All entries for July 2008

July 11, 2008

Cultural Citizenship and the Importance of the Media

Cultural Citizenship and The Importance of the Media


Citizenship is something which has been under development since at least the American Revolution. For a considerable period of time notions of citizenship were based upon concepts and a history written by T. H. Marshall however this model has proved to be unsatisfactory in many ways and new concepts such as cultural citizenship and green or ecological citizenship are now emerging in response to changing societies.

T. H. Marshall's Theory of Citizenship

T. H. Marshall wrote about the development of citiizenship in Europe. He argued that there were theree aspects of citizenship which had developed since the time of the French Revolution.

Civil Rights

In the first instance there was citizenship formed around civil and economic rights. These were comprised out of the rights to trade, property rights and rights to a fair trial. Marshall identifies these as laregly developing during the course of the 18th century.

Political Rights

These were significantly developed during the 19th century and comprised of the rights to free association and the right to vote in democratically held elections. These 'rights' were of course fought for hard and it should be remembered that even in the UK a full one person one vote system wasn't in operation until the mid 1970s as there had been a property vote in Northern Ireland for the Stormont regional form of government.

Social Citizenship

This was largely a 20th century development although Bismarck established the first steps towards the welfare state at the end of the 19th century.

The British welfare state founded in 1945 wished to eradicate the five great social evils of poverty, illness, homelessness, ignorance and lack of work.

  1. Social citenship has become rooted around these areas and in the UK institutions were established to deal with these issues:
  2. The National Health Service (NHS)
  3. A standardised public education system providing education for all up until 15 (later to become 16)
  4. The creation of a mass council housing and the eradication of slums
  5. A social insurance system which provided some income for those made unemployed and also one which provided a system of universal state provided pensions.

There are issues with T. H Marshall's approach. Certainly the developments in these areas of citizenship haven't been a smooth progression and were fought for hard politically.

Cultural Citizenship & The Media

Cultural citizenship deals with the aspects of life which create a sense of being and identity within an individual and groups of individuals. This sense of social being is what is decribed as social ontology. This symbolic aspect of society is very much related to citizenship and is culturally embedded:

notions of cultural citizenship point to the importance of the symbolic
dimension of community
. Cultural citizenship is concerned with ‘the degree of
self esteem accorded to his or her manner of self-realisation within a society’s
inherited cultural horizon’ (Honneth 1995:134).
(My emphasis. Stevenson N: What is Safe? Cultural Citizenship, Representation and Risk)

What is represented in all media forms is therefore an essential part of citizenship which through combining all aspects of citizenship means that every individual is embedded in a mutually constructed system of rights and responsibilities. A society progresses so the elements within a concept such as citizenship deepen and change.

The media is now so fundamental to creating and communicating ideas, representations and senses of communities both thick and thin and the institutions which themselves may be thick or thin. With the development of a variety of web based tools such as blogs which allow for anybody with access to a computer and the internet to publish the creation of a rich electronically based public space has now become a reality which can keep developing.  This can provide us with both material and symbolic needs in which physical needs (food & shelter) interact with and are a part of cultural and social needs expressed through the symbolic which is a crucial aspect of what  the beingness of humans is. Stevenson notes against much postmodernist thinking:

...that notions of cultural difference are not incompatible with with the more normative emphasis of a theory of human needs. (Stevenson 1995 p 197)

The social theorist Nancy Fraser has argued that cultural recognition in terms of identity and representation, whether that be by ethnicity, gender etc must be accompanied by wealth redistribution if it is to be a meaningful right. If people are poverty stricken then to have abstract rights of representation is largely meaningless.

Social theorists  are trying to arrive at a formulation which sees representation and the symbolic world as an important area for the development of individuals as citizens for the various aspects of media are the key platforms and opportunities for representation. The social aspects of citizenship such as education are tied into cultural citizenship information streams adn opportunities for interactive representation. This means that media content and control is far too important to the well-being of advanced societies to allow it to becoem commercialised.  Without a good media system people would lack, information, education and representation.

Stevenson (1995 p 198) for example has identified four different kinds of human need that have a relationship between culture and communication:

      • The need for knowledge about the operation of expert cultures
      • The need for an understanding of the desires, demands and need interpretations of others who are distant in time and space
      • The need to understand ourselves as a social community
      • The need for aesthetically and non-instrumentally defined cultural experiences

      It seems to me that theses are the fundamentals underlying a public service broadcasting system. Theses are the reasons why everybody who has any sense of citizenship must rally behind the BBC and its licence fee as the full digital age dawns. Any compromise inevitably betrays the weakest in society by throwing to the slick talking media dogs whatever platform they are pushing. Can we improve the BBC? Of course but lts do that from the strong base that has evolved so far.


      Oxford University Synopsis. History of Welfare State

      Political Culture Thick and Thin

      July 04, 2008

      Will Web 2.0 = Media 2.0?

      Will Web 2.0 = Media 2.0?



      The new AS Media studies textbook from Hodder exemplifies the danger of being too euphoric about developments on the internet. There is no doubt about the importance of UGC (user generated content) etc. However, if it is really going to become a 'new model of media' rather than the digital equivalent of lots of teenagers chatting on phones and starting up their own smalltime rock band largely for pleasure then a massive change is required.  Currently there is much fantasy about 'making it big' -see The Frustrating Chase of the Long Tail - and it is dangerous to equate numbers of users with the creation of profits which is what media is primarily about. The core issue is how to 'monetise' all these communications. Otherwise all those venture capitalists who have invested in MySpace, Facebook and Second Life etc will withdraw their money. Tom Hodgkinson from the Guardian explores the dirty venture capitalist secrets behind Facebook:

      Although the project was initially conceived by media cover star Mark Zuckerberg, the real face behind Facebook is the 40-year-old Silicon Valley venture capitalist and futurist philosopher Peter Thiel.

      It would be the utmost näivety to think that these social networking sites aren't in it because of the hope of building up some momentum and offering the promise of profits to be made from a large set of audience/creator.

      Inevitably this means advertising, and the best advertising goes to the best sites! For that reason the large media companies have developed thier own websites which are well placed in search engines and have professional writers with high levels of expertise writing for them. In other words at the end of the day 'content is king' backed up by high quality SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). The growth of "widget culture" on social networking sites is examined by the Financial Times below for example. It shows how the fantasies of wannabee internet entrepreneures are collapsing into the realities. 

      The notion of Media Studies 2.0 based upon a utopian vision of user/creator is almost certainly a fantasy at least as far as offering a serious challenge to the status quo is concerned as the comments upon subsumption below argue compared to a speculative optimism expressed by Gauntlett:

      Conventional concerns with power and politics are reworked in recognition of these points, so that the notion of super-powerful media industries invading the minds of a relatively passive population is compelled to recognise and address the context of more widespread creation and participation. (Gauntlett).

      .Anybody who is successful through their own blog etc is likely to be contracted to a larger company in the longer term. This is simply because there are inordinate amounts of energy required to keep these things updated and managed so that search engines give the site a high ranking. Without this high ranking neither high value advertising nor audiences are attracted. Inevitably this is a disincentive to develop longer-term. Newer forms of social media, once they settle, will become proving grounds and recruiting grounds for larger media organisations.  A quick Google of the search term Media 2.0 is mainly about advertising. Gauntlett himself mentions it in his article providing a link to the Media 2.0 Workgroup. Check it out!

      Cold Water on Widget Millionaire Fantasists

      cold Water

      The Financial Times (27 / 05 / 08) did a useful analysis of the development of the newly developing Widget industry in relation to Facebook and gives some fuel to those who are sceptical about hyped up internet utopian junkies:  

      The wave of "social media" companies that has arisen since the middle of this decade, many of them characterised by user-generated content and new forms of communications, has changed the way millions of people interact and entertain themselves online. Yet, by their nature, these new forms of behaviour are proving extremely difficult to turn into hard cash.

      The reality is that investors are not interested in providing platforms for millions of people unless healthy profits can be generated from these. Rupert Murdoch's investment in MySpace was tiny in terms of the size of News International. One can compare the extraordinary financial risks taken by Murdoch on developing Sky when it first started. The whole of News International was on the line. It was the biggest business gamble of Murdoch's career albeit with a very good idea that it would eventually become successful.

      For the Murdoch organisation MySpace is an experiment just as the website of the Wall Street Journal is. A recent Media Gaurdian interview with Tom Anderson the co-founder of MySpace has shown how MySpace has always made money. Currently critics can only complain that it isn't making Murdoch buckets of money. However plans are afoot to redesign MySpace and fend off the challenge of Facebook which makes far less money as MySpace has got dominance in the US market which is where most of the online advertising takes place. The excellent cogapp blog which I have just discovered has a very good article on Media, Money and Metrics for example. Here you can quickly start to see how big media is responding to the growth of the online video sites for example.

      The FT reporters Chris Nuttall and Richard Waters, in a discussion with Mike Maples - who runs a micro-cap fund whose investments include Twitter, a micro-blogging site, and Digg, a news aggregator summarise Maples' comments:

      It is only natural, he adds, that the winners in this race for audience attention will end up with "mass adoption and user attention before you necessarily recognise where the revenue comes from".

      It is worth noting their scepticism born of long experience:

      That was the thinking behind a few winners - and many losers - from the first generation of consumer dotcoms at the end of the 1990s. Something similar looks in store for Web 2.0.

      If there is going to be a successful "Media 2" model created in which large media companies create platforms such as social networking sites which are going to offer payback then the secret is going to be creating an advertising model that is suitable for this format. Remember Advertising is a key aspect of Media Studies! Right now -as the FT points out there is a disconnect between social media and advertising. It won't last long:

      Social media is ahead of the capacity of the advertisers to take advantage of it," says Mr Price at Widgetbox. The standardised units of advertising and methods of measurement needed for this medium have yet to be developed, he adds. "Real spend has been held hostage by that lack of analytics and what we've been relegated to is fighting for experimental budgets that don't require clear proof of value. (My emphasis. Nuttall & WatersThe Financial Times (27 / 05 / 08))

      New Forms of Media Research?

      Gauntlett suggests that:

      Conventional research methods are replaced - or at least supplemented - by new methods which recognise and make use of people's own creativity, and brush aside the outmoded notions of 'receiver' audiences and elite 'producers'

      Whilst qualitative research will continue to be important in the study of emergent online and even online / offline subcultures whether the online environment will generate any more creativity than already existed in the realm of amateur photography, home movies / videos etc is debateable, that it has a greater reach isn't debateable. Clearly the possibility to reach a global audience is significantly different at a structural level however the organisation of search will act as a creative blocker as large companies who invest in SEO will predominate in the top pages of a Google.

      Subsumption and Social / Alternative Media

      What appears to have been forgotten by those promoting notions of 'Media Studies 2.0' is firstly the ethnographic research which has been done into audiences via cultural studies which explored many subcultures into which micro-media production falls. The other thing which cultural studies did effectively was to promote the term subsumption. Here we can take subsumption to mean the gradual takeover and absorbtion of those things that were once radical. We can conceive of this as being part of a dialectical process (where there are contradictions which create a third thing thesis / antithesis = synthesis) of hegemony (old centralised pretty undemocratic mass media) versus a counter-hegemony (new decentralised media forms often associated with youth and new technologies). The hegemonic processes gradually takeover control of the new processes when it can be seen that they can be made to create new markets and in media terms new audiences. Here it is a considerable advantage to old media who have brought up user-generated content platforms because they are in a win-win situation. They are not paying for the content or those who provide the content.

      As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued in their Empire, American neo-Roman imperialism works by a constant subsumption and inclusion of "others," such that difference is apparently welcomed, yet actually subordinated to an unremitting uniformity.

      Media 2.0 is the development of new media platforms which once the models have been developed can sell advertising at a high price at very low cost. It makes so-called reality TV content look expensive! The very best content providers as evidence by the ability to generate advertising revenue will become contracted by Media 1 (in Gauntlett jargon).  

      There have always been alternative forms of media around which appeal to small audiences, make little or no money and are by and large by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. These have at various times been political and cultural. It is rare that they last very long, either because of finance and lack of interest or because the individuals involved 'fall out'. The fragemnted audience of Web 2.0 are likely go the same way.

      Once the Hype around Media Studies 2.0, Web 2.0 (We are already looking at Web 3.0 anyway) and Media 2.0 we can see that as Visconti's The Lepoard puts so well that "Everything Must change so that Everything Stays the Same". The reality is that Big Media will remain big media even if forms change. Onbe need go no further than a study of Rupert Murdoch's Take over of MySpace at one end of the specturm and the Wall Street Journal at the other working on different models of web-based revenue generation to recognise that.  This has led other organisations such as the Financial Times to rethink their approach. In the light of thises comments Gauntlett's comments on big media look a little presumptuous:

      Conventional concerns with power and politics are reworked in recognition of these points, so that the notion of super-powerful media industries invading the minds of a relatively passive population is compelled to recognise and address the context of more widespread creation and participation

      A point by point discussion of Gauntlett's suggestions will be continued in another posting. Hopefully enough of a challenge has been established here to stop people falling into this attractive discourse in a complacent way. One key issue in all of this needs to a political economic approach which questions whther the underlying social and economoc relations of society are going to be fundamentally changed in terms of wealth and power.


      Guardian Interview with Chris deWolfe Cofounder of MySpace

      Guardian on Wall Street Journal Website Access model

      Media Studies 2.0 forum Merrin

      Blog on William Merrin Visit to Royal Holloway "New Political Communication Unit"

      Media 2.0 by Gauntlett

      Chris Anderson. The Long Tail in Wired

      Kinoeye Web 2.0: Cultural Diversity, Adverts & The Long Tail

      Feminism and Women's Studies. Discussion about subsumption.

      Media Studies 2.0? Binge Drinking and Why Audiences Still Matter

      Stunlaw Response on Media Studies 2.0

      Cogapp Media 2.0 Blog Team. This looks to be a very interesting space and comes stongly recommended as they seem to have their finger on the pulse of what is happening.

      Clicks and links will bring all the walls tumbling down. Jeff Jarvis in the Guardian Sept 2007.

      July 01, 2008

      London to Brighton (2006). Director: Paul Andrew Williams

      London to Brighton (2006). Director Paul Andrew Williams

      Kelly and Joanne London to Brighton

      Kelly & Joanne at Brighton beach from London to Brighton

      Paul andrew williams

      Director Paul Andrew Williams

      Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian summarises key overall aspects of the film beautifully. The film is not only what can be classed as gangster heavy (Steve Chibnall) but it offers a take on the creation of the self-destructive cycle of the underclasses. The title itself is intertextual as it combines Brighton Rock and a London peopled by unpleasant crooks who at one point held enormous sway in London before the Metropolitan police was cleaned up. The macho fatalism of Get Carter (Gangster Heavy) was mirrored at the time by The Italian Job (Gangster Light). Two themes which have been identified as running through the British crime genre films. The dominant persepective in this film is from the victim position:

      There are London criminals here, wielding shotguns, but the film has none of the mockney geezer nonsense that we've come to expect from British films. It's a fast, fluent, picture that grasps a horrible truth which has never much interested Guy Ritchie or Matthew Vaughn - its violent criminal men, no matter how high up the food chain, are unglamorous inadequates, all afraid and ashamed of something. It is a world of insects feeding off smaller insects, and abuse victims becoming abusers but deserving zero sympathy in the process.

      A contemporary social Problem film?

      Joanne London to Brighton

      A Typical British Film?

      London to Brighton has several key features which make it a typical example of British cinema:

      • It is low budget (in this case very low budget indeed)
      • It is a sort of hybrid genre mixing aspects of  social realism (by trying to represent aspects of social reality 'as they really are') with the tradition of the British gangster film. Many gangster films such as Get Carter and The Long Good Friday have strong elements of social realism embedded in them.  A key difference might be that social realism tries to look at society on a deeper level by questioning the structures of society and how they might be changed, whilst the gangster film is more geared to entertainment and gaining a resolution to the plot. They tend to take things on the level of individual agency (choices people make) rather than dealing with structures of disadvantage. In many ways this links this film to the social problem film which became especially important in the late 1940s and the 1950s.
      • It has difficulty in getting into the Multiplex system as there is little money available for marketing 
      • In terms of genre this film has a slight twist on the normal gangster thriller as the perspective tends to be from the position of the victim rather than having heros / anti-heros.

      Main Characters

      Kelly: 25 - a prostitute

      Joanne: 11 - A runaway

      Derek: Kelly's pimp

      Duncan: Gangster who uses Derek to procure young girls

      Stuart: Son of the Gangster Duncan

      Production Company: Wellington films

      Alasdair Clark Wellington Films

      Alasdair Clark Wellington Films

      BBC Film Network: Wellington Films


      London to Brighton Official Website

      Sight and Sound Review (2006) of London to Brighton

      Peter Bradshaw Guardian. Review London to Brighton December 2006

      Philip French Observer Review of London to Brighton

      BBC Film Network coverage of London to Brighton

      BBC Film Network coverage of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2006. Scroll down its page for Video of interview with Paul Andrew Williams winner of 'Best New Director Award Edinburgh International Film Festival'

      Independent Review London to Brighton

      BIFA (British Independent Film Award).  Award 2006 for Best Achievement in Production

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