The Social Factory

the blog of King's CMCI PostGrad Society

What Natalie did next…or life after The CMCI Social Factory

For anyone who doesn’t already know, I’m no longer running the CMCI blog but since September I’ve been running social media for the Women’s Film and Television History Network. They asked us to write about our experiences so far. If you’re interested you can see the blog here and find out more about the Network. thanks, Natalie

Women's Film and Television History Network-UK/Ireland

WFTHN Facebook

We are the new(ish) faces behind WFTHN’s social media. We took over the running of WFTHN’s Facebook and Twitter accounts in September 2014. We are both PhD students and Graduate Teaching Assistants. Natalie has worked in the UK film industry for many years, including as a Senior Development Executive at the UK Film Council and for Granada Film.

SMOsNatalie is at King’s College London and her research is attempting to unpack why there are so few female screenwriters in the UK film industry, and why it’s not changing despite increased interest in gender inequality. Hannah is at the University of Warwick. Her archival-based research explores the work of “message movie” producers and the gendered construction of liberalism in mid-century Hollywood.

Since we took over our Facebook followers have increased from 317 to 417 at time of writing, and Twitter followers are up from 126 to 265.  If you’ve recently joined…

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Very Clever Very Conservative. Some thoughts on the Paul Talyor Seminar

It’s not good to shoot from the hip but for Paul Taylor it seems the bad is the good and the good is the bad. So I will take a chance on following his philosophy.

As a first year PhD student I have been aware for a while that it is only a matter of time before I am confronted head on with the bizarre but telling spectacle of a extreme left wing culturalist exposition performed in the heart of the modern neo-liberal environment that is the contemporary elite British university. Telling because for all it cleverness – it clabbering to be ever so much more critical of anything that moves than the next guy – it betrays an awful conservatism, even a reactionary essence, which is fully compatible with its embeddedness in a site of capitalist reproduction.

To give this milieu a taste of its own medicine I could and I would argue that paranoiac and cynical assertions that fascism, instrumentalism, and a host of other bads lie within just about – no lets not be too liberal – lie in absolutely everything that exists in the social field reveals a classic psychological displacement. It allows the subject to feel ever so radical and yet do nothing practical about his or her situation. Its extremity compensates for the timidity of positive action in the face of the contemporary intensification of the neo-liberal project. As the psychological literature has conclusively shown being has little or no impact on doing. And what you do, or don’t do in this case, makes you who you are. The notion that radical thought is subversive without concurrent positive action is hopelessly idealistic as it is empirically unsustainable.

As he slipped into his initial remarks, as if the truth was self evident, the true intellectual has the privilege of being able to question but not to give answers. This is a grotesque formulation violates the more fundamental human responsibility to propose to the extent that we criticize. To have the latter without the former allows one to slide into an infantile idealism which ironically abandons the status quo to the social forces of reaction.

This may seem like just another quaint eccentricity of the academic ivory tower but having spent much of my life as an organiser and trainer variously in the peace, radical green and anarchist movements before moving into social entrepreneurship I can say without a shadow of doubt that this fashion for extreme idealistic negativity has been an absolute disaster for the project of creating viable alternative economic and political institutional formations. Nothing can happen when people don’t turn up on time, leave without notice, accuse anything that gets going as compromised and reactionary, and generally view the practical inevitability of give and take as a betrayal of their principles. What seems like very radical and very clever turns out in practice to be just plain stupid and a complete waste of space.

With no institutionalisation – no culture of imperfect but still radical collective organisation and norms – every bottom up social movement has to re-learn the same basic lessons and structures. To take a classic example, sophisticated consensus decision making has been going on at least since the eighteenth century with the Quakers – and certainly from the radical sixties through to the 1980s peace movement. Fast forward to the Occupy generation and the first general assemblies had no idea that consensus procedures can have stages between agreement and blocking. In amongst the reams on Foucault where are the manuals for deliberative democracy?

Even within the realm of academic political criticism Paul’s points go beyond the ridiculous and become, well – just plain silly. The notion that the film Finding Sergeant Ryan betrays fascist overtones because the main character’s granddaughters have blond hair in first scene of the film is beyond bizarre. In fact I am sure that many of the survivors of the D-Day landing would find the proposition profoundly insulting. The film’s main point of course is that it graphically displays the horror of war and served a useful social function of making a new generation aware of the sacrifices of an older generation that didn’t have the luxury of cynicism in the face of the existential threat of fascism.

As David Graeber argued in his book The Democracy Project, working people do not share this cynical cleverness of the metropolitan intellectual. What they see is a system of privilege which systematically excludes their participation. How many British working class people are doing PhDs at Kings? What people want is secure jobs, a reduction in work stress, and time with their families. Correct deconstructions of soap adverts in not high on their list. The same point was made by George Orwell commenting on an Italian republican volunteer in his ‘Homage to Catalonia’.

And the last irony, if we are to indulge in such things, is that for the second week running the seminar started late and finished without any time for questions. So much for a university creating a space for intellectual dialogue and debate. The speaker made his points and then it was time to go.

There was a facility admin meeting which was supposed to finish at 3.30 so that the seminar could have started on time at 3.45. At 3.43 when I left it was still going on. So let’s forget about the heady heights of critical deconstruction and start by getting things to start on time. Let’s focus on some basics – seminars which are worthy of the name, adequate space for PhD students to work in, and not forgetting that ultimate violation of the lifeworld – charging people to go to a Christmas Party (anyone read any Jesus lately?)

None of this should be read as absolute criticism (an indulgence which is self contradictory as it is unconstructive) and I have no reason to believe that Paul Taylor is not a thoroughly nice guy – and even if he isn’t I am not in the business of judging souls. The point is that whatever the supposedly insightfulness of this analyses, the impact of his philosophy is socially and politically ruinous. The world is becoming a dangerous place in case we hadn’t noticed and academics need to start thinking more seriously about providing a constructive contribution to the anti-hegemonic project. If not our children may well not be deconstructing Sergeant Ryan but re-enacting it.

Roger Hallam.

Calling all Sweetcorn Club agents…

Okay so this quite possibly should not be going on this blog but then again apparently I am organising it now so maybe this is part of the “new regime”.

After todays seminar, prompted no doubt by the somewhat depressing prospect that the monetary value of our creative labours are going to be sucked up by the ubiquitous neo-liberal beast, we got talking about money and making it. And so here’s a little business plan as promised with the organic veg thing. I have taken the liberty to call ourselves the Sweetcorn Club after the distribution of the arguably very nice sweetcorn I brought in the other week. Please can someone get that picture up on the blog so we can all see it!

So a car arrives outside Kings at 1pm on Wednesdays. There’s about 8 of us new PhD people – so we have 80 bags – 10 for each person/agent. Each of us takes 10 bags and distributes them to people who have ordered through us around Kings.

The maths/money..

Each bag sells for £10 (maybe £12.50 for richer people like the VC?!). The cost is £6 each so each person makes a nice £40 for say 15 minutes work. Well that’s like £160/hr which is.. what ,40 times more than the £4/hour that PhD people get paid for doing teaching, taking into account preparations etc (or is it £5/hr .. whatever – it’s not that great).

Sounds pretty good to me. If you’re interested the inaugural meeting of the Sweetcorn Club will take place – after the seminar next week?

If all this seems a bit tricky let me finish this post with an antidote to all that post-modernist miserablism, from Nelson Mandala

“Things seem impossible till they happen” – and well who would want to argue with Nelson on that score.


On Audience Labour in Facebook – notes towards strategic resistance

– Toby Bennett

At last week’s Dynamics of Virtual Work conference (COST Action IS 1202, if you’re interested), recurring themes were circulating around precariousness, prosumption, value-production and audience labour in the digital economy. Various discussions revolved specifically around ways of conceptualising the users of Facebook as workers.

This is not a new topic. Accounts from Dallas Smythe (1977), for example, about the ‘work’ involved in viewing television advertising were frequently drawn into discussion with Tiziana Terranova’s (2000) and Marc Andrejevic’s (2002; 2009) accounts of the or ‘free’ or ‘user-generated’ labour involved in producing online content and networks. Göran Bolin, who spoke on the Thursday, has done good work to reconcile such perspectives with studies of ‘active audiences’ in reception-oriented forms of cultural studies (e.g. Fiske, 1987), bringing the political economy of consumption into dialogue with its cultural forms (Bolin, 2012). Such accounts rest on an understanding of work that prioritises the ‘value’ produced for a brand or platform associated with a private company, by users’ involvement in the systems owned by that company. Accordingly, there was much theoretical discussion over the classification of ‘productive’, ‘non-productive’, and ‘re-productive’ forms of labour.

In reality, this plays out in various recent ‘disputes’ in the (semi-)public arena. In the Fraley vs. Facebook case, cited in the conference’s opening plenary by Eran Fisher, representatives of Facebook’s users sought to argue in the US courts that they had a claim to the company’s profits, as its advertising model relied expressly on their activity and identity, especially through the ‘sponsored stories’ function; Facebook agreed that this was the case but countered that individual users would have to prove that their image had a historical value attached to it. In essence, the case came down to the extent to which usage of social media transformed individuals into ‘micro-celebrities’ through participation.

In a more activist vein, a recent campaign called ‘Wages for Facebook’ saw a scrolling manifesto being circulated on various social media: opening lines – ‘They say it’s friendship. We say it’s unwaged work. With every like, chat, tag or poke our subjectivity turns them a profit. They call it sharing. We call it stealing’. The campaign alludes to the ‘Wages for Housework’ struggles mounted by feminists in the 1970s for recognition of the work that takes place in the home, in care of children and the elderly, and without which society could not be reproduced so efficiently.

Despite its name, Wages for Housework was not necessarily arguing for an hourly rate of pay but for increased awareness of the socially-necessary but ‘hidden’ work (performed predominantly by women) that enables and contributes to economic growth; in practical terms this might translate into policy that promotes fairness in the distribution of wealth, stronger welfare provision, and so on. Wages for Facebook launches a similar argument for the information society. In a post-Snowden world, however, it is difficult to see any positive practical application of ‘increased awareness’, when critical perspectives so often collapse – either into quiet resignation towards this state of affairs; or into the wild and often troubling pronouncements of conspiracy theorists.

Both of these responses renounce a sense of agency. They declare: ‘But what can I do?’ Yet when I have discussed these issues with friends and with students, however, there is a resounding alternative perspective put forward, which goes: ‘No-one is forcing you to use Facebook. They are doing you a favour by creating a platform for you to interact; if you don’t like their terms then you can always opt out’. This argument is attractive because it is positive and affirmational. It reminds us how lucky we are. It is critical, not of corporate structures, but of those individuals who pretend they are in chains, and who like nothing more than to complain.

There are clear contiguities here with a neoliberal discourse of individual responsibility, rational action, and consumer choice. It also seems clear to me that there are several arguments that mitigate against such action.

‘Opting out’ can be:

  • undesirable. First and foremost, using Facebook is often a pleasurable activity that enables new, surprising and enjoyable encounters and experiences. Why should such benefits and pleasures of a technology necessarily be attached to invasive and restrictive frameworks?
  • affectively difficult. Facebook usage can be habitual and unconscious. Not that this in itself is a good thing but it attests to ways in which the desire to be on social media is not always an entirely rational decision.
  • inconvenient. So much interaction and planning happens through Facebook that one can be literally forgotten and excluded in the material world simply by not having a presence in the online world.
  • stigmatising. As Facebook increasingly becomes the norm, those who reject it increasingly become seen as outsiders, cynics, and weirdos.
  • alienating. Facebook is not just content; it is also form – perhaps even a new form of semi-public space. Not only would you be seen as an outsider, and not only would you be excluded from particular events and information, you would be unable to participate in emerging forms of interaction and organisation in this space.

We do not like to consider aspects that impinge on our sense of individual agency, forcing us to consider ways in which our actions are influenced (even determined) by social and psycho-neurological structures. Quite apart from questions of invasiveness over terms of service, once Facebook passes the tipping point for mainstream take-up, exempting oneself from participating in it is not just a simple matter of personal choice. The more pervasive it becomes, the closer this argument gets to the possibility of opting out of capitalism in its entirety – i.e. undesirable, inconvenient and socially exclusionary.

All of which is why I asked the question, in one session of the conference, of what strategies of resistance to such a situation might be diagnosed; or what routes to transformation might be possible. No satisfactory replies were forthcoming, other than some vague murmurs about co-opting the platform. More thought-provoking was a paper by Emma Keltie on her experiences in amateur online television production. Although she had initially approached the medium in a joyful, affirmational manner, seeing the internet as a dialogic space to enable voices from outside the mainstream to gain audiences that wouldn’t otherwise be heard, Keltie narrated how her team’s energies had slowly been sapped by prohibitive barriers to funding and long-winded licensing processes that still favoured the traditional major players.

Though this was not a particularly positive experience, nonetheless the paper constituted an account of a kind of Damascene conversion to structural criticality through participation in creative production, and I wonder if there might be a model to draw on here. One might hope, for instance, that the government’s introduction of coding into the primary curriculum, if handled well, could have the potential to make a step in that direction.

But who knows. Overall, I’m really not sure what the answer is here and am interested to hear what others think.

Andrejevic, M. (2002) ‘The work of being watched. Interactive media and the exploitation of self-disclosure’, Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19:2, 230–248

Andrejevic, M. (2009) ‘Exploiting YouTube: Contradictions of user-generated labour’, in P. Snickers and P. Vonderau (eds.), The YouTube Reader (Stockholm: National Library of Sweden)

Bolin, Göran (2012), ‘The Labour of Media Use: The Two Active Audiences’, Information, Communication & Society, 15:6, 796-814

Fiske, John (1987), Television Studies (New York: Routledge)

Smythe, Dallas (1977), ‘Communications: Blindspot of Western Marxism,’ Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, 1:3, 1-27

Terranova, T. (2000) ‘Free labor. Producing culture for the digital economy’, Social Text, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 33–58


Want Your Kids To Grow Up Thinking Men Are More Important Than Women? Read Them Children’s Books.

Calm Down Dear

This piece was also published on the Huffington Post

It’s amazing how much routine sexism we regularly feed our kids via their reading material. Strange as it may seem, research suggests that a female has a greater chance of securing a seat on the board of a Fortune 500 company, in Congress or in the Senate than she does of appearing as a main character in a children’s book. When they do appear, if they’re not carrying wands or broomsticks, or attempting to marry unelected future heads of state, female characters are usually sidekicks or help-mates.

Take Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men books, childhood favourites of mine. As the series title suggests, their world is as exclusively male as a frat house or a submarine, a science fiction-style dystopia in which all the women appear to have been wiped out. Although in an environment in which each man possesses just one…

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Exclusive: Disney Says Star Wars Toys for Girls Are Coming

News just in…


Disney told TIME on Wednesday that it would add Princess Leia toys to its existing Star Wars merchandise line soon, following recent criticism from parents and bloggers about the lack of products for girls.

“The current assortment of Star Wars products at the Disney Store launched earlier this year, and is just the beginning of what is to come,” Disney spokeswoman Margita Thompson told TIME. “We’re excited to be rolling out new products in the coming months, including several items that will feature Princess Leia, one of the most iconic characters in the Star Wars galaxy.”

Thompson also pointed out that there are Princess Leia-themed costumes and toys available on

Parents took to Twitter last week to protest the fact that the Disney Store contains almost no Star Wars themed gear for girls, even though it’s chock full of Jedi playthings for boys. And a new line…

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Why #WeWantLeia Is Another Proof Of Why We Need #YesAllWomen and #YesAllGirls

The latest in a long line of blogs supporting Natalie Wreyford’s campaign to persuade The Disney Store that girls like Star Wars and/or boys like female characters. So far, The Disney Store have been very dismissive, despite a growing campaign for Leia to be included in the first wave of Star Wars merchandise. If you support the cause, or just want to ask Disney to be more gender neutral in it’s toy manufacturing, you can sign the petition here:

Natacha Guyot


One could think that tying a “toy issue” to a hashtag created in the aftermath of a misogynist and tragic event is far-fetched. It isn’t. All of this is linked.

#YesAllWomen and #YesAllGirls denounced how misogyny is hurtful in our culture, and is since childhood when wrong and damaging “models” and “behaviors” are learned, if not outright encouraged. A better mindset, a better culture, which encourages equality between all, must be attained, no matter how long and trying this can be.

The fact that Disney Stores don’t plan to include Leia in upcoming Star Wars products is heartbreaking and extremely disappointing. I encourage you to read the article on the Daily Dot, whether you are familiar with the topic or not. Checking the #WeWantLeia hashtag on Twitter is also extremely telling.

I previously talked about gender representation in children and youth media, and I am a firm believer in…

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