← Back to mit.katmh.com

Will Partin Visit

· Read 03/25/21

  • CI-M: Learn how communication in the field works
  • That's why the class has been structured this way, reading books and other types of communication

Meta discussion on readings

  • Are they leaving breadcrumbs?
  • Bullet points, exec summary
  • Pretty repetitive: "syllabus" aka short lesson plans (e.g. "Redpilling the normies")
  • Lots of people in CMS produce curricula alongside research
  • Syllabus generation as knowledge production and service
  • Who's your imagined audience and is the work successfully landing for that audience?
  • How are these reports indexed? Do audiences know the right search terms?
  • Lots of additional labor, not just sending to a journal and getting published

Will Partin

  • Academic trajectory.. very unique but also that creative mix that many emerging scholars are doing


  • Fully enmeshed in serious humanities as an undergrad; art history, music composition
  • Like school, like art history -> art history program at UNC, best scholarship
  • Social media manager for esports team, as brands were getting their feet wet on Twitter
  • "Is it okay to meme somebody else?" back then was a question, now an expectation
  • Disillusioned with art history PhD, struggled to talk about technology in a way that felt relevant. Always felt like a background thing, conservative
  • Addressed frustration by getting more involved in esports, putting on tournaments
  • Did more public-facing writing, enjoyed other people engaging with the ideas and replying
  • Helps you think through your ideas in a meaningful way
  • Communications felt like the field most ready for games, infrastructures, tech<>culture<>power, etc and had taken a cool class
  • From the beginning, thinking of dissertation as a follow-up to TL's book, know I wanted to write about esports
  • Opportunity to talk about other industries where large tech companies are the basis, mediating exchanges (Uber, Airbnb) — let's think about that for esports
  • Defended dissertation prospectus, writing it in theory; applied for Disinformation Action Lab
  • Half applied, interventionist; other half is research questions, interviews
  • Census justice, equitable data infra and data creation process


First critique:

  • Census possible harms

    • People intimidated into not participating
    • Loss of trust in data
  • Found that disinfo is not the main threat
  • E.g. journalistic articles "here's how the pandemic might screw over the census", bureau is now on the backfoot and has to defend
  • E.g. Trump admin trying to add citizenship question
  • What are the actual communication threats and how do we think about them more holistically?
  • "Sociotechnical security" but don't want it to sound too militarized

Second critique:

  • Makes normative judgments feel like natural ones, with the boxes dis/mis/malinformation
  • Imposes worldviews
  • It's not just about truth, it's about power too


  • Mis/disinfo has been picked up like crazy
  • "Like the war on terror.. protracted, inconclusive, and always a war on symptoms"
  • Not possible to make terms that avoid this; language is messy

Approahc to work

  • Think of everything holistically, not like everything is downwind of academia
  • Writing a paper for academic journal: think about writing a version for the public first, forces the ideas to be clear and accessible
  • Writing is always a concerete manifestation of your thoughts
  • Consulting: not just parallel to other work, but feed into
  • Have recruited people for interviews through consulting

    • Issues: Researching people who are paying you

Co-authoring with Marwick

  • Realized in Oakland airport that Q bakers are not trying to create doubt, but rather create certainty
  • Allowed him to pull on his training and apply it to this new context
  • Pulled them into 2 papers: Partin as first author on STS-y one (Q clock), Lewis as first author on media studies one

Something else

  • "Fascist tailgate vibes rather than insurrection vibes"
  • The frame of calling something fringe, Q, extremist delegitimizes, but a lot of what happened (at the insurrection?) was not that stuff, but rather standard right-wing beliefs
  • Something more foundational we should reckon with
  • Accessing C-suite folks easier than accessing middle managers and below, because they (former) don't feel accountable, don't feel like they need to check with PR team, I'll do what I want

    • Especially C-suite folks who had left, gone to different industry
    • Sometimes they don't understand difference between researcher and journalist, especially when someone does both

Platform capitalism

  • 90-page book
  • Unfortunate because makes it seems like there was capitalism and now there's platform capitalism, as if they're fundamentally different
  • Limited number of tech firms have created infrastructures through which people access their daily resources
  • Take part, or risk exclusion
  • Monopolistic because rely on network effects
  • Built around collecting and using data, key to value accumulation
  • *This is familiar to me thanks to my bit of research on platforms, yay!