Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Part 1.1 - The Lost Organic Community

Well everyone, I have in front of me a glass of one of the classier local red wines and a slice of warm fig 'n' blackberry tart wot I made earlier, with some crème fraîche, and here for your delectation is Part 1.1 of the dissertation, which is all about the idea of the supposedly lost organic community and its authentic folk culture. There was an intro bit before this bit, but I've left it out because it was quite similar to the abstract.

I've generally tried to avoid academic jargon as far as possible, and I've bunged in links to the people referenced, for your info:
1.1 The Lost Organic Community

The idea that industrialisation, mechanised production and mass culture obliterated an older, organic community and its grass-roots folk culture is prevalent among the earliest British cultural theorists, including F. R. Leavis and Richard Hoggart. Leavis, in Culture and Environment (1933), locates the lost community in the seventeenth century, explicitly stating that "there was, in the seventeenth century, a real culture of the people…a rich traditional culture…a positive culture which has disappeared." In Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture (1930), he describes some of the attributes of this supposed community thus:

"What we have lost is the organic community with the living culture it embodied. Folk songs, folk dances, Cotswold cottages and handicraft products are signs and expressions of something more: an art of life, a way of living, ordered and patterned, involving social arts, codes of intercourse and a responsive adjustment, growing out of immemorial experience, to the natural environment and the rhythm of the year."

Hoggart, in The Uses of Literacy, also bemoans the loss of a more organic way of life, in which people create, share and participate in their own culture. He locates the lost community in the north of England of his own childhood in the 1930s – the very period in which Leavis was writing of a lost community in the seventeenth century.

Hoggart identifies the same type of "responsive adjustment…to the…rhythm of the year" in this community as Leavis did with his:

"…throughout the year, Pancake Tuesday, Voting Day, which is always a holiday, Hotcross buns on Good Friday, the Autumn "Feast", Mischief Night, and all the weeks of cadging and collecting for Bonfire Night."

He contrasts the grass-roots culture of the 1930s working class community with the youth culture he perceives in the 1950s, in which the "contemporary forces" of mass-produced culture and mind-numbing factory work have turned working-class youths into "the directionless and tamed helots of a machine-minding class." Hoggart sees these new, passive, depoliticised, working-class consumers as an omen of an even poorer and less fulfilling world to come:

"The hedonistic but passive barbarian who rides in a fifty-horse-power bus for threepence, or to see a five-million-dollar film for one-and-eightpence, is not simply a social oddity; he is a portent."

The view that industrialisation and mechanisation had turned ordinary people into passive consumers, unable to think and act for themselves, and therefore ripe for exploitation by dominant economic and political forces, found its ultimate expression in the work of the Frankfurt School critics of the 1920s – 1960s. Theodor Adorno explicitly contrasts the activities of the profit-driven culture industry, which "intentionally integrates its consumers from above" and in which "contemporary technical capabilities" and "economic and administrative concentration" are used to exert "total social control" over its target audience of consumers, with what he sees as its polar opposite; "a culture that arises spontaneously from the masses themselves, the contemporary form of popular art." The latter, for Adorno, was characterised by an inherent "rebellious resistance", which has been extinguished by the numbing effects of the culture industry.

For the purposes of this dissertation, the primary link that I would like to make between the aforementioned texts is the role ascribed to technology in the destruction of the supposed lost, spontaneous, organic folk culture. Technological advancement, harnessed by capitalism, is seen by Leavis, Hoggart, Adorno and many others as an irreversible process that progressively disenfranchises and alienates the people and leads to the increasing standardisation and impoverishment of available cultural texts.

This view was taken up in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s by a new generation of critics concerned with the rise of television as the dominant global cultural medium.

TO BE CONTINUED...

PS I cannot believe people actually want to read this. And I have a feeling I'm supposed to sign something to say the dissertation hasn't been published anywhere. And also if they run their plagiarism software on it, they might find it here, and try and accuse the real me of plagiarising the mythical Patroclus, or vice versa. But hey, life on the edge...I might put up an instalment a week...woohoo, ready-made content!

40 comments:

the whales said...

Blimey, am i first? A triumph for me. Am just about to print out and have a read over a drink while i get my brain in order and educate myself. Don't expect too much (other than half-witted nonsense).

james henry said...

Toy-Fu gets mentioned later on.

patroclus said...

Yes, at this rate we will get round to toy-fu circa April 2007.

Sean McManus said...

Looking good. I can see where it's going - the internet is all about bringing back this DIY folk culture, perhaps? A technology that bucks the trend! I look forward to the next instalment, or ideally a PDF with the whole lot in to read on the train?

chatterbox said...

I'm not at all sure I'm going to understand half of it, but I'm going to enjoy trying. As a newbie to the whole blog thing, I'm hoping this is going to help me to blag convincingly when I tell people that I am participating in a significant new folk movement rather than simply spending far too many hours in cyberspace instead of having a life.

Looking forward to the next bit...
(Toy-fu?)

Lorna said...

Wow - it looks very impressive! I think the references to the loss of an earlier, more cohesive social system are spot on. Did you by any chance encounter a book called Imagined Communities, by Benedcit Anderson? People kept pointing me at it for my periodicals/journalism thesis, but it got pushed to the bottom of the 'To Read' pile. I think it's more to do with the construction of national identity via public institutions in the C19th and C20th, so maybe not that relevant to blogging...

frangelita said...

A promising start - like it very much so far...

patroclus said...

Sean - that's more or less it, although [SPOILER ALERT, hahahaaa] in the end I conclude that the internet will then take it all away again.

Chatterbox: It's the excuse I've always used.

Lorna: Thanks for the recommendation, so many things I haven't read, sigh...

Marsha Klein said...

Thanks for posting part 1.1 of your dissertation. It's always a pleasure to read your writing and I'm really looking forward to the next instalment.
I was also reminded of an essay I wrote for my postgrad. course on the meaning of "community" (in the days when I still had a fully functioning intellect) and was promptly transported back to the reading room in the National Library of Scotland, a delightful workspace, so thank you also for that. (Please excuse lousy grammar - see above re. intellect!)

chatterbox said...

Lorna, I did read it for my thesis, and although it is really focused on national identity, it had a lot of relevance to 'alternative' and 'underground' culture, and the way it is approached by the mainstream, so I think it might be relevant. Perhaps I'll get it back out of the library if I can tear myself away from t'internet.

Billy said...

Erm, I'm not going to pretend I understand that.

Yay! Richard Hoggart.

patroclus said...

Is it just me that thinks Richard Hoggart is really whiny and deserves a good slap? I can't bear people that go on about dumbing down and how things were so much better in some ill-defined 'golden age', which is just them selectively remembering their childhood, or even some book they read when they were young and impressionable.

Mind you, I haven't read his later stuff.

Tim Footman said...

This is really rather splendid, patroclus. Do you clarify the various definitions of "organic", btw? It's one of those words...

I'm also intrigued about the idea of you (thesis writer) being accused of plagiarising you (Patroclus).
I'm actually working on a Baudrillard/simulacrum post at the moment, so this delicious possibility might find space. Although, at the moment, it's more about Ronnie Corbett.

At least it distracts me from writing about the references to Jewish knitwear concealed in the artwork of the OK Computer sleeve.

tom l said...

oh those good old days ... and "kids today" ... those darn kids and their newfangled five million dollar movies. where will it all end?

but i'm still stuck on the thought that we've gone from being mindless consumer-robots to mindful producer-robots, and either way, someone's cashing in on us.

POE said...

Oh dear. The extract sounds interesting (& I understand it so far) but I'm lost on the comments - 'cept for the glorious toy-fu anyway.

Helga von porno said...

If you see consumer producer similar to sexes, male/female (not ordered) then there will be a way of measuring producer to consumer ratios. Since people are both, we all internalise this ratio. In the bad days there is big internal imbalance. I think, like sex ratios in species, internal prod/com should be 1/1. In the entertainment industry from 1950s to 1990s for most people it was more like 1/1000000. I think blogging redresses the balance. Preparing your own food helps, which is also modish.

Smat said...

poe - I'm with you, comments started out intelligible, and have ended up way over my head.
patroclus - woohoo way to go etc etc. And I actually understand (most/some) of it. Although I'm wondering how much of the "folk culture" thing is actually a rural vs. urban thing with the industrial revolution bringing about social movement in the late 19thC and again around WW2. Which would account for all the 'specialists' disagreeing as to when the "golden age of society" actually was.
(oh god, History at school has been of some relevance to me as an adult - that's scary)

Arabella said...

This is good, but when do you get to put your finger in your ear?

realdoc said...

Not the blog to post on when you're off your bloody face.
......oh dear.

patroclus said...

Tim: re. simulacra and online identities - I once saw someone take issue with something James said on the Green Wing chat forum, not realising - because of his pseudonym - that it was him. This person then emailed the 'real' James for confirmation of the point, and came back to the forum brandishing James's reply at his own forum persona. That was a very Baudrillardian moment.

Smat: good points - I think the thing is (well, Adorno's thing is)that in industrialised society, everything was organised for you by the capitalist machine - not just work and housing but also leisure time, culture etc. Whereas in the (possibly imagined) pre-industrial organic community, people organised their own work and leisure time and art and music and whatnot. And now that we're in a post-industrial society, we might be free to do all that again, but there's nowhere for us to do it - apart from online.

There's another argument that says that people always created and participated in their own culture, rather than just watching telly etc., and the blogosphere simply makes that activity more visible and more permanent. I'm tending more towards that one at the moment.

Tom: Yes, they're still trying to work out how they can cash in on the things we're robotically producing, and when they do, they will.

Realdoc: was it the sloe gin?

Taiga the Fox said...

I think I saw that Green Wing chat forum-incident, and thought that was utterly brilliant.

taigathefox said...

No, it wasn't you seeing that, it was me.

Go on, Patroclus, this is really interesting. We want more :)

ScroobiousScrivener said...

Very interesting indeed, and I'm with you on the "golden age" myth. Hasn't this been a feature of all cultures going back to the ancient Greeks - every so often someone will say "Oh it's all going to pot, back then people were Smart and Nice and Civilised", not realising that "back then" people were saying the exact same thing.

'Course, in my day, we respected our elders. We had better pop music too. Ah, it was a golden age, all right...

ScroobiousScrivener said...

PS I can't tell you how pleasing it is to read an academic paper written in elegant, readable English. Not like the ones I have to edit. Grumble, grumble.

GreatSheElephant said...

Sounds like Adorno could also be applicable to modern childcare.

Tamburlaine said...

Interesting stuff. I did wonder when reading your post whether the writers you cited had been imagining some mythical golden age in some remote (but not too remote) past. Leavis sounds more likely to be right.

I guess there are still opportunities to participate in organic culture outwith the internet, though - ask any choral singer or am-dram enthusiast (speaking as one of the former). In these cases, there's a sense of community with your fellow singers that is very real and cohesive. The fact that you are producing art is almost a secondary consideration.

patroclus said...

Thanks Scroob. Down with the dumbing-downers, I say! And especially all those people on the C4 music forums (I'm sure Prolix will be with me on this) who claim that there's no good music any more, and what's more there hasn't been any decent music since the 1960s/1970s/1980s/[insert decade of your own youth here]. What utter rot.

Tamburlaine: Indeed you are right, and that works with Fiske, who said:

"The products of this tactical consumption are difficult to study – they have no place, only the space of their moments of being, they are scattered, dispersed through our televized, urbanized, bureaucratized experience."

Whereas now, you see, the blogosphere makes the things that people make and do more visible and more permanent, so that people like me do actually have an opportunity to study them. Without the blogosphere, I wouldn't have known that a woman in Seattle had knitted a jumper for a tree, for example, and without the blogosphere, she wouldn't have inspired people all over the world also to knit jumpers for trees. (And it was Scroobious who drew that to my attention in the first place, for which I'm very grateful...)

patroclus said...

I should have put in a link to the Treesweater.

realdoc said...

How did they get it on?

patroclus said...

She sewed it on in situ.

First Nations said...

what on earth were these people think of when they posited this mindless consumerbot? no such thing exists.
everywhere i have lived there have been rich overlapping folk cultures in play-city, country and even suburb. why is an 'ORGANIC' folk culture supposed to be superior? had it truly been up to the task of supporting human expression would we have progressed beyond it?
gives me gas, it does.

rock the fuck on, patroclus. gimme more!!!!!!

patroclus said...

I agree, FN - the mindless consumerbot is the brainchild of Theodor Adorno and Richard Hoggart (and many others), and you could quite convincingly argue that Adorno was an élitist who supposed that ordinary people were quite content to watch crap telly and listen to crap pop music because they lacked the sensibility needed to appreciate 'high' art. And Hoggart thought that drinking beer and going to the seaside were somehow preferable (i.e. more 'authentic') to drinking coffee and listening to crap pop music on jukeboxes.

Basically both of them thought that people's souls and creativity had been crushed by the evil capitalist machine. And that crap pop music was mostly to blame. But as you say, I don't think people have ever been as mindless and docile as they make out - and there are plenty of people who argue from that viewpoint, as well, namely my chums Fiske and De Certeau (and many others). I think I come on to them next.

patroclus said...

>>I think I come on to them next.<<

Not in *that* way. I've never knowingly propositioned a leading cultural theorist. Has anyone else?

Kellycat said...

I did my degree in Cultural Studies and I loved ripping all these old gits to shreds.

Reading their names now though does bring me out in a cold sweat.

longcat said...

fantastic... tasty... and with a huge audience... can't argue with that...

i had to wait until i had a brain on before i could read it but i'm now eagerly awaiting part 2...

x

thanks

x

realdoc said...

No sign of dumbing down around here. BBC etc take note.

Roberta Swipe said...

"industrialisation and mechanisation had turned ordinary people into passive consumers, unable to think and act for themselves, and therefore ripe for exploitation by dominant economic and political forces"

And there was no exploitation of the "ordinary people" who made up the "organic" dream community of the 17th century?

Yeah, right.

Raymond Williams is quite good on the "pre-industrial Eden is a load of bollocks" stuff.

I hope you're going to tear all that to pieces with your thesis that the imagined community of blog is far more "organic" and genuinely communal than the myth that you've just set up for demolition in your intro, P...

patroclus said...

Oh god, I can't bear all these whiny 'lost golden age' people. The Uses of Literacy makes Smiths-era Morrissey sound happy with his lot. Plus that sort of thinking is what gave us the Daily Mail, among other - and worse - things. So I pretty much argue that we're in such a golden age now, actually, but that if we don't watch out, it will soon be Mercilessly Taken Away.

DavetheF said...

Surely you ought to read Herbert Marcuse's Two-Dimensional Man? It is a penetrating look at the mechanics of con sumer culture, and doesn't have an an ounce of Anglo nostalgia for a non-existent bucolic past. For Chrissake, there was no LEISURE time for the worker in the 17th century. That space has been created entirely by mechanisation. I could go on, but I want to think about this some more.
Good stuff Patro.

occasional poster of comments said...

You have no idea how much my brain appreciates having something academic yet readable to read at work. It's like water to the dehydrated.

So, is it time for Part The Next yet?