readings in cultural citizenship and popular culture

A couple of things I’ve read this morning:

In a special issue of IJCS on ‘The New Economy, Creativity and Consumption’ William Uricchio compares the relationships between creativity (mainly viewed as work within or work that benefits the ‘creative industries’) and cultural citizenship in the US and Europe:

Creative activity – and, by implication, the meaning of creative industries – thus inhabits two very different cultural contexts. The project of using culture as a way of constructing and maintaining identity and as a space the enactment of an expanded notion of citizenship [Europe] contrasts sharply with the use of culture as commodity and the recasting of citizen into consumer [US, esp. since 9/11 which made consumption into civic duty]

Joke Hermes, along with many other cultural studies scholars, has moved 1980s British Cultural Studies arguments about the ‘uses of popular culture’ forward, from the polemical idealisation of ‘pleasure and resistance’, which was intended above all to do something about institutionalised elitism, to a more critical and balanced view:

…it makes sense, first of all, to give credit to Fiske and Hartley’s notion that popular culture may be understood as democracy at work. But it also means that we should review whether popular culture is truly democratic in its effects: What kind of citizenship is (cultural) citizenship? And how does it exclude as well as include? (p. 2)

Rather than being concerned with rights and representations, or even identity politics (cf. Rosaldo), Hermes is interested in how

cultural citizenship as a term can also be used in relation to less formal everyday practices of identity construction, representation, and ideology, and implicit moral obligations and rights

After a quite detailed critique of both Miller (who she finds a bit too pessimistic) and more recent work by Hartley (a bit too utopian, but only a bit), Hermes offers the following definition:

Cultural citizenship can be defined as the process of bonding and community building, and reflection on that bonding, that is implied in partaking of the text-related practices of reading, consuming, celebrating, and criticizing offered in the realm of (popular) culture

By her own admission, there is a lot left out here, and all the definitions I’ve found so far need something more built into them if they’re going to work in terms of the transformation in what we mean by ‘popular culture’ – the convergences between everyday life, creative production and consumption and social life that feature most prominentaly at the sites of vernacular creativity in digital culture. I love this metaphor though:

Popular cultural texts and practices are important because they provide much of the wool from which the social tapestry is knit.

3 thoughts to “readings in cultural citizenship and popular culture”

  1. provocative post!

    so in Australia are we “using culture as a way of constructing and maintaining identity and as a space the enactment of an expanded notion of citizenship” or more the using “culture as commodity and the recasting of citizen into consumer”?

    “By her own admission, there is a lot left out here, and all the definitions I’ve found so far need something more built into them if they’re going to work in terms of the transformation in what we mean by ‘popular culture’”


    On the citizen side of the equation, isn’t there another position that creates something like a citizen as ‘investor’ in the *nation* as a ‘corporation’? I am thinking along the lines of Man U (from 1991-2005) as the model. If it had been taken over by Murdoch in 2002 or whenever, then it _would_ be bloody Australia. I use ‘nation’ not ‘culture’ because it is clear that in australia at least ‘nation’ has resurfaced with a vengeance. The highest rating show for quite a while now (well for as long as I have been paying attention to the ratings) has been *Border Security*. Plus thinking the of ‘nation-corporation’ brings together the neoliberals and the right from the labour union movement, which is what has been happening. It combines the conservatism with the economic impetus.

    Second thing, on the ‘popular culture’ side it seems as if the ‘mass culture’ definitions have been forgotten. Along the lines of Miller’s book, so maybe that kind of mass culture is what Hermes thinks is ‘pessimistic’ (what? a glass half empty is still a glass half empty). I am obviously much more on the pessimistic side of things. How much of the population partakes in ‘vernacular creativity’ that produces any meaning that was not already within the discursive orbit of the cultural commodity? How much of such meaning creation precipitates action that commercial interests want to happen anyway?

    Why do these authors always seem to want to define the subject, like either explicitly or in terms of the dispositif (or ‘practices’ for Hartley)? Why not look at what the users of popular culture do as collectivities in the material circuits of capital and the effect of audiences/users (as biopolitical populations) on discursive formations?

    Hermes seems to be pointing out the equivalent ‘freedom’ of someone who has got a driver’s license and is ‘free’ to go where they want (mon-fri to work) and otherwise join the hordes of traffic.

  2. No, that’s not what Hermes is doing at all – she is looking precisely at those tensions, and how they are worked through and negotiated in practice, using her ethnographic work with ‘readerships’, say of feminist crime fiction. Most importantly, she looks at how the tensions between (what we used to call) structure and agency, hegemony and resistance, or whatever, are actually *constituted* by the *practices* of readerships. This methodological distinction is very important.

    PS I’m not very interested in citizenship as a feeling of belonging to nations or even ‘national’ geographic contexts btw – only insofar as particular discursive constructions of the ideal creative consumer or cultural citizen are materialised in the specific contexts of my case studies – mostly as a form of cosmopolitanism that refuses the national while sometimes reflecting values that are traceable to nationalisms (e.g. US-style individualism).

    And Glen, i don’t really see what’s particularly provocative about any of this, I actually thought it was pretty banal!

  3. And also, I think the main point for me is a pretty basic one: that popular culture has uses outside of its own terms of reference or the basics of ‘pleasure and resistance’ – like the formation of communities that aren’t contingent on accidents of geography or nationality. That is, communities of interest, learning or enthusiasm; and additionally, some of the practices of ‘capital C’ cultural citizenship actually occurring around those interests. Such as readers of crime fiction negotiating and deliberating issues related to feminist politics, or modified car enthusiasts engaging in environmental debates, for example.

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