New Demos report on participatory culture

Via Tama’s , a new Demos report:

Logging On: Culture, Participation and the Web

In the brief history of the internet, the cultural sector has followed two related paths: on the one hand, the digitisation of content and provision of information and, on the other, interactivity and opportunities for expression. Some have seen these as in binary opposition.

The truth is that they are inexorably merging. But the big question is where do we go next? How can policy intervention best meet with technology to achieve the aim of bringing about a more democratic culture? What will be the role, opportunities and limitations of online culture in a rapidly changing world?

As thinktank publications go, Demos reports are usually very good, so check this out if only to get a sense of where the smarter policy wonks are likely to head in the near future. On a quick skim, the report is clearly largely a reflection on the Culture Online initiative funded by the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport. In that context, it should be of interest to people working in cultural institutions (museums, libraries, festivals) or anyone seeking to develop models of online cultural participation based on what is actually going right now. UK-centric, of course, but that’s precisely what allows for the focus on what cultural institutions, governments and organisations should be doing, rather than merely what consumers are doing and how marketers can best reach them, which is too often the implication of work coming out of US thinktanks (good as it is, even the Pew Internet & American Life project suffers from this a little bit).

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.

Mica Nava on ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’

In the special issue of Theory, Culture & Society on Cosmopolitanism – (19.1-2):

Cosmopolitan Modernity : Everyday Imaginaries and the Register of Difference

Mica Nava

Debates about cosmopolitanism in the spheres of political philosophy, sociology and postcolonial criticism have on the whole ignored specific histories of the cosmopolitan imagination and its vernacular expressions in everyday life. This article draws on aspects of the urban and often feminized worlds of entertainment, commerce, the arts and the emotions in metropolitan England during the first decades of the 20th century, in which an interest in abroad and cultural ‘others’ increasingly signalled an engagement with the new, in order to argue for a notion of cosmopolitan modernity. This should be understood not just as a reflexive stance of openness, but also as a dialogic formation – a counterculture – part of a psychic and often gendered revolt against the conservatism and xenophobia of the parental culture.

Keywords; allure of difference, counterculture, English modernity, vernacular cosmopolitanism, women

Deuze in conversation with Bauman, plus Cosmopolitan Cultural Citizenship and Flickr

Mark Deuze has been thinking, writing, and exchanging ideas with Zygmunt Bauman about liquid modernity, ‘community’ and the Internet, and I’ve been following along with Mark as he works through his ideas. This is the latest Bauman quote, in context here:

The ‘community’ of internauts whose substitute recognition is sought does not require the chores of socializing and is thereby free from risk, that notorious and widely feared bane of the off-line battles of recognition.

Another revelation is the redundancy of the ‘Other’ in any role other than the token of endorsement and approval. In the internet game of identities, the ‘other’ (the addressee and sender of messages) is reduced to his/her hard core of the thoroughly manipulable instrument of self-confirmation, stripped of most or all unnecessary bits irrelevant to the task yet grudgingly and reluctantly tolerated in off-line interaction.

When you combine this with the theory of liquid modernity and the endless tyrannical amnesia of ‘the moment’, this seems to be an interesting restatement of the well-known problem of superficiality and benign indifference, both in ‘virtual’ communities and in the continuing fragmentation of the ‘public sphere’. These issues are highly relevant to my work on Flickr. Which reminds me (because everything I see or read comes back to my thesis at the moment) of Nick Stevenson’s more optimistic ideal of a cosmopolitan cultural citizenship, which I have begun to find very useful. And by the way, it is quite clear that there is very particular ideal of layered cosmopolitanism at work around sites of cultural participation like Flickr – just think about their newly minted mission statement, in which Ludicorp announced they want Flickr to be ‘The Eyes of the World’:

That can manifest itself as art, or using photos as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family, “personal publishing” or intimate, small group sharing. It includes “memory preservation” (the de facto understanding of what drives the photo industry), but it also includes the ephemera that keeps people related to each other: do you like my new haircut? should I buy these shoes? holy smokes – look what I saw on the way to work! It let’s you know who’s gone where with whom, what the vacation was like, how much the baby grew today, all as it’s happening.

And most dramatically, Flickr gives you a window into things that you might otherwise never see, from the perspective of people that you might otherwise never encounter.

post-humanism and the phonograph

I won’t even bother to pretend to rehearse the endless determinism vs. agency debate problem, but here is Nicholas Gane on Kittler on technology:

Gane, Nicholas. Radical Post-humanism:
Friedrich Kittler and the Primacy of Technology
, Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 22, No. 3, 25-41 (2005)

(citations removed for the sake of nice clean copy)

Kittler observes that around 1800 a general shift took place from the closed world
of the ‘Republic of Scholars’, ‘a system in which knowledge was defined in terms of authority and erudition’ and ‘in which patterns of communication followed the lines of social stratification’, to a more open system of reading and writing based on the practice of alphabetization, which involves the translation of visible into audible language, or the oralization of culture. In the midst of this shift, the book emerged as a universal medium, one that, for a short time, remained closed to competition from rival media. Kittler explains: ‘Aside from mechanical automatons and toys, there was nothing. The discourse network of 1800 functioned without phonographs, gramophones, or cinematographs. Only books could provide serial storage of data’. This situation soon changed, however, and by 1900 the book’s position as the chief storage medium was placed under threat by ‘new’ technologies such as the gramophone, phonograph and film.

pragmatism, old-school

I am envious of the early pragmatists’ certainty and sense of purpose:

If a theory makes no difference in educational endeavor, it must be artificial. The educational point of view enables one to envisage the philosophic problems where they arise and thrive, where they are at home, and where acceptance or rejection makes a difference in practice. If we are willing to conceive education as the process of forming fundamental dispositions, intellectual and emotional, toward nature and fellow men, philosophy may even be defined as the general theory of education. Unless a philosophy is to remain symbolic — or verbal — or a sentimental indulgence for a few, or else mere arbitrary dogma, its auditing of past experience and its program of values must take effect in conduct.

John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916), which has fittingly passed into the public domain. Art as Experience is a touchstone too, at least to my mind resonating in important ways with postwar cultural studies approaches like Paul Willis’ grounded aesthetics. While I was exploring the question of whether this is really such a reasonable connection to make (possibly not), I ran across Mustafa Emirbayer and Ann Mische’s article What is Agency?. Good question, since I use ‘agency’ an awful lot in my work, so this analytical survey of what the concept could or should do for sociology is helpful. It also reminded me that I’m not a real sociologist.

Forget you ever saw this post

A new book across my desk:

Marc Aug?
Translated by Marjolijn de Jager
Foreword by James E. Young
University of Minnesota Press | 136 pages | 2004
ISBN 0-8166-3566-8 | hardcover | $56.95
ISBN 0-8166-3567-6 | paperback | $18.95

?Remembering or forgetting is doing gardener?s work, selecting, pruning. Memories are like plants: there are those that need to be quickly eliminated in order to help the others burgeon, transform, flower.?

For the health of the individual and the society, oblivion is as necessary as memory. One must know how to forget, Marc Aug? suggests, not just to live fully in the present but also to comprehend the past. Oblivion moves with authority among a variety of sources to illustrate the interplay of memory and forgetting in the stories told across cultures and times.

For more information, visit the book’s webpage

Which reminded my of Anne’s post late last year about memory and the idea of a forgetting machine. In contemporary culture (particularly cultures of computing) there is a significant amount of anxiety around technologies and memory – the anxiety mainly concerns the reliability of archiving systems – will all our data be kept safe forever? As if memory equalled the active keeping of everything, and forgetting merely a lapse in that process. But we know that information and cognition are not the same thing, and archiving information is not the same thing as remembering experiences, feelings, or even “facts”. Further, it goes both ways – remembering is a rich and complex process, requiring not only binary editing (where keeping=active=1 / forgetting=not-keeping=0) but complex, affective sorting and analysis, and, if you think about it, active and artful forgetting as well as (or as part of?) remembering.

And in case we need more convincing, let me steal from Anne and whip out the Nietsche:

Forgetting is not simply a kind of inertia, as superficial minds tend to believe, but rather the active faculty to … provide some silence, a ‘clean slate’ for the unconscious, to make place for the new… those are the uses for what I have called an active forgetting…

[note: ironically, my proxy server dropped out to reconfigure QUT access just as I was finishing my first draft of this post – because I’d forgotten half of what I wrote half asleep this morning, this draft is different, but is it better?]

So let me leave you with a question or two:

  1. What would active, creative forgetting look like, or feel like?
  2. Is it a cognitive impossibility?
  3. What with all the obsessive keeping-of-everything, what should the network of networks actively forget, and what would be the effects of an Internet that more closely relates to human and cultural memory, as opposed to machine memory?
  4. And finally, a much more fun question: what would you as individuals, if acting out of your own long-term best interests (i.e. not just the avoidance of pain) choose to actively forget?