In Medias Res, Spring 2007

Adhocracy 101: Insert Yourself Here

William Uricchio

William Uricchio

Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins

MIT faculty members sometimes look at Comparative Media Studies from the outside, wondering why it pursues the projects it does and not certain what their role in the program might be. We invite you inside.

What kind of discipline does CMS represent? It is not a discipline in any traditional sense of the word. CMS is radically interdisciplinary – in that our faculty and students come from many different disciplinary backgrounds – or un-disciplined – in the sense that we mix and match different modes of analysis freely in our classrooms and laboratories.

Science fiction writer and blogger Cory Doctorow has coined the term “adhocracy” to refer to “a form of social and political organization with few fixed structures or established relationships between players and with minimum hierarchy and maximum diversity.” Adhocracy is the opposite of bureaucracy.

Adhocracies thrive within a network culture because they depend on temporary and tactical affiliations: individuals come together to work on a specific project, to pursue mutual interests, to pool knowledge to address specific questions, and then disperse or reconfigure to confront the next challenge.

We see adhocracy as a pretty good way to describe the loose affiliations of faculty, students, staff, and collaborators who enable us to do the range of projects which are described in this newsletter. Sometimes these collaborations link us with other parts of the Institute – the Terrascope radio project links us with the Earth Sciences faculty; the new Singapore games lab involves collaboration with computer science; the fifth Media in Transition conference involves collaborations with the Media Lab and the List Visual Arts Center. Sometimes these collaborations take us beyond MIT – as in the work we are doing with American University faculty through the New Media Literacies project; or the collaborations with Harvard’s Berkman Center and Yale University as part of the Beyond Broadcasting conference.

CMS Is What You Make of it

Understandably, faculty might feel estranged from such a configuration because it is so different from the fixed relationships that professors have to their home departments and deep roots they have put down in their own disciplines.

For our students, though, the situation is different. Coming from a full array of undergraduate majors and real-world experience, to them the program is coherent and they take for granted its plurality and richness. It becomes a way of broadening their perspective, developing a Big Picture understanding of the nature of media change, honing their skills and refining their conceptual frameworks.

Either way, CMS is what you make of it. As you look across this issue of In Medias Res, suspend your expectations. You have heard that CMS is all about the contemporary – so what do you make of Metamedia’s new project working with the Old North Church to document the culture of Revolutionary War era Boston? You have heard that CMS is all about popular culture – so what do you make of the work which the New Media Literacies Project is doing around Herman Melville and Moby-Dick? You have heard that CMS is an apologist for industry – so what do you make of our hosting of the Beyond Broadcasting conference which is centrally concerned with issues of media reform?

This newsletter gives you a glimpse inside CMS. Now, we encourage you to identify projects you would like to pursue with us, to think about ways you might want to work with our students.

You will note in this newsletter the appointment of Leila Kinney as the program’s new academic administrator, a position we needed to fill to bolster our outreach. Leila will help us be more effective at connecting our teaching and research missions and to reach out more consistently to the faculty affiliated with the program.

We welcome you to take advantage of the flexibility enabled by our adhocracy to create your own opportunities and pursue your own goals. We hope to build new bridges and create new partnerships as the program continues through its eighth year of operation.

Henry Jenkins

About Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He arrived at USC in Fall 2009 after spending the previous decade as the Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities. He is the author and/or editor of twelve books on various aspects of media and popular culture, including Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Cultureand From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. His newest books include Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. He is currently co-authoring a book on“spreadable media” with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. He has written for Technology Review, Computer Games, Salon, and The Huffington Post. - See more at:


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