Global Culture Industry by Lash and Lury, A Summary

In Global Culture Industry Lash and Lury argue that things have moved on since the days of Adorno and Horkheimer’s analysis of the culture industry and the Birmingham School’s critique:

‘we think that culture has taken on another, a different logic ,with transition from culture industry to global culture industry’.

‘What’s different was that in both 1945 and 1975 culture was superstructural, and resistance took place through ideology, representation and symbols, and people where confronted in their day to day lives with material objects from the economic infrastructure.’

‘Today (in 2005) cultural objects are everywhere – as information, communications, branded products, media products, financial and leisure services. Culture seeps out of the superstructure and comes to dominate both the economy and everyday life. Culture, which was previously a question of representation becomes thingified. In classical cultural industry, mediation was a question of representation, in global culture industry it is a mediation of things.’

Lash and Lury now outline seven basic differences between the days of the ‘culture industry’ (from at least 1950 to 1975) and today’s ‘global culture industry’

1. From identity to difference

  • The products (objects) of Adorno’s culture industry were determinant, in global culture industry they are indeterminate.

  • We have moved to a culture of circulation in which products circulate free from the intentions of their designers – products become transformed and thus value is added.

  • In culture industry, cultural products slotted its subjects into the nuclear family, thus reproducing capitalism, today global culture industry meets the reflexive individuals of informational capitalism (and is thus transformed).

  • Culture industry was about the production of identity, in global culture industry both production and consumption are about difference.

  • In culture industry, production took place in Fordist environments, in global culture industry it takes place in post-fordist and design intensive environments.

2. From commodity to brand

  • Commodities derive their value from their exchange value –their monetary value, their market value. Commodities are produced, they are all alike.

  • Brands only exist in relation to products and establish themselves across products. Their value is not determined by exchange value. Brands establish difference. A brand is a singularity, but an abstract singularity, your relationship to it matters.

  • Commodity production is labour intensive, brand production is design intensive.

  • Commodity is about use and exchange, brand is about sign-values and experience – about communication, it is ‘eventive’ (about doing and experiencing).

  • ‘Commodities work through a mechanistic principle of identity, brands through the animated production of difference, thus processes of invention are central to the brand’.

  • This is a regime of power which results in inequalities, disparities and deception rarely encountered in culture industry.

3. From representation to things

  • In culture industry, culture was commodified – mediation was predominantly through representation, but in global culture industry we have the mediation of things.

  • Today, media have become things they have use value and exchange value.

  • When media become things we don’t just read them, we do with them. EG sound in lifts, brands in branded spaces, movies becoming computer games.

  • Four products which are media become thing-like = Wallace and Grommt, Toy Story, Young British Artists and Trainspotting – these have intersected into daily life such that we can talk of ‘mediatization’, and ‘the industrialisation of culture’ (not just the commodification of culture) and we also have the culturification of media.

4. From the symbolic to the real

After a lengthy introduction based on the matrix Lash and Urry essentially say….

In the 1950s there was ‘harsh reality’ – work/ the street/ the family, in which people lived their lives, and ‘culture’ was experienced through sitting in front of the TV passively watching media products produced by other people, or may acting out these ‘escapist’ fantasies occasionally. Then we watched and interpreted culture.

Today, mediated culture (media products) are so fundamentally part of our lives, that they are inseparable from our day to day lived-reality – our family lives, our work and leisure time – reality (and the stuff of daily life) is invested with much more meaning – now we live (act out) through mediated culture, less passively just sitting and watching.

Or to give you the full version…

‘Horkheimer and Adorno’s classical culture industry worked through the symbolic, through daylight, the light of Enlightenment and other ideology, through the pleasure of the text, and of representation. Global culture industry is a descent of culture into the real: descent into the bowels, the brutality, the desert of the real. The real is more evolved than the symbolic. It is brutal, but a question less of body than of mind: bodies are merely energy sources for the mind’s real. The inner and under-ground space in which the human hacker-ships operate is the ‘service and waste systems of cities that once spanned hundreds of miles’ transmuted into ‘sewers’ at the turn of the twenty-first century. The real is brutal, a desert, a sewer, a waste-and-service system, below the subways, under the underground.’

‘Global culture industry occupied the space of the symbolic: global culture industry the space of the real. Culture industry is Hollywood’s dream machine, global culture industry brute reality. Global culture industry deals in simulation, but these escape the symbolic, escape representation, and as intensity, as hyperreality, enter a real in which media become things. The symbolic is superstructural: it is a set of ideological and and cultural structures that interpellate subjects in order to reproduce the capitalist economy and the (Oedipal) nuclear family. The real is not superstructural; it is not even structural. The real is base. It is in excess of the symbolic. This excess is abjected, spewed out downward through exit-holes into the desert of the real. For Georges Bataille (2000), the abjected was Marx’s lumpenproletariat, who made no contribution to the reproduction of capital. To be abjected into th real was to be ejected – out of the bottom (Bataill’s ‘solar anus’ of the symbolic space of form into the informe, the formlessness of the real. Global culture industry operates in this space of the real. In the symbolic, signification works through structures to produce meaning. In the desert of the real, signification works through brute force and immediacy. Meaning is no longer hermeneutic; it is operational, as in computer games – that is, meaning is not interpretative; it is doing, it is impact.’

5. Things come alive: bio-power

  • ‘Adorno’s commodities are atomistic, the global culture industry’s singularities are monads’.

  • Atoms are simplistic, monads complex, atoms mechanistic, monads self-organising and reflexive.

  • The self-transforming and self-energising monads of global culture industry are not mechanistic, but vitalistic.

  • H and A’s culture industry is a locus of power, a power that works mechanistically, through external determination of subjects. In global culture industry, power works vitalistically. Vitalist power is bio-power (Foucault, 1976).

  • Mechanistic power works through the fixity of being, vitalist or bio-power works through becoming and movement. Thus power leaves structures and enters flows.

  • Mechano-power ensures the reproduction of capitalist relations, and it works through a principle of identity, bio-power works through production. It is chronically productive.

  • If reproduction is tied to identity, production is tied to difference. It does not stop subjects from producing difference.

6. From Extensive to Intensive

Basically, in global culture industry internal reality (intellect, meaning, emotions) become more intertwined with external reality (property).

7. The rise of the virtual

  • The brand experience is a feeling… the experience of intensity.

  • Brands may embrace a number of extensities, but they are themselves intensities.

  • Brands in this sense are virtuals. As virtuals, they may be actualised in any number of products. Yet the feeling, the brand experience is the same.

  • In semiologial terms, brands are icons, and they need not be attached to objects at all, and this is one way in which contemporary power works.

  • In global culture industry, not only the media scape but also the city scape takes on intensive qualities. Contemporary culture is event-culture, it involves doing.

  • The episteme of global culture industry is metaphysical materialism, based on the materiality of the monad, the reality, as in matrix, of mind. This is matter as multiplicity, matter not as identity but as difference.

So there you go – In short, a very convoluted way of saying that the media is more important to social and economic life than it was in the past, so much so that media, rather than being used merely to represent ‘deeper’, social and economic ‘reality’ has become an integral part of that reality.

Chapter Two – Method: Ontology, Movement, Mapping

Introduction

‘The method adopted from the start of this project was to ‘follow the objects’. We were self-consciously developing a sociology of the object.

Influences on their methods include:

First: The anthropology of material culture (eg Miller), especially the material culture of moving objects (eg Appadurai) ann Alfred Gell’s anthropology of art (who also influenced Miller).

Second: The sociology of science and technology – eg Latour, combined with ‘Media theory’ – especially Jean Baudrillard’s theory of the object and Paul Virilio’s analysis of vision and objects in movement.

None of the above thinkers see objects in mechanical or volumetric terms, not in positivist cause and effect terms, rather they see objects as a singularities.

Thirdly, taking seriously the notion of biography – following Gell, there should be an attempt to study the life-cycle, and to replicate the time-perspective of the actors, so in this case objects.

Fourthly – Gills Deleuze (which has probably triggered your BS detector, but bear with, bear with…) – basically focussing on surfaces and multiplicities, everything on the same level, with no notion of looking for ‘deeper causes’ behind what you see – seeing objects as interlinked with everything else and full of many potential trajectories. Not looking for causality behind the object, but focussing on the multiple potentialities of the object.

Fifthly, from economic sociology, Knorr Centina’s work on global microstructures – looking at how objects are oriented towards each other and thus animate global markets.

Methodology

The methodology of ‘following the object comes’ principally from Appaduri. This is basically looking at the biography of the object.

The advantages of this are:

It focusses on the object in movement, looking at the transitions, rather than the ‘structural causes’, which is too static

It avoids the opposition between the global and the local.

It allows for a radical defamiliarisation with the notion of persons.

So how did they follow objects?

In the book, the authors looked at a number of different objects (a concept which also includes events and movements) – such as the films (and marketing/ products surrounding) Toy Story and Trainspotting, and The Euro 96 football event, amongst other things.

They basically ‘ found out as much as possible about them over as much time and in as many spaces as possible’ and to ‘experience’ the object from as many points of view as possible, because objects can only be experienced from a point of view.

They went to many cities

They interview over 100 experts – from different sectors associated with the objects – such as marketing/ distribution and, of course, audiences.

They looked at secondary sources such as trades magazines

They photographed the objects

Methodology revisited

They claim their method is neither Positivist or Phenemonological – it is objectual.

‘Our method does not assume a distinction between media and society; our assumption is instead that we live in a media society’. They are studying a ‘mediascape’.

The research involves ‘getting ontological with things’ – moving with the objects, subject and object becoming as one, a singularity.

This is different to getting to know things in an epistemological, Kantian sense – they don’t assume the researcher has a value free stand point, and they want to avoid the instrumentalist, calculating approach to researching objects of Positivism.

Instead, the researcher descends into the same reality as the objects he is studying, and so there is only transition, flow..

‘The ontological gaze penetrates. As the object moves out of the epistemological space of extensity, it enters a space of discontinuity, fluidity and excess; it becomes ec-static as an intensity. So this kind of research involves getting ontological with things’.

They then go onto claim that not only are they non-Positivistic in their approach, they are not Phenomenological either – because, unlike Phenomenologists who believe consciousness is different from the things it perceives, as far as they are concerned subjects, objects and investigators are all involved as both perceivers and investigators, all are engaged in sense-making.

The subjects and objects (and investigators) are not beings but becomings, which are constantly moving in media space. The method they think should thus be employed is thus one of ‘mapping’, and their perferred cartographic method dovetails with situationist pyschogeography, which requires a mobile researcher.

However, they depart from SP in the following ways:

They are looking at virtual space rather than urban space.

They are following the spectacle rather than creating it

They are less concerned with the effects of spectacles on the psychology of individuals and more focussed on developing a geography of intensities.

They are aiming for a tactile mapping of singularities, a multi-modal proprioceptive mapping.

All of this is necessary because objects are unclear, indistinct and abstract, which at times become clear, distinct, and concrete.

Comments – how useful is all of this?

On the plus side, the book and the analytical framework demonstrate how complex global consumption has become, and it helps us to understand the appeal of consumption – when you buy a product, or an event, you are buying into a ‘mediascape’ with multiple connectivities, embedding yourself into a complex, global set of interrelationships seemingly unlimited potentialities. It’s also worth pausing to reflect that this is very much the norm these days, or if not the norm, very much what we desire.

According to Lash and Lury, when you consume you become singular with the objects, and there is nothing deeper than the surface reality, no deeper layer which is having a causal effect on individuals. Thus the focus of research is on the unfolding of this surface reality.

This is the weakness in this book – there simply is an underlying reality that is required for all of this to happen – there is a set of social norms which requires that you ‘do things’ and ‘keep doing things’ in order to demonstrate that you belong, and this requirement to perform is coercive – not only the sense that the felt-need to do things prevents you from doing other things, but also because if your consumption practices require you to spend money, most of us need a job to engage in such event-based consumption.

So in short, the underlying, deeper reality which I think is missing is that of broad social norm of expressive-performativity (I’ve yet to decide what I want to call it) linked to consmuption which requires one to earn a living. Thus one is ‘structured’ or ‘limited’ in one’s actions by the array of performative demands one acquiesces to and the amount of money one earns.

By contrast to ‘ordinary life in the mediascape’ I’d suggest there are certain ‘movements’ which reject a life strategy of buying into mediascapes – Early Retirement, Permaculture, Buddhism (yes, they do overlap) for example… all tend to be much more focused on face to face relations with much lower levels of consumption, and aim to be much less ‘eventive’.

I also think this type of research Lash and Lury do is a total waste of time. The rest of the book takes an incredibly in-depth look at some of the products/ events mentioned above. In the chapter on The Euro 96 football event for example all the researchers do is to describe the companies involved in branding and marketing the event and how they are interconnected. Yes it’s complex, yes mediascapes exist,  yes when people ‘buy into’ these events they are participating in complex global flows, but so what, so what? I just don’t get the point of doing this research, and I certainly don’t get the point of people doing any further research like this.

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