The cultural pessimist view of the new media

Cultural pessimists point to the possible downsides of the New Media such as the rise of Fake News, domination of a few media companies, the rise of echo-chambers, the reinforcing of elite power and increasing commercialisation.

Cultural pessimists criticise the cultural optimist view of new media.

cultural pessimist new media

More information is not necessarily a good thing

There may be more information, more news channels and blogs, but a lot this is just copied and modified slightly, or recycled from other places.

Some of the information online may just be ‘fake news’ – deliberately misleading to serve political or corporate ends. The Vote Leave campaign is a good example of this.

More information sources make it more difficult to verify the sources of information, and this is not always possible (in which case you should not use the information!)

information overload may be a problem – having too much data too deal with.

Constant news feeds can lead to us just being ‘distracted by the new’ rather than taking the time to look at one thing in depth. We end up with a shallower understanding of the world as a result.

Domination by media conglomerates

Pessimists argue that rather than the internet being a free space which allows for the free development of individual expression, it has come to be controlled by a handful of big tech companies – namely Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

These companies have invested hugely in New Media in the last decade and they now control not only access to social media sites but also search engines and the web servers which store our information.

There are examples of people being de-platformed without warning or reason on YouTube and Twitter – typically those who hold radical views, suggesting these companies determine who can express what on social media.

So marginalised groups might be able to blog and have a say, but you’ll only be able to find them if these companies allow you!

Echo Chambers

Social Media has led to more polarisation and conflict – Social networks are increasingly isolated from each other into ‘bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’ – people find other people with the same views as them and they all follow each other and just reinforce their own views of the world. People are now less likely to see views which challenge their own. As a result, we have a polarisation of opinion. The case of Brexit is a great example of this.

As well as allowing for ordinary people to connect with each other globally, the internet also makes it easier for organised crime to commit phishing (mass emails) and to sell drugs online, among other crimes.

Groups like 4chan are also a good example of the downside of online global communities – largely anonymous groups who organised collective trolling and hacking just for the lols.

Reinforcing Elite Power

Mainstream political parties now run sophisticated advertising campaigns using big data to manipulate the public into voting for them: Trump’s campaign and the Brexit campaign are two examples of this.

Larger political parties and corporations have more money to spend on advertising to keep their biased information at the top of internet search engines such as Google.

The most radical views are censored – while individuals may be free to express any opinion online, some of the most radical have de-platformed.

Politics is much less visible than entertainment on the internet – suggesting critical political thought is ‘drowned out’ more than ever

Surveillance – the ex-CIA analyst claimed in 2015 that the British security services had the technology to access the information stored on people’s smartphones.

Increasing consumption and commercialisation

The internet seems to have turned into a sphere of consumption, where most of what we see is aimed at selling us something. It is hard to read some news sites, such as The Independent, because of the sheer amount of space devoted to advertising.

Companies such as Amazon use the data we collect to find out our preferences and sell it to advertising companies, so they can target ads at users more effectively, thus manipulating them to buy products they wouldn’t normally buy – it’s estimated that 1/3rd of all Amazon purchase are a result of ‘recommendations’ for example.

This is a very brief ‘list post’ – more depth posts (and references) to follow later in 2019!

 

Advertisements

Globalisation – Key Concepts and Definitions

Communism – an economic system in which the means of production are owned in common and wealth distributed according to need.

Cosmopolitanism – where people or societies are tolerant of other people’s or societies’ ways of life and values; this is one of the positive consequences of globalisation as people increasingly come into contact with other ways of life and make an effort to enter into dialogue with diverse cultures and find ways to ‘live together’. Related concepts include reflexivity and detraditionalisation. The opposite of cosmopolitanism is fundamentalism.

Cultural Globalisation – the movement of ideas, attitudes, meanings, values and cultural products across national borders.

Deregulation – removing restrictions on businesses, for example reducing health and safety regulations.

De-traditionalisation – where people have increasing choice about whether to stick to traditional ways of life; traditions become less stable as people increasingly question their traditional beliefs about religion, marriage, and gender roles and so on.

Economic Globalisation – the global expansion of international capitalism, free markets and the increase in international trade.

Fatalism (Fatalistic Response to Globalisation) – the view that the world is powerless to resist globalisation.

Global Commodity Chains – where networks of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services becomes increasingly stretched across the globe. The making of the physical products tends to be done in poorer countries, whereas the branding and marketing, tend to be done in the richer countries.

Global Risk Consciousness – where people in different countries are increasingly aware of and affected by international threats such as terrorism, nuclear war and global warming. There are two elements to risk consciousness (it pulls in two directions) – one is that we are more fearful and wish to ‘retreat’ from such problems and the other is that we are increasingly brought together in our attempts to overcome such threats.

Globalisation – the increasing interconnectedness and inter-dependency of the world’s nations and their people into a single global, economic, political and global system.

Glocalisation – where people in developing countries select aspects of western culture and adapt them to their particular needs – associated with Transformationalism and critical of the pessimist theory that globalisation results in Americanisation.

Golden Straightjacket – Thomas Friedman’s term for the neoliberal policies countries must adopt if they are to experience economic growth and prosperity.

Ha-Joon Chang – a global pessimist who believes neoliberal policies primarily benefits wealthy countries and harm developing countries; referred to the WTO, World Bank and IMF as the ‘unholy trinity’.

Homogenisation – things becoming increasingly the same; in global terms, the erosion of local cultures and the emergence of one global mono-culture.

Hybridised Global Identities – where identities are increasingly a result of picking and mixing from different cultural traditions around the globe; implies more individual freedom to choose identity and greater diversity; associated with transformationalist theories of globalisation.

Hyper-Globalism – believe that globalisation is happening and that local cultures are being eroded primarily because of the expansion of international capitalism and the emergence of a homogenous global culture; believe that globalisation is a positive process characterised by economic growth, increasing prosperity and the spread of democracy.

Imperialism – where one dominant country takes over and controls another country or countries.

Jeremy Seabrook – a pessimist globalist who believes that globalisation is a ‘declaration of war’ upon local cultures as the expansion of western culture around the world destroys local cultures and reduces cultural diversity.

McWorld – refers specifically to the spread of McDonalds’ restaurants throughout the world; and more generally to the process of Mcdonaldisation which underpins this – i.e. the increasing standardisation of corporate products and the emergence of a global, Americanised monoculture.

Neoliberalism – a set of right wing economic policies which reduce the power of governments and give more freedom to private enterprise – the three main neoliberal policies are deregulation, privatisation and lowering taxation.

Political Globalisation – the process where the sovereignty of nation states is reduced due to the increasing power of International Institutions, such as the United Nations.

Post Industrial Economy – an economy in which the service sector generates more wealth than the manufacturing of physical products. In such an economy more people will be employed in sectors such as leisure, education, business/ finance, and creative industries rather than in manufacturing.

Postmodernity – a globalised society with the following characteristics: a technologically advanced, mainly post-industrial service sector economy, high levels of consumption, lots of individual freedom to shape identities through consumption, and correspondingly high levels of cultural diversity; media-saturation and hyperreality; high levels of insecurity and uncertainty.

Privatisation – the transfer of publicly (state) owned enterprises to private sector companies.

Social Movements – groups of people and/ or organisations who aim to help oppressed groups overcome oppression or change society in some way, believed to be beneficial. Global social movements involve co-operation of people across national borders, and their aims may sometimes clash with those of some national governments.

Thomas Freidman – an optimist globalist who believes that the world wide adoption of neoliberal policies by governments have resulted in economic globalisation, more trade between nations and increasing prosperity for all.

Time-Space Compression – where the world ‘feels smaller’ as we are able to communicate with people in faraway places more instantaneously.

Transformationalism – a theory which holds that globalisation is a complex process involving a number of different two-way exchanges between global institutions and local cultures; it can be reversed and controlled.

United Nations – an international organization formed in 1945 to increase political and economic cooperation among member countries. The organization works on economic and social development programs, improving human rights and reducing global conflicts (source: Investovepida).

Weightless Economy – refers to information based/ electronic products such as computer software, films and music, and information and financial services rather than actual tangible, physical goods such as food, clothing or cars. Such products can be produced, bought and sold much more rapidly than traditional, physical products, and thus trade in them is much more rapid, hence the term ‘weightless economy’.

Related Posts 

Factors Contributing to Globalisation (Giddens)

What is Cultural Globalisation?

What is Economic Globalisation?

What is Political Globalisation?

Cultural Capital and Educational Achievement

Cultural Capital can be defined as the skills and knowledge which an individual can draw on to give them an advantage in social life. In this post, I explore Bourdieu’s foundational concept of the Habitus and then look at how cultural capital can give children an advantage in education.

This is in a bit more depth than you would usually get on a regular A level course.

Key Terms

Capital can be defined as any assets that can improve your life chances.

Cultural Capital – having the skills, knowledge, norms and values which can be used to get ahead in education and life more generally.

Social Capital – possession of social contacts that can ‘open doors’.

Cultural Capital Theory is a Marxist theory of differential educationl achievement. In contrast to cultural deprivation theory, cultural capital theory does not see working class culture as inferior, or lacking in any way, it just sees it as different to middle class culture. Instead of blaming working class underachievement on flawed working-class culture, cultural capital theory focuses on the dominance of middle class culture in society and social institutions.

In short, middle class children are more likely to succeed because the education system is run by the middle classes and works in their interests. The middle classes are able to define their own culture as superior and thus working class culture and working class children are marginalised in the education system and end up underachieving.

Pierre Bourdieu and The Habitus

The Marxist sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is the theorist most closely associated with developing the concept of cultural capital and applying it to education.

Bourdieu argued that each class has its own cultural framework, or set of norms, values and ideas which he calls the habitus. This habitus contains a set of assumptions about what counts as good and bad taste which influences the kind of leisure activities different classes engage in, the kind of places they visit, where they go on holiday, the kind of television programmes they are likely to watch, what kinds of books they are likely to read and the type of music they are likely to listen to.

The middle class habitus places much more value on the following kinds of activities, and thus these are the kinds of activities which middle class children are more likely to be exposed to compared to working class children:

  • Reading non-fiction and classical literature rather than pop literature

  • Watching documentaries rather than soap operas

  • Learning to play classical instruments (e.g. The Piano)

  • Going on educational visits – to museums and art galleries for example

  • Going on holidays abroad (to ‘broaden horizons’).

Exposure to the above activities provides middle class children with ‘cultural capital’ – many of the above activities are inherently educational in nature and provide middle class children with skills and knowledge which give them an advantage at school. This knowledge can either be specific – such as with reading non-fiction, or more general – such as cultural trips providing children with a sense of independence and self-confidence.

Middle class culture is also the dominant culture in most schools, and schools place high value on the above types of middle class skills and knowledge. Middle class children thus ‘just fit in’ with middle class schools, they are at home in a middle class environment, they don’t need to do anything else other than be themselves in order to belong and thrive at school.

In contrast, working class culture (with its immediate gratification and restricted speech codes) is seen as inferior by most schools. The default assumption of the school in regards to working class children is that school is somewhere where working class children are taught to be more middle class – thus by default working class culture is devalued and working class children are more likely to struggle in education as a result.

Educational Capital

One important (and easy to undersand) aspect of cultural capital theory is educational capital – middle class parents are educated to a higher level than working class parents (they are more likely to have university degrees) – an obvious advantage of this is that they are more able to help children with homework throughout their school careers, but the are also more likely to socialise their children into thinking that going to university is a normal part of life – and thus good GCSEs and A levels are a necessity rather than being a choice.

Research on Cultural Capital (look up the following)

  • Dianna Reay – Middle Class Mothers Make The Difference
  • Stephen Ball – The 1988 Education Act gave middle class parents more choice
  • Alison Sullivan – A Quantitative Study of how cultural capital effects 400 children
  • Why do Working Class Kids Lack Aspiration (Broad support for Cultural Capital Theory)

Evaluations of Cultural Capital Theory

Positive Evaluations

  • Cultural capital seems more relevant now with neoliberal education policies – marketisation (and free schools) gave parents and schools more freedom – middle class parents and schools use this freedom to exlude the working classes.

  • Social capital theory is useful in explaning the punishingly depressing fact that privately educated children often use their social networks to get internships to get them into the ‘professions’.

  • Unlike cultural deprivation theory Bourdieu etc. do not see working class culture as inferior or blame the working classes for the failure of their children.

  • The theory links indside and outside school factors – middle class families and middle class schools work together to exlude working class children (espeically see Ball’s idea about the school-parent alliance).

  • The theory may be more relevant now with the establishment of Free Schools – Only middle class parents really have the cultural capital necessary to set up Free Schools.

Criticisms/ Limitations of Cultural Capital Theory

  • Most statistical research suggests material deprivation and economic capital are more significant factors than cultural capital in explaining class differences in educational achievement.

  • It may be unfair to blame schools for being biased against working class children – many schools put extra resources into helping working class children.

  • From a research methods point of view, it is more difficult to research and test out some aspects of cultural capital theory – how do you measure the effect of piano lessons on educational achievement for example?

  • If cultural deprivation theory is true – there are no practical solutions to reducing class inequalities in education within the existing system – more radical (revolutionary?) changes are necessary.

Cultural Capital Theory – A Summary of The Key Ideas:

  • Marxist Theory

  • Middle Class Socialisation = Cultural Advantage– Literature, Classical Music and Museums

  • Middle Class Parents better educated = help with homework/ University seen as necessary

  • Stephen Ball – Skilled Choosers and the School Parent Alliance

  • Social Capital = Internship in friends Dad’s Law Firm = UNFAIR

  • Positive Evaluation – Blames the middle classes/ More relevant with 1988 and Free Schools

  • Negative Evaluation – Money matters more/ no practical solutions to WC failure.

Examples of Cultural Capital in Action

  • Parents encouraging their children to read.

  • Parents taking their children on a trip to a museum.

  • Parents taking their children on a cultural sight seeing tour abroad.

  • Parents encouraging their children to learn the Piano.

  • Parents helping their children with homework.

  • Parents using their research skills to research which school to send their child to.

  • Parents phoning the school to get their children extra support lessons.

  • Parents taking their child for a dyslexia test to get them extra time in exams.