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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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Sociological Perspectives on Identity (1)

A brief summary of Steph Lawler’s ‘Identity’ – Chapter One – Stories, Memories, Identities

Introduction: living lives and telling stories

‘We endlessly tell stories, both about ourselves and others, and it is through these stories that we make sense of ourselves.’

This chapter explores the perspective which sees people engaged in a creative process of producing identities through assembling various memories, experiences and episodes within narrative. From this perspective, identities are not seen as ‘fake’ in any way, but as creatively produced by selecting from an enormous range of raw materials.

Paul Ricouer identifies three things as crucial to narrative – characters, action and plot. The plot is what brings together everything into a meaningful whole, and both narrator and audience take part in emplotment – through a shared cultural understanding that these events have a place in this narrative.

A sense of time is crucial to understanding our identities – narratives link events in sequence through time – thus we come to understand ourselves as developing from a certain point and moving forwards to a future point, this is crucially a process which involves interpretation, and thus is creative.

However, the narrative cannot stand alone, in order for it to make sense it must stand in relation to broader cultural frames of reference.

Sociological thinking about narratives

Stanley and Morgan (1993) identify five trends which have led to an increasing focus on narrative within sociology –

1. A turn to textuality – where texts are increasingly seen as products rather than reflecting reality

2. A questioning of the distinction between structure and agency

3. An examination of referentiality and lives – attention to the relationship between representations of lives and the lives themselves

4. An increasing attention to time

5. A turn to intertextuality – we increasingly draw on other texts to tell our stories

What is a narrative?

A narrative is a synthesis of heterogeneous elements brought together through the interpretive process of emplotment.

According to Paul Ricouer, there are three main forms of synthesis at work in emplotment:

– between many events and one story

– between dissonance and concordance

– between open time and time as something which is over with.

Through the process of emplotment, we turn events into episodes, but this is an interpretive processes, because by looking back at the past self, we have no more direct access to that person than any one else.

Narrative and identity

Emplotment configures a self which appears as the inevitable outcome and actualisation of the episodes which constitute a life. The self is understood as unfolding through episodes which both express and constitute that self. Identity is constituted over time and through narrative, and the whole processes is profoundly social.

Identity is not something foundational, but it is something produced through all of the above processes.

In narrating stories, we interpret memories, but these memories are themselves interpretations.

Evidence for this lies in an experiment carried out by Frederic Bartlett in 1932: white north American college students were asked to read a Native American legend and then recall the events as accurately as possible. Bartlett found that students tended to forget those parts of the story which did not fit their cultural framework or expectations.

We engage in what Ian Hacking calls ‘memero-politics’ – we reinterpret past events in light of present knowledge. Thus (according to Ricouer) the process of constructing a narrative is teleological – the story we tell is that we are who we are because of past events, but in ‘reality’ the events we select to explain how we got here are selected because they seam meaningful now.

As Kiekergaard said ‘live is lived forwards, but understood backwards’ – but it might be better to understand life as being both lived and understood both forward and backward – in a spiral movement of constant interpretation and reinterpretation.

Self and other

A focus on narrative challenges the concept of the atomised individual and replaces it with a concept of a person enmeshed in and produced within webs of social relations – this is for two major reasons – first because life stories must always contain the stories of others and second because the social world can itself be seen as storied.

Two early ways this happens are through the teaching of literature and history in school – the former encourages us to identify with characters and reflect on our inner selves, and the later offers us a way to understand our own personal history in relation to the social world.

Identifying with the subjects of pain

Carol Steedman argues that identifying with the pain and suffering of others is a common way of developing self-understanding. This has been the case since the 18th century, identification with someone worse off than we are is common place.

This may go some way to helping us understand the current fascination with trauma narratives – such as those who suffered abusive childhoods.

Identifying with victims of suffering is one way in which those in power can obtain authority – however, this can only ever be imagined and it can backfire dramatically. There are limits on the stories we can borrow from.

Nb – I’m not convinced that this is that significant – the powerful only choose to identify with certain types of suffering others (not the poor, disabled or refugees for example) and I’m sure there’s more of an identification with those who are self-made despite social disadvantage?

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The Hidden Privileges of Identity: On Being Middle Class

A summary of Steph Lawler’s ‘Sociological Perspectives on Identity’, chapter 7

During summer 2000 and in January 2001, there were two separate community-protests over the housing of child-offenders in the local community, one in a working-class area, by working-class people, another in a middle class area, by middle-class people.

The first protest took place in a working class housing estate in Palsgrove, Portsmouth, in which local residents were demanding the removal men believed to be sex offenders already living in the area; the second protest took place in middle-class Balham, London, where locals were protesting against a proposition to build a residential centre for sex-offenders, including child sex-offenders.

Both received press coverage, but both the amount and the tone of the reporting differed.

The working-class protest received an enormous amount of coverage, and commentary, with the women involved presented in dismissive and disgusted terms and not a single broad sheet newspaper reported their protest as rational or understandable, preferring to cast the protesters as a mob of rioters. In addition, frequent reference was made to personal aspects of their lives – such as their appearance, how they furnished their homes, their relationship status, as well as details of their past relationships.

In contrast, the middle class mothers in Balham were almost entirely sympathetic – they were presented as ‘vigilant’ rather than vigilante, and identification was invited so they became part of an imagined ‘we’ uniting against the sex-offenders; there was minimal reference to their personal lives – other than details of their children’ ages and their jobs, which were all ‘solidly professional’.

The Paulsgrave women were vilified across three different axes:

  • Their bodily appearance
  • Their ignorance or lack of understanding
  • Their inadequacy as mothers

And through this vilification their protests were rendered ridiculous through assumptions of immorality, incompetence and ignorance.

Lawler now asks what can these representations tell us about identity? They tell us nothing about the subjectivities of the people involved – but they do tell us something about how class is conferred on people: there is a long tradition of representing the working class as a mob, against which middle-class individuality is asserted, but it is doubtful that anyone identifies subjectively as part of a mob, so mob-identity is conferred on the working classes rather than coming from them and/ or how they feel about themselves.

One of the subtlest ways this works is through the middle classes claiming to ‘know’ the working classes, thus claiming the right to identify them (when in reality, they don’t know them at all).

One of the ways class works is through marking identities as ‘wrong’ or ‘right’, pathological or healthy, normal or abnormal, and classed identities are part of the stakes in class politics – working class people don’t know the right things, they don’t value the right things, they don’t look right and they don’t act right, while the middle classes silently pass as normal.

This chapter looks at how middle class identities are normalised, and defined as ‘right’ against a working class identity which is defined (by the middle classes) as wrong. This is important for two reasons

1. We have traditionally understood class in economic terms, but increasingly cultural markers matter.

2. Class still matters as a source of identity but recently it has taken a back seat as academics have focused on other aspects of identity – such as sexuality.

‘What we read as objective class divisions are produced and maintained by the middle class in the minutiae of everyday practice, as judgements of culture are put into effect’ (Skeggs, 2004, 118).

The persistence of class

Class divisions and distinctions have not disappeared, class has not ceased to be a meaningful frame for analysis, instead it has become an absent presence – it circulates socially while being unnamed.

The drawing of class distinctions has become displaced onto individual persons and families who are approved or disapproved of.

As Bourdieu has demonstrated ‘taste’ is now one of the primary means through which class is configured – that which is tasteful is seen as middle class, and vice-versa for vulgar working class taste – the problem here is that there is nothing natural about taste – it is simply what the middle class say it is.

Expressions of disgust at working-class existence remain rife among middle class commentators and middle classness relies on the expulsion and exclusion of (what is held to be) working classness.

(Lawler thus adopts a relational approach to class and sees it as dynamic, rather than static categories dependent on economic position).

She effectively argues that the public bourgeoisie (mainly journalists and academics, and social commentators), those who are low in economic capital, but high in cultural capital, use their voices to express contempt for the working classes, and at the same time position their middle class selves against them.

Together this group, what Bourdieu refers to as the ‘dominated section of the dominant class’ construct a doxic understanding of class – they have a shared understanding of what working class and middle class means, and this is largely goes undiscussed.

This is ultimately all about power, about the middle classes trying to position themselves above the working classes by defining them as inferior along the axis of taste.

Having the knowledge

Lawler begins by quoting a definition of cultural capital form Johnson (1993)…

Cultural Capital refers to a specific form of knowledge which ‘equips the social agent with empathy towards, appreciation for or competence in deciphering cultural relations and cultural artefacts…. cultural capital is accumulated through a long process of acquisitions or inculcation which includes the pedagogical action of the family or group members (family, education), educated members of the social formation (diffuse, education) and social institutions (institutionalised education)’

For Bourdieu, it it is only the cultural capital of the middle classes which is legitimised and becomes symbolic capital – around which prestige and status are conferred – it is only middle class tastes, knowledges, and dispositions which are encoded as inherently ‘right’.

However, the fact that all of this is social in origin, and the fact that power is operating here is obscured, because

– part of this process of constructing middle-class ness (converting cultural capital into symbolic capital) involves using knowledge itself

– because the cultural capital is marked as ‘normal’ the fact that it is classed at all is obscured.

– the competencies and knowledges associated with the middle class are not generally seen as social mechanisms because they are believed to be part of the self, and thus class is not seen as an objective position but it becomes configured into ‘who we are’.

On this final point, Sennet and Cobb (1977) famously observed that class inflicts hidden injuries – in terms of the ridicule, shaming, silence and self-scrutiny which go along with a position of pathology.

What Lawler’s basically describing above, I believe, is the process of individualisation – the cultural capital dimension of class is social in origin and circulation, but part of that circulation involves sending out the message that these tastes are all down to the individual – thus if someone has ‘superior’ ‘middle class’ tastes they believe they have chosen this, and vice versa for those with vulgar working-class tastes – they are invited by the middle classes to feel a sense of shame about this and to blame themselves for their own inferiority.

Habitus and the subject

Bourdieu’s concept of the habitus is central to his analysis of social identity and is his attempt to theorise the ways in which the social is incorporated into the self.

Bourdieu’s concept of the habitus has been described as ‘second sense’, ‘practical sense’, or ‘second nature’ that equips people with ‘know-how’. Habitus refers to both physical and psychological aspects of the self – it is the way we stand, how we move, how we look and how we feel, and it is our dispositions, attitudes and tastes, so it is a concept which cuts across traditional mind-body splits, with much of its force deriving from non-conscious elements.

In short, the habitus is not only something someone has, it is learned in the mind-body, it is what one is.

The habitus has also been referred to as ‘socialised subjectivity’, or ’embodied history’, a result of ‘deep socialisation’. It is learned, but we have forgotten that it is learned and so as far as we are concerned what we do and who we are ‘just natural’.

What all of the above suggests is that ‘taste’ is not innate but learned through deep socialisation of the habitus, furthermore what gets to count as ‘tasteful’ is what the group with the power to name things as tasteful decide is tasteful.

Habitus is not determining, but generative. It is dynamic, so it does not reproduce itself perfectly.

Central to the concept of habitus is relationality – habitus only makes sense in the context of specific local contexts or ‘fields’ – a field is a network of objective relations between positions. Fields are the games for which the rules of the game equip us.

Habitus are also relational in another sense – they exist in relation to one another – they carry the traces, or the lines along which society is divided – class, gender, ethnicity, the whole lot.

Habitus are also hierarchical – some are normalised, some pathological and they clash, and part of the embodied sense of habitus is the judgement of other habitus – however, only some people have the power to make judgements stick.

What gives habitus its power is that it’s not about what you do, or how you act, but about who you are, and some people (the middle classes) have more ability to make judgements about legitimate taste stick than others.

Disgusting subjects: narratives of lack…

Savage et al (2001) found that people were frequently uncomfortable and evasive when talking about class as a system, but middle class people consistently characterise working class people in the most horrific terms. The working classes being talked about are rarely named in class terms, but it is clear who the targets are.

Lawler now gives an example of Les Back (2002) who, when giving a paper on white working class youth was asked by an academic member of the audience whether ‘he was going to do the voices’ – imagine the outrage if this had been asked in relation to a study on an ethnic minority group, yet there was no such outrage surrounding ‘parodying’ the working classes.

Back observes that not only do the working class not deserve to be taken seriously, it is also assumed that they are easy to read and know, although they are seen as unable to know themselves.

The working classes are probably most obviously marked out by their appearance – their clothes and general demeanour – in the UK references are made to shell suits, large gold earrings and tightly permed hair – such easy signfiers do a great deal to code class difference and it is left to the reader (or viewer) to fill in the gaps by understanding that such appearances are the result of pathology.

Some commentators also comment with awed horror on the environments where working class people live and are often surprised that ‘people live there’, forgetting that for working class people these environments are completely normal.

There is also a discourse which has coded such working class areas as high-crime areas, given legitimacy through crime-mapping software.

Landscape and inhabitants are frequently described in terms of lack, but it in these discussions it is not so much money they lack, but taste.

On top of criticising working class landscapes and dress, character traits are also part of the construction of the working classes – Lawler now summarises the ways in which the working classes are demonised –

‘As cigarette-smoking teenage mothers, rearing children in deprived and arid backgrounds of instability, emotional chaos, parental strife, of moral vacuum.. whose children will grow up as socially autistic adults with little expectations and even less talent.’

Above all, she says they are held to lack everything perceived as having value.

This discourse of lack defines social policy – which mainly focuses around tackling social exclusion where social class is concerned.

Lawler is very critical of such accounts – especially of Simon Charlseworth’s (2000) account of working class life as picture bleak and empty, devoid of meaning – we have to ask – is this about working class life, or about a way of looking at it?

Two sociologists who argue coherently against such narratives of lack are Beverly Skeggs and Angella McRobbie

And narratives of decline…

Where discussion of the working classes is concerned, narratives of lack are accompanied by narratives of decline.

The narrative of decline is the tale that the working class used to be respectable, but that the decline of heavy industry has lead to the working class either moving upward to become middle class, or behind, effectively no longer having any value.

The working classes are also seen as suffering from outdated political values, or cultural lag, while progress and reason are on the side of the government and the middle classes. The characterisation of the underlcass has done little to change this.

All of this is worse for working class women get a double negative-label – not only working class but also characterised as unfeminine – and those who try to be feminine are themselves disparaged for it.

The move from working class to underclass also has a gendered dimension.

Representations of the working classes of the past emphasise masculinity – and radicalised, politicised male workers at least having respectability.

However, representations of the new underclass are feminised – with the teenage mother being the symbol of spite – hence we have a gendering of the ‘lower’ classes, all fundamentally tied into middle class attempts to empower themselves don’t forget.

We get the impression from current representations that the wc used to be OK but now they are a problem.

Savage argues that this is not the case – only a few wc members manage to claim the noble WC identity referred to above – the middle class have always seen an attempted to portray the WC as something problematic.

All that has changed is that today we don’t talk explicitly about ‘class’; instead the ‘disgusting’ traits are presented as the outcome of individual and familial pathology… representations of working class people are marked by disapproval or disdain not for the ‘objective’ markers of their position, but for (what are perceived to be) their identities. Their clothes, their bodies, their localities are all seen as tasteless, and faulty.

Lawler now notes that exactly how disgust comes to operate through class is relatively underexplored, but it is so important because it is an emotion which is literally experience in the body, so is very much part of us, but it is also social, because it needs collective affirmation – disgust is thus very much where the personal meets the social.

Lawler now reminds us that disgust does not arise because of something intrinsic within the object, but out of a relation between the disgusted and the ‘disgusting’ object.

Disgust is also bound up with identity – it works to push away others and establish one’s own identity as non-disgusting.

At the end of the day disgust is the opposite of taste, and the two are flexible – forever changing – what is tasteful today may not be so tomorrow – consider the way the middle classes adapt in the face of popularisation through mass consumption. This change however only serves to highlight the fragility of these classes boundaries via good taste and disgust – one is always aware that one can become the other, and hence the crucial importance of working on maintaining boundaries.

Concluding remarks

Basically a reminder that there lies an anxiety at the heart of all identities.

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Sociological Perspectives on Identity

Identity LawlerA summary of Michel Foucault’s work on identity, deviance and normality, governmentality, subjectification and technologies of the self, taken from Steph Lawler’s ‘Identity’ (2014) – also includes Nikolas Rose’s development of Foucault’s work.

If there’s one central idea in this chapter (IMO) it’s this – ‘In today’s society, we have little choice but to be tied into a project of the self in which the self becomes something to be worked on – and it is in this way that power works through us.’

Becoming ourselves: governing and/ through identities

In the contemporary West it is hard to avoid the idea that the self is a project to be worked on. We see this everywhere, but especially in self-help books, therapy, the various experts promising to guide us through different stages of our lives and, of course, in the media: in chat-shows and ‘make-over’ programmes for example.

All of this is presented as freeing, as if working on the self involves freeing us of the oppressive influences of others.

What Nikolas Rose calls the ‘norm of autonomy’ has become an orthodoxy in many discussions about identity – but we should consider the argument that when we are incited to be ‘free’, we are then the most enmeshed in in the workings of power – the relationship of the self to itself within a contemporary project of self-actualisation, self-awareness and self-improvement has become a norm which ties us to relentless self-scrutiny, in which we watch ourselves for signs of deviancy and wrong doing.

We can only perceive such a project of the self as being about autonomy if we perceive power as a repressive and denying force.

An alternative perspective, associated with Michel Foucault, envisages power as a force which works positively through our desires and our selves, which sees categories of subject as produced through forms of knowledge.

(A legitimate question to ask would be why are we so obsessed with the idea of individual autonomy when we live such complex, interdependent lives.)

Power/ knowledge

MIchel Foucault
Michel Foucault – ‘Power Produces Truths’

The Enlightenment view = ‘knowledge is power’ – if we obtain knowledge this will free us from the workings of power. This assumes a true self which lies outside or beyond power and self-knowledge, realised through reason.

Foucault – opposes the view that knowledge is power – one of the ways in which power works is through producing ‘truths’ about the world. These truths come to seem obvious, necessary and self-evident, they form part of the coherence of the social world and place the self within it.

Foucault argues that there has been a gradual shift in the uses and forms of power in the last 150 years in the West –

From juridical, or law-like power – which uses the language of rights and obligations.

To forms of normalising, or regulatory power – which uses the language of health, normality and self-fulfilment.

Juridical power says ‘obey me or you will be punished’, regulatory power says ‘obey me so that you can be happy’. This is a form of power which doesn’t rely on coercion, but one in which we scrutinise and regulate ourselves, the self comes to act on itself.

For Foucault, power is at its most powerful when it is its least repressive – power works not just though denying but through offering ways of being and pleasure.

As Tom Inglis puts it – ‘power announces truth’ – its truths are forged on the basis of knowledge, but this refers not to knowledge about a set of facts but rather to what might be termed ways of knowing, or in Foucauldian terms discourse.

Discourses define what can be said and thought, and how these things can be said and thought. – they are verbal or non-verbal ways of organising the world, creating ways of conceptualising that are seen as axiomatically obvious – they are epistemological enforcers (Said, 1991). (I guess they’re sort of like paradigms!)

An example of a discourse today is to understand present emotional problems as stemming from a troubled childhood, rather than because you’ve been cursed by a witch-doctor – the later would just not be taken seriously, it is outside of the discourse of understanding negative emotions.

Discourse differs to the concept of ideology because ideology presupposes a real which is beyond ideology which the ideology obscures – to speak of discourses is to speak of the knowledges which produce the truth. Foucault, in fact talks of the politics of truth.

What this line of questioning opens up is the possibility that who we and who other people are is an effect of what we know ourselves and others to be, that it is discourses which have produced categories of person and that this is how we understand ourselves.

Making people up

A good example of how categories of people are produced can be found in the way many Westerners think about sexuality – many people don’t just think of sex as something they do, they think of sex as something they are.

Foucault argues that this way of brining together sexuality and identity is relatively recent. In the 19th century, same-sex relations occurred, but there was no special consideration given to ‘being homosexual’.

It was throughout the 20th century, along with the new pseudo-science of Sexology in which people categorised the minutiae of sexual activity, that the category of the homosexual became created as a subject, and thus the identity of the homosexual was produced (or you might say, invented/ constructed). Alongside this, the category of heterosexual also needed to be produced, because homosexuality has no meaning without it.

These new categories of knowledge in fact produced what they aimed to describe – categories of person.

Foucault wants to challenge the ‘sexual liberation’ discourse – especially the idea that new apparent sexual freedoms bring with them an absence of power and control. With increased interest in sexuality in the 20th century came new forms of scrutiny as more experts emerged – and while the invention of sexual subjects has clearly been liberating for some, it has also become a means whereby we increasingly scrutinise ourselves for signs of abnormality and unhealthiness.

This legacy goes beyond sexual identity to extend into every area of our lives and our identities.

Technologies of the self

One way in which power works is through categorising people in terms through which they come to understand themselves – in this sense subjectivities are created in regimes of knowledge and power.

In explaining the relationship of the self to itself, Foucault uses the term subjectification. There are two meanings of the word subject – subject to someone else through control and dependence and tied to one’s own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge. Both meanings suggest a form of power which subjugates and makes subject to, according to Foucault.

Through subjectification, people become tied to specific identities, they become subjects, but they also become subject-ed to the rules and norms engendered by a set of knowledges about these identities.

We have little choice but to be tied into a project of the self in which the self becomes something to be worked on – and it is in this way that power works through us.

We are subjected subjects across many forms of identity – parent, worker, citizen, for example, all of which demand a level of scrutiny to maintain. The way government works today is through establishing normal-abnormal categories along these various dimensions of identity and then people employ technologies of the self in order to stay within the boundaries of normality (usually) – (the struggle is to keep up, or stay ahead, if you like!)

Psy knowledge, expertise and authority

Psy knowledges includes such disciplines as medicine, psychiatry, psychology and pedagogy, which produce ‘truths’ about the self and its relation to others. These have gained ascendancy in the West, especially since these knowledges have escaped the boundaries of academia and inform a whole of host of professional practices (social work and teaching for example) and our daily lives through such things as chat-shows and gossip magazines.

Nikolas Rose argues that it is hard to conceive of person-hood today without reference to ‘psy.’

Psy governs through using regulatory or normalising power – not working in spite of our desires, but through them – and generating specific kinds of desire in the first place.

This process started about 150 years ago through the development of ‘technologies of responsibilisation’ – when the home became perceived as the counterweight to the state, new experts in the fields of medicine and education emerged to regulate private life – and these experts govern through making assertions about the way we should act as subjects, which go largely unquestioned.

Over the years subjects have come to understand themselves as people who should be morally responsible for their own actions by monitoring the minutiae of daily-life – two examples of how this is achieved in the context of education are the teaching of English literature in schools and more recently circle time – both of which encourage the development of a self-reflecting, moral, responsibilised subject.

The norm of autonomy and the scrutiny of the soul

Rose argues that we now live in a psychotherapeutic society in which the self is understood as an inner state, to be sought out, understood, and actualised. This doesn’t so much manifest itself as narcissism, but is rather something we are stuck with – most of us can’t imagine attempting to understand ourselves without the discourses of psy.

Therapy has now become the norm for many areas of social life – that is reflecting on inner states is seen to be a cure for all sorts of social ills. Rose’s task is show how this therapeutic culture which stresses autonomy actually ties us more closely to the workings of power.

Foucault suggested that abnormal and normal manifestations of sex became axes around which people’s behaviour could be judged – Rose has broadened this out – now it is not normality which is the goal, but rather autonomy, and he applies this to much more than the sexual dimension of identities.

We live in an era where dependency now means pathology – but the path to autonomy means adhering to the strictures of psy expertise and watching and monitoring ourselves more closely.

Rose argues that there are four principle sets of concern around the goal of autonomy:

  1. A subjectification of work – work is understood as significant in terms of identity
  2. A pyschologisation of the mundane – life events such as marriages and births are seen as having a potentially transformative role in life.
  3. A therapeutics of fininitude – chapters in our life ending are now seen as times of potential danger but also possibility for personal growth.
  4. A neurotisation of social intercourse – social ills have come to be understood in terms of problems stemming from the ways we interact with others.

Across these four dimensions, we see the production of a particular kind of self – ideally autonomous, self-actualising, exercising choice, and a project to be worked on.

For Rose, in a therapeutised culture, social ills become personal problems to be worked on. We are not necessarily free, because we are now obliged to live our lives as projects.

The state of the therapeutic

States still exercise regulatory, normalising power through the deployment of expertise. This is most notable in expert knowledge surrounding the child.

The state takes a special interest in producing the right kind of citizen – citizens who believe themselves to be free and who believe there are equal opportunities. This is primarily done through exploiting the desire of parents to be ‘good parents’, especially mothers. For example:

– parents are enjoined to turn learning into play

– they should evoke reason and rightness

– states employ numerous professionals which subject parenting to scrutiny

Parents are encouraged to engender a sense of autonomy in their children, but this autonomy is a myth – the belief that children can do anything will not reduce structural barriers to their achieving certain goals in life.

The state also retains its ability to use coercive measures, though these are rarely deployed, such as:

– parenting orders

– parenting contracts

– ASBOs

– Those who are subjected to these things fall into the category of ‘failed parent’ (or ‘failed human’) and if people are subject to these things, the failures are understood as their own or their parents’ fault, not because of social ills. The discourses of psy rest on these categories of exclusion.

Resisting these discourses is not straightforward – Foucault offers no straightforward method, other than to constantly question the desirability and legitimacy of such categories.

Evaluations of this perspective

The strength of this perspective lies in highlighting the myth of individual autonomy and the fact that your ‘identity’ isn’t really your own – you are a product of social categories, which in turn are products of power relations.

One problem is that this perspective cannot explain why people make such intense investments in their selves.

Lawler finishes the chapter by recommending Barry Smart’s ‘Michel Foucault’ (1985) and Michele Barret’s ‘The Politics of Truth: From Marx to Foucault’ (1991) as good introductions to Foucault’s work.

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Giddens – Modernity and Self Identity Chapter Two

A brief summary of Anthony Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity – chapter two – in which he focuses on the psychological aspects of identity

Chapter 2 – The Self – Ontological Security and Existential Anxiety.

An account of self-identity should be based on a stratified model of the psychological make-up of the individual.

(Following Wittgenstein) to be human is to know what one is doing. Reflexive awareness is characteristic of all human action, and most people when asked can give a discursive account of why they are doing what they are doing.

The social conventions which are produced and reproduced through social interaction are reflexively monitored by individuals. However, much of what allows us to ‘go on’ with our daily lives is carried on at the level of practical consciousness – this is non-conscious, bound up with the taken-for-granted routines of daily life. We do not ‘keep in mind’ most of what we do most of the time, we just act in ways because they are conventional, we do not question many of our social conventions.

Ontological Security and Trust

Following Garfinkel, we interact in accordance with a number of conventions which essentially bracket out existential questions and allow us to ‘go on’ – we bracket out questions about the nature of time, space, continuity, identity and the self, which are fragile constructs, because if we were to subject the premises of our day to day assumptions about our attitudes to such things to philosophical enquiry, we would find that such ideas lack stable foundation.

Practical consciousness, with its day to day routines, help bracket out existential questions so that we are freed from a level of anxiety and so that we may ‘go on’ with life. We need to invest a level of trust in these routines so that we may be free from anxiety and are actually capable of living in the world. Trust involves both an emotional as well as a cognitive commitment to certain forms of practical consciousness.

Following Kierkegaard – dread and anxiety are a fundamental part of the human condition, and we need to develop a sense of trust in something in order to ‘go on’. Developing trust in routines is fundamentally tied up with the interpersonal organisation of time and space.

Giddens now switches to the development of personality in infants – he seems to be arguing that infants need to develop a ‘protective cocoon’ which is basically a bracketing out of all the things that could harm the security of the individual, which is provided by the caregiver in the early stages of life – in this sense the protective cocoon is an unreality. As well as needing the security of the protective cocoon, infants also need to be creative enough to develop an independent sense of self, a sense of space between themselves and caregiver.

Anxiety and Social Organisation

Acquiring routines and learning how to act are constitutive of an emotional acceptance of the reality of the external world, and are a pre-requisite of developing self-identity. We all develop routines for the sake of our ontological security.

Anxiety has to be understood in relation to the overall security system the individual develops. Its roots lie in the separation of the infant from the caregiver. Anxiety is a natural part of life and much of what we do can be seen as developing coping mechanisms to overcome anxiety – such as civil indifference in public spaces, and the various rituals associated with day to day life in public spaces.

Existential Questions

To be ontologically secure is to possess, on the level of the unconscious and practical consciousness, ‘answers’ to fundamental existential questions.

Anxiety stems from human liberty. Freedom is not a given characteristic of the human individual, but derives from the acquisition of of an ontological understanding of external reality and personal identity. The autonomy which human beings acquire derives from their capacity to be familiar with events outside of their immediate settings – anxiety (following Kierkegaard) is ‘the possibility of freedom’.

There are four existential questions which the individual must answer (not cognitively, but through being in the world, at the level of practical consciousness and the unconscious). These are questions to do with:

  • Existence and being

  • Finitude and human life

  • The experience of others

  • the continuity of self-identity.

It is the later which I’ll go into here:

What exactly is self-identity? It is not something that is just given, but something that has to be routinely created and sustained in the reflexive activities of the individual…. Self-Identity is the self as reflexively understood by the person in terms of her or his biography.

It is easiest to analyse SI by looking at cases where an individual’s identity has been fractured (following Laing) – where individuals either lack a consistent feeling of biographical continuity, or are paralysed in terms of practical action because of an external environment full of changes (experiencing an inner deadness) or feel a lack of trust in their own self integrity.

A normal sense of self-identity has all three of the above – a sense of biographical continuity, a protective cocoon of practical consciousness which ‘filters out’ several options of how to be in the world and finally there is sufficient self-regard to sustain a sense of the self as ‘alive’ –a feeling of being in control of things in the object-world, at least to a certain extent.

Self-identity is reliant upon the capacity to keep a particular narrative going, and presupposes the other elements of ontological security. Self-Identity is both fragile and robust and the form and content of keeping a narrative going differs enormously in late modern society.

Body and Self

The self is embodied, and in contemporary society the body is of particular importance in keeping a self-narrative going – such that we have developed regimes of control, most notably diets.

Motivation (Shame)

Shame is anxiety about the integrity of the narrative through which one sustains a coherent biography. Shame (or rather its avoidance) takes over from guilt as the primary ‘motivator’ in late-modern society – Shame is to do with integrity of the self, guilt is to do with wrong doing.

Shame derives when we cannot live up to the vision of the ideal self – when we fail to achieve our goals, but also when trust is violated and we have to go back to those fundamental questions such as ‘where do I belong’ or ‘who am I’?

Pride (of which narcissism is the extreme expression) is the opposite of shame, and derives when we have a lack of worthwhile ideals to pursue.

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Anthony Giddens on Late Modernism – Introductory Questions

A few ‘pop’ questions to introduce students to some of Giddens’ core concepts in an easy and accessible manner…

  1. Think about Globalisation – is there a ‘political, economic and/ or social structure at the global level, or is the world just characterised by random, chaotic flows?

  2. Think of the UK government – does it try to ‘steer’ global events, does it try to control people’s lives in the UK?

  3. Are there any ‘objective’ really existing global problems that the whole of humanity are threated by?

  4. Could you live without any of the following – Money, Clock Time, Experts (scientists/ technologists)?

  5. Do you have any social media profile(s) which tells your ‘life story’ up until this point in time? If so, do you intend to carry on updating this as your life ‘profresses’?

  6. How many times a day do you ‘reflect on’ your social identitiy – how many times do you think about how you come across to other people?

  7. Two parts – a. How much time and money do you spend shopping each week? b. How much time and money do you spend on modifying your appearance?

  8. What proportion of your ‘banter’ with your friends is about having fun and what propertion is about asking moral and existential questions about the nature of existence?

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Vanilla Vloggers – Insubstantial Selves?

Lifestyle vlogging seems like a very nice way to avoid earning a living – and a handful of popular vanilla vloggers (such as Zoella) are managing just that – simply by uploading videos of themselves consuming various items and having fun with their friends and pets.

Obviously I’d like to avoid earning a living too, but lacking the youth, beauty and sheer inanity to do so with any integrity I’ll have to settle for being interested in the rise of the vanilla vloggers from a Sociological point of view. What exactly are we to make of people who make money vlogging? Are they just insubstantial selves, or is there more to it than this?

To this end, the following passage from Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity (page 190-191, I’ve just re-read it) seems to describe the type of self typically expressed by many of the vanilla vloggers out there….

‘In late modernity [there is a type of] self which evaporates into the variegated contexts of action, a response which Erich Fromm characterised as ‘authoritarian conformity‘. Fromm expresses this in the following way:

‘The individual ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patterns; and he therefore becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to be….. this mechanism can be compared with the protective colouring some animals assume. They look so similar to their surroundings that they are hardly distinguishable from them’.

Having watched quite a few of these vlogs (albeit not in any systematic way – doing systematic content analysis on this content (lack of content) would drive me insane), I predominantly see what Fromm describes above – the latest fashion trends come out, they buy them, the latest restaurant or even opens, they go there, social mannerisms pertaining to masculinity change, they change the way they express their masculinity…. and so on…

At the end of the the day the depressing thing here isn’t the vanilla vloggers themselves , it’s the fact that they’ve got millions of followers, who either aspire to be like them, or worse, are currently churning out their own vanilla vlogs, failing to realise that they’re going nowhere because the market’s already saturated.

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Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity – in 14 bullet points

A brief post covering the relationship between self and society in late-modernity according to Anthony Giddens, covering concepts such as Globalisation, abstract systems, ontological security, manufactured risks, narcissism and fundamentalism.

This is very much my own reading of Giddens’ text – Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age.

Giddens Self Identity and Society

Gidden’s Key Ideas about Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Taken from Modernity and Self Identity – And Against Post Modernism)

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

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

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

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

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

  6. 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.

  7. In Late Modern (not Post-modern) Society, there is what Giddens calls a ‘duality of structure’ – social structures both empower us and constrain us (differentially, and broadly along the lines of class, gender and ethnicity, although not perfectly) – people are not just ‘free’ to do whatever they want – their freedom comes from existing structures – think of your typicaly fashion blogger on YouTube for example – you may think of them as ‘free’, but they are fundamentally dependent on global capitalism, a monetary system, and the infrastructure of media technology.

  8. In terms of the self – Identity is no longer a given – we no longer have a pre-existing identity based on our gender, class, family or locality, everything is open to questionand we are forced to contunally look at 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.

  9. 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.

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

  11. 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).

  12. 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.

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

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

Related Posts

Giddens – Modernity and Self Identity – A summary of the introduction and chapter 1.

What is the purpose of Sociology according to Giddens? – A very brief summary

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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.