Late-modernity’s current crisis is accentuating spatiality and revealing more clearly than ever before, the spatial and locational strategies of capitalist accumulation and the necessity for labor and all segments of society ‘peripheralized’ by capitalist development and restructuring to create spatially conscious counterstrategies at all geographical scales, in all territorial locales.”
Ed Soja, Postmodern Geographies, 1989
CMT: TIME Magazine says the Person of the Year is ‘You,’ because ‘You’ write blogs, create videos using YouTube, use the Internet to change the political process, and muster vibrant virtual communities in long-tailed cultural niches. But do ‘you’ really matter? Do ‘I’ really matter? If we do, maybe that is the story of the year. If we don't matter, that’s definitely a story, too.
DSM: So which is it? Remember Schrődinger’s famous thought experiment? Schrődinger’s cat is neither alive nor dead, until an observer opens the box and observes which state the cat’s in. Schrődinger’s cat illustrates an often misunderstood concept in quantum physics.
CMT: I think Person-of-the-Year ‘You’ is very much a Schrődinger cat. ‘You’ may actually exert power and influence, and ‘You’ still may be as marginalized and geographically dispersed as ever. Like Schrődinger’s cat, you may paradoxically be, probabilistically, some of both at the same time. But if an observer tries to measure it, the act of measuring will perturb the thing measured. Google Analytics™ is great—and the stats it produces can be shared with members of an online community whose activity and socializing are measured by it—but the act of measuring is not ‘neutral’ or decoupled from what’s measured.
DSM: What reality can a virtual community have, then, except as measured by the actual impacts and measured changes that it causes? How do anthropologists assess the sustainability of other Schrődingerian felines—a language, a culture?
CMT: The conservation of languages, from Gaelic to Tlingit, does inevitably involve engaging geographically-disperse members of the culture. But “Mobilizing the Diaspora” implies that there exists a home, a sovereign state to which one could return if one wished. It’s hard to say that there is any such ‘home’ for chamber music in today’s mass monoculture.
DSM: ‘How can we tap the diaspora communities to their fullest potential for nation building of their home countries?’ should therefore be an important issue of discussion and debate in the classical music community. Before contemplating the possible mechanisms for mobilizing whatever ‘diaspora’ there is, we need to examine the tacit assumptions embedded in this question.
- Gauging capital. What is the extent of the intellectual capital maintained by specific diaspora groups? What are the forms of capital manifestations?
- Mobilizing platforms. How can intellectual communities in the diaspora--in their amorphous and unorganized form--be mobilized? What effective mechanisms need to be put in place to integrate them?
- Organizations’ commitment. What is the extent of commercial entities’ and NGOs’ and governments’ interest and commitment to genuinely engage the chamber music diaspora—these groups often include fierce critics on social and political matters…
- To what extent can the diaspora cooperate with the very governments that forced them into ‘exile’ under recent culture funding cut-backs?
- Perception of home communities. To what extent are academic and professional chamber music communities [the ‘home countries’] interested in and prepared to engage with the intellectual diaspora who include non-professionals and serious lay-persons with genuine passion for the experience but little musical training? What are the psychological, intellectual, and emotional attitudes of potential collaborators at these home institutions?
- Technical and logistical issues. What are the potential logistical and technical challenges that may be encountered in mobilizing and tapping the diaspora? What strategies need to be put in place to circumvent challenges that may undermine initiatives involving the diaspora?
CMT: This is interesting. The boundaries of the ‘nation’ are blurred by visual media and cyberspace where cultural products target audiences both within and beyond the borders of conventional sovereign nation-states. And the survival and thriving of classical music—this is truly a matter that individual nations have trouble addressing. The effects of mass-culture and globalization are so pervasive everywhere!
DSM: Well, it’s not just free-trade and capitalistic globalization. The politics of ‘Who am I?’ will always involve a mediation between the individual and the many groups that have a stake in his/her cultural identity. Family and relatives often seek preservation of cultural heritage and values. Community and religious leaders have this interest as well. The state seeks the assimilation of aspects of a national identity which inscribes the state’s version of patriotism, duty, citizenship, and so forth. The media, advertisers and other capitalists hope that individuals accept their versions of reality, lifestyles and patterns of consumption. Through these influences, cultural power encourages certain cultural and personal identities and discourages others. But all cultures include ways of knowing and being that are valuable to individuals and groups that are part of these different cultures, and also have much to offer peoples of other cultures. Chamber music is no different in that respect.
CMT: What is cultural space then, and how is it affected by the dominant capitalism?
DSM: Have a look at some of the sources listed below. Michael Foucault once observed that it’s vital to not see technologies themselves as facilitating marginalization, but rather to understand these processes within the scope of broader cultural practice—the practices of using technologies in certain ways that affect spatial organization and function. When the space in question is cultural space—where individuals and groups experience cultural products/symbols (such as chamber music)—personal and group experiences and mediations of cultural products are affected by the practices of production and dissemination of those products which are experienced within social space. And, whereas products produced by the transnational entertainment/information industry seek to promote the universal value of mass consumption and clichéd mainstream values, alternative or activist or indigenous cultural products and discourses can potentially have unique practices of production that serve diverse goals and diverse meanings. When these types of alternative communications are disseminated through contemporary communications media, they’re able to (1) resist the colonization of cultural space by homogenous mass-culture products pushed by transitional capitalism, and (2) support identities at the individual and group/community levels. This is part of the message that authors like Saskia Sassen and Howard Rheingold put forward.
CMT: The postmodern global political economy suggests that the politics of capitalism is increasingly dictating or at least facilitating the myths of social and political discourse, though . . .
DSM: And the use of media technologies in the dissemination of cultural products has been disassociated from the political, cultural and social implications of this process. National media for the most part facilitate colonization within the norms both of modernity and postmodernity. In most democracies, alternative domestic media do exist and are vital for challenging social, political and economic injustices. Generally, these are important alternatives to national and global hegemonic communication infrastructure, although in real life categorizing many institutions within either side is difficult. Let’s try a little collaborative/community exchangelet’s put a GoogleDoc spreadsheet in here. This is not exhaustiveit’s just a start, with apologies for the idiosyncratic choices shown below. But if readers add entries to this GoogleDoc spreadsheet, it could become a more comprehensive list over time. Anyhow, I just wanted to try embedding this kind of an object. Here goes:
Success! This is an example of putting an unmoderated object right in the middle of the body of a Blogger post. I’ve set the collaboration parms so that anybody with a Google account who wants to add a URL or edit or do whatever they want to to this spreadsheet can go here. I’m not sure what sort of record-locking or other protection Google has for this sort of thing, so we’ll have to monitor it and see if it gets corrupted. I have no idea, for example, what happens if multiple readers-writers try to edit this object simultaneously. Mutex deadlock, starvation, reader(t1)-writer(t4) over-writing what reader(t2)-writer(t3) just deposited, other foolishness? Let’s see whether Google has anticipated this kind of stuff! I’ve archived/backed-up the original, so if the GoogleDoc spreadsheet java applet breaks I'll be able to restore it . . . I’ll bet this widget gets clobbered within the next day or so. What d’ya bet? Google’s good, but I bet there’re still bugs in here . . .
CMT: Cool! I think, ultimately, the colonization of cultural space and media communications facilitates the continued dominance of current privileged hegemonies and continued marginalizations when media/cultural products within this context fail: (1) to articulate and recognize the realities and persuasiveness of social injustice and multiculturalism, (2) to offer opportunities for marginalized groups to voice their concerns and demands so that national, regional, and international populations and politicians must reckon with these demands, (3) to delineate the uneven distributions of power that perpetrate distributive injusticeincluding cultural injustices and (4) to offer media space for marginalized groups to express their ideas and cultures. The majority of cultural products disseminated globally through communications networks by the powers of international capitalism fail on all four counts. And that’s where the blogs and vlogs and other online media gain their significance. That’s why it matters so much. The normal supports for diversity and community have failed and are disinclined to change. It’s also why Net Neutrality and resisting telecomm lobbying and initiatives that aim to privatize the web are so important.
DSM: The web culture’s most powerful positive mechanism for solidarity is peer recognition. The ability to use words and images and mp3 audio and video to create context by inscribing actions and environments is one key to social status in web culture, but it’s also a key to the sustainability of web-based communities. Those people who are most skilled at creating the illusions of shared context (and thus those who most strongly uphold the elements of the imagined community) are those who are most rewarded with words of recognition and expressions of affection by their peers. They are also the anchors for the continuation and stability of the online community.
CMT: No surprise there! Like a relative newcomer to a pub or other informal public space, you know you’ve arrived in the social hierarchy of a blog when the regulars begin to greet you when you arrive, instead of sending you bland greetings or ignoring you. Personal attention is a currency in the blogosphere: everyone is on stage who wants to beeveryone is the audience, and everyone is a critic. Some noise, but lots of signal!
- Bray J, Yorks L, Lee J. Collaborative Inquiry in Practice: Action, Reflection, and Making Meaning. Sage, 2002.
- Coghlan D, Brannick T. Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization. Sage, 2004.
- Latham R, Sassen S, eds. Digital Formations: IT and New Architectures in the Global Realm. Princeton Univ, 2005.
- Lin N. Social Capital: Theory of Social Structure and Action. Cambridge Univ, 2002.
- Ong A. Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty. Duke Univ, 2006.
- Parham A. Diaspora, Community and Communication: Internet Use in Transnational Haiti. Global Networks 2004; 4:199-205.
- Putnam R. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon & Schuster, 2001.
- Howard Rheingold's website
- Rheingold H, Sassen S, et al., eds. Open 11: Hybrid Space. NAi, 2007.
- Rupp G. Globalization Challenged: Conviction, Conflict, and Community. Columbia Univ, 2006.
- Sassen S. Deciphering the Global: Its Spaces, Scales and Subjects. Routledge, 2007.
- Sassen S. A Sociology of Globalization. Norton, 2006.
- Soja E. Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. Verso, 1989.
- Tyler M, Ledford J. Google Analytics. Wiley, 2006.
- Wenger E. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge Univ, 1999.
- Wenjing X. Virtual space, real identity: exploring cultural identity of Chinese Diaspora in virtual community. Telematics and Informatics. 2005; 22:395-404.
- BBC FiveLive interview with Lev Grossman re: TIME magazine's person-of-the-year decision
- TIME magazine, 13-DEC-2006
- CyberSoc website
- Transnational Literary/Media Cultures and Cultural Policy
- Transnational Communities Programme at Oxford
- Orion's Arm, Early Digital Communities webpage
- Computer-Mediated Anthropology net at USF
- EarthWatch Institute Indigenous Internet
- Wikipedia page about Schroedinger's cat
- Google Analytics