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Book Review: Making Digital Cultures - Access, Interactivity, and Authenticity

Lina Coelho finds this study of the cultural terrain of modern institutions, where digital and analogue objects co-exist, both challenging and thought-provoking.

This book is about cultural continuity and change. It focuses on the debates about the impact of 'new technology' and 'the digital age' on the shaping of cultural spaces, the discourses between 'producers' and 'consumers' and the changing fabric of modern institutions. The effects of various digitisation endeavours on institutional identities and practices and on individual behaviours are analysed in order to demonstrate how digital technologies are 'enfolded into the fabric of specific institutional and broader cultural environments.'

Making Digital Cultures invites us to reflect on how digital media shape events and practices and how they are in turn shaped by cultural experiences. Here digitisation is defined as a 'cultural problematic' in the broader sense. Key ideas and concepts from social and cultural theory are organised around the interpretation of digital cultural production as 'narratives of promise and threat'. These narratives are mapped at the economic, social and political level and viewed through the concepts of flow, rather than structure; network, rather than state, and horizontal information rather than hierarchical knowledge.

The theoretical dimensions of 'the plurality of understanding of digital culture' are brought together with three studies (the library, the business organisation and the archive) of how different institutions adopt these technologies. The digital technology 'narratives of threat and promise' are examined in terms of the potential for democratisation/ de-democratisation and struggle for control. But it is through 'examining local engagements with [the] technology that the continuous/ discontinuous characteristics of digital culture are … illuminated'. The analysis of these three institutions brings to life the complex processes and locally enacted parameters that shape the 'enfolding' of any technical solution in specific circumstances. The library case study provides an example of reframing access as "communicative" rather then a learning issue. This presents evidence for the ambivalence of the discourses and the materials of digital culture. In the second example is an illustration of the failure of digitisation to make a difference when vision and practice cannot be reconciled. The technical side can never be seen clearly without context. The final example, of the modern archive, raises the question of authenticity in relation to memory and culture and how this concept needs to be re-examined, re-negotiated and re-defined.

This thought-provoking work will help you evaluate and re-think the way organisations struggle to negotiate shifting corporate and personal cultural boundaries and expectations into manageable practices in a world where digital offerings sit besides analogue objects.

This is a book which is topical and challenging, brilliantly researched and original, well referenced and polemic, combining theoretical approaches and empirical analysis. The author, Martin Hand, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology at Queen's University, Canada, has put substantial work in bringing together perspectives, arguments and insights. The expectation is that the reader too will have to put in sustained intellectual effort, keep an open mind and re-appraise personal experiences.

Author Details

Lina Coelho
Sub-Librarian BMA Library

Email: lcoelho@bma.org.uk

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