Callahn | MIT Center for Civic Media

Recent blog posts by Callahn

Stories, products, consumers, people

My final project for Intro to Civic Media is the website Marketplace stories of origin, for collecting, interpreting and re-writing stories of origin on product packages, and a paper that contextualizes this project and describes its motives and hopeful outcomes. The website is fully functional but requires some manual tinkering when submissions come in--thanks to various offers of assistance, it should become more efficient on the backend this spring. The paper, Stories, products, consumers, people, compares marketing texts and folklore traditions, describes the corporate sales strategies known as "heritage branding" and "vicarious nostalgia", offers a brief history of U.S. packaging and labeling regulations, and considers the motives for and effects of great collecting and categorizing efforts from the past, especially Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson's tale type index for classifying and locating folk tales according to plot devices, motifs, and geographic distribution.

Marketplace storytelling

My final project for Intro to Civic Media is about storytelling in the capitalist marketplace. I am focusing on the production and reception of stories of origin printed on commercial product packages: brief narratives produced by copy writers and packaging designers working toward an institutional goal to sell products. These texts interest me both as information sources that can be fact-checked and as literary productions that reflect in their language and form the structures and values of the marketplace. For Intro to Civic Media, I'm working on two elements of the project: a website for collecting and publishing marketplace stories of origin and a written study of two examples.

Marketplace stories of origin website screenshot

I started work on the website earlier this month and am testing it now. Goals for the website are:

Resources for Civic Mapping: Toolkits and How-Tos

Some toolkits and how-tos for the CivicMaps Toolkit research file.

Title: Envisioning Development toolkits
Description: A set of 3 toolkits developed by the Center for Urban Pedagogy in NYC: Affordable Housing, Zoning, and Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (last two are in progress). All 3 relate to specific NYC policies. Affordable Housing toolkit includes a guidebook ("first-ever illustrated compendium of NYC affordable housing programs", freely downloadable or puchaseable in book form), a felt chart for comparing and explaining affordable housing policies (purchaseable?), and an online map showing income demographics and rents in NYC.
External link:
Location: New York, NY 40.7142° N, 74.0064° W
Name of organization: Center for Urban Pedagogy
Category: toolkit and downloadable pdf guidebook
Tags: community organizing, policy, advocacy, analog

Modular theory of change

In coming up with theories for change in Intro to Civic Media last week, many of us started or ended with the goal of policy change at the highest levels of government. My final project for the class, collecting and interpreting marketplace stories of origin, does not have a specific built-in policy goal, but rather attempts to analyze and participate in an existing cultural phenomenon. So I started thinking about the relationship between policy change and changes in modes of cultural production -- for example, which policies (or, the absence of which policies that exist elsewhere) contributed to the emergence of persuasive storytelling on American product labels? will the work of my final project, analyzing and interpreting stories of origin, reveal policies that could be updated or reversed in the name of honest exchange between companies and consumers? More generally, how does a researcher identify relationships between policy and cultural production?