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.