Modernity and Postmodernity – A Summary

Technological changes, globalisation and the move from Modernity to Postmodernity

Two key processes which underpin the move from ‘Modernity’ to ‘Postmodernity’ are technological changes and globalisation. The development of satellite communications and transport technologies seem to be the main causes of globalisation, or the increasing interconnectedness of people across the world. Today we live in a truly global economy with many products in the UK produced in other parts of the world, and many British products being exported to other countries. Cultural globalisation has also taken place – with more people moving and communicating with each other across the world. We also face a number of shared global problems – such as new risky technologies and ecological problems. There are many different perspectives on Globalisation, but it is hard to argue that it is happening and that we have moved into a post-modern era as a result

Modernity (1650 – 1970s ish)

Postmodernity 1970s – Present Day

Industrial and Economic Contexts

  • Industrial economies – Production is central – jobs for life

  • Nation State, most people vote and are in trades unions

  • Organised/ Heavy Capitalism and the Welfare State

  • Post-Industrial, service sector, portfolio workers and consumption is central

  • Declining power of the Nation State

  • Disorganised Capitalism/ Liquid Capitalism (Bauman)

Features of Society

  • Culture reflects the underlying class and patriarchal structures

  • Nuclear family the norm, marriage for life

  • Identities shaped/ constrained by class position/ sex. (*)

  • Media – one way communication, reflects ‘reality’

  • Culture is free from structure – it is more Diverse and Fragmented

  • Relationships more diverse

  • More Individual Freedom to shape identities

  • Media – more global, two- way, hyperreality (Baudrillard)

Attitudes to Knowledge

  • Enlightenment – Science/ Objective Knowledge

  • Truth and Progress

  • Critique of the Enlightenment (Foucault)

  • Incredulity towards Metanarratives (Lyotard)

The role of Sociology

  • Positivism/ Functionalism – doing research to find how societies function and gradually building a better world

  • Marxism/ Feminism – concerned with emancipation – freeing individuals from oppression.

  • Narrative histories (Foucault) done on an individual basis

  • Deconstruction (Lyotard) and Destabilising Theory (Judith Butler)

Unfortunately grids don’t cut and past that well into WordPress. A much neater version of the above grid can be found in my Theory and Methods Revision Notes, along with summaries of all the other perspectives too…

Functionalism notes

The notes cover the following sub-topics:

  1. Functionalism
  2. Marxism
  3. Feminism
  4. Social Action Theory
  5. Postmodernism
  6. Late Modernism
  7. Sociology and Social Policy

Post and Late Modern Perspectives on Society and Identity

This is intended to be an uber-brief summary, for fuller accounts please see other relevant posts. 

The postmodern view of society 

  • Globalisation destablises social structures
  • Consumer culture floats free from other institutions
  • The media and hyperreality are important
  • There is much more diversity
  • The End of Metanarratives

The corresponding postmodern view of identity

  • Individuals identities are no longer constrained by traditional norms (such as locality, social class or gender)
  • Leisure and consumption, not work are what bind us together and what we use to actively construct our identities
  • Individuals are free to construct their own identities in any way they see fit.

The Late Modern view of society 

  • Globalisation remains structured
  • Abstract Systems are important (T$E)
  • Uncertainty is everywhere
  • Institutions are reflexive
  • Therapy is important.

The corresponding Late Modern view of Identity 

  • Individuals are not so much free to construct their own identities – they have to do so.
  • This is because the lack of a stable structure and rapid pace of social change means identity is no longer provided at birth, work, or locality.
  • Thus people are forced into devoting time and money to ‘constructing their selves’ reflexively – and they have to do so continuously.

Comparing Post and Late Modern views of self, society and sociology

A comparison of Post and Late Modern Views of self and society, and the corresponding purposes of social research

Postmodern View of Society and Self

-Globalisation destabilises social structures – Globalisation is an unpredictable process

-Consumer culture is free from social structure and this is what informs most people’s lives

-Hyperreality is more important than actual reality, such that it is impossible to get in touch with the real world (individual’s cannot free themselves from discourse)

-Individuals have the freedom to construct identity, this =More Diversity Tolerance of diversity is essentially utopia.

-End of Metanarratives – Because of all of the above, the idea of searching for one truth or one grand theory which can be applied to help free us from ‘want or oppression’ is out of date – there are many truths.

-Objectivity does not exist – we can only gain knowledge through discourse/ language and we cannot see beyond language.

The Postmodern View of the Point of Social Research

-Because Sociology should abandon the quest for truth, and because individuals are free, it makes sense that the focus of Sociology should be on what people do with their new found freedoms in post-modern culture – thus the focus should be on people’s stories, on exploring the diversity of identities – of special interest here is the exploration of hybrid identities.

-Also of particular interest to ‘Postmodern’ researchers is the issue of ‘transgression’ – focussing on telling the stories of those who go against traditional norms -Deviants and criminals for example.

-There is also a critical element to Postmodern research – which is deconstruction – using evidence to pick apart those theories which claim to have found the truth, in order to keep those dreaded metarratives at bay.

-To my mind most BBC Documentaries are good examples of Postmodern Research – typically narratives of transgressive individuals or groups, with little theory.

Late Modern (Giddens’) view of Society and Self

There is a global structure – e.g. it’s Capitalist and Nation States remain powerful, but it’s dynamic, constantly changing, and not predictable.

-Institutions (political and economic) are reflexive – they try to ‘steer’ events in the future in the light of existing (imperfect) knowledge.

-There are significant global problems (manufactured risks) which we all face and none of us can escape – e.g. Global Warming. These are real, not hyperreal and bind us together, even if many of us fail to accept this.

-The increased pace of change and Uncertainty are a fundamental part of late-modernity.

-Globalisation penetrates our lifeworlds through abstract Systems (money, clock time, expert systems especially science).

-The media is more important and influential in late-modern society, but Giddens rejects the concept of hyperreality – the main significance of the media is that it makes us more aware of diversity and of the fact that there are many different ways of living.

-In terms of the self – Individualisation is the major process – we are forced to look to ourselves and continuously ask the question ‘who am I’ – identity becomes a task, something we must do for ourselves, and nearly every aspect of our lives becomes something we need to reflect on as a result.

-It is for this reason that we become concerned with constructing a ‘Narrative of Self’ – A coherent life story, so that we can convince ourselves that we have a stable identity through time. Constructing a self-identity takes a lot of time and effort.

-Therapy emerges as a new expert system to help people in the process of continual identity reconstruction – especially useful at epochal moments like divorce.

– The construction and expression of the self becomes the new norm – there are many ways we can do this – mainly through consumption (buying and doing stuff), through relationships, and through developing bodily regimes (health regimes).

– An unfortunate consequence of this focus on the self is the rise of Narcissism, with very few people asking moral and existential questions about existence

– However, this process is dialectical and New Social Movements (e.g. the Green Movement) which does consider moral and existential issues – in which people attempt to incorporate moral and existential questions into the construction of their ‘political’ identities.

-Late Modernity produces various ‘Generic’ Types of Identity – The Narcissist, the Fundamentalist, both are extreme expressions of the same social system.

Giddens’ view of the purpose of social research

-Doing research to inform the ongoing process of reflexive modernisation at an institutional level

-Doing research into how flexible structures and what extent these structures are used (used by) to either constrain or empower people

-Helping people to realise that they are still dependent on ‘structures’ and dispelling the ‘myth of total individual freedom’.

-Encouraging people to consider moral and existential issues when they engage in the construction of self-identities and thereby helping people be more effective agents in the ongoing (re) constitution of society.

Critical Responses to Postmodernism

Anthony Giddens attacks post-modernity firstly because he believes that we have not yet left modernity – and thus the sociology of modernity still provides the correct tools for analysing contemporary society, and secondly because he believes that there is still a social structure with both constrains and enables human action.

Structuration Theory

Giddens theory is that there is a ‘duality of structure’ – not only do structures constrain and determine certain forms of behaviour, but they also enable behaviour. Furthermore, the structural circumstances within which human action take place are reproduced (and changed) but this process.

For Giddens, structure is a moving thing – a moving body of rules and resources which agents use for action. For example, we are to an extent constrained by the use of language, but we can still modify it over time.

Risk and Reflexivity

Giddens distinguishes between two types of risk – external risks and manufactured risk – it is the difference between worrying about what nature can do to us, and worrying about what we have done to nature as a consequence of our own actions. Manufactured risks are central to late-modern society – and they infuse every aspect of our lives – both at the level of society, and at the level of intimate relations

Giddens – Reflexivity in Late Modernity

According to Giddens there are some very real (rather than just discursively mediated) institutional changes going on the world – the increasing pace of globalisation (especially the rise of global media and the spread of huge volumes of information), and the threat of nuclear proliferation, environmental decline and the challenges of migration all pose very real challenges which effect our lives.

The simple fact of the matter is that in light of these new problems, no one is certain about what to do about them, there are competing experts who have different opinions – however, we don’t just accept that anything goes – at an institutional level scientists and politicians do their best to meet the above challenges, even if this is in a climate of uncertainty. Meanwhile at the same time, exposure to new cultures via IT means that all of our traditions are now open to question.

As a result of all of these changes, the self becomes a reflexive project – we have to continually remake it in the light of continually produced new knowledge – everything becomes a choice, and the self has to be ‘worked on’. People start to put the self-first because this is a psychological requirement under conditions of social uncertainty.

The nature of self-identity changes – constructing a ‘narrative of the self’ becomes something we are forced to pay attention to – and the ‘obsessive’ process of self-reflection, self-construction and self-expression become the norm.

Two general social forms emerge as a result of this – firstly, the rise of therapy to help us get through the uncertainty of late-modern life and secondly the rise of the body as being central to identity – the later because nothing else is as ‘grounded’ as the body – hence why we obsess with our looks and clothes today.

One key part of what isn’t in Jones’s summary of Giddens also argues that the process of constructing a self-identity – which requires that we continually respond to changing social conditions – takes so much effort, that most of us ask fewer moral and existential questions, although some of us do – as is evidenced in the emergence of new social movements.

Postmodernism and the Point of Sociology

A brief post on the relationship between Postmodernisation and what the point of Sociology might be from a Postmodern Perspective:

The process of Postmodernisation consist of:

  • Globalisation which destabilises social structures – Globalisation is an unpredictable process
  • Consumer culture is free from social structure and this is what informs most people’s lives
  • Hyperreality is more important than actual reality, such that it is impossible to get in touch with the real world (individual’s cannot free themselves from discourse)
  • Individuals have the freedom to construct identity, this =More Diversity Tolerance of diversity is essentially utopia.
  • The End of Metanarratives – Because of all of the above, the idea of searching for one truth or one grand theory which can be applied to help free us from ‘want or oppression’ is out of date – there are many truths.
  • Objectivity does not exist – we can only gain knowledge through discourse/ language and we cannot see beyond language.

What might Sociology look like in the Context of Postmodernity? 

Just a few suggestions…

  • Because Sociology should abandon the quest for truth, and because individuals are free, it makes sense that the focus of Sociology should be on what people do with their new found freedoms in post-modern culture – thus the focus should be on people’s stories, on exploring the diversity of identities – of special interest here is the exploration of hybrid identities.
  • Also of particular interest to ‘Postmodern’ researchers is the issue of ‘transgression’ – focussing on telling the stories of those who go against traditional norms -Deviants and criminals for example.
  • There is also a critical element to Postmodern research – which is deconstruction – using evidence to pick apart those theories which claim to have found the truth, in order to keep those dreaded metanarratives at bay.
  • To my mind most BBC Documentaries are good examples of Postmodern Research – typically narratives of transgressive individuals or groups, with little theory.

Criticisms of Postmodernism

While most sociologists agree that modern society is more fragmented and uncertain, they disagree with some elements of post-modernism

postmodernism

a. Lyotard’s idea about the collapse of grand narratives can be criticised because it is itself a ‘grand narrative’

b. Frederick Jamieson argued that Post-Modernism is the ‘cultural logic of late capitalism’ – In the same way as modernist social theories are products of modernity – so post-modernism is a product of advanced capitalism – Capitalism has produced a world of fantastical objects and lifestyles – which invites those of lucky enough to be able to afford it to play rather than worry about the conditions under which our goods and services are produced – Post-modern thought which focuses on ‘how we play’ rather than worrying about the big problems that face us (poverty etc) could be seen as being similar to what the Transnational Capitalist Class want of us – that we identify ourselves as consumers and play rather than worry about the ‘dual logics of exploitation’ (people and planet) that lie behind the productive processes of late-Capitalism.

c. Zygmunt Bauman argues that it is Capitalism that has produced this unstable post-modern world in which we live…And It tends to be the poor that experience instability in a negative way (think refugees) while the rich experience it in a positive way (we can ‘play in our consumer playground and avoid the worst bits of the world). If we want a better world we need to figure out a way of being more in control of what kind of world we are creating, rather than just accepting our fate as consumers and playing like little children. Lyotar’ds idea that now we are ‘free from the tyranny of metanarratives’ that’s as good it gets’ denies our capacity as humans to act collectively for the common good.

d. Building on the above – thinkers on the left argue that p-m is a middle class, intellectual view point – a luxury of the chattering class – the new proletariat in the developing world may not see the relevance of post-modernism to their lives.

e. Social thought that focuses on how we construct our identities in a world of hyper-reality is uncritical. One might argue that it suffers from a ‘myopia of the visible’. Just because the world appears more fragmented, and just because our media-mediated world is removed from reality doesn’t mean there isn’t a reality out there that needs to be understood – Lets face it once the oil runs out and three quarters of the planet is dying because of global warming ‘actual reality’ might once again begin to seem to be more real than hyper reality.

Three Examples of Post-Modern Thinkers

Post modernists argue that we need new ways of thought to understand and conceptualise this new ‘post-modern society’ – the age old theories of modernity are no longer relevant!

  1. Lyotard – the abandonment of the Enlightenment Project

Lyotard refers to post-modernism as‘incredulity towards metanarratives’. A metanarrative is a theory that holds that it is the universal truth, or it contains within it a great hope of salvation if only everyone would go along with it! Science, religion, political ideologies are all metanarratives. According to Lyotard, in the postmodern world, people have seen all of these metanarratives turn to ashes, the promises they once held have turned out to be disastrous.

The greater diversity and freedom of the post-modern age means that individuals abandon the search for one universal truth. Lyotard argues that this is a good thing, because the search for universal truths has led to such terror and oppression in the past. Hence post-modern diversity is good because it should promote tolerance!

In a nutshell, Modernists tend to believe that if we can find the truth, then we can apply this to society and it will enable us to be free; while according to post-modernists, in order to be free, we need to be liberated from the concept of truth!

  1. Michel Foucault1 – Knowledge is not objective – rather it is distorted by power

Michel Foucault argued that the modernist Enlightenment project is a myth – throughout history knowledge has not been objective and it has not necessarily been used to make the world a better place. This is because the knowledge we collect about the world is shaped by the subjective views and values of those with power. Foucault illustrates this through exploring how societies have dealt with insanity and criminality throughout history. He basically argues that those in power define their own behaviours and values as ‘normal’ –and then those most unlike them as mentally ill or criminal – once these basic categories have been established, experts then emerge to construct ‘expert knowledge’ about why people are insane and how they are best treated. The labels ‘sane’ and ‘insane’ according to Foucault are subjective.

To illustrate this, in the 1940s the social norm was to have children within marriage. Women who had children outside of wedlock were labelled as insane, and sometimes put in mental institutions and subjected to study by experts. The point here though is that there is nothing objective, value free, or progressive about the original categories of ‘sane’ and insane’ – these are simply a function of power.

  1. Jean Baudrillard – Hyper reality is more important than actual reality

The post-modern era has witnessed a huge expansion in media technology. One consequence of this is that our society has an increased reliance on the media to tell us what is going on in the world. Jean Baudrillard argues that the media creates something called ‘hyper reality’ where what we see in the media is different from and yet more real than reality. Baudrillard argues that the media coverage of war for example is different to reality, yet is the only reality most of us know. The media is thus a world different from reality, and thus a modernist project that focuses on how ‘reality’ influences people’s lives and how we should try to ‘improve’ society seams irrelevant in a society where most people have not lived experience of this social reality.

A Sociology of Post-Modernity

Post-modernism has influence Sociology….

For Zygmunt Bauman2, the central feature of post-modern society is that we are all consumers. Rather than basing our identities around work (and hence class), we are much more likely to define ourselves through the products that we buy. It follows that post-modern sociology is much more focussed on how people use consumption to define and understand themselves. There is much more of a focus on how people construct their identities in a world of huge potentiality. Post-modern sociology is thus much more interested in describing the diversity of life and looking at how people cope in the hectic, post-modern world around us, and much less interested in social structures and how these shape people’s identities. The Sociology of post-modernity is also very interested in deviance and subcultures and in individuals and groups transgress ‘normative boundaries’

Transgression….. Because post-modern society is different, and as culture has become more important, it means that new areas have opened up for study. Such new areas include studies of rave culture, the study of new genders and the development of ‘queer theory’, and the emergence of cultural and media studies as sub- disciplines of sociology.

Narrative – Much of this new post-modern sociology limits itself to a description of the ways of life of these groups, and at best tentative attempts to theorise specific to that group under study. Post-modernists are not interested in constructing generalise able social theory as they believe such a mission is flawed.

1 Strictly a post-structuralist, but for A level we can let that distinction pass!

2 KT thinks the term ‘critical late modernist’ is a better way of categorising Bauman’s work

Related Posts

Criticisms of Post-Modernism

Postmodern and Late Modern Views of Education – A Summary

The Postmodernist View of Education 

  • Postmodernists stand against universalising education systems – it there is no one truth, then it is not appropriate to have a one size fits all education system.
  • Modernist education is oppressive to many students – students give up their freedom for 11 years in order to learn knowledge which will improve their life chances – this does not work for everyone.
  • Ideas of education which fit with a postmodern agenda include –
  1. Home Education
  2. Liberal forms of education (Summerhill School)
  3. Adult Education and Life Long Learning (because adults can make more of a choice)
  4. Education outside of formal education (leisure)

The Late-Modernist View of Education

  • At an Institutional level education (mainly schools) become a fundamental part of the reflexive institutional landscape of Post-Fordist late-modernity
  • Education policy is one of the things which the New Right and New Labour governments can and have used to ‘colonise the future’ by (a) providing opportunities for reskilling in an ever changing global labour market and (b) to keep under surveillance students ‘at risk’ of future deviance.

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.

Modernity, Postmodernity and The Family

Modernity, Postmodernity and The Family is one of the most difficult topics for students to get their heads around – The first thing to understand is that modernist social theories (Functionalism and Marxism) are OLD – and were theorising about the family over 50 years ago.

The second thing is that Postmodern theories aren’t really theories – they just think that structures have disappeared and so Sociology should go all journalistic and just sort of marvel at the diversity of family life. IMO Postmodernism is not really Sociology at all, it’s (lame) lifestyle journalism.

Anyway, it’s on the spec, the mind map below is an overview of how Modernity, Postmodernity and ‘theorising’ about the family all fit together. Use in conjunction with my other posts on Post and Late Modernism for more depth.

Click to enlarge/ Save

Modernity postmodernity Family

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Postmodern perspectives on the family

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