Late in the day, two readings from my own field helped me to place some bricks in the hole where my sanity and my conviction about the political importance of “ordinary” grassroots cultural production used to be: Jim McGuigan’s The Cultural Public Sphere (MS Word), and Chris Atton’s The Mundane and Its Reproduction in Alternative Media.
McGuigan traces the development of the Habermasian public sphere and takes issue with neo-Habermasians’ dominant emphasis on the cognitive over the affective dimensions of public life and democratic participation:
The concept of a cultural public sphere refers to the articulation of politics, public and personal, as a contested terrain through affective – aesthetic and emotional – modes of communication
. McGuigan’s cultural public sphere is literally that – imagined as a central space filled with mass mediated cultural texts, a space fringed with “ordinary” cultural consumers; I want to imagine it as boundless and interconnected, and filled with networks of “ordinary” cultural producers who may or may not reference those same mass mediated cultural texts; I also worry continuously about how the almost purely affective domain of (electronic) music will fit in to even this fluid model; but it’s a start.
Chris Atton’s (2001) article on the representation of the mundane in personal homepages is significant to me because it disarticulates “resistance” and the mundane or banal in studies of media and everyday life, i.e. he refuses to find extraordinariness in depictions of the ordinary. And because there are some characterisations of such media so close to what I’ve been getting at that reading them feels like coming home. I particularly like this argument about what might happen when we place attention on mundane alternative media:
What happens when ‘ordinary’ people produce their own media? I want to explore some aspects of ‘popular’ media production and its intersection with everyday life. To do so will be to […] take to the notion of ‘everyday production’ and its place in identity-formation to a different place: to that of the originating producer within everyday life. Popular media production might then be considered a primary form of everyday cultural production
Exactly. Although…apart from worrying that such media might escape our notice, he never really gets to the consumption and evaluation of these media: it seems to be enough for the producer simply to produce.
Going a bit further than both of these arguments, I want to push (at least conceptually) for a viral, networked model of a public sphere where everyday cultural production is both a matter of course and a peer-legitimated field of cultural practice. But it’s nice to find familiar voices in cultural studies in sympathy with my barely articulate notions. Happy now.