James Miller, professor of communications, holds a Ph.D. from the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Professor Miller's teaching and research mainly concern new media and political culture. He has a long interest in media technology, including laws and policies relating to freedom of expression. Recently, he has been contributing to the development of mediatization theory with a focus on emerging digital media, exploring near-term future trends of increasingly intelligent environments characterized by dispersed media. His earliest new media research concerned the internet predecessor videotex, known in France as Minitel. Miller's involvement in radio (he worked in FM during his student days and twice served on an NPR-affiliate board) includes comparative studies of community radio and the commercialization of French national radio.
Miller is interested in the changing experience of citizenship, which is increasingly more popular-cultural than overtly political. He also studies the use of culture in international relations as an exercise of soft power. This led him to analyze critically a form of Western foreign aid known as media assistance, which exports U.S. journalistic norms and practices as part of the "democratizing" process in post-communist, post-conflict, and post-colonial societies. He has also written about mainstream American journalism as an example of cultural modernism.
Miller’s published work has appeared in such major journals as Media, Culture and Society; Journal of Communication; European Journal of Communication; Global Media and Communication; Mobile Media and Communication; Association for Computing Machinery; and Nieman Reports as well as in edited volumes, and has been translated into French, Spanish and Russian. Miller chaired an annual international conference on telecommunications policy research, and edited its proceedings.
His research has been supported by the Canadian government, the Whiting Foundation, and IREX, among others. He has been a short-term fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a Fulbright researcher in Paris.
Miller is a member of the International Association for Media and Communication Research, the European Communication Research and Education Association, the International Communications Association and the Society for Social Studies of Science. He has been visiting professor at the MIT Media Lab and at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is a member of the graduate faculty of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Mediatization theory argues that as media become ubiquitous, their visibility as discrete devices lessens and their audio-visual functionalities recede into the environment. So, for example, a mirror might detect your blood pressure while you comb your hair, transmitting it to your doctor who could send instructions to your electronically enhanced pill container to change the dosage. Mediatization theory also claims that media "logics" are an increasing source of power, one that influences other social institutions, like politics, to align themselves to the special conditions of media representation and simulation: more and more social activities become media events. This course explores these theoretical claims with a special emphasis on the new-media technologies - like the internet of things, wearables, smart buildings - that are the engines of this transformation. Working in groups, students will specialize in one technology, writing an essay and a final paper.
Soft power refers to forms of international relations that are not militaristic or otherwise coercive - or "hard." The usual means of soft power are cultural ones. Nation-states increasingly brand themselves (the Danes are the happiest people on earth), foster exportable experience economies (EuroDisney), and produce globally circulating news (Voice of America). National regions, corporations, religions and NGOs all engage in similar behavior. The goal is a kind of impression management, creating favorable public opinion abroad toward a way of life, a product or a geographic place. These activities, which blur the private and public sectors, raise important questions about propaganda, cultural imperialism and other issues that are often difficult to untangle from strictly economic and geo-political matters. This course will critically explore US public diplomacy mainly, but also efforts by multilateral organizations like the UN and by international NGOs. China and India may be featured case studies. In addition to regularly assigned readings, there will be an essay and a final paper.
The traditional ideal of the political citizen is in decline, and now is often understood as unrealizable. Many people don't have sufficient political knowledge or don't participate politically beyond making a campaign contribution. Instead, citizenship is experienced in popular-cultural terms, like being a fan. Politics becomes a game of style; attention to it through the media becomes a source of pleasure. Recognizing these new conditions, there are innovative experiments to channel the everyday creativity of citizens into small-scale, culture-oriented politics. These include the production of hyper-local news and virtual organizing for activism. This course will explore the "creative citizen" against a backdrop of mediated politics. Students will create a portfolio of examples and design new projects, including political theatre and activities in local schools and government. Our goal will be to test the feasibility of new kinds of political engagement that are documented in a recent 30-month British project (http://creativecitizens.co.uk/).
This advanced seminar reverses the telescope on the development of new media by identifying media in the past that never materialized, failed to be taken up or were replaced by other media. The main purpose is to see what can be learned from media demises that might inform more accurate predictions regarding new media. Students - hopefully with a range of interests from gaming and computer science to design, theatre and history - will identify a dead medium, a term first proposed by the science fiction writer Bruce Sterling. They will then spend the term conducting an archeology of it: exploring its actual historical experience, perhaps embroidering on it through inventive fantasy, maybe building a model and examining how its story might have relevance for the near-term media future. In addition, we will share common readings on innovative media research - like sound studies - to heighten our analytical abilities.
Every society offers public rituals, formal instruction and places of sacred memory whose purpose is to foster a common political identity like nationalism. Some of these devices appear natural and timeless; others are obviously invented. Some exist in peaceful periods; others are meant to galvanize people for warfare. This course, whose focus is the contemporary US, introduces their analysis. We will explore conceptions of citizenship, history teaching, wartime censorship, conspiracy thinking and life-style politics. Students will write an essay, take part in an issue-specific group and complete a final project.
Mediatization theory argues that as media become ubiquitous, their visibility as devices lessens and their audio-visual functionalities recede into the environment. So, for example, a mirror might detect your blood pressure while you comb your hair, transmitting it to your doctor who could send instructions to your electronically enhanced pill container to change the dosage. Mediatization theory also claims that media "logics" are an increasing source of power, one that influences other social institutions, like politics, to align themselves to the special conditions of media representation and simulation: more and more social activities become media events. Students will carry out a semester-long study of an example (e.g., smart buildings, wearables) that involves a short essay, an oral presentation and a final paper. In addition, students will benefit from working with a peer mentor from the new Transformative Speaking Program.
Do new media change the world? How can we forecast new media? Nearly every modern medium of communications has been heralded for its utopian potential, from the nineteenth century telegraph through tomorrow's 4G cell phones. But seeing what's coming is harder than you think. This course will examine several case studies in the history of electrical and electronic communications to understand the complex process of introducing and adopting new media, including issues of technology forecasting, technology standards-setting, the role of the state in fostering media development and the invention of unpredicted media uses by media users. Students will write short, informal responses to readings and a mid-semester essay, and they will complete a final project and present it to the class.
The future of media "functionalities" - what media do, not the objects that they are - is likely to entail their ubiquity, embedded and distributed throughout the spaces where people live. There is a hint of this already in the way we use smartphones. They are portable, personalizable, multi-functional and almost never disconnected from the web. This advanced seminar will explore theories and case studies that suggest how this near-term media future may come about. Students will pursue their own independent projects - research, model building, demonstrations - while discovering and sharing common readings. Ideally, we will approach the subject from diverse backgrounds, including design and architecture, media and cultural studies.
Professor of Communications
Mail Code CS
Adele Simmons Hall 202
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002