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Abstracts 1 June

Hacker Mentality, Adolescence and Media

Anika Ullmann, Leuphana University, Lüneburg, Germany

This presentation seeks to highlight the noteworthy connections between hacking as a transgressive and creative practice, adolescence’s engagement with rules and limits, and adolescents’ media reception.

Hacking and adolescence are intertwined in many ways. The behaviour of hackers is often likened to teenage behaviour in that both are seen as displaying a lack of maturity but also a strong urge to know and to challenge. Jordan and Taylor in “A Sociology of Hackers” (1998) quote a CSI member comparing hackers to “kids putting a 10 pence piece on a railway line to see if the train can bend it, not realising that they risk derailing the whole train.” <(770) Svetlana Nikitina in “Hackers as Trickster of the Digital Age:.Creativity in Hacker Culture” (2012) assigns hackers a “quintessential teen spirit“ because they are “powered by curiosity, not commitment; pranks, not plans; joy of the process, not an interest in social construction.” (149)

Albeit there alleged immaturity, teenage hackers also fight for political causes often before they are even allowed to vote. In 2012 Misha Glenny, in her The New York Times article “Tap Into the Gifted Young Hackers”, remarks that “hacktivist groups are in part an authentic political voice of the young“. (n.pag.) This makes teenage hackers influential actors in the digital age.

This close connection between hacking and adolescence can be detected in digital cultural practices rooted in youth culture like fan fiction, vidding and memes. These present, I argue, what McKenzie Wark in A Hacker Manifesto (2004) calls the hacker class’ “creative production of abstraction” (071) and show how teenager’s engagement with media is marked by a hacker mentality even though it is not necessarily focused on computer programming.


Anika Ullmann graduated from Goethe University Frankfurt with an MA in Children’s and Young Adult Literature, English Cultural Studies and American Literature. She is currently a PhD student at the Faculty of Cultural Studies at Leuphana University in Lüneburg. Her PhD project Transgressing Structures. Hack3r5 in Recent Young Adult Fiction focuses on young adult hacker novels and the depiction of the interdependencies of transgression, morality, law, technology, age and power. Anika Ullmann is also a peer-reviewer for interjuli - Internationale Kinder- und Jugendliteraturforschung and one of the co-founders of Footnoters.de, an academic blog about children’s and young adult literature, media and culture.

Narrating Nerds. Memes, Intertextuality and Pop Culture

Anna Stemmann, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Germany

Being a nerd is a topic central to recent children’s and young adult media. Comic series like Ms Marvel or Squirrel Girl play with their own mediality and establish protagonists who not only openly define themselves as Geeks, Fangirls or Nerds but who also use new media to express their fandom.  These diegetic actions are accompanied by two significant changes: Social networks, memes and electronic devices are not only part of the story world, but influence the mode of narration and the way recent children’s and young adult media are received. Pop cultural references and images provide the frame in which the story unfolds. Additionally, instead of merely consuming those texts, readers tend to become narrators themselves. Henry Jenkins (2006) describes this development by becoming a Prosumer. In Meme Culture readers combine pictures or drawings from comics or movies with a short text to create a comic effect. They have the possibility and agency to re-narrate certain aspects of a story, play with references and put storylines into other contexts. In his work on digital culture (Kultur der Digitalität, 2016) Felix Stalder defines referentiality and communality as two main aspects of this agency. My paper seeks to discuss the reciprocity of memes and pop culture as a specific new form of intertextuality (Genette, 1993) and intermediality (Rajewsky, 2002) as a participatory practice.


Anna Stemmann is Ph.D. Candidate at Goethe University Frankfurt. She works as teaching and research assistant at the Department for Children’s and Young Adult Literature Frankfurt (Institut für Jugendbuchforschung) for Prof. Dr. Ute Dettmar. Anna Stemmann has studied German Literature, Arts and Media at the University of Oldenburg and completed her MA in September 2012 with a master thesis on 'Intertextuality and Intermediality in Walter Moers Zamonia-Series.' Her research interests include comic studies as well as popular culture and youth literature.

“What are you building?”: Children’s Thoughts on Digital Game Making and User-Generated Content

Vinca Merriman and Sara M. Grimes, University of Toronto, Canada

Like other forms of making and creating, children’s game design (i.e. game design activities undertaken by children) is currently a popular topic among educators, child advocates and policymakers. Accordingly, it has become the focus of a burgeoning market niche, and several software programs and websites aimed at enabling children to design their own digital games are now—or will soon become—available. This includes a growing number of commercial children’s games that feature tools that allow players to create their own levels or to make modifications and “remixes” of the games’ existing contents. These titles can be described as user-generated content or “UGC” games. They contain tools that let children customize the look and feel, layout and/or story of a game, without much reference to programming concepts or any access to the game code.

While children’s game-making in schools and computer clubs is increasingly well documented, very little attention has been given to the everyday uses of UGC games for nonpurposive play and recreational forms of creativity. This paper relays the findings a recently completed study that used an innovative adaptation of the traditional focus group in order to understand what types of games and other content children are creating with UGC games such as Minecraft, LittleBigPlanet and Super Mario Maker in their leisure time. By uncovering children’s own experiences in using tools, their thoughts and opinions about the potential and limitations of the tools, as well as their personal motivations for using UGC games in their leisure time, this study provides unique insight into some of the technology’s earliest and most active adopters. Preliminary findings include important insights into a wide range of topics including children's complex and diverse views on intellectual property ownership. The project explores some of the ways widespread engagement with UGC games has a number of implications for children’s cultural rights.


Vinca Merriman is a Master of Information candidate at the University of Toronto iSchool in the Culture and technology specialization. She is interested in the way various technologies can be used toward community building and social skills education. She is currently working on a thesis about the communities that form around various types of gaming.

Dr. Sara M. Grimes is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, where she teaches and researches in the areas of children's digital media culture(s), games and play studies, and critical theories of technology. She is Principal Investigator of the Kids DIY Media Partnership.

Playfulness and Parody in Children's Media Productions

Becky Parry, University of Nottingham, UK

In this paper I draw on data collected in several different research contexts where children were invited to create film. I reflect on the cultural and semiotic resources that children bring to the task of film-making, recognising them as aspects of their developing identities. I demonstrate the way that children playfully draw on 'what is to hand' Kress (2000) when creating stories and move freely between different media or forms of story when doing so (Robinson, 1996). As Robinson demonstrates, children are more likely to make use of their knowledge of genre and life experiences when reading texts. Drawing on empirically founded observations, I suggest that this is also the case when they assemble their ideas in the creation of texts. For example, when they create a scary animation they will draw on ideas from music, comics, theatre, picture books, animation and film which deploy many 'horror' conventions that they recognise as part of a particular sort of fictional world. I argue that this has important implications for the processes of production of moving image that we invite children to participate in.

Through an analysis of films made by children I will reflect on what the affordances of animation and live-action drama production make possible. I will make use of Bahktin's notion of the carnivalesque to examine children's playful use of film to explore difficult and, at times, transgressive issues in their texts. In doing so I share insights into the pedagogic spaces which enable children to draw fully on their cultural and semiotic resources, raising questions about the aims and intentions of educators when providing film-making opportunities. In conclusion, I highlight a need for more playful approaches to film production which enable children to fully explore and articulate their own ideas, experiences and identities.


Dr Becky Parry is Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham, in the School of education, and is a member of the Centre for Research in Arts, Literacy and Creativity. Becky is interested in arts education and playful approaches to the teaching and learning of literacy. Her research focuses particularly on children's film and media and film and media education. She is author of 'Children, Film and Literacy' published by Palgrave Macmillan. Becky was formerly a teacher and cinema educator and has worked on numerous creative production projects with children and young people. She has a strong interest in participatory and arts-based approaches to research.