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Modernization Theory

The classic text of Modernization Theory

By the end of the Second World War many of the countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America had failed to develop and remained poor, despite exposure to capitalism. There was concern amongst the leaders of the western developed countries, especially the United States, that communism might spread into many of these countries, potentially harming American business interests abroad and diminishing U.S. Power.

In this context, in the late 1940s, modernisation theory was developed, which aimed to provide a specifically non-communist solution to poverty in the developing world – Its aim was to spread a specifically industrialised, capitalist model of development through the promotion of Western, democratic values.

Modernisation theory thought the ‘third world’ should develop like the ‘first world’

 

There are two main aspects of modernisation theory – (1) its explanation of why poor countries are underdeveloped, and (2) its proposed solution to underdevelopment.

Modernisation theory explained the underdevelopment of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America primarily in terms of cultural ‘barriers’ to development’, basically arguing that developing countries were underdeveloped because their traditional values held them back; other modernisation theorists focused more on economic barriers to development.

In order to develop, less developed countries basically needed to adopt a similar path to development to the West. They needed to adopt Western cultural values and industrialise in order to promote economic growth. In order to do this they would need help from Western governments and companies, in the form of aid and investment.

Modernisation theory favoured a capitalist- industrial model of development – they believed that capitalism (the free market) encouraged efficient production through industrialisation, the process of moving towards factory based production.

Industrial –refers to production taking place in factories rather than in the home or small workshops. This is large scale production. (Think car plants and conveyer belts).

Capitalism – a system where private money is invested in industry in order to make a profit and goods are produced are for sale in the market place rather than for private consumption.

Modernisation theory thought industrialisation could drive development in poorer countries

 

There are alternative systems of production to Capitalism – subsistence systems are where local communities produce what they need and goods produced for sale are kept to a minimum; and Communism, where a central authority decides what should be produced rather than consumer demand and desire for profit. (Need drives production in Communism, individual wants or desires (‘demand’)  in Capitalism)

Modernisation Theory: What Prevents Development?

According to Modernisation Theorists, obstacles to development are internal to poorer countries. In other words, undeveloped countries are undeveloped because they have the wrong cultural and social systems and the wrong values and practices that prevent development from taking place.

The Caste System in India is a good example of an ascribed status system based on traditional values

Talcott Parsons (1964) was especially critical of the traditional values of underdeveloped countries – he believed that they were too attached to traditional customs, rituals, practices and institutions, which Parsons argued were the ‘enemy of progress’. He was especially critical of the extended kinship and tribal systems found in many traditional societies, which he believed hindered the geographical and social mobility that were essential if a country were to develop (as outlined in his Functional Fit theory).

Parsons argued that traditional values in Africa, Asia and Latin America acted as barriers to development which included –

  • Particularism – Where people are allocated into roles based on their affective or familial relationship to those already in positions power. For example, where a politician or head of a company gives their brother or someone from their village or ethnic group a job simply because they are close to them, rather than employing someone based on their individual talent.
  • Collectivism – This is where the individual is expected to put the group (the family or the village) before self-interest – this might mean that children are expected to leave school at a younger age in order to care for elderly parents or grandparents rather than staying in school and furthering their education.
  • Patriarchy – Patriarchal structures are much more entrenched in less developed countries, and so women are much less likely to gain positions of political or economic power, and remain in traditional, housewife roles. This means that half of the population is blocked from contributing to the political and economic development of the country.
  • Ascribed Status and Fatalism – Ascribed status is where your position in society is ascribed (or determined) at birth based on your caste, ethnic group or gender. Examples include the cast system in India, many slave systems, and this is also an aspect of extreme patriarchal societies. This can result in Fatalism – the feeling that there is nothing you can do to change your situation.

In contrast, Parsons believed that Western cultural values which promoted competition and economic growth: such values included the following:

  • Individualism – The opposite of collectivism This is where individuals put themselves first rather than the family or the village/ clan. This frees individuals up to leave families/ villages and use their talents to better themselves ( get an education/ set up businesses)
Individualism should promote competition and drive economic growth

 

  • Universalism – This involves applying the same standards to everyone, and judging everyone according to the same standards This is the opposite of particularism, where people are judged differently based on their relationship to the person doing the judging.
  • Achieved Status and Meritocracy – Achieved status is where you achieve your success based on your own individual efforts. This is profoundly related to the ideal of meritocracy. If we live in a truly meritocratic society, then this means then the most talented and hardworking should rise to the top-jobs, and these should be the best people to ‘run the country’ and drive economic and social development.
Modern education systems embody universalism and meritocracy

Parsons believed that people in undeveloped countries needed to develop an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ if economic growth was to be achieved, and this could only happen if less developed countries became more receptive to Western values, which promoted economic growth.

Rostow’s five stage model of development

Modernisation Theorists believed traditional societies needed Western assistance to develop. There were numerous debates about the most effective ways to help countries develop, but there was general consensus on the view that aid was a good thing and if Developing countries were injected with money and western expertise it would help to erode ‘backward’ cultural barriers and kick starts their economies.

The most well-known version of modernization theory is Walt Rostow’s 5 stages of economic growth. Rostow (1971) suggested that following initial investment, countries would then set off on an evolutionary process in which they would progress up 5 stages of a development ladder. This process should take 60 years. The idea is that with help from West, developing countries could develop a lot faster than we did.

Stage 1 – Traditional societies whose economies are dominated by subsistence farming. Such societies have little wealth to invest and have limited access to modern industry and technology. Rostow argued that at this stage there are cultural barriers to development (see sheet 6)

Stage 2 – The preconditions for take off – the stage in which western aid packages brings western values, practises and expertise into the society. This can take the form of:

  • Science and technology – to improve agriculture

  • Infrastructure – improving roads and cities communications

  • Industry – western companies establishing factories

These provide the conditions for investment, attracting more companies into the country.

Stage 3 – Take off stage –The society experiences economic growth as new modern practices become the norm. Profits are reinvested in infrastructure etc. and a new entrepreneurial class emerges and urbanised that is willing to invest further and take risks. The country now moves beyond subsistence economy and starts exporting goods to other countries

This generates more wealth which then trickles down to the population as a whole who are then able to become consumers of new products produced by new industries there and from abroad.

Stage 4 – The drive to maturity.

More economic growth and investment in education, media and birth control. The population start to realise new opportunities opening up and strive to make the most of their lives.

Stage 5 – The age of high mass consumption. This is where economic growth and production are at Western levels.

Variations on Rostow’s 5 stage model

Different theorists stress the importance of different types of assistance or interventions that could jolt countries out their traditional ways and bring about change.

  • Hoselitz – education is most important as it should speed up the introduction of Western values such as universalism, individualism, competition and achievement measured by examinations. This was seen as a way of breaking the link between family and children.

  • Inkeles – media – Important to diffuse ideas non traditional such as family planning and democracy

  • Hoselitz – urbanisation. The theory here is that if populations are packed more closely together new ideas are more likely to spread than amongst diffuse rural population

Strengths of Modernisation Theory/ Examples of it (sort of) Working

ONE – Indonesia – partly followed Modernisation theory in the 1960’s by encouraging western companies to invest and by accepting loans from the World Bank. But, their President Suharto (Dictator) also maintained a brutal regime which a CIA report refers to as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century,” comparable to those of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. However, the World Bank praised Suharto’s economic transformation as “a dynamic economic success” and called Indonesia “the model pupil of the global economy,” while Bill Clinton referred to Suharto as “our kind of guy.”

Two further examples of where western expertise has helped solved specific problems in a number of developing countries are the green revolution and the eradication of smallpox, but neither of these lead to ‘the high age of mass consumption’ as Rostow predicted

TWO – The Green Revolution: In the 1960s, Western Biotechnology helped treble food yields in Mexico and India.

THREE – The Eradication of Smallpox… In the early 1950s 50 million cases of smallpox occurred in the world each year, by the early 1970s smallpox had been eradicated because of vaccine donations by the USA and RUSSIA

Criticisms of Modernisation Theory 

Firstly, there are no examples of countries that have followed a Modernisation Theory approach to development. No countries have followed Rostow’s “5 stages of growth” in their entirety. Remember, “Modernisation Theory” is a very old theory which was partly created with the intention of justifying the position of western capitalist countries, many of whom were colonial powers at the time, and discrediting Communism. This is why it is such a weak theory.

Secondly, Modernization Theory assumes that western civilisation is technically and morally superior to traditional societies. Implies that traditional values in the developing world have little value compared to those of the West. Many developed countries have huge inequalities and the greater the level of inequality the greater the degree of other problems: High crime rates, suicide rates, poor health problems such as cancer and drug abuse.

Is the collectivist culture of Anuta really inferior to the individualised culture in the West?

Thirdly, Dependency Theorists argue that development is not really about helping the developing world at all. It is really about changing societies just enough so they are easier to exploit, making western companies and countries richer, opening them up to exploit cheap natural resources and cheap labour.

Fourth, Neo-Liberalism is critical of the extent to which Modernisation theory stresses the importance of foreign aid, but corruption (Kleptocracy) often prevents aid from getting to where it is supposed to be going. Much aid is siphoned off by corrupt elites and government officials rather than getting to the projects it was earmarked for. This means that aid creates more inequality and enables elites to maintain powe

Fifth, Post-Development thinkers argue that the model is flawed for assuming that countries need the help of outside forces. The central role is on experts and money coming in from the outside, parachuted in, and this downgrades the role of local knowledge and initiatives. This approach can be seen as demeaning and dehumanising for local populations. Galeano (1992) argues that minds become colonised with the idea that they are dependent on outside forces. They train you to be paralysed and then sell you crutches. There are alternative models of development that have raised living standards: Such as Communist Cuba and The Theocracies of the Middle East

Sixthly, industrialisation may do more harm than good for many people – It may cause Social damage – Some development projects such as dams have led to local populations being removed forcibly from their home lands with little or no compensation being paid.

In the clip below, Vandana Shiva presents a useful alternative perspective on the Green Revolution, pointing out that many traditional villages were flooded and destroyed in the process:

Finally, there are ecological limits to growth. Many industrial modernisation projects such as mining and forestry have led to the destruction of environment.

Post-Script: Neo-Modernisation Theory?

Despite its failings Modernisation theory has been one of most influential theories in terms of impact on global affairs. The spirit of Modernisation theory resulted in the establishment of the United Nations, The World Bank and the IMF, global financial institutions through which developed countries continue to channel aid money to less developed countries to this day, although there is of course debate over whether aid is an effective means to development.

Would we have the Millennium Development Goals without Modernisation Theory?

Furthermore, the ‘spirit of Modernisation theory may actually still be alive today, in the form of Jeffry Sachs. Sachs (2005) is one of the most influential development economists in the world, and he has been termed a ‘neo-modernisation theorist’.

Sachs, like Rostow, sees development as a ladder with its rungs representing progress towards economic and social well-being. Sachs argues that there are a billion people in the world who are too malnourished, diseased or young to lift a foot onto the ladder because they often lack certain types of capital which the west takes for granted – such as good health, education, knowledge and skills, or any kind of savings.

Sachs argues that these billion people are effectively trapped in a cycle of deprivation and require targeted aid injections from the west in order to develop. In the year 2000 Sachs even went as far as calculating how much money would be required to end poverty – it worked out at 0.7% of GNP of the 30 or so most developed countries over the next few decades.

Related Posts/ Sources:

Steve Basset has produced an excellent series of vodcasts introducing Modernization Theory and other theories of development:

I’d also recommend this this useful article on Walt Rostow from The Guardian as some further reading.

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Meet the Natives (Sociology on T.V.)

Meet the Natives involves five people from a tropical island visiting a ‘strange land called England’, where they find many of the customs unusual.

At various points throughout the video the ‘natives’ from Oceania have problems understanding British dinner rituals, the food we eat, housework/ the amount of stuff we have and even the concept of wearing clothes.

Videos like this are a great way to introduce the ‘sociological imagination’ to students, because they are shot from the perspective of ‘the outsider’ and remind us that many of our taken for granted activities are actually quite unusual….

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An Introduction to Culture, Socialisation, and Social Norms

In sociology, it is essential to understand the social context in which human behaviour takes place – and this involves understanding the culture in which social action occurs.

Culture is a very broad concept which encompasses the norms, values, customs, traditions, habits, skills, knowledge, beliefs and the whole way of life of a group of people.

To give two specific, and classic definitions of the term culture:

  • Ralph Linton (1945) defined the culture of a society as ‘the way of life of its members: the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation’.
  • Clyde Kluckhohn (1951) described culture as a ‘design for living’ held by the members of a particular society.

To a large degree, culture determines how members of society think and feel: it directs their actions and defines their outlook on life. Culture defines accepted ways of behaving for members of society.

In order to survive, any newborn infant must learn the accepted ways of behaving in a society, it must learn that society’s culture, a process known as socialisation, which sociologists tend to split into two ‘phases’ – primary and secondary.

Primary socialisation takes place in the family: the child learns many social rules simply by copying its parents, and responding to their approval or disapproval of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour, which is taught through a variety of rewards and punishments, such as simple praise, treats, smacking and the naughty step.

Secondary socialisation takes place outside of the family in other social institutions including the education system, the peer group, the media, religion and the work place.

Many (though not all) sociologists argue that the norms and values we pick up through these institutions encourage us to act in certain ways, and discourage us from acting in others, and, just as importantly,  they ‘frame’ our worldviews in subtle ways – encouraging us value certain things that other cultures might think have no value, or discouraging us to ask certain ‘critical questions’.

Just some of the ways these institutions might subtly shape our behaviour include:

  • Religion – reinforces basic moral codes such as ‘not killing’, ‘not stealing’, and the value of monogamous relationships, sanctioned by marriage.
  • Education – teaches us the value of tolerating people with different views from ourselves, the value of teamwork and the idea of the individual work ethic – ‘if I work hard I can achieve’.
  • The Media – through advertising, it teaches us that high levels of consumption of products are normal, and through the over-representation of skinny, beautiful, young people, it encourages to spend time and money to look good.

Socialisation is not simply a process in which individuals just passively accept the values of a society – children and adults actively reflect on whether they should accept them, and some choose to actively engage in ‘mainstream’ culture, others just go along with it, and still other reject these values, but those who reject mainstream culture are very much in a minority, while most of us go along with mainstream norms and values most of the time. 

Socialisation and the process of learning social norms

Part of the socialisation process involves learning the specific norms, or informal rules which govern behaviour in particular situations.

There are literally hundreds (and probably thousands) of social norms which govern how people act in specific places and at specific times – the most obvious ones being dress codes, ways of speaking, ways of interacting with others, body language, and the general demeanor appropriate to specific situations.

Social norms are most obvious at key events in the life course such as weddings and funerals, with their obvious rituals (which would be out of place in most other situations) and codes of dress, but they also exist in day to day life – there is a ‘general norm’ that we should wear clothes in public, we are generally expected to turn up to school and work on time, to not push in if there’s a queue in a shop, and we are also generally expected to politely ignore strangers in public places and on public transport (1) (2)

Norms also vary depending on the characteristics of the person – for example, whether you are male or female, or young or old, but more of that later.

Cross cultural differences in social norms

One of the best ways of illustrating just how many social norms we have in Britain is to look at examples of other cultures which are far removed from our own – such as traditional tribes who still exist in parts of South America, Oceania, Asia, and Africa. By reflecting on how different the norms are in these other cultures, we get a good idea of just how many aspects of our day to day lives we take for granted.

For example the San Bushmen of Southern Africa have very different norms surrounding material culture – because they are hunter gatherers, they own very few items, and traditionally their economy was a gift economy, rather than a money economy. Thus, in this culture, money has no value, and ‘stuff’ is simply a burden.

San Bushmen.jpg
The San Bushmen (although their traditional culture is much changed from 100 years ago)

The Sanema, who live in the rain forests of Brazil and Venezuela, have a radically different belief system in which dreams are as important as ‘waking reality’:

The Sanema believe in a dream world inhabited by the spirits of everything around them. The trees, the animals, the rocks, the water all have a spirit. Some can be used to heal, others to bring disaster and death.

Four out of five Sanema men are practicing shamans and it is in their dreams that the spirits visit them. The main work of  the shamen is to dispel the evil spirits they believe cause illnesses, and to do this they induce a trance by taking powerful hallucinogenic drug, sakona, made from the dried sap of the virola tree.

In Sanema culture, it is perfectly usual for these shamans to be off their faces on hallucinogenic drugs, ‘warding off evil spirits’ in the middle of the day, while other people go about their more ‘ordinary’ (by our standards) business of cooking, washing, cleaning, or just chillaxing (typically in hammocks).

Sanema Tribe
Bruce Parry and a Sanema shaman off their faces on hallucinogens – it’s normal there!

There are many other examples that could be used to illustrate the extreme variations in social norms across cultures – such as differences in how cultures treat children, or differences in gender norms, the point is that none of these behaviours are determined by biology or physical environment – we’re all pretty much the same as a biological species – these cultural differences are simply to do with social traditions, passed down by socialisation.

Historical differences in social norms 

Social norms also change over time – the most obvious being how norms surrounding childhood and gender have changed, as well as norms surrounding expenditure and consumption.

The fact that social norms change over time again shows that biological differences cannot explain historical variations in human behaviour, and also raises the important point that individuals have the freedom to change the norms they are born into.

Related Posts 

(1) To illustrate just now many social norms govern our lives, you might like to read this post: how social norms structure your day (forthcoming post)

(2) Some sociologists (and sociologicalish commentators) are very critical of many of our social norms – suggesting variously that they are just not necessary, too restrictive of individual freedom, or even downright harmful – for more on this – see this post: Social Norms – the unnecessary and the harmful (forthcoming post).

Sources used to write this post

Haralambos and Holborn (2013): Sociology Themes and Perspectives

 

 

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Nadiya Hussain’s Gift to A Level Sociology

The Chronicles of Nadiya, fronted by last year’s Bake-Off winner Nadiya Hussain, is  a surprisingly solid piece of sociological TV. (Episode 1 is available on iPlayer until Friday 23rd Sept 2016, or on eStream until Armageddon if yer one of my students.)

chronicles-of-nadiya

Given Bake Off’s significant contribution to the reproduction of class inequality, I was sceptical about how useful a spin-off cooking documentary might be, but the programme is actually less about cooking and more about illustrating the complexities of British Bangladeshi culture and identity and combating the stereotype that hijab wearing Muslim women are oppressed.

map-of-bangladesh

In episode one Nadiya returns to her home village (95% of British Bangladeshis come from the same region in Bangladesh) and in the process discusses numerous aspects of her identity – about the complexities of being rooted in both Britain and Bangladesh, and how she never feels 100% at home in either place; about her choice to wear the hijab and what that means to her; and about why she doesn’t want to subject her own children to an arranged marriage and traditional Bangladeshi wedding ceremony basically – you get to see a distant cousin of hers getting married, and you can understand why!

The extract below is from ‘The Week’ which gives more background on Nadiya Hussain’s life… 

Nadiya Hussain’s life has changed hugely since winning bake-off. Since she won, she has met the queen, written a book and given numerous interviews and talks. In doing so, she has had to overcome her own shyness but also her family’ strict traditions.

She grew up in Luton where she went to an all girl’s school which was 85% Muslim, where she had no white friends.

british-bangladeshi
Luton’s also somewhere on both of these maps

Later, she won a place at King’s College London, but her parents refused to let her go. Instead, they set about finding her a husband, and at 19, she married Abdal, an IT consultant, 3 weeks after meeting him. A year later, they had their first child and she became a housewife.

Yet Abdal proved not to be the stereotypical controlling Muslim husband: he could tell that his wife was unfulfilled, and he didn’t like it. One day, he brought her the application form for Bake Off, with 11 pages of it filled in, and supported her every step of the way through the process.

Although her own arranged marriage has worked out, Nadiya insists that her children will choose their partners. More generally, she hopes her achievements will give other Muslim girls the confidence to pursue their dreams that she lacked as a teenager. ‘I wasn’t strong then. I’m a different person now’.

She does cook a few (very tasty) looking dishes in the programme too, so overall this is a top-sociological documentary – fantastic for showing how one individual maintains some aspects of her cultural traditions while rejecting others.

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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.