Thursday, June 20, 2013

Recognition Culture

The following talk was delivered at the launch of the Persona, Celebrity, Publics Emerging Research Group on 17 June 2013 at the City Centre Campus of Deakin University in Melbourne Australia. The debate and discussion with Sean Redmond and the group focussed on whether celebrity was linked to the formation of a transformed public sphere:

In what Stuart Hall has called the Kilburn Manifesto, he outlines a need for a new attack on the current unique configuration of capital and the havoc it is wreaking on social and political life. Hall suggests,

'Market forces have begun to model institutional life and press deeply into our private lives, as well as dominating political discourse. They have shaped a popular culture that extols celebrity and success and promotes values of private gain and possessive individualism. They have thoroughly undermined the redistributive egalitarian consensus that underpinned the welfare state, with painful consequences for socially vulnerable groups such as women, old people, the young and ethnic minorities.' 

“Is celebrity culture simply an ideological support of new capital?”

By P. David Marshall

Stuart Hall, in his Kilburn Manifesto, is looking to form a new political coalition, one that recognises that the past welfare state is inadequate and that the current configuration of capital post-GFC actually is advancing on the dismantling of further efforts of social support. He indicates that capitalism, instead of suffering a retreat as it had done under other massive threats to its organisation under the 1929 Stockmarket crash for example (which led to its consequence  -  the New Deal and the social welfare state), nothing is building coherently in the polis to counteract these forces. Despite interesting movements and forces, none have cohered to challenge this dimension of capitalism.

And wedded to this, from Hall’s perspective, is a celebrity culture that supports it – that doesn’t allow the emergence of collectives in its celebration of the public person and possessive individualism. So here is the question: is this kind of popular culture leadership really producing a culture that cannot organise, that cannot produce a different constitution of a public and relies instead on its divisions based on the hyperindividual model of celebrity?
The answer is classically yes and no… We do have a culture that pushes each of us to present ourselves, draw attention to ourselves and differentiate ourselves.  We could use all sorts of monikers to describe this organization of not the self so much as the public self.  I am leaning to terms derived from
Raisborough and her Lifestyle Media book ( 2011), where she talks about the push to recognition.  We are living in a recognition culture, one that I have described as a “specular economy” in some of my writing (Marshall, 2010), that draws our own attention to how we present ourselves to others. 
Anthony Giddens (1991), in his description of late modernity identifies that our contemporary culture organisation has an intrinsic and extrinsic dimension:  the intrinsic is how we are focused on self-improvement which manifests itself in efforts such as cosmetic surgery, fitness, and economic well-being and even the individualised religions that rely less and less on traditional culture’s notions of connection and solidarity.  Authors such as Micki McGee (2005) and Alison Hearn (2013) have taken this focus on the self as a way that the self is now branded across our culture – inescapably linked to the system of capital in its individualisation – and also linked to a systemic sense of our own inadequacies and a sense of making the self in new improved ways that rely on the material and social psychology of consumer culture. I will come back to elaborate on this further in a moment. Giddens’ extrinsic reading of late modernity  points to our outer-focussed qualities – those where the dimensions of globalization are part of our everyday and that these differences in the way that we are drawn to these larger dimensions is equally an assault on what might be defined as more traditional conceptions of collective identity.

What has expanded since Giddens wrote those dimensions and challenges to the self in 1991 have partially been taken up by those such as McGee, Banet-Weiser (2012) and Christine Harold (2013) and it is clearly a sense of how self-branding in its structure is dependent on a global anxiety of inconsistency and sense of perpetual inadequacies that are as much a part of work culture as the way we present ourselves in and through our leisure. What Giddens could not have captured in his reading in 1991, was the emergence of the techniques and technologies of expression that allowed individuals to map themselves – really present themselves – not necessarily globally, but publicly.  In the public presentation of the self, there is the sense and sensibility of the local connections and the global programs and applications intersecting.  Thus Facebook, as much as its origins are American, is global in its application to the needs of users to express themselves to others; in this way it resembles the phone system in its facilitating of a new sociality. To link them to the past and position in their present and future, I have called these social network applications that are associated with the Internet, computers and other apparatuses of mobile connection, technologies of the social.  These technologies of the social thus resemble apparatuses such as television – in other words, they draw people together, they create collective experiences and they provide some of the tools through which we imagine connection (what I would call here our techniques and ideologies where the collective “we” is effectively used and accepted). However, these new technologies of the social – such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, position the individual differently in the chain of communication, in the organization of engagement, and in the play of connection.  They privilege the individual starting point in an elaborate intercommunication chain to constructed micro-publics or networked publics. This is different, this is new and it has been the technologies that are producing a new sociality.  Think of it this way: LadyGaga has 10s of millions who follow her on Twitter; and I have 100s – but we are on a spectrum of presentation of the self.  Both of us are producing our persona for publics.  It is not so much that the individual starting point – whether it be a focus on celebrity or a focus on friendship circle on Facebook – takes away the power of the collective; it is that the public individual – modelled very much on the celebrity presentation of the self – produces a different and valued politics of the social and the collective.  Our objective then is to see how these various dimensions of a new public individuality intersect and produce and foster a shifted politics and a new cultural affect that engenders the play of the individual self so closely to a new politics, a new public and a new cultural collective. Harnessing this specular economy, building its affective dimensions via the public individual, via the persona is the challenge – is really my challenge to comprehend it – perhaps facilitate it – read it for all its different flows of power, responsibility and collective formation. It is an anxiety-ridden culture, but it is a different culture that builds from a new constitution of use of technology to establish the relationship between the individual and the social.

We are in an era of the politics of recognition – there is a pragmatic dimension and there is an interesting social and psychological dimension that actually shifts our politics in interesting ways that can be recaptured into forms of social power.  Stuart Hall, you are right it is a kind of possessive individualism that celebrity as it intersects with the pervasive culture of public persona elevates; but the social dimensions of the technologies of the social are underexplored as these personas intersect and build their mutual forms of recognition.  I find the directions of this politics not clearly aligned with the past, not clearly unharnessable, but demanding a much closer look of how we reach for recognition and reach for different configurations of collective experience that establishes a quite different political and public sphere.

References and Interesting sources:

Banet-Weiser, S. (2012). Authentic TM : the politics and ambivalence in a brand culture. New York, NY, New York University Press.

Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity : self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge, Polity.

Harald, Christine (2013) "Brand you"!: the Business of Personal Branding and communities in Anxious Times in McAlister, McAllister, M. P. and E. West (2013). The Routledge companion to advertising and promotional culture. New York, NY, Routledge: pp. 341 -356

Hearn, Alison, `Meat, Mask, Burden` : Probing the contours of the branded `self` Journal of Consumer Culture 2008 2:8: 197-217.   DOI: 10.1177/1469540508090086 Available online at

McGee, M. (2005). Self-Help, Inc. : makeover culture in American life. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press.

Marshall, P. David, (2010) "The Specular Economy: Celebrity, two-way mirrors and the personalization of renown", Society. Vol. 50, November, 

Raisborough, J. (2011). Lifestyle media and the formation of the self. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

New posting on persona studies on persona rankings and ratings

I have just posted a new blog on Persona studies on rankings and ratings. It is an effort to explore the personalisation of rankings and ratings further. There are many other dimensions of the public persona that I am exploring. This latest post begins to piece together the way that forms of publicity of reputation are expanding and proliferating in contemporary culture. Part of this proliferation is related to social media - or what I refer to as the era of presentational media.  In future posts on my personal blog I am going to provide key conceptual definitions for the terms I am developing related to both intercommunication and persona.  These terms have become a shorthand for my writing, but may be less known by others.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Intercommunication - get all the information

One of the things I keep meaning to do is make some of my work available.  And the key concept that I have developed recently that I find has incredible utility in the study of new media is intercommunication.  Here we have the blend between media and communication, the highly mediated and the interpersonal and how these are all part of online and mobile culture. Indeed, what I claim is that we need to think about the Intercommunication industry as opposed to the media industry to fully grasp the movement of information and entertainment in contemporary culture via social media in all its manifestations.  In any case, I wrote something for last year's ICA conference and here is the version of that in all its glory.  Check out The Intercommunication Challenge. If you do happen to read it, tell me what you think.  I am eager to expand the concept and build on its utility.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Contemporary leadership and the interpersonal: Julia Gillard and the reincarnation of Kevin Rudd

In the last few months, there seems to be something peculiar happening in contemporary Australian politics: an ousted leader -Kevin Rudd - that was seen to be toxic before the last election is preferred in opinion polls over the current prime minister - Julia Gillard - and the current opposition leader - Tony Abbott. And in more recent days we have had efforts to patch an obvious chasm between the prime minister and former prime minister with what's known as the Kiss.

So, here is the quick interpretation of these two events. Although it is slow and lugubrious, we are seeing the decline in the institutional organisation of the Labour Party in Australia. The details of its decline have been charted for some time, but what is emerging is a distance developing between the sources of labour's strength with, for example, unions and the way in which it organises its politics. Rising from political ashes is Kevin Rudd because his original rise was not organised directly through factions or unions, but in a peculiar bid to a personalisation of politics through perhaps a political bureaucracy of connections. Rudd's institutional power was always weak because of its different tactical positioning that led him to both oppositional leader and the prime ministership in 2007. Labour's embrace of this strategy to electoral success was always lukewarm because of its disconnect from - once again - factions and other institutional sites in the Labour Party.

In contrast, one of the elements that remains a shackle around the leadership of Prime Minister Julia Gillard is that she has had to tread through this institutional territory to achieve her current status. Indeed, the career of Julia Gillard - a woman in the very masculine game of labour/union politics - has served as a form of repression of the Gillard persona, a constraint that manifests itself in her speaking style, in her penchant for repetition, and in her very careful media presence. She has negotiated the shoals of infighting in Labour and labour effectively. However, those techniques do not necessarily make it easier for her to represent herself as a distinctive leader in national politics.

It is not that Kevin Rudd is likeable; it is that his organisation of power was derived from populist sources despite his bureaucratic tendencies. Appearing on network 7's Sunrise morning program for two years prior to 2007 allowed Rudd to humanise himself and to construct a distinctive persona that played in the contemporary politics slightly removed from the institutional structure of party politics.

The Kiss between Gillard and Rudd is an interesting turn. It is invested - saturated really - with affect and perhaps affection. However, the interpretation is one of coldness - a disconnect because of the past animosity between the leader who ousted the past leader. All of this underlines the way that both persona and affect are at play in contemporary politics and are whittling away at the institutions of political parties. Political leadership is now a display of a public presentation of the self that can embody sentiment. Both, through the kiss, demonstrated their inability to translate politics into the personal.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Just started persona studies

Along with others, we have just started a blog called persona studies. Please check out the first of many posts on that site. It is designed to be an investigation of persona in all its online and offline manifestations. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Making cents of place: the connection of consumption

When I was recently traveling in Israel, I became aware of a certain phenomenon of travelling that I had rarely thought of before: the impact of buying and its capacity to connect you to place.

In Tel Aviv, I was forced soon after arrival through the disintegration of my sandals to search for a new pair. I had never been to Israel or any part of the Middle East before and thus had really no idea of the cultural conventions of shopping. After having been advised by hotel staff to search for sandals at the Carmel Market and knowing that markets usually imply either a closer relationship to the local culture or, on occasion a reconstruction of a touristic version of the local, I set out on my mission with a relatively open mind but a clear purpose.

Carmel Market is the largest "bazaar" in Tel Aviv and, in its main long passage-way and series of sidestreets, provides a mixture of stalls of food, clothing and trinkets. The food of course when one courses down a market often produce the most lasting impression; via its smells of butchers down one alley, the groceries of vegetables, nuts and dates on the main, the essences of decay of past days of the market transformed slightly by a residue of previous night's and early morning water-cleaning, the input of the emerging heat of the summer sun, the colognes and deodorants of the shopkeepers, and the more tender smells of cloths and leathers the nose is treated to an intriguing and enduring workout.

I had a clear purpose as I walked and I systematically eliminated each of these shops unless they had some element of footwear. When I finally found an open stall with shoes and sandals I was relieved and asked the shopkeeper if he had the appropriate sandals for me. He indicated that he had the "best" and that I "would never complain about these" for their comfort and durability. "In fact," he said, " if you break them any time in the next two years, come back here and I will give you another pair. You will be very happy with these sandals."

Of course I tried them on and my desperation made me one of the easiest sells I am sure of his day. I hesitated for only a second after asking the price - partly to determine whether I should barter not really knowing the conventions of the market - and then indicated that I would both take them and wear them home. I headed out of his stall in triumph.

But something else happened in that exchange, something that is simultaneously more meaningful and mundane. I had crossed a threshold into a culture. The act of buying drew me into the communicative exchange world of one to another and one culture to another. There was the obvious effect that I had passed my shekels to the shopkeeper and I had new soles to protect my feet. There was also the more ethereal "affect" that I experienced through the exchange. It emboldened me to the place, to this market and my capacity to be a player, a participant because I had entered this world of consumption and was taking something from that world away. The immediate effect of this affective feeling was a greater assurance that I could enter another shop, engage with the merchant and buy something else. In a very real sense, it made me - however weakly - a part of the community of the market.

The act of buying makes a place come alive. There is no question this has been commodified and recommodified into the routine of buying that we experience whenever we travel and inhabit the space of the tourist. Airports revel in this sense of providing the last point of connection through their many shops with their touristic trinkets for sale. Nonetheless, this does not diminish the sense of connection that is put into play by buying something wherever you are.

Although slightly different, eating at a restaurant pulls you into that orbit of place. In Tel Aviv, we regularly experienced the wonders of the Israeli salads as they were combined with fish and even other vegetables heaped and arranged in impossibly large quantities. The affective move from surprise to expectation over our days there produced that sense of connection- however temporary - to our place.

Place is never as simple as it appears. It is layered with affect and meaning as soon as we move through its space. There is in the act of exchange, of consumption, of buying - a making real and material our location and our place within a community.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Presentational media

It is important to explore the full dimensions of presentational media.