Daniel Chandler
Lecturer in Media Theory University
Department of Education
University of Wales, Aberystwyth
Email: dgc@aber.ac.uk
Home Page:
http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/

What is your highest academic degree? Where did you receive it?
My highest degree is my Ph.D. It was awarded by the University of Wales in 1993, and I studied for it for three years whilst pursuing my full-time teaching job at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Doing this left me very little spare time with my family and 4 children. The topic was 'The Experience of Writing: A Media Theory Approach', and it concerned the psychology and sociology of the act of writing (in particular, academic writing). I explored this topic in a subsequent book on The Act of Writing.

Could you describe your current job and briefly describe your career path?
I am a lecturer in media theory involved in both teaching and research. I teach undergraduate courses in media theory and supervise research students in my field. I am also the coordinator of a taught MA course in Television Studies which is due to begin in 1997. I have been in my current post since 1989, prior to which I was a freelance academic writer, educational consultant and software designer for 8 years. I won two UK national awards in 1986 for 'best software in schools' and 'home educational software of the year'.

What topics are you currently interested in researching?
My main research interest is in what I call the phenomenology of engagement with media. That needs a little 'unpacking', I think! Some people might say that I'm interested in how people feel about 'the use of tools', but to me that would reflect only the instrumental standpoint according to which some people seem to feel entirely in control of tools and regard each as merely a means to an end. I regard this standpoint as one extreme end of an experiential spectrum at the other extreme of which are those who sometimes regard themselves almost as part of a medium. I'm interested in how people frame their experiences of using almost anything which anyone may regard as a medium of communication (mass or interpersonal). I'm particularly interested in the issue of dissensus and consensus in interpretating what may appear to be 'the same thing' (such as a particular television programme) - what aspects do we differ about, and within what apparent constraints do our differences range?

What research or writing projects are you currently working on?
My two current research interests are in viewers' interpretations of television programmes and advertisements (on which I am writing a book) and the construction of identity in personal home pages on the World-Wide Web (on which I am preparing a paper).

In your online paper, "Media or Technological Determinism", you write "the notion of technological 'revolutions' and their associated 'eras' are only another manifestation of technological determinism." In instructional technology, we talk a lot about technological revolutions and eras of technology. Is this a necessarily bad thing? If so, what is the alternative?
Well, my main objection here is to the use of the term 'revolution', as in 'information technology revolution' (or whatever). I won't dwell on the historical and sociological weaknesses of this perspective other than to note that such concepts underestimate continuities. But in relation to instructional technology (usually called 'educational technology' in the UK, but representing a slightly different coverage) I'd say that the main danger is in the sense of a moral imperative to adopt a new technology which often divides people rather too sharply into believers and heretics (even the religious rhetoric is sometimes apparent amongst the technophiles and technophobes). It's ironic for me to quote an extreme determinist here with approval, but Marshall McLuhan once wrote: 'We are all robots when uncritically involved with our technologies'. This is a saying I have returned to again and again since I first became involved with microcomputers at the start of the 1980s. The point is that in the fervour of promoting new technologies people are encouraged to be involved but not often enough to remain critical as well. Extreme technological determinism leaves many people feeling like helpless victims of change.

Also in your paper, you write about the concept of "reification." That is a fascinating topic that many of our readers might be interested in. Could you describe that concept for us and explain the dangers of reifying technology?
Well, to reify something is to treat it as if it were a single concrete thing. Reification is a typical feature of technological determinism and helps to shore up the notion of 'Technology' as some kind of autonomous entity. I sometimes catch myself talking about 'the computer' or 'the word processor'. By doing so, of course, I downplay the massive differences between particular tools and the rapidity with which they change. Of course, in day-to-day life if we tried not to generalise in this way at all we wouldn't be able to say very much about anything! However, in more critical and reflective contexts such as articles and lectures we have the chance to avoid contributing to the unthinking propagation of technological determinism in this way (and many others). We could reduce the tendency to reify by ensuring that our prime focus is on the use of particular technologies in specific contexts.

Another of your online papers deals with semiotics. That is a very hot topic in instructional technology. Could you give us a brief overview of the theory and its importance?
That's a very tall order! I'm delighted that instructional technologists outside Europe might be interested in semiotics; in the UK such interest is largely confined to those involved in media studies and related fields rather than educational technology. This stark separation of concerns, it has to be said, is itself to be regretted, because the critical deconstruction of media texts is as important in the context of the instructional use of media as in the context of media studies. Most people who have ever encountered semiotic texts would probably agree heartily with a remark by Paddy Whannel that 'Semiotics tells us things we already know in a language we will never understand'! Far too many semioticians seem to write primarily to keep the uninitiated out of the 'club', which is why I wrote the web pages 'Semiotics for Beginners'. It's the most heavily-accessed of my on-line papers (to my surprise). Professor Umberto Eco is one of the world's leading semioticians and I confess that I was gratified when one of his students (who shall be nameless) wrote to say thanks - now I can understand my professor! I was gratified not only because my paper had been of some use (and because of the opportunity to retell a self-serving anecdote!) but also because I think that what Eco and other semioticians say is genuinely valuable and it needs a wider audience. As for offering an overview of semiotics, I'll leave that to my paper other than to offer a couple of general observations. I imagine that in this context the nearest that more technically-oriented professions would usually get to the territory of semiotics would be the mythically more 'objective' content analysis. Semiotics emphasizes that signs (words, pictures or whatever) are related to what they signify by social conventions which we learn. However, we become so used to such conventions in our use of various media that they come to seem 'natural'. When we take these relationships for granted we treat the signified as unmediated or 'transparent', as when we interpret television or photography as 'a window on the world'. Since semioticians explore 'sign systems' of all kinds, semiotics could also help us to explore the differences as well as the similarities between various media - a matter which should concern instructional technologists, especially since research in this field has a long history of abortive comparative studies. I would hope that semiotics, together with an awareness of the dimensions of technological determinism, would also help us to explore the non- neutrality of media, a matter which, in my opinion, ought to be of major concern to instructional technologists. Those who are interested might like to read a brief paper I wrote for Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine on 'Shaping and Being Shaped: Engaging with Media', in which my stance is that of a socially-inflected and moderate technological determinism.

You are the General Editor of The International Journal of Media and Communication Studies. What are your duties as Editor and what are the professional pros and cons of editing a journal?
Well, this is a new journal and we're still exploring what its policies will be. But there's plenty of room for improvement on traditional journal practices. My roles involve eliciting views from the board, trying to establish a working consensus and trying to make the project work. I'm very 'hands-on' and this involves doing all the coding and design myself at the moment - I don't know how I'll cope later on but at this early stage it's feasible. If I do a good job this could earn me some kudos within my field I suppose, but ironically little in my own department where most people would either have no idea that I was running the journal or little idea of the work it involves! Academically Significant Others have always been geographically distant, but at least the internet offers a tool to unite us into our virtual communities!

What process do you go through when writing a paper?
Personally, I am so much of a 'Discoverer' that I don't know much about what I want to write until I've written it, and consequently rarely know where to publish it until it's done. The exceptions are those cases where I get invited to write something for a particular journal or book (this is great, because I hate submitting things cold to editors - it's so disappointing when it turns out not to be what they wanted (and they often take months to say so!). I should touch wood here in case I have tempted Providence and get something turned down now!

Can you recall a research or writing project that was rather difficult for you? What made it difficult and how did you overcome the problems?
Every one is difficult. Mark Twain once said about reading that 'a classic is a book that everyone wants to have read but nobody wants to read'! I think to an academic a paper or book is what everyone wants to have written but none of us wants to have to write. For those like me (and probably for most of us) it's such hard work. My exploratory style often leads me to generate far more text than I finally use - I revise and revise. But people differ dramatically in the way they write, as I explain in my book on writing. A colleague of mine in another department wrote an entire book in 21 days with no revision at all! He actually hated the process of writing so much that he did it this way to get the task out of the way as fast as possible. His skill as a writer and expertise in his subject ensured that the book was nevertheless regarded as a good one by his peers. Faced with such fluency, I console myself with the thought that revision is profoundly important to my sense of identity. Interestingly, these answers seem to be flowing quite well - I'm not revising very much. Is it perhaps because - though conducted through email - I am treating it as closer to conversation than to writing. Or am I just being glib? The Puritan ethic might suggest that if it isn't hard work it isn't much good!

Do you have any suggestions on writing for scholarly journals -- how a person can improve their chances of being accepted, for example?
Well, because of the time it takes me to write (and rewrite) I'm not a very prolific writer and can't boast, as some colleagues can, of having had a hundred papers published in refereed journals. So I don't know how useful my advice is. However, I do get published, so here goes... I've never done it this way but perhaps ideally one would assemble all of the potential journals in one's topic areas and write from the start with a particular journal in mind. Since this could be a bit of a gamble it would be wise to chat with the editor about whether your proposed topic and methodology would be 'their sort of thing'. At least that would rule some of them out and save you wasting a lot of effort. I suspect that if an editor had agreed that what you were proposing sounded like their sort of thing they'd feel obliged to take it rather more seriously than a cold submission. I always show what I've written to a few close colleagues and implement any changes they suggest which I feel able to deal with. However, traditionally at least you never know who the editor will ask to review your work and you can even get totally contradictory responses from journal referees. A good editor shouldn't leave you trying to reconcile these.

What are your long term research interests and professional goals?
Well I often say I'm not ambitious - since I can be rather pushy in some contexts this causes some of my colleagues to fall about laughing, but I believe that it's true! I do want to find my work fulfilling (teaching, research and publishing) and like anyone else I am gratified when others appreciate what I do. But I'm not interested in chasing job opportunities to 'further my career'. I chose where I wanted to live and then found a job I wanted to do there; some other people reverse these priorities. To test this out, I suppose someone would have to offer me a chair elsewhere!