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.