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Every day, hundreds of millions of commuters pass through subway and railway stations where they encounter advertisements from local, national and transnational groups, governments and corporations, said conference organizer Steven Lewis, the C.V. Starr Transnational China Fellow at the Baker Institute.
The conference will examine such questions as: What are these advertisements promoting? What do commuters think about the ad presence in these new spaces? Are subways considered to be public spaces or private spaces? Do subway stations and their advertisements contribute to civic, national or transnational identity? Or do they isolate the people who pass through them?
One of the most important forces in globalization is advertising, Lewis said. Speaking in local languages, marketers hawk many of the same products and services on television, in print and from billboards around the world. Local governments, national governments and nongovernmental organizations also put out public service ads that ask people to save energy, conserve water, clean the environment, prevent diseases and contribute to disaster relief.
Lewis will share his analysis of images that he and colleagues have collected from subway ads in China during the past 12 years. This year he and his fellow researchers began broadening their study this year to include surveys of ads in subway systems from all continents: from Cairo to Helsinki, from Paris to Munich, from Ankara to Kuala Lumpur, from Buenos Aires to Mexico City and from Beijing to Tokyo and Seoul. Lewis said this is the first time scholars have collected a global sample of advertisements that are seen by hundreds of millions of commuters every day.
In addition to Lewis, other speakers at the conference include Anru Lee, a professor of anthropology at City University of New York, who will discuss her research on the norms and practices of commuters in the subway systems of Taipei, Taiwan; Hongmei Li, a professor of advertising at Georgia State University, who studies local and national appeals in specific outdoor advertising campaigns in Chinese cities; Tani Barlow, director of Rice's Chao Center, an expert on the history of advertising culture in Shanghai from the Republican period; Megan Ferry, a professor at Union College, whose talk will focus on the transnational circulation of Chinese posters and visual imagery during the Cultural Revolution and more recently; and Geneva Henry, director of the Center for Digital Scholarship at Rice's Fondren Library, who will speak on how technological advancements have enabled new forms of remote scholar-to-scholar collective archiving of digital images of advertising.
Zoe Shen, director of international development at Horizon Survey Research in Beijing, will present the results of a pioneering survey of subway commuters in March 2010 in Beijing, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai. The survey asked commuters about their perceptions of the social norms and practices of commuters in these public spaces, and their views on the role that public service and commercial advertisements play in influencing themselves and their fellow commuters.
"Although this conference might seem a little out of place in Houston, a city without a subway system, I think it is very relevant to the future of Houston," said Lewis, who is also associate director of Rice's Chao Center for Asian Studies. He pointed out that the research deals with Houston's competitors -- the global cities and frequent economic partners in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore and other major cities. "Our research looks at the commercial and public service ads that hundreds of millions of middle-class and working-class commuters in these cities see every day on their way to work. Our unique collection of images of ads from these subway systems -- started in 1998 -- helps us understand how corporations, governments and nongovernmental organizations are all trying to influence this very influential population, asking them to think of themselves as local, national and global citizens."
Lewis added that all of the material is also collected in a new digital image archive built with the help of Fondren Library's Center for Digital Scholarship and the support of the Henry Luce Foundation of New York. "Because we have collected thousands of images of these advertisements, we are able to do what commuters and policymakers cannot do. We can look at long-term and short-term trends, and compare how these ads are different across cities and even different societies," he said.
Titled "Subway Culture and Advertising Culture," the event will begin at 9 a.m. in Baker Hall's Kelly International Conference Facility on the Rice University campus, 6100 Main St. For directions, go to http://bakerinstitute.org/contact_directions.cfm.
For more on the conference, go to http://bakerinstitute.org/events/subway-culture-and-advertising-culture.
Members of the news media who want to attend should RSVP to Franz Brotzen firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-348-6775.
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