I can't believe I was actually about to write a new post entitled 'Things I Have Two Of'.
I might leave that one for another time.
Things I Have Forgotten Lately
3 days ago
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.
Blogging: A New Folk Culture?
This dissertation posits the idea that the practice of weblogging has given rise to an online worldwide community of millions of cultural producer-consumers, who are collaborating creatively in the ‘blogosphere’ to create and share cultural products in a non-commercial environment.
It will examine this phenomenon in the context of four interrelated aspects of cultural theory: the idea of the lost organic community with its authentic folk culture; the role played by technology in the ebb and flow of cultural power; Adorno and Horkheimer’s concept of the profit-driven culture industry, and Fiske and De Certeau’s notion of the absence of a dedicated ‘place’ where people are free to create their own culture.
I hope to demonstrate that the blogosphere, as it exists today, embodies some of the aspects of the organic community and its authentic, non-commercial folk culture that many cultural commentators presume was wiped out by industrialisation. I also hope to show that mass access to and use of the internet as a technological tool for cultural production and distribution is tipping the balance of cultural power away from the institutions that make up the media and entertainment industry and towards this millions-strong organic community of bloggers.
However, I also plan to show that this techno-utopian state of affairs may only be temporary; as the powerful media and entertainment corporations that operate what Adorno called the ‘culture industry’ move to appropriate the blogosphere and its underlying technologies for their own profit-driven ends. In doing so, they appear to be on the verge of co-opting the community of bloggers into acting as largely unpaid workers, using them as an audience that can be sold to advertisers, and as poorly-remunerated carriers of advertising. I will examine how these shifting power relations threaten to compromise the idea of the blogosphere as a communal, creative ‘place’.
The dissertation combines established cultural theory with emerging research into the size and nature of the blogosphere, together with a number of first-hand case study examples of ‘grass-roots’ cultural production in this new, but already threatened, ‘organic folk community’.