer appears in a print magazine format, it maintains a complete archive that can be downloaded (for free) using Adobe Acrobat. Meanwhile, it has broadened its mandate and now publishes books (including one by the previously mentioned Scott Schaffer) as well. Even its links to other sources are useful!

Bad Subjects is produced by a committed team whose volunteer labour, appropriate enough considering its noncommercial status, is organized in a non-hierarchical democratic collective—unusual, though not unique in the publishing industry and more unusual still in a demonstrably successful venture.

Give it a look; it will reward you well.


Howard A. Doughty teaches in the Faculty of Applied Arts and Health Sciences at Seneca College, King City. He can be reached at howard.doughty@senecac.on.ca or 416-491-5050, ext. 5195.

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2004 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology