Monday, November 29, 2010

Last paper

So this week I am going to try and write like Brian Massumi (or at least that is my excuse if it makes no sense). I feel like we do not have many opportunities to just play with ideas in academia. When one tries to throw something out there, they are often bashed down into their place. As progressive as many of us believe to be, we are often pretty stuck in old ways of thinking. While Massumi may be full of himself and misses a bunch of important scholars, at least he puts himself out there. We need more people saying crazy things or else we are going to be too complacent. I really would like scholars to be more open to debate rather than simply brushing different ideas to the side. Anyway, after reading my chapter for Couldry’s piece on culture, I have been really thinking about my own definition of culture and how it would apply to my work. I am a student of Arjun Appadurai’s global flows and used him extensively in my undergraduate work. So, I am very familiar with this type of work and really think that it is important in understanding how culture is constantly moving and changing. However, it seems that when we try and create models in which to study culture, we stop this movement and it no longer is its original form. This is not to say we shouldn’t study culture, but rather these models seem more like basic guides. Even when he says that we should look at certain aspects of culture like ideas/modes of thought, forms of externalization, and the social distribution of both, this does not give us very specific methods in which we are to understand this new type of culture. Methods are important, but at the same time they are specific to each individual case. This makes it very difficult to distinguish between high and low quality work. Issues of quality are incredibly important because while we may argue that no cultures are better than others (this is debatable on many levels-especially if we are talking about activist cultural studies) we constantly make value judgments over scholarly work. Couldry is obviously placing more value over newer forms of cultural analysis, but I am not convinced that his newer method gives us concrete enough tools to go out and study the world. He argues that culture is incredibly complex, but how do we as scholars closely examine all of these complexities? Is it possible to do? Should we even try to talk about every aspect that is going on? He talks briefly about studies that claim to follow the roots of something like music or other cultural events and he says that we need to very careful because there are so many different connections. I tend to agree with him, but there is a point where one scholar can only do and see so much. The point of scholarship is to build upon each other’s ideas. Perhaps we need to be more willing to admit that there is no way that we will ever be able to capture everything that is going on, but we will try to do our best and our work should be a platform for others to build upon. Maybe we are moving toward a more community based form of scholarship where lots of people work on similar topics in order to bring voice to all the different parties involved.

Another thought that came up while reading this piece was Don Mitchell’s article arguing that there is no culture and that culture is created by those that want to control other groups of people. The very idea of culture creates divisive forces within societies. He believes that we should be instead looking more at political economy and who is attempting to control ideas of culture. While I have some issues with the way that Mitchell interprets traditional cultural studies scholars, he does have an interesting point of view. I think that Couldry and Mitchell may be saying similar things, but Couldry would never go as far as to say there is no culture, because it is already assumed that most things are socially constructed anyway, so there really isn’t a point in claiming that one thing is especially constructed. However, it is important to keep in mind the economic factors that are involved in the maintenance of certain cultures. My issue with many of these pieces on culture is that they do not emphasis the power of the state enough. The state literally creates laws and stipulations that directly affect our culture. The power of the state is something that stops the affective nature of culture because it wants to grasp at the static. I believe that this needs to be talked about more in concrete terms because it is as concrete as one can get in cultural studies.

In terms of my own work, I find these discussions to be useful in a more abstract sense because they help me frame my own ideas, but at the same time it is not very useful because it is not super concrete. One professor I had in Popular Culture really disliked Appadarai because he found him to be really not that practical. While I disagree, he does have a point. Global flows are important, but how do we really study them? Is it enough to say that we are going to ask different and new questions, or do we need more concrete plans? Should we be more open to admitting that we might have missed something? That we are not perfect? Should we encourage other scholars to help fill the gaps? These are all questions that are going through my head as I head into dissertation land.

Monday, November 1, 2010


For this week’s paper, I have decided to examine several pieces from the past few weeks that I have found particularly useful to my own research. A course on feminist methods is interesting because there are so many diverse ways in which one can understand the word method. Should we have an overarching method in feminist studies? I would think that most would argue no. Do we need to be transparent in the methods we use? I hope that most would say yes. However, what then make something feminist? Is it a self-reflexive term that we can choose to take or is it something that can be placed on works that fit a certain criteria? We can also ask the very important question as to whether or not any of these categories really matter if the work stands up on its own. I find that in my own work, that I tend to examine things from a feminist perspective, but I don’t always acknowledge it. I think the main issue with this is that by not being more forthright, I do not use as much feminist scholars in my work and perhaps people who read my pieces will not also pick up the feminist cause. In another class, we have been reading many pieces on gender from a racial perspective. One author, Patricia Collins, argues that not everyone can be or should claim the feminist moniker. There needs to be a middle ground between the extreme that everyone can be or is a feminist or that only certain groups that have experienced gender inequalities have the right to do so. I think this is important to think about because I would argue that we do need some sort of criteria for scholarship and activism. While everyone has the right to identify as anything they want, this does not mean that it is the most effective way to push certain activist agendas. This is a tricky area, because value judgments are tended to be frowned upon in cultural studies because we are afraid to alienate people, but at the same time life is made up of judgements. One does not want to argue that any feminist research or researcher is wrong in their actions, but perhaps we can argue that there are better ways to do it. Inherently, this all connects to ethics.

Madison argues in terms of how ethics connects to the ways in which we examine our participants in our studies. We must not look at them as simply the other or that we are striving for the greater good of society. I think that the greater good argument is interesting to connect to the feminist movement because of many historical issues within this paradigm. Who gets to determine what the greater good is for all? I guess I am struggling with issues of how to judge something as being more or less useful. The greater good in feminism seems like it has been upper middle class white women, so many have found this to be problematic and have added many different and important perspectives to the literature. Perhaps we need to construct this as the greater good NEEDING to always be challenged in order to push different theories further. I think that the important goal of contemporary feminism is to define itself in conjuncture with current issues and struggles. When a movement becomes static, it no longer has the power to be transformative. Stuart Hall, in an earlier piece we read, argues that when a theory is no longer useful that we need to be willing to get rid of it and create theory that is applicable to the current contextual time period. I think that this is a good way to also think about feminist movements and paradigms. Rather than judge them in simplistic binaries of being simply good or bad, rather we judge them in terms of their usefulness during certain time periods. Perhaps I need to be more willing to talk about these issues in my own work in order to bring these conversations to larger groups of people. So, my goal is to use more feminist theory in my own work as well as to try and flesh out the better works for my contextual period. However, the goal should not be to create more canonical work, but rather to create academic work that answers important questions.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My thoughts on the readings

During the last few weeks, we have had some time to reflect on our own feminist methods. In this paper I would like to look at a few texts and talk about my own position to my work. After getting back from an Internet Researchers conference in Sweden, I feel like I have more tools and drive to apply to research. However, at the same time, I realize that there were not many feminist perspectives at the conference. It seems that, especially with new media, there is a lack of looking at texts from a feminist, race, or gendered perspective. I could count on my hand how many presentations actually addressed these issues. Now, with a conference center full of scholars who are at the top of their game, what does this say about the progression of feminist methods? I imagine that many are using feminist methods in their own research, even if they don’t acknowledge it, but why are these issues more at the forefront. It made me also question my own position in all of this. Am I doing enough to address some of these major issues that people are not talking about? At a google panel, one person brought up the fact that while google may be creating the perfect search results, it is only doing it for some people. When the person googled for beautiful black women, all that came up in the search was porn. The panelist seemed like they were really interested in this point of view, but you could tell that they hadn’t thought about it that way, that google caters more toward a white male audience. What does this say about the state of intersectionality in scholarship? I know that there are others who are doing this type of research, like our own teacher and scholars like Nakagawa, but what about these other perspectives? My own goal is to use the tools we are learning in class and better my own work. Here, I will turn to the last two readings (the ones I presented on) and talk about what I can pull pieces of them into my own work.

“Bringing Old and Young People Together: An Interview Project” by Laurie Lathem, at first glance, seems to be a project that may not be applicable outside of this specific contexts. However, the more I have relflected on it, the more I realize that perhaps the general idea of this project can be used in many different circumstances. She argues that people need to get out into the field and actually interact with those in their own community. I consider myself to be a part of the activist community and I too believe that we need to study nonprofits in order to better understand them and help them reach their goals. Also, she believes that one should involve the participant not only in the process but the final product. Now, I kind of question how much participation the old people had in the plays themselves, but the idea is a fine one. We need to somehow get our participants to be involved with the final project, whether it is a paper or even a presentation. For me this is a bit more complicated. I am interested in looking at the Medical Foundation, so the participants are both the nonprofit workers and the survivors of torture. Should I be talking to both of these groups? If I only talk to one am I missing out on the other? Can I do justice to either? I think it is really important to somehow include the people you study in your work because it changes the work itself. Also, something that is missing from Lathem’s work it what happened after the shows were done. Did the young people have any role in the old person’s life? Should we keep our connections to those that we study? I wouldn’t want to simply study the Medical Foundation and then just disappear and never interact with them again. I do appreciate that Lathem argues for a model where you don’t write down everything you hear, that you have to try and listen instead of simply recording. I believe that we often get too worried about what we can do with the information after the interview than the actual interview itself. Here, I want to switch focus from praxis to theory and epistemological issues. I think these obviously are important parts of the same whole.

“Subjects, Power, and Knowledge: Description and Prescription in Feminist Philosophies of Science” By Helen E. Longino is a really interesting piece that argues for looking at science as a practice and examining how different models of theory can work together. Now, this is obviously a critique of the ways in which science has been conducted in a patriarchical system, but it also can work in my own research. She argues for being able to use different models concurrently rather than arguing for a system in which only one paradigm can be universal. If everything is subjective, then there can be numerous perspectives. This is important to my project, because I will be using many different perspectives on the internet and nonprofit organizations. Also, she argues that we must be willing to move past certain theories when they are no longer useful. I really like this organic and fluid way of understanding theory. We always argue that culture is constantly changing and yet we cannot move past certain older paradigms because theory seems to be something that always sticks around. It may be part of the game of academia because we are sometimes forced to use theory that we don’t want to. I think for my own project this is helpful in that I need to find applicable theory that relates to the internet and nonprofits. If there isn’t a lot of theory that is that specific I will need to create hybrid area where I bring different theories together to work with newer material. I also need to really keep in mind the issue of class, race and gender in my work. I think it sometimes is too easy for me to do simply because I think I have enough to deal with in terms of torture itself. However, I need to focus on the story in which my boss told me to find pictures of white people being tortured. That is my main driving force in making a better overall project. Obviously, this is not the only reason, but I think it helps me to have a center point to work from.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Paper 2

Paper two

Over the past several weeks, we have read several different books on research methods in order to create a kind of path for our own research. The reason I am hesitant to use the word method is because of lack of one universal method in critical studies. While this is also true of the social sciences (that there isn’t necessarily just a single way of studying the world) this is a notion that is projected onto critical studies. While it is important to talk about method and methodology in all studies, it doesn’t mean that there ever can be one single way to understand or study culture. We can have general guidelines, but if we were to enforce strict procedures and mold them to every group, we would be missing out on something. The critical scholar must be willing to adapt to his environment or else he/she will simply not be able to connect with the material on a deeper level. In this paper, I examine both Stuart Hall’s ‘methods’ throughout the majority of his work and D. Madison’s methods of critical ethnography in order to determine if they are applicable to all studies of culture (or simply are a useful guideline). I argue that culture is not something that can be approached in a single way, but broad methodological procedures are helpful in order to ground oneself in a meticulous study.

Stuart Hall has created a set of methods that are incredibly useful in the study of culture because they are so malleable to different situations. In his desire to examine the many conjunctures that were happening during his lifetime, he created three analytical tools in order to understand power. First, he speaks of arbitrary closures. This is an incredibly important idea because this is the moment in society where we stop talking or change the subject or point to something important that isn’t getting enough attention. Sometimes a scholar or activist needs to help stop the discussion in order to point something out. For example, if we see a marginalized group being overlooked, perhaps we should highlight their struggle in order to move the conversation to the public. The other side is that natural events in society may force the conversation to stop, like during Katrina with poor black citizens who couldn’t pay for gas to leave the storm. Next, he examines articulation and re-articulation as a form of power for both the scholar and elite. Here one can take an idea and articulate it in such a way in order to gain power. Contrarily, one can pull an idea apart in order to reframe it and propose an oppositional view. He closely analyzed Prime Minister Thatcher when she meticulously reframed the welfare state as being wasteful and unhelpful to the citizens of the UK. The last is testing theory, which is incredibly important because it allows Cultural Studies scholars to get rid of theory that simply doesn’t work or isn’t applicable to their study. Often, we get stuck within hierarchies of power with academia which force us to continue to use theories that have no basis on a certain study. In this way we are given the freedom to move past certain paradigms if they simply don’t work or are irrelevant. These three frameworks are relevant to my own work because they are very broad categories that help me to focus me work. I can use them to examine the Medical Foundation’s website to look for the ways in which they articulate the suffering of torture victims. Importantly, they re-articulate their stories in a way that gets the most sympathy to gather donor support. Also, the site attempts to direct attention to their cause by using survivors testimonies. I am still in the process of thinking about theory, but Alcoff’s “Speaking for Others” seems to be the best starting point, but I must be willing to move past her research if it simply doesn’t fit with my data.

D. Madison has written extensively on methods, but I want to focus on her section on ethics. Ethical decisions are incredibly important in studying culture. Much in the same way Stuart Hall gives us broad options to pick from; D. Madison lays out thousands of years of history in order to give us a glimpse at the subjectivity of ethical decisions in scholarship. Here, due to space, I will only examine her section on Maria Lugones. She points to several ways in which a scholar must be able to mediate the ‘others’ space. First, code switching is how the ‘other’ can move between different worlds. Madison is interested in the many different worlds that we all have to work through in our everyday existence. She argues that scholars must use a loving perceptive way of examining these groups of people rather than arrogant (dismissive and un-accepting) so that we can really get at the heart of issues facing the marginalized. In this way, I need to make sure that I accurately and fairly present both the Medical Foundation and its participants. I cannot go into studying nonprofit workers with an arrogant attitude if I expect to accurately collect data. I would argue that this attitude works for both the powerful and powerless.

In this paper, I have examined two authors and their views on methods in critical studies. I argue that methods are important, but must be able to adapt to different types of studies. Perhaps some of the methods above would not fit certain types of cultural projects, and that is fine because culture is always changing and adapting and it doesn’t fit into only one mold. The importance is the effort in creating a meticulous format that one will use throughout the project. Critical studies is a very time intensive and reflective process. One must give themselves the room to be able to adapt, but at the same time follow theoretical and methodological procedures that create a rigorous and useful study.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

First Paper

In the past several weeks, we have read two books that have talked about methods in different ways. Both Ian Hacking’s The Social Construction of What? and Questions of Method in Cultural Studies by White and Schwoch examine different ways in which to examine and look at the world and scholarship. The chapters that I focused on did not directly address feminist methods, but they use some of the characteristics that I would consider part of a feminist paradigm. In particular, conducting a close examination of the production of production (within the article by Caldwell) allows for us to break certain established norms within even a progressive field such as Cultural Studies. Also, by questioning what it means to be a constructionist within the natural sciences has the same kind of challenging attitude. While both of these pieces are incredibly important, I feel that they do not push the issues far enough. I believe that feminist methods should have some sort of activist or political bent that allows people who use it to challenge and change the dominant hierarchies that exist even within Cultural Studies. I feel that Feminism and Cultural Studies have hit an important part of their history where in order for the fields to grow, there needs to be some serious critical introspection.

What are feminist methods? These readings have not addressed it directly, but I believe that feminist methods are those that attempt to challenge dominant power structures with alternative means. To me, feminist methods should incorporate some kind of activism and self reflection. In the introduction to Questions of Method in Cultural Studies I feel that they could have challenged many of the assumptions made by the methods within Cultural Studies. Often, we as academics tend to prop Cultural Studies up as being the savior of all mankind when it can actually be simply reinforcing a lot of the same patriarchical paradigms. The introduction could have more strongly emphasized that there are some major issues in Cultural Studies that need to be addressed in the coming years. Instead it basically reinforces the idea that there are already strong methods within the field and that we just need to emphasize them more. I disagree in the sense that methods are something that needs to be address more in CS in order for us to be taken seriously as well as for our studies to be meaningful. Just because we study humanistic and qualitative data doesn’t mean that we do not need to be systematic and transparent. There needs to be a sense of greater urgency within the field to push younger scholars to surround themselves in methodological practices. I think often method is a scary word to the humanist because it harks back to a social scientific time period. If we are to use feminist methods in order to break away from the traditional power hierarchies, we first need to question our own paradigms and improve them before we can move forward.

The chapters that I looked at in both books used feminist methods in different ways to challenge mainstream beliefs. Firstly, the in Questions of Method in Cultural Studies asked us to reconsider the ways in which we study producers. Far too often, Cultural Studies scholars have ignored the production of production because producers represented the evil corporations that attempted to blind the public. Instead we were interested in examining either the texts themselves or the audiences’ reception of said texts. The problem was this is that we stubbornly ignored an important group in media simply because we didn’t like them or couldn’t gain insider access. I argue that a feminist perspective is one that examines power hierarchies within many different avenues. In this piece, the author uses specific ways in which one can look at the inner workings of an organization. One of the more interesting dynamics was this kind of balance between rituals of warning and therapeutic ones. The idea is that producers both push each other relentlessly as well as have times where they embrace each other. It would be too easy to simply look at these interactions as all being negative, but I think a feminist perspective allows for these diverse ways of understanding. The second chapter I examined looked at the natural sciences as being constructed. Here is another example of someone who is not afraid to question established hierarchies. While his writing is not the clearest, he does an adequate job of challenging the common misconception of the sciences as being not socially constructed. He examines three different sticking points in the constructed vs universalistic approaches; the nominal (we understand the world through how we describe it), contingency (our understanding is contingent on our historical context), and stability (we understand the world through external constructions) paradigms. Both authors could do a better job of really getting at the heart of the problems within Cultural Studies through a strong use of feminist methods, but this is at least a start in the right direction.