Unboxing the iPhone: The Circuits of Digital Culture


Queensland University of Technology, Creative Industries Precinct, Brisbane, QLD
11 - 12 July 2009

A report on this event is available

This workshop, as part of the GLAMM subnode, aims to explore a range of possible theoretical and empirical approaches to the new circuits of digital culture via the use of the iPhone as a case study. With the introduction of the iPhone, users have embraced types of mobile web akin to the rapid and swift imode trend in Japan in the early 2000s. Unlike the failure of the imode in Australia, the iPhone represents particular notions of technocultural practice and their conflation with particular lifestyle modalities. Mediated through the iPhone, new forms of ‘vernacular creativity’ (Burgess 2006), social connectivity and media engagement (such as mobile games and video) have emerged into newfound visibility. But beyond the hype of technological fetishisation, how might the iPhone — as was the Walkman — most productively be considered as representing a particular ‘moment’ at which various technological and cultural trajectories have converged? And what can exploring these questions contribute to the development of new theoretical perspectives and methodologies for the analysis of digital media’s technocultures?

Paul du Gay et al’s (1997) ‘circuits of culture’ approach invited researchers to map the dynamics of culture — described by the core categories of consumption, production, regulation, representation and identity — as they co-influence one another to produce the meanings of a particular cultural object – in this case, the Sony Walkman. The ongoing significance of this approach was clearly captured by Gerard Goggin’s reinterpretation of it in Cell Phone Culture (2006). However, since the late 1990s there have been new theoretical and technological developments that may require us to expand the units of analysis used to interpret the meanings and implications of cultural technologies as ‘objects’. In particular, issues arise around technological and cultural convergence (e.g. between mobile devices and various forms of media), the co-evolution of design and use; the increased theoretical importance of embodiment and affect; and the scale and influence of online social networks.

This workshop brings together various strands within the Cultural technologies node — specifically the mobile wireless screens project and GLAMM. Through the lens of the iPhone, this workshop aims to rethink ‘circuits of culture’ in an age of Web 2.0 and social networked media.

This small workshop will consider:

This workshop will provide participants with the possibility to engage and cross-reference papers presented, and will help to further hone the proposed publication.

The workshop will be held back-to-back with a HCSNet Workshop “From Social Butterfly to Urban Citizen” (13-14th July) organised by Marcus Foth, Martin Gibbs and Christine Satchell. This will provide opportunities to exchange ideas and experiences between the networks.


SATURDAY 11th July


Welcome and introductions. Each participant speaks to their ‘position statement’ for 10 minutes, addressing one or more of the following questions:

1PM Lunch


The group divides into small groups to discuss dominant themes introduced in the morning session and/or the following:


Group re-convenes to identify key research opportunities, potential projects and funding schemes, partners and internationalisation.


Drinks, food and further animated discussions.



10 minute presentations of proposed book chapter and works-in-progress (at any stage of development).

Local contributors able to attend: Arnold; Marshall; Burgess; Richardson; Crawford; Banks; Chesher; Hjorth.

International contributors not attending the workshop: Ilpo Koskinen; Rey Chow; Nina Verhoeff; Wendy Seltzer; Judy Wajcman & Paul Jones; Katie Salen; Shin Mizukoshi.

Discussion and feedback (Greenfield to provide commentary on abstracts and presentations)

12.30 PM Finish


Unboxing the iPhone brought together Australian and overseas researchers across a broad range of disciplinary perspectives to rethink – through the lens of the iPhone as a ‘moment’ in contemporary mobile media practices – various ‘circuits of culture’ in an age of Web 2.0 and social networked media. In particular, we considered how the iPhone mediates new forms of everyday creativity, social connectivity and media engagement. The workshop considered:

Outcomes of the workshop include a proposed book anthology entitled Unboxing the iPhone, a special journal issue proposal, development of an e-learning project with the University of Tokyo and ITU, and (potentially) a panel at the CrossroadsConference (2010).

Many thanks again to ARC CRN Cultural Technologies node for providing this opportunity.