Monday, 5 September 2011


Maurice Carlin's Not-Books

These unnamed works by Maurice Carlin are books and are not-books, as much as they are sculptures and drawings. They embody components, which are associated with each of these different methods of artistic presentation, and do not entirely belong to any category. They are ambiguous objects in multiple ways, flowing and switching before us like the paradoxical imagery of visual riddle. As Paul Chan states; “art is more and less than a thing”1, a statement, which is directly appropriate to this analysis; while a book has book-ness, there can be no art-ness. Invoking a theory similar to Plato's forms, Chan suggests that we can recognise every day objects due to their utility and their relation to every other object of their type, arguing that art cannot, or should not be recognised in this way. According to Chan a work of art does not have utility in the same way as, say, a hammer, and it does not in it's physical form relate to all other works of art.
However, it is worth pointing out that there is an image or conception in contemporary cultural consciousness, which helps people to recognise the stuff in galleries or standing in city squares as 'art', and it's function is to be looked at, considered and walked past slowly. There is ritual associated with experiencing art, just as there is ritual associated with reading. Is it part of the artists' job to try and counteract this? To create art which cannot be recognised as such? Is this even possible in an age where the sarcastic reply; 'what is art, though' is liable to be levelled by any school child in response to the equally recognisable dismissal 'that's not art!'. Amongst other things, these unnamed works, these not-books explore the dilemma outlined above; whether it is compulsory to try and escape the category 'art', or whether it is acceptable to submit to the ritual. They admit their object-hood, relating visually to everything we associate with the idea of 'book', yet they also hang upon the wall as 'art' should, and as such they succeed in being more, or less than neither, and this seems almost too easy; a trick. I intend to explore how the unnamed works' recognisable status as books interacts with their status as art objects, and whether these various conditions jar with one another, or percolate back and forth with ease.
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In their display and in the way that they have been assembled these works confound the traditional utility of the book, which is poignantly also at present being diminished by digital and on-line means of reading, and the physical book itself is acquiring new properties and uses. Whilst it is important to re-assert that these unnamed works are not fully books, and that they embody elements of sculpture, drawing and installation also, due to their book-ness current debates around the death of the traditional book are directly appropriate to their analysis. The idea of a recognisable, everyday object, in this case the book, losing it's purpose is interesting when considered in conjunction with how the art object is defined by Chan. When a used object becomes obsolete, perhaps it takes on something of the art object, it certainly would seem to be more or less than the thing it once was.
It is pertinent at this point to briefly define the 'death of the book' argument as it has been made in numerous articles and publications; A bound book with paper pages is no longer necessary in order to ‘perform’ a reading. Peter Kivy, evoking Nelson Goodman's terminology, defines the contents of a book as allographic; “the novel is a reading art, it exists in its reading”2. We are of course not discussing novels in this particular instance, but in this context the analysis can be applied to anything found within a book. It is the invention of electronic reading devices, which is often characterised as aggressively seeking to eradicate the traditional, physical book, and the book is defined in opposition to all digital media. A customary counter argument to the 'book is dead' hypothesis concentrates on the book as an object in itself, rather than its' function. The book is characterized as a sentimental keepsake, an individual and tangible repository for memories, which contradicts a portrayal of the book, as simply the physical receptacle of a work of literature, which can exist and be read in different places and times. The book is imbued with characteristics of the scrapbook, and the collage; it is infused with the personality of its owner/s, and its own unique history. This is a common motif, the book as battered and loved, perhaps a first edition, or an edition which belonged to somebody famous, but not really functioning as a book at all. Moreover there are further, still active connotations that make it difficult to abandon the book to its' creeping obsolescence. Literacy is by no means universal, and has of course in the past been especially limited to only the powerful few. The book still carries the weight of this authority, having held the exceptional power to transmit information outside of verbal communication, even if it is no longer necessary to fulfil this purpose.
This tension between obsolescence, power, and sentimentality evoked by the concept of the book in contemporary society is present in Maurice Carlin's not-books. They play out but also question Chan's assertion that “art is more or less than a thing”3. Hung from a wall they inhabit the physical space traditionally reserved for art, and in protruding outwards they become sculptural and architectural, whilst referring to an object; which is in the process of renouncing it's utility and perhaps becoming art-like in itself. They are sometimes pinned evocatively open, not unlike a specimen in a natural history museum, which can be seen to refer to their alledged disuse. After all, books shouldn't be left open, that might break the spine or expose the pages to damage; they are supposed to be closed upon a shelf, arranged in an orderly, linear fashion and opened only to be read. In this way Carlin's choice of display distances these works still further from the traditional and functional book.

Whilst these objects are stored, hung or displayed in ways, which can be seen to diminish their book-ness, their openness invites reading. Yet, this is confounded by the lack of recognisable words, written or printed on their pages. Instead we are confronted by what at first look like pictures, but not the kind of illustrations that might normally be found where text is lacking in a traditional book. What we are confronted with amid the pages of these not-books are neither pictures nor words, but rather ambiguous images and symbols which, due to their environment, demand to be read in some way. Rosalind Silvester and Alan English in their introduction to Reading Images and Seeing Words lament the lack of theories, which “provide...a vocabulary, for describing the transposition of image into word and conversely word into image”4. It seems that instead of being delineated into a conventional written language, such concerns have been explored by artists, such as Henri Michaux with Par la voie des rythmes. This work is a book/not-book, which functions strangely as do Carlin's; containing symbols, scribbles and ciphers; which can be described as 'asemic'. As Nina Paris describes, not-books such as these place the reader in “a somewhat awkward situation, for what appears to be an ordinary book cannot be read or understood in a conventional manner”5.
This concept of asemic writing6, a cousin of concrete poetry, is pertinent to the discussion of Carlin's not-books. It is a method of breaking down the boundaries between image and word, indeed the very existence of asemic writing suggests that recognisable written language is not necessary for 'reading', as defined by Peter Kivy, to occur. With a traditional text in a western language, in order to understand what has been written we would submit to a temporal succession of elements following a line from left to right, and top to bottom. However, it has been suggested that “although in images a temporal succession of elements cannot be found, it is always possible to find a succession of elements without temporality”7. There is certainly a succession of elements to be discerned within the pages of Carlin's not-books, and in this way an 'asemic reading' can be performed by the viewer.
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These not-books share many of the characteristics of asemic writing or concrete poetry, they confound traditional western modes of reading, whilst inviting the viewer partake with their exposed pages, then refusing to provide direction. However they are not asemic compendiums or concrete anthologies; their succession of elements is fractured by their very form, they are books made wrong, that is, they have been put together wrong. Each sheet of paper, fastened down the centre to make two individual pages has an image printed upon it. However because of the way that these pages are fastened together with a centre fold, the two halves of an image, which the viewer is faced with at an opening do not match, although due to Carlin’s choice of imagery they do seem to somehow correspond. One side of the image flows into the fold, the vanishing point between the pages and then flows out again as something altogether different.
This makes for a dynamic reading experience, the lines of the images cannot be followed calmly, and the viewer is overtaken with curiosity as to what has been obscured from their view; both the other side of each image, and the combinations which would be revealed had the not-book fallen, or been pinned open differently. There are elements of choice and chance to be found here; due to the way in which we are shown two halves of two different images it is obvious that their corresponding parts are somewhere else in the not-book. Therefore, it becomes clear that these are not artistic props made to look like books, in a way they are actually books, the pages can be turned, and there will be something on each one. We must wonder why the artist has chosen to display these particular pages, when he could just as easily have shown any of the others. Our reading then becomes a search for significance. If we have been shown this combination of images above all the others, they must have something special to transmit to us, and if we decide that they do not, it is incredibly difficult as viewers to award them the same importance as the images which we cannot even see.
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This almost involuntary hunt for significance in the combined images shown to us on the open pages of the not-books, is especially poignant if we know that the original images were found by the artist in newspapers. When considered in conjunction with this weighty tidbit of information about their construction, it might be tempting to see the not-books as collages or scrap-books, just as the traditional book can be viewed as a collage, or scrapbook of memories. Perhaps this is what the not-books are in a sense, although the fact that the images are printed on the actual paper of the pages, rather than projected on to them by the consciousness of the reader, or cut out and stuck in lends them an authenticity as 'books' rather than 'art'. After all, for a book to be truly a book is must be reproducible, so that it's contents can be apprehended in many places at once and any time. Thus, by virtue of their being printed these images have the potential to be allographic, like the contents of the newspaper from which they came. Again, and again Carlin's not-books produce a tension between artwork and functional object, and they are able to convey notions about their object-hood both as book and art. Uncertainty and uselessness, but also potential, are manifest is so many aspects of their appearance and construction. Partaking in an exploration of the relations between reading and looking, between art and object, the not-books seem to argue for a lack of boundaries, the directness and simplicity of which is refreshing.
1 Paul Chan “What Art Is and Where It belongs” e-flux journal #10 Nov 2009
2 Peter Kivy The Performance of Reading: an Essay on the Philosophy of Literature Blackwell: 2006 p.5
3 Chan, 2009
4Silvester, Rosalind & English, Alan “Introduction” in Reading Images and Seeing Words (2004) p.6
5Paris, Nina “Henri Michaux: Destruction of the Book Form and Creation of the Book-Object” in Rosalind & English Reading Images and Seeing Words (2004) p.20
7Leone, Massimo “Words, Images and Knots” in Rosalind & English Reading Images and Seeing Words (2004) p. 84
Chan, Paul What Art Is and Where It Belongs E-Flux journal #10 November 2009
Kivy, Peter The Performance of Reading: an essay on the philosophy of literature Blackwell Publishing:2006
Martin, Henri-Jean & Febvre, Lucien The Coming of the Book: the impact of printing 1450 – 1800 Verso:1976
Silvester, Rosalind & English, Alan eds. Reading Images and Seeing Words Rodopi:2004

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


This exhibition is the result of a series of simplifications and expansions. We began with a capacious theme; the idea of decision making in contemporary society and began to discursively follow interesting strands and pathways leading outwards from this point. There are constellations of concepts linked to decision making, but drawing from our own life experiences and interests we have decided to pursue ‘games’ as an over-arching topic. Within our explorations you will find references to those games by name with which we are familiar in pop-culture, but also economic game theory, and the psychological workings of jokes and surprises. There is an emphasis on the infinitesimal yet unavoidable gap between seriousness and fun, stemming from the unclear and changeable difference between big serious decisions, and those which are frivolous and seemingly inconsequential.
When utilizing a mathematical approach in sociology and biology a broad and complex issue is reduced to a simple, tractable point which embodies the fundaments of the larger issue. The point can then be manipulated, represented in different ways and applied to different situations. It is, of course, dangerous to then expand the findings and results of such manipulations; applying them once more to a wide and complex issue which would have been impossible to play with in such a way. However, in this instance, with this exhibition we have decided that it is worth embracing the hazards of the method to explore our concerns.
We are using bold, oversized references to conspicuous, recognizable games, in order to create an immersive atmosphere. So much of the study and thought on decision making is represented in dry, academic, theoretical format which may not be satisfactory for the exploration of such a personal, emotion driven, and above all human topic. Therefore we have utilized vastly simplified visual and physical methods of representation, as a different way of looking at problems which would usually be found buried beneath layers of specialist vocabulary and convoluted equations. This isn’t to say that is it necessarily right to simplify complex ideas, we are not making that argument, rather we are playing on the way in which systems such as ‘Game Theory’ grow to have a reputation for being indecipherable; “overprecision in sending a message creates imprecision when it is received because precision is not clarity”1.
1 Rasmusen, Eric. Games and information: 3rd Edition 2001: Blackwell, p.5

All photographs credited to Daniel Fogarty

Daniel Fogarty

Working with leisure, browsing and reading, Daniel Fogarty's work is concerned with the simple act of listening as an interviewer would recount ideas and information only to retract, return to their desk and start annotating the anecdotes, tales, ramblings, names and references to extract the points of interest and publish. The work churns over the same land to proclaim nothing but what has re-emerged.
The York New-er
The York New-er is generated from a single issue of The New Yorker magazine. A new illustration emerges from various articles and illustrations, utilising familiar visual devices to imitate page layout and design. The New Yorker is a weekly magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry. This model has been rehashed through mirroring, delivering a reduction of a series of articles. The final illustrations refer to models of behavoir to do with jokes; imitation, parody and stereotypes. However, in real terms, the images deliver nothing more than a rehash of 'current' issues from 1978 .
Wimbledon, Wentworth, Wembley, Whatever
Four images are reproduced in the series Wimbledon, Wentworth, Wembley, Whatever. They were taken from an advert for lawn mowers. The prototypal document offers a narrative of professionalism in an everyday garden and brings to mind an empty sports pitch, a game without any players (variables). Here, this original advertisement is misread. Instead of Wimbledon, Wentworth, Wembley, Wherever, the viewer is offered Wimbledon, Wentworth, Wembley, Whatever; a lackadaisical title, mocking those neat lawns and perverting their meaning, substituting effort and competition for complacency. As such, this series of drawings illustrates nothing in particular, a grazing of material, a set of illustrations, a back garden.

Rachelle Fox

Rachelle is a graphic designer and illustrator based in Manchester. Having studied Graphic Design at Salford University, she has since been commissioned to create flyers and posters for many of Manchester’s premier music promoters. Her style is clean and precise, using pared down and stylized yet often ambiguous imagery.
Rachelle is available for commissions and projects, and can be contacted via her website;
The Sunk Costs series
As part of the Sunk Costs project, manifested here as an exhibition, Rachelle has been commissioned to create ‘posters’, as she might to advertise a music show or event. However here there is nothing in particular being advertised, but rather passages from an essay which constitutes the genesis of this project are illustrated in her signature style. The slightly muted primary colours and elementary shapes are evocative discarded and sun bleached board games. Complexity and lucidity are central to the prototypal theme of Sunk Costs, and in this series loaded and complex textual passages are made visual and toy-like. This conflates the typical connotations of academic study and theorizing with fun, games and jokes.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Lino cutting & printing workshop at Victoria Baths Zine Convention

In May 2011 I ran a lino cutting and relief printing workshop at the wonderful Victoria Baths Zine Convention, organised by the excellent in collaboration with Future Everything.

The day was a great success with almost 600 attendees, and our 'make your own zine' laboratory was popular, as an inclusive addition to the basic zine convention format.

I wanted to make the workshop fun for people who already know how to make lino prints, and inspiring for those who're trying it for the first time.


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I made a few A3 posters of this quote by Dieter Roth, it just seems so appropriate to zine making and really advances the message that creativity is for everyone. It came out clearer in the photocopies, this is just a scan of the pasted together original:

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I'd previously taken a bunch of pictures around the baths to print out and have as inspiration, because as we all know the hardest part about starting a picture is deciding what to draw, I won't put any of then up here though because there are absolutely loads and they aren't that interesting. It's a beautiful building and there are plenty of photo's, paintings and drawings of it elsewhere.

I was really pleased with how people got stuck in and spent some time cutting their own lino tile. I'd decided to theme the workshop around tiles (because they're a major part of the Baths' appeal) and little squares are just aesthetically pleasing in any context. There were some pretty young participants and their parents who took their tiles home, hopefully to do some more printing.

Here are the tiles I was left with:

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a mixture of abstract, figurative and.... pigs. When a little lad far too young to really handle the cutting tools wanted to do a print he, of course, chose the pig.

Here's the fella who made it:

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Another participant:

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Here I am in corner cutting squares of paper for her to print on:
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Here are the printed tiles that weren't taken home by people to show to their mums. I chose watery colours of differently textured papers to experiment with:

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The End.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Sunk Costs and Incomplete Thinking

This year from March onwards Islington Mill have commissioned six emerging curators and artists to organise a weekend-long show. They will take place once per month, and the idea is with them being so short we'll be able to explore exciting ideas which might otherwise never see the light of day. My favourite kind of contemporary art exhibitions are those which explore an over-arching philosophical theme, and so as a viewer you feel as though you are discovering something and leave with ideas to mull over outside of the gallery ritual. Therefore, because I'm starting from scratch, and know artists in a social sense rather than professional I've decided to write an essay about some ideas I've been preoccupied with, then to send it around to see if anyone is interested or inspired. Here is that essay, so far....

Sunk costs and incomplete thinking; contemporary decision making.
Essay and Exhibition Proposal

As part of the monthly quick-fire art show project at Islington Mill I am exploring contemporary decision making. In the body of this essay I will explain what I mean by this and why I think it will be useful and interesting to explore in relation to art and its' display. I initially became interested in the theories and concepts which surround decision making whilst considering the power and responsibility we feel as educated citizens of a western nation, and yet the impotence, confusion and resulting apathy which runs parallel to this. The questions around which this investigation will centre are; in an information society how possible is it, for us with our apparently limited cognitive capacities, to make good decisions? Can everything be reduced to the decisions of individuals? Can confusion and fluctuating beliefs play a positive role, and can we explore this with art? This essay will function as a call-out, an invitation to artists who have been considering these ideas, or are interested in them and their implications. The beauty of the quick-fire show is that we can explore innovative and exciting ideas with less organisation and surety than would be needed for a traditional exhibition. I am a recent graduate seeking to construct an independent curating practice, and as such I am open to the evolution of these ideas and to debate around them.
In order to give some background to the arguments which I will draw on later in this essay I will begin by explaining why decision making is worth considering, and how we can begin to explore something so fundamental to human consciousness. I apologise if some of this seems self-evident but I feel that such preparation is necessary in order to frame my concerns. It can arguably be claimed that we shape our lives by the decisions which we make, arguably because the level to which our opportunities are beyond our control is ambiguous. However, for the purposes of this initial exploration into decision making theories I will set out from the premise that by making good decisions we can make our lives better. Having established this, we must now interrogate the term good. In the psychological and mathematical analysis of decision making good is generally taken to mean rational, with the good and rational decision placed in opposition to the real-life way in which we make choices. It is something to practice and to strive for, but not something which comes naturally.
Decision making is a fundamental, and incredibly complex psychological process, and with this in mind it is imperative to look briefly at some of the theories which have become commonplace to describe natural decision making. I find the term cognitive dissonance, particularly interesting in this context, as it touches on themes of self-knowledge and identity. The concept of cognitive dissonance lucidly illustrates the way in which decision making runs far deeper than we may perceive when we, as the subject, make a choice. We hold beliefs, and believe ourselves to be a certain way. This means that we must act, and make decisions in accordance with these beliefs, in order to either rectify cognitive dissonance, or to avoid it in future. To clarify; the parochial equivalent of cognitive dissonance would be feeling stupid or silly in it's mildest form, ranging up to serious emotional and intellectual conflict. This is particularly interesting in terms of contemporary decision making, because it is obviously not always possible to act in accordance with every belief and self-image which you hold. Indeed, we as contemporary citizens of a developed western state hold beliefs which can be complex, individual, uninformed or even malformed, and these are often difficult or impossible to harmonize with.
I alluded earlier to the mathematical basis of decision-making theories, referring there particularly to Rational Choice Theory. Many of the most severe arguments within Rational Choice Theory have been rejected by contemporary psychology. However, they are worth discussing here as they form an interesting counterpoint to colloquial phrases such as listen to your heart, and go with your gut. A proponent of Rational Choice Theory, George Homans set out exchange theory in 1961, arguing that all social phenomena can be reduced to the actions of the individual. In verbal and social communion with each other, people operate a system of exchange, as in economics, although instead of goods, services and money, we are trading time, information, approval and prestige. In an even more extreme formulation, as well as all social action being reducible to individual action, Homans also saw individual action as reducible to a set of behavioural principles. This can be explained in terms of rewards and punishments, humans act in accordance with rewards they hope they will receive and to avoid punishments. As is articulated by John Scott in his explanation of RCT; “Human consciousness and intelligence enters the picture only in so far as it makes possible these symbolic rewards" 1
RCT takes emotive factors out of the equation, and is fairly compatible with the concept of cognitive dissonance. However we must enquire how useful, if at all, are theories which offer no recognition of the undoubtedly unpleasant feelings and thoughts which constitute actual cognitive dissonance. It is this idea of usefulness which leads me neatly on to my next point of discussion; the decision making self-help book. Within such tomes we are encouraged that if we just approach our decisions rationally, and train ourselves against our biases and conditioning we can make good decisions and lead better lives. In order to do this we must first admit to our limited cognitive capacity, and then look to mathematical models of probability and research outside of what we can usually rely on; mythical common sense. A primary criticism of our bad decision making habits states that we do not consider all possibilities equally, instead either concentrating on what we think of first or what we are already biased towards. This intercession, indicating that in order to make good decisions we should avoid impassioned reactions jars with our contemporary imperative to search for emotional authenticity and to be our true self.
In discussions of the so-called network, or information society in which we now live commentators frequently draw attention to the intellectual and emotional bewilderment which such a wealth of information and choices can engender. As contemporary Western subjects we are encouraged to search for authenticity, love and success in some form. Why shouldn't be we successful given the absolute wealth of information which we have access too? While, of course, some people start off with more opportunities and privileges than others, the relatively high level of social mobility in our society allows few excuses. When you seem to control your fate every choice could be pivotal, and yet we are aware of how little control we have over the larger structures and organisations which shape our lives. This dichotomy of responsibility and helplessness is difficult, if not impossible to reconcile. In his preface to the 2009 edition of The Rise of the Network Society Manuel Castells states that “multidimensional, structural change...takes place in the midst of agony and uncertainty”2. Castells further explains that such confusion causes people to congregate around powerful 'primary identities; “religious, ethnic, territorial, national”3. However, I would argue that it is also feasible to cast yourself adrift in the sea of information, unable to process or be sure of anything. Beset by cognitive dissonance we can find ourselves sinking into apathy.
A further often repeated point about contemporary western society which is appropriate to this discussion is the prevailing individualist ideology. Associated with our obsession with discovering a genuine identity; “People increasingly organise their meaning not around what they do, but what they are, or believe they are”4. Formerly concrete ideas to do with the self have been de-naturalized, for better or for worse, and as such we must make choices about things which were previously proscribed. The freedom of thought which this infers is considered to be essentially a good thing, however given our limited cognitive capacity, how are we to approach making such important choices about who we are, and will be? In this age of flux we can be described, as Ken Plummer articulates; “living simultaneously in traditional, modern and post-modernizing worlds”.5 We have to make choices constantly and as hierarchies are exploded it is unclear which are important and which aren't. We may try to harness chance, like Luke Rhinehart's Dice Man, but just as he initially had to choose the outcomes of each roll, each decision we make could have untold implications. I would like to suggest that perhaps it could be helpful, sometimes, to bask in our lack of knowledge and incomplete thinking, to explore the feeling of a word on the tip of your tongue, or grasping an idea for only an instant before it is lost. Furthermore, bringing this discussion roundly back to questions of art and its' display, I would argue that the within the ritual of the gallery, and also without, art has a unique privilege to shun surety and is therefore psychologically necessary.
I would like the exhibition which I will be curating to be themed around the ideas which have been described and discussed above. If you have previously made work which explores these themes, or are inspired to make something new I would like to work with you. As yet, I have no aesthetic vision and would prefer to leave that up to you, the artists. I see my role here as proffering the philosophical genesis for an art show, then facilitating its development in which ever direction it may extend.


Castells, Manuel. The Rise of the Network Society, second edition with new preface, Wiley-Blackwell publishing: 2009

Dawes, Robyn M and Hastie, Reid eds. Rational Choice in an Uncertain World: The Psychology of Judgement and Decision Making, SAGE: 2010

Galotti, Kathleen M. Making decisions that matter: how people face important life choices, Taylor & Francis e-library: 2009

Plummer, Ken. “Intimate Choices” in Browning, Halcli and Webster eds. Understanding Contemporary Society: theories of the present, SAGE: 2000

Scott, John. “Rational Choice Theory” in Browning, Halcli and Webster eds. Understanding Contemporary Society: theories of the present, SAGE: 2000

Touraine, Alain. Thinking Differently, Polity Press: 2009
1Scott p.128
2Castells p.xvii
3Castells p.3
4Castells p.3
5Plummer, p.434