• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Uncovering Colonial echoes in the heart of Las Vegas: Akinola’s enlightening expose

In an era where digital spaces increasingly mirror and mold our societal views, the recent presentation by Ayodele James Akinola at the Global Digital Humanities Symposium 2024 stands as a beacon of insightful analysis and critical exploration.

As the digital realm becomes an ever-pervasive force in shaping public discourse, the work of Dr. Akinola and his team emerges as a vital narrative in our collective understanding of cultural legacies and their contemporary manifestations.

Akinola, a distinguished scholar from Michigan Technological University, USA who is formerly with Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Nigeria, spearheaded this pioneering research into the latent colonial narratives woven within the online reviews of themed hotels in Las Vegas. This study, meticulously analysing around 24,000 reviews from the popular travel website TripAdvisor, casts a revealing light on how modern digital platforms can subtly perpetuate historical power dynamics and cultural stereotypes.

Focusing on three iconic hotels—Luxor, The Venetian, and Paris Las Vegas—Dr. Akinola’s research unveils the subtle yet potent ways in which the language and themes of online reviews echo and sustain colonial legacies. By employing advanced computational textual analysis, including semantic network analysis, the research team dissected the nuanced rhetoric used by reviewers, offering a nuanced perspective on the digital perpetuation of colonial ideologies.

The significance of Akinola’s work transcends academic boundaries, providing a critical lens through which we can evaluate the role of digital platforms in contemporary societal discourse. As scholars and the wider public grapple with the complexities of postcolonial identity and heritage in the 21st century, the insights gleaned from this study offer a crucial understanding of how colonial narratives continue to shape and influence our modern world.

In an hour-long presentation that captivated attendees at the Global Digital Humanities Symposium 2024, Dr. Akinola led a journey into the heart of digital discourse, challenging and inspiring his audience to reconsider the impact of seemingly innocuous online interactions on our collective cultural consciousness. This engaging exploration not only highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of Akinola’s research but also underscored the pressing need for scholarly engagement with the digital narratives that increasingly define our globalised experience.

As we navigate the intricacies of digital communication and cultural representation, the work of Dr. Akinola and his team serves as a critical reminder of the enduring impact of history on our present and future narratives. In the bustling, neon-lit corridors of Las Vegas’ themed hotels, the echoes of a colonial past find voice in the digital age, urging us to listen, reflect, and engage with the complex tapestry of our shared history.

The research work takes a deep dive into the digital fabric of society, scrutinising around 24,000 online reviews to unearth the persistent threads of colonial narratives within. By leveraging computational textual analysis, the team meticulously mapped the semantic networks of language, identifying patterns, themes, and word associations that reveal the undercurrents of historical power dynamics in the discourse surrounding these themed hotels.

This methodological approach is not just about quantitative data analysis; it’s a nuanced exploration of how language in digital reviews can subtly sustain and perpetuate colonial legacies. The choice of themed hotels in Las Vegas—each with its own distinct cultural imprint—provides a fertile ground for examining how contemporary narratives intertwine with and echo colonial histories. Luxor’s Egyptian facade, The Venetian’s grandiose ode to Italy, and the Parisian charm of Paris Las Vegas serve as backdrops against which the subtle mechanics of colonial discourse are played out in modern reviews.

Akinola’s and his team of researchers held the audience spell-bound as they utilised Kenneth Burke’s Dramatism theory to argue that online reviews are not merely consumer feedback but a form of symbolic action that can reveal the motivations and cultural narratives influencing how people perceive and articulate their experiences. The analysis goes beyond the surface to explore the roles and scripts unwittingly adopted by reviewers, echoing the broader cultural narratives steeped in colonial history.

The integration of Homi Bhabha’s theory of Hybridity into the study provides another layer of depth, examining the creation of new cultural forms and identities within the digital sphere of reviews. This theoretical approach allows for an understanding of how digital spaces can be sites of cultural negotiation and transformation, where the blending of different cultures under the guise of hotel themes can either challenge or perpetuate colonial ideologies.

Furthermore, the incorporation of McCombs & Shaw’s Agenda-Setting Theory into the research framework underscores the significant influence of digital platforms in shaping public perception. This theory suggests that the way topics are presented in the media can influence what people think about; in the context of Dr. Akinola’s research, it helps to understand how the thematic presentation of hotels in online reviews can set the agenda for how cultural narratives are perceived and propagated.

Employing sophisticated analytical methods, the research team unraveled the semantic networks embedded in the reviews of themed hotels like Luxor, The Venetian, and Paris Las Vegas. This methodological approach, underpinned by theories such as Kenneth Burke’s Dramatism, Homi Bhabha’s Hybridity, and McCombs & Shaw’s Agenda-Setting, allowed the researchers to identify and scrutinize the underlying narratives that subtly perpetuate colonial ideologies.

The implications of Akinola’s research for society are profound. By illuminating the subtle ways in which colonial legacies are perpetuated through online platforms, the study underscores the necessity of recognising and challenging these narratives. It serves as a clarion call for a more inclusive and aware society, urging us to reflect on how the digital discourse we engage in daily can reinforce or challenge historical power dynamics.

The study’s interdisciplinary approach, drawing expertise from fields such as digital humanities, linguistics, and postcolonial studies, exemplifies the collaborative effort of the research team. Scholars from various institutions and disciplines, including Frank Onuh (University of Lethbridge, Canada), Sunday Adegbenro (University of Kansas, USA), Olarotimi Ogungbemi (University of Texas, San Antonio, USA), and Tunde Ope-Davies (University of Lagos, Nigeria), contributed to this nuanced analysis, highlighting the study’s potential to transcend political and disciplinary boundaries.

In unpacking the colonial ideologies in digital spaces, the research specifically pointed out how thematic hotels in Las Vegas serve as conduits for these legacies. For instance, the Luxor’s Egyptian theme, The Venetian’s Italian-inspired setting, and the Parisian allure of Paris Las Vegas each encapsulate elements of exoticism, luxury, and historical allure. These themes are not mere aesthetic choices but are laden with deeper meanings that resonate with colonial perceptions of history, culture, and power.

The findings of Akinola’s study reveal the intricate ways in which these hotels, through their thematic designs and the narratives embraced by their guests, continue to weave colonial narratives into the fabric of contemporary society. The analysis of semantic networks within these reviews exposed a recurring romanticisation of history and culture, reflecting a colonial mindset that valorises certain aesthetics and narratives over others. This romanticisation is not just a relic of the past but a living, evolving narrative that continues to shape perceptions and interactions in today’s globalised world.

Their research, therefore, provides a critical lens through which we can examine and challenge the colonial underpinnings of our digital narratives. It emphasises the need for a conscious and critical engagement with the digital content we consume and produce, advocating for a discourse that acknowledges and addresses the complexities of our colonial past and its persistent influence on our present.

An important revelation from the presentation at East Lansing, is that the role of scholars in the contemporary world extends far beyond the boundaries of academia; it involves actively engaging with and shaping the societal narratives that influence our collective understanding and perception of history and culture.

Akinola’s presentation at the Global Digital Humanities Symposium 2024 underscores the critical responsibility of the academic community to delve into the complexities of digital discourse and its impact on societal values and historical perceptions.

The findings of Akinola and his team resonate with a broader academic conversation that intersects with various studies and theories. Works like “The Debris Within: Negotiations of the Past within Colonial Mansions of Ceylon” by Tennakoon Pamudu and “Reworking colonial imaginaries in post-colonial tourist enclaves” by Uma Kothari provide nuanced insights into how postcolonial perspectives can unravel the layered narratives within historical and cultural tourist spaces.

These studies, along with Akinola’s research, contribute to a growing body of scholarly work that seeks to understand and challenge the colonial legacies embedded in our modern landscapes.

Dr. Akinola’s presentation at the symposium did not just illuminate the latent colonial narratives in online reviews of themed hotels; it also cast a spotlight on the broader implications of digital platforms in shaping societal narratives. The research underscores the urgent need for scholars, digital platform creators, and the public to foster a more nuanced and critical awareness of the historical and cultural implications of digital content. This awareness is crucial for deconstructing the colonial legacies that continue to permeate our digital and physical worlds.

The one-hour presentation by Akinola was not only comprehensive but also engaging, sparking significant discussions among attendees and opening avenues for future research. The positive reception of the presentation and the keen interest it generated underscore the potential for this research to inspire further investigations into the nuances of digital narratives through a postcolonial lens.

As we move forward, it is imperative for the academic community to continue this critical examination of digital spaces, pushing the boundaries of traditional research to uncover and address the subtle yet pervasive legacies of colonialism in our contemporary discourse. The journey embarked upon by Akinola and his team marks a significant step in this direction, serving as a catalyst for ongoing exploration and dialogue in the quest to unravel the complex interplay between history, culture, and digital technology.

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