Logo  
  | home | authors | calendar colophon | links | newsgroups | newsfeed | new | printer version |  
volume 4
september 2001

The "cultural compliance" debate

 





  by David Miller and Greg Philo
 
Previous
  Last year Greg Philo and David Miller published their essay 'Cultural Compliance' in this journal and in Media, Culture and Society. This page summarizes the debate generated when it was circulated to a number of email lists. You will find links to the online version of "Cultural Compliance". As before the authors invite responses to their arguments and encourage people to take part in the debate. The original article is below together with the responses to it. The replies are at the bottom of the page.
 
  The original article:
Next Philo, Greg, and David Miller (2000), "Cultural Compliance and Critical Media Studies." In: Media Culture and Society, Vol. 22: 831-839; reprinted in Soundscapes: Online Journal on Media Culture, December 2000.
 
  Responses:
Next From: Shaun Moores <shaun.moores@sunderland.ac.uk>
To: <meccsa@jiscmail.ac.uk>
Date: Wednesday, December 6, 2000 4:13 pm
Subject: Re: Cultural compliance
 
David and Greg,

You've asked for responses to your piece. I have to say
that I find your easy dismissal of research into the
"social relations of media consumption" disturbing for
two reasons.

First, you offer a summary of this body of research (in
half a paragraph and with no explicit references to
work on audiences) which is, to say the least, partial.
If it was JUST about "asking people if they listened to
the radio whilst doing the ironing", then I'd be
inclined to agree with you that this is not, in itself,
enough. However, and this leads me into my second reason
for challenging your dismissal, such questions about

domestic media use can raise issues to do with the
organisation of labour and leisure in households which
are surely political.

You write that there has been "an absence of will" to
address so-called "real" relationships of power. As
several researchers in this tradition have argued,
domestic contexts ARE sites of power -- embedded in
broader social structures -- and to suggest that proper
politics are somehow located elsewhere, or that what
goes on in living rooms is trivial, seems highly
problematic. Others, like David Morley and Ann Gray,
have said this kind of thing much better and at greater
length than I can manage here. See Morley's piece in
Cultural Studies (Vol. 12, No. 4) -- especially the
sections on "The Gender of the Real" and "The Backlash"
(where he refers to an earlier version of your argument)
-- and also Gray's chapter in Alasuutari's edited
collection, Rethinking the Media Audience.

Shaun
Next From: Jim Barratt / BBFC <abarratt@bbfc.co.uk>
To: <media-watch@jiscmail.ac.uk>
Date: Wednesday, December 6, 2000 12:59 pm
Subject: Re: Cultural compliance
 
Bravo. It's about time those involved in cultural and
media studies engaged in a wide ranging debate about
the status and function of critical theory.

As a discipline it has been subject to scornful attack
from several quarters, notably people who poo-poo the
study of popular culture in schools and colleges. The
damage has been largely self-inflicted, for some of the
reasons outlined in your paper. Media and cultural
studies deserves to be at the centre of a vibrant,
relevant and critically astute body of social
commentary generated at every level of public discourse.
I look forward to the debate.

Jim Barratt
Next From: Ramona Rush <rrrush@pop.uky.edu>
To: <iamcr-newsletter@lists.colorado.edu>
Date: Friday, December 8, 2000 9:22 pm
Subject: Re: Cultural compliance
 
in my opinion, miller and philo in this article and
their book point to where IAMCR might well be devoting
and coordinating its immense, potential research
efforts. i and my grad students presented similar
thoughts in a paper during a symposium on the history
of the international communication section in scotland
a couple of years ago. best, ramona rush
Next From: Peter Waterman <waterman@antenna.nl>
To: <iamcr-newsletter@lists.colorado.edu>
Date: Monday, December 11, 2000 12:21 am
Subject: Surpassing Compliance Critique
 
From 'Critical' to 'Critical and Committed'
Communication and Cultural Studies

Peter Waterman

Global Solidarity Dialogue/Dialogo Solidaridad Global
<www.antenna.nl/~waterman/>

Well, a splendid piece (even if one of the early
paragraphs is a little on the much-too-long side)!

I am not, however, sure if you do justice to those who
HAVE nonetheless continued, as you have, to do
political-economic or political-cultural critiques of
the dominant capitalist culture and media. The
impression you give is of voices crying in the
wilderness, whilst it is my impression that increasing
number of critical communicators are doing what you are
either yourselves doing or proposing. There is, for
example, Noam Chomsky -- less an example than a cottage
industry (one or two-man).

You also appear to give no space for critical /
subversive / radical-democratic or popular / democratic
cultural and media production. The one or two genres
mentioned in your piece are dismissed as reproducing or
accepting the dominant model and ethic. What of Michael
Moore in the US (do not confuse with Mike Moore from the
Borld Wank)? Or from the UK itself : "Oranges are Not
the Only Fruit"? "The 'Full Monty"? "Billy Elliot"?
If such are considered to merely reproduce or disarm,
it is difficult to understand how any radical-democratic
alternative culture could develop -- except by some
Mighty Leap (of the imagination) from capitalism to ...
umm ... er ... post-capitalism?, in which no one
believes any more.

It has long seemed to me that "critical communications
studies" in the North have over-concentrated on critique
of the dominant rather than critique/construction of
alternative media and culture. Chomsky has to be the
best-known example of such. Yet 1000 critiques of the
capitalist media and culture do not a radical-democratic
and popular alternative make. In a time of increasing
(also cultural) confrontation with a neo-liberalised
globalised capitalist disorder,local / national /
regional / global, there is an increasing need, not
simply for "critical cultural studies" but for
theoretically critical and socially-engaged cultural
studies. An alternative, after all, does not float
ashore on a seashell, it is not announced (even if
variously claimed), it is developed out of exchange,
comparison, dialogue and criticism. The contribution of
academia is essential here. Consider, as a rare example
of such, the book of Charlotte Ryan (1991) on movement
strategies toward dominant media.

One sign of a new engagement with the dominant media, on
the global scale, is the production of Voices 21, a
charter-cum-discussion document, which itself, for the
first time, proposes or identifies the existence of
something like an international movement for the
democratisation of communication. After the effort of
producing this wide-ranging and attractive document,
unfortunately, nothing further seems to have happened
(burnout on launch?). But the challenge is there for
anyone wishing to take the campaign -- or even only the
dialogue about such -- further.

There has, moreover, been major activity on various
fronts. One is the growing campaign for internet
democracy, stimulated by the conflict around new domain
names.  Another is the alternative culture represented
by the Battle of Seattle and associated events all over
the world, as well as the very considerable and often
technically competent media production around it
(Waterman 2000). 

Yet another is the mushrooming of international labour
activity on the web, both within and -- crucially --
outside the unions. Being currently busy with an article
about a very specialised topic -- international labour
history @ cyberspace -- I have been again impressed by
the extent and sophistication or some of the sites and
services (including audio-visual). There is even some
(self)critical writing here, though by practioners rather
than academic specialists (check out Eric Lee's site,
LabourStart). 

Perhaps the movement media most studied by academics is
the women's one. I have in front of me three quality
books, by Pilar Riano (1994), Wendy Harcourt (1999) and
Maria Suarez (2000), that show what can or should be done
much more extensively. 

That by Suarez is mostly a chronicle of the Costa
Rica-based, international feminist radio station, Radio
Fire (now appearing on a website near you?). She herself
lists the leading Latin American students, studies or
theories of 'reception', to note that none have
addressed themselves to women's radio. And to state,
further, that RF could find no apropriate methodology
for such. And then to report on the reception study they
themselves had to design and commission. The book, that
study and, of course, the radio and internet materials of
Radio Fire themselves, remain to be more theoretically,
critically and independently studied. 

I could continue, but this is already too long ...

Best, 
Peter Waterman (Pensioned but not Retired) 

Resources:

- Harcourt, Wendy (ed). 1999. "Women @ Internet: Creating
  New Cultures in Cyberspace." London:Zed. 
- Riano, Pilar (ed). 1994. "Women in Grassroots
  Communication: Furthering Social Change." Thousand
  Oaks:Sage. 
- Ryan, Charlotte (1991). "Prime Time Activism: Media
  Strategies for Grassroots Organising." Boston: South
  End. 
- Suarez Toro, Maria (ed). "Women's Voices on FIRE:
  Feminist International Radio Endeavour." Austin
  (Texas): Anomaly Press. 
- Waterman, Peter. 2000. "Nine Reflections on a
  Communications Internationalism in the Age of Seattle",
  Paper for Conference, "Nuevos Escenarios y Tendencias
  de la Comunicación en el Umbral del Tercer Milenio",
  Quito, February 14-17, 2000. 

Web:

- Internet democracy:
  <http://www.isoc.org/> 
- LabourStart:
  <http://www.labourstart.org/> 
- Voices 21 Charter:
  <http://www.comunica.org/v21/statement.htm> 
- WWW Virtual Library Labour History and Business:
  <http://www.iisg.nl/~w3vl/> 
Next From: John Storey <john.storey@sunderland.ac.uk>
To: <meccsa@jiscmail.ac.uk>
Date: Monday, December 11, 2000 3:26 pm
Subject: Re: Cultural compliance
 
Back to the Future: the return of Sectarian Wars

Reading Greg Philo and David Miller's Cultural Compliance
is like reliving the sectarian wars of the 1970s; a time
when a variety of revolutionary socialist groups (large
in number, small in membership) engaged each other in
pointless and puritanical disputes about who could claim
to be the real guardians of an essential Marxism. If
Philo and Miller really do believe that the rest of media
and cultural studies is so hopelessly lost in celebratory
support of capitalism, why waste time pointing this out?
Would it not be better to spend their energy instead
attacking what is supposedly their real target -- the
exploitative and oppressive structures of capitalism?
Perhaps the answer is contained in Marx's observation
that those who repeat history unthinkingly often find
themselves re-staging tragedy as farce.

I think Philo and Miller would do well to reread their
first two sentences in relation to their own work. While
I believe that analysis of the prevailing structures of
power must be foundational to the project of cultural
studies, I do not believe that this means conceptualising
the political only in terms of how it manifests itself in
Philo and Miller's hyper-masculine public sphere; nor do
I believe much will be changed by tossing around insults
and unreferenced accusations, or by brandishing banal and
dated clichés (the political equivalent of sixth-form
poetry) as if these were the very substance of
revolutionary practice. Simplistic reflection theories of
how television mechanically changes its content in
response to shifts at the level of the economic are no
longer very convincing. Nostalgia for the Reithian ideals
of broadcasting (which always seem to include "balanced"
attacks on strikers) seems a little misplaced. Calls for
censorship seem hardly revolutionary. The idea that
Indecent Proposal must produce in its audience support
for the commodification of relationships reveals a rather
limited grasp of Marxist writing on culture (reading
Brecht might have made this particular assertion a little
more difficult to assert).

Their explanation (as far as it makes sense) of the
relationship between language and what they call reality
(as if language existing somewhere else) is at best a red
herring. I cannot think of any work that would describe
itself as cultural studies which adopts their line of
argument. However, having said this, even their garbled
account seems more workable than what I suspect is their
alternative. Against their position I would say this. We
live nature (in all its complexity) in culture (in all
its complexity). This means that we live (including
political struggle) at the level of the cultural, on the
terrain Marx referred to as ideological forms. This is
not a terrain we can choose to occupy, as if in some
postmodern fantasy of voluntarism, it is something
fundamental to human existence. Moreover, because there
are so many different ways to live our relationship to
nature (including our own human nature), the cultural is
inescapably entangled in questions of power and politics.
Therefore, to pay critical attention to this terrain
(where culture and power intermingle) is not an evasion
of politics, unless, that is, you have already defined
politics so narrowly as to exclude anything which would
not fit neatly into a rather traditional Politics degree
programme.

Finally, what Cultural Compliance offers is a sort of
Dictatorship of the Intellectual (one form of supposed
cultural compliance is to be replaced by revolutionary
cultural compliance). People working in media and
cultural studies must stop what they are currently doing
and seek guidance on proper political subjects for
analysis. The fact that Philo and Miller seem to have
little understanding of the work that is actually taking
place in media and cultural studies hardly makes one
enthusiastic about embracing their new revolutionary
agenda.

Dr John Storey

Professor of Cultural Studies
Director of the Centre for Research in Media and
Cultural Studies
University of Sunderland
Next From: Travis Wall <wallt@cadvision.com>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Tuesday, December 12, 2000 11:13 pm
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
David,

"Prove to me the world is not an objective reality?"
(To paraphrase). Gimme a break, find an article which
isn't quite so axe-grinding, polemic, and riddled with
logical fallacies and straw men, then maybe some debate
will be possible. As it is entering into a discussion
around that piece would be like getting into a
high-school lunch-room debate over whether God exists or
not. High on rhetoric, low on actual criticism.

However in the spirit of the article, I'd suggest that
rather than trying to save the world by thinking harder,
we should try something simple, like (to use the bumper
sticker) using our turn-signal next time we're driving. 

cheers
tw
Next From: Shane Blackman <sjb9@canterbury.ac.uk>
To: <subcultural-styles@jiscmail.ac.uk>
Date: Tuesday, December 12, 2000 2:43 pm
Subject: Re: Cultural compliance
 
Dear David and Greg,

Fascinating paper. I'm only half way through it at the
moment. Just off to teach Cultural Studies. In relation
to your points about sociology and cultural studies I
thought you might be interested in my recent paper just
published by Pedagogy, Culture and Society, "Decanonised
Knowledge" and the Radical project: towards an
understanding of cultural studies in British
universities, Vol.8, No. 1. 2000. It includes a whole
section on the "love hate" relationship between the two
academic approaches.

Excellent debate.

Best regards,
Dr. Shane Blackman
Next From: Julie-Ann <researcher@pulp-fiction.com>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Wednesday, December 13, 2000 6:27 am
Subject: RE: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
I have to agree with TW. There is no substance in the
article for a logical debate. Although there are relevant
points within the article content, there is nothing to
sink your teeth into. 

JA
Next From: Sean Albiez <salbiez@plymouth.ac.uk>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Wednesday, December 13, 2000 10:01 am
Subject: RE: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
Greg & David,

Cool! I enjoyed this precisely because it was axe-
grinding and polemical and my teeth are itching to sink
into ... something.

Best Wishes,

SA
University of Plymouth,
Earl Richards Road North,
Exeter,
Devon,
EX2 6AS
01392-475112
Next From: ctgr <ctgr@free.fr>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Wednesday, December 13, 2000 2:27 pm
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
hi! maybe minds are lost in the wastelands of the
endless talking and tired logic sofa resting. critic is
alive in critical action. act ladies and gentlemen,
without being stopped by the what you donna' nderstand
and donna' logical addict. 

trevor a écrit: Perhaps one of the most significant
changes in recent years ( causing or reflecting a decline
in academic standards?) is that "critical" no longer
seems to refer to an open and enquiring state of mind but
has been reduced to implying the acceptance of a fixed
set of values. Unfortunately, so long such Orwellian
newspeak prevails then a "critical debate" will remain a
logical contradicton. trevor 

Julie-Ann wrote: I have to agree with TW. There is no
substance in the article for a logical debate. Although
there are relevant points within the article content,
there is nothing to sink your teeth into.
Next From: Trevor Batten <tebatt@chello.nl>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Wednesday, December 13, 2000 2:29 pm
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
Perhaps one of the most significant changes in recent
years (causing or reflecting a decline in academic
standards?) is that "critical" no longer seems to refer
to an open and enquiring state of mind but has been
reduced to implying the acceptance of a fixed set of
values. Unfortunately, so long such Orwellian newspeak
prevails then a "critical debate" will remain a logical
contradicton. 

trevor
Next From: Trevor Batten <tebatt@chello.nl>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Wednesday, December 13, 2000 3:14 pm
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
Is ctgr by any chance quoting Adolf Hitler? 

ctgr wrote: hi ! maybe minds are lost in the wastelands
of the endless talking and tired logic sofa resting.
critic is alive in critical action. act ladies and
gentlemen, without being stopped by the what you donna'
nderstand and donna' logical addict.
Next From: ctgr <ctgr@free.fr>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Wednesday, December 13, 2000 3:46 pm
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
trevor a écrit: Is ctgr by any chance quoting Adolf
Hitler? 

hahahahha too easy man ! ya'r focus on wrong target man.
ya fight the opposite side kampf man ? sleep well my
beauty. or simply take time to visit
<http://pavu.com> ha! -- ctgr 

ctgr wrote: hi ! maybe minds are lost in the wastelands
of the endless talking and tired logic sofa resting.
critic is alive in critical action. act ladies and
gentlemen, without being stopped by the what you donna'
nderstand and donna' logical addict.
Next From: Trevor Batten <tebatt@chello.nl>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Wednesday, December 13, 2000 4:55 pm
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
David Miller wrote:

>> Attached is a short piece which we hope will start a
>> debate in media and cultural studies about the
>> engagement of intellectuals with political and social
>> issues. Please feel free to circulate widely.

Unfortunately, it (almost) always requires more words to
answer a complex question than it does to ask it. So
please forgive me for sending so much information -- on
the other hand, I have been fighting these problems /
attitudes (single-handedly it seemed) for many years. 

I agree that "Post-modernism" has degenerated into a
cultural disaster which generates more problems than it
solves. However, the problems it tackles are real (and
fascinatingly subtle and complex) -- it is the answers
that are suspect (and which are unfortunately often used
as an excuse for intellectual laziness).

As far as I can see, the main problem is the continuing
social schism between art and science which prevent
those on the "cultural" side from appreciating the
difference between pragmatic "relativity" and autistic
"relativism".

For many years I have been working (and until recently,
teaching) under the name of "media art" -- however, it
seems obvious to me that this refers to a different
concept of "media" than is referred to in "media
studies". To be honest -- I sometimes wonder if
practitioners of "media studies" have any idea what a
"medium" might be.

Attached are two files which I hope you may find relevant
to your question:

- Some Thoughts Regarding the Construction of a
  Fourth Generation Institute ...
- Some Personal Remarks Regarding European Culture.

Additional texts are available via my web site (including
some outdated documentation of my artistic work):

- So What Is Media Art?
  <http://www.dma.nl/batten/what.htm>
- An Introduction To Cross Media Mapping.
  <http://www.dma.nl/batten/intro.htm>
- Some Personal Remarks regarding Electronic Audio-Visual
  Media. <http://www.dma.nl/batten/av.htm>

I am also including a few quotes from recent e-mails.
With apologies for flooding you with texts -- but I
believe it is a very serious and complex (Pandora's)
box of problems which you have opened.

From experience, I do not believe that a serious answer
is likely via the mailing list. However, I remain 
interested in pursuing the subject further.

Best wishes,
Trevor Batten <http://www.dma.nl/batten>

---------------------------------------------------------
anna balint wrote:

> a lot of medievalists are contemporary art critics
> and media theorists at the same time, let's 
> mention only Umberto Eco or Jacques Rubeaud.

Of course -- silly me, forgetting them.

> That's maybe because the knowledge of history,
> mentalities, culture and spiritualities help a lot
> to grab contemporary media phenomena.

Couldn't agree more. Do you have any specific ideas or
examples? I have the feeling that "post-modernism" has
degenerated into a new version of medieval scholasticism
where no really new ideas or insights are possible.
Although intellectuals shout about pluralism in theory
-- one hardly ever sees it in practice any more.

Seems to me as if internet (the syndicate?) has become a
modern version of the medieval catholic church -- defining
cannons and perhaps even propagating spurious crusades.

Isn't it a strange paradox that the middel-ages (with its
theory of stasis -- echoed now in post-modernism) got
destroyed by the dynamic success of its own theoretical
failure?

I never have been too fond of "humanism" and the way it
split us of from the rest of the world (although life
without it may not always be a barrel of laughs) -- but
it might be useful if people were slightly more aware of
the interconnections between trade and freedom -- and the
continuity between the American and the Russian
revolutions. Perhaps then we could discuss (aesthetic)
nuances instead of (imaginary) oppositions.

Best wishes,
trevor

---------------------------------------------------------

Selena Sol wrote:

At 05:05 AM 12/6/00 +0100, trevor wrote:

>> Somehow this brings me to a deeply philosophical point
>> regarding "context sensitivity". It is the nature of
>> Western philosophy to make everything "objective" and
>> context insensitive. "Platform Independance" is of
>> course a practical expression of this fundamental
>> concept. It is my personal belief that in fact life
>> (human intelligence) is extremely context sensitive
>> -- and to assume otherwise is an extremely grave
>> error. If I am correct, then both modern technology
>> and globalisation need to be seriously and
>> fundamentally reconcidered. 

> Well, this is certainly a big topic to think about.
> And to tell you the truth, I am not sure what I think
> about it other than I would need to think seriously
> about it before I made up my mind whether or not
> platform independence is good or bad philosophically.
> That said, I think I will find some time to ponder
> cause it is an interesting concept.
Next From: Raya Darcy <galaxy1@primus.com.au>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Wednesday, December 13, 2000 8:20 pm
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
I know I shouldn't even bother to getting into this
"high-school lunch room debate", because no doubt you're
going to come back with another long worn out tirade on
the evils of capitalism, but your simplistic and limited
views on what you have called the "post-modern vision"
fail to recognise that discourses other than your own
don't necessarily buy into the linear and "progressivist"
view of history that you are. These "other" discourses
are attempting to see the world through eyes other than
your own -- eyes which you claim can't be proven:
therefore don't exist. We are not "culturally
quiescent" -- we just have a different perspective than
yours -- we do try to "change the world to be a better
place" -- but we don't do it by hitting people over the
head with an ideology, or do it by starting wars -- or
even a "war of words". Stop trying to police the
boundaries of academic research and just worry about your
own field of study -- and let others do theirs. You are
reiterating the oligarchy you claim to be arguing
against.

Raya Darcy
Next From: Michael Fotheringham <fother@deakin.edu.au>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Wednesday, December 13, 2000 11:47 pm
Subject: [media-culture] Re: Cultural compliance
 
How blissfully ironic.

First:

> Attached is a short piece which we hope will start a
> debate in media and cultural studies about the
> engagement of intellectuals with political and
> social issues. Please feel free to circulate widely.
>
> Best wishes,
>
> David Miller
> and Greg Philo

containing much froth a vitriol about how nasty global
capitalism is, and how mean faceless market forces are
corrupting what social science is about, Then:

...

> Subject: RE: Cultural compliance
>
> Dear Travis and Julie,
>
> Thanks for your messages. You may want to read the
> arguments in full if you want to get your teeth into
> this. We can't see the logical fallacies and straw
> persons, but perhaps after reading the longer version
> you could respond in more detail. Details of the book
> follow.

If you don't believe us, BUY OUR BOOK. Very amusing guys,
have a great festive season.
Next From: Sue Morris <sue.morris@mailbox.uq.edu.au>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Thursday, December 14, 2000 3:35 am
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
my sentiments exactly! especially:

> Stop trying to police the boundaries of academic
> research and just worry about your own field of study
> -- and let others do theirs.

Sue
Next From: Travis Wall <wallt@cadvision.com>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Thursday, December 14, 2000 3:49 am
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
> my sentiments exactly!

Mine too, since when were academics ever proclaimed as
the "guardians of culture" anyway. I watch, interpret,
try and understand and act on that in my own way, but I
rather resent the notion that I'm supposed to be a Big
Brother to all the philistines, plebes, and unwashed
masses there (I'm being ironic here). I don't care to
wield the sort of authority which authorises some forms
of "culture" over others.

travis
Next From: Phil Graham <phil.graham@mailbox.uq.edu.au>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Thursday, December 14, 2000 5:44 am
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
How heartening it is to see a consensus amongst cultural
studies personnel that they have little or no relevance
to social outcomes. That makes life much easier, because
those engaged in the "discipline" can comfortably provide
a purely descriptive or interpretive account of the
latest episode of ~Allie McBeal~ or ~Friends~ or internet
pornography or whatever.

Ho hum.

At least that would save a lot of work, time, and the
continued pretense of social responsibility and engagement
-- unless, that is, you think that what you say as an
academic has some sort of effects on the rest of the
social world.

If you don't, why bother? If you do, then what sort of
effects do you think you might have?

I saw the word "challenge", not "command". There was
nothing in the Miller and Philo piece that was
dictating what you or anybody else should do (eg, be
"guardians of culture" or a "police" force for the
boundaries of academia). It merely pointed out that
cultural studies has, on the whole, disappeared up its
own theoretical fundamentals, the virtues of which are
precisely what you seem to be endorsing.

Which seems rather odd to me --- discourses of
"postmodernism" began as an intellectual rebellion
against the idea of "value-free" scholarship. Now the
discourse seems to have come full circle to the point at
which any political or programmatic challenge provokes a
reaction of near hysterical bleating, roughly to the
effect of "we subscribe to no value system, nor shall we
prescribe one".

Gimme a break.

Phil
Next From: Hugh Brown <hughie@onlineopinion.com.au>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Thursday, December 14, 2000 6:00 am
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
Ummm ...

I'm not an academic, yet, but I rather thought the idea
of the submission was to provoke debate about media,
culture and (possibly) policy. It has raised some
questions that I, personally would like to see addressed,
not poo-pooed by insecure ideologues.

I don't think it intended to expose the deep, embittered
divisions between fragile academic or ideologial egos
that seem to have been expressed to far. Those debates
are perhaps best left to conference lunches and
after-work drinking sessions.

I'm not singling out any particular post to date, but
could we please get back to the point and address the
issues, not the people?

Hugh Brown

Editor, On Line Opinion,
www.onlineopinion.com.au
Ph +61 7 3852 2138
Fax +61 7 3252 1471
Mob 0409 622 395
Next From: Travis Wall <wallt@cadvision.com>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Thursday, December 14, 2000 6:50 am
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
> I saw the word "challenge", not "command". There was
> nothing in the Miller and Philo piece that was dictating
> what you or anybody else should do (eg, be "guardians
> of culture" or a "police" force for the boundaries of
> academia). It merely pointed out that cultural studies
> has, on the whole, disappeared up its own theoretical
> fundamentals, the virtues of which are precisely what
> you seem to be endorsing.

You're right, they did provide a "challenge" but at the
same time defined the rules and the playing field.
Answering that challenge would be rather like trying to
refute the scientific method using the scientific method.
The command was not explicit, but it is certainly there
-- postmodernism is invalid as a field of study because
it hasn't engendered the social changes it promises (or
supports the global capitalist structures which are
causing harm). So intellectuals are supposed to then
take their supposed cultural power (implied) and make the
world a better place after abandoning postmodernism.

The policing of course would be to remove from
intellectual circles those who have "disappeared into
their own theoretical fundementals" and aren't being
revolutionary. The "guardians of culture" is implied by
the article itself -- that the social sciences are not
doing their job combatting the social ills out there.

> Which seems rather odd to me -- discourses of
> "postmodernism" began as an intellectual rebellion
> against the idea of "value-free" scholarship. Now
> the discourse seems to have come full circle to the
> point at which any political or programmatic challenge
> provokes a reaction of near hysterical bleating,
> roughly to the effect of "we subscribe to no value
> system, nor shall we prescribe one".

Well, maybe I bleated roughly in that direction -- but
not quite, I certainly do subscribe to a value system,
and by virtue of that I do prescribe it. I think however
the notion that we must systemically subscribe and
prescribe is something which got us in trouble to begin
with.

> Gimme a break.

I hope this suffices a little.

regards
travis
Next From: Phil Graham <phil.graham@mailbox.uq.edu.au>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Thursday, December 14, 2000 9:44 am
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
Thanks for the reply, Travis.

At 10:50 PM 13/12/00 -0700, Travis wrote:

> You're right, they did provide a "challenge"
> but at the same time defined the rules and
> the playing field. Answering that challenge
> would be rather like trying to refute the
> scientific method using the scientific method.

This, to me, is the irony of it all: dialectical
argumentation was oriented to challenging the first
principles of any given science, or any body of opinion
whatsoever. In the end, one branch of dialectical method
(mainlyfrom Paduan scholastics) ossified into what is now
known as "the scientific method" (even though there are
many, but it helps to have a single "thing" to poke faces
at). Dialectical method is now usally associated with
Marxism and generally misunderstood as far as I can tell.

On the other hand, what passes for "postmodernism" is
often old-fashioned nominalism or relativisms of various
sorts, both of which have had their waxings and wanings
for at least three thousand years. There seems to me to
be nothing really new or "post" about most of what goes
under the "post" banners, just new phenomena to describe
in nominalist and relativist terms. The movement has
served, though, to remind people that there are
alternative ways of seeing and being, which has been very
useful. Unfortunately, it seems to have turned into a
totalitarian (and in many cases, authoritarian) dogma.
"Science" and scientific methods have also ossified to
the point at which they have forgotten their own roots.
This is never so obvious as when biotech scientists talk
about DNA as "the essence of life" and so on. 

Utterly laughable.

But the really serious area for critical cultural
research is now in the *technocratic* disciplines:
management, social psych, political science,
econometrics, sociology, and so on. These are having a
real effect on culture and cultural production. The crude
Darwinisim is palpable.

That's what I think is important anyway.

> The command was not explicit, but it is
> certainly there -- postmodernism is invalid
> as a field of study because it hasn't engendered
> the social changes it promises (or supports
> the global capitalist structures which are
> causing harm).

Of course postmodernism is harmful. Of course it supports
global capitalism (which is extremely harmful). So does
Marxism. So do other "scientific" and pseudo-scientific
dogmas. I work in a management department. They teach
postmodernism to management students, especially in PR,
advertising, change management, and HR. Critical theory
exposes some fairly intimate aspects of the social world.
These insights can then be appropriated and manipulated
by whomever.

That's the fatal flaw of critical scholarship. That's why
it can't ever "rest" at a particular position. That's why
dialectics is useful and necessary as a method, not as a
"perspective" or a "philosophy".

> So intellectuals are supposed
> to then take their supposed cultural power
> (implied) and make the world a better place
> after abandoning postmodernism.

I didn't get this from the article, I must say.
Postmodernism (and all the other "post"isms) is just the
latest failure of critical theory to effect change.
That's what I thought it was saying. As someone who is
informed mostly by Marx (though not a Marxist), I can't
claim any triumphant theoretical high ground.
"Postmodernism" is on the way out (of fashion; as
fashion), like Marxism was twenty years ago. Get over it.

The real problem is that current trends cannot be
reduced to the problems of capitalism; it is a crisis
of relatedness (social and environmental). The way the
technocrats are handling it is positively pre-modern,
most closely resembling the formalisation of feudalism
in the late twelfth century -- an international,
undemocratic system of specialist elites defining laws
for human behaviour throughout the known world. Of course
there's a lot more to it, and I don't have time ...

> The policing of course would be to remove
> from intellectual circles those who have
> "disappeared into their own theoretical
> fundementals" and aren't being revolutionary.
> The "guardians of culture" is implied by the
> article itself - that the social sciences are
> not doing their job combatting the social
> ills out there.

No. That's true. They're not. Most of the stuff I see is
either rehashed, three-thousand-year-old (plus) dogmas
wamed over and neologised, or just plain nonsense. Social
science is now probably responsible for at least three
quarters of social ills. I think that's a fairly
spectacular achievement.

[snip]

> Well, maybe I bleated roughly in that
> direction - but not quite, I certainly do subscribe
> to a value system, and by virtue of that I do
> prescribe it. I think however the notion that
> we must systemically subscribe and prescribe
> is something which got us in trouble to begin
> with.

I agree. But I don't see anything systemic about what
Miller and Philo are saying. In fact their challenge is
rather mundane and self-evident imperative, and not just
for cultural studies.

>> Gimme a break.

> I hope this suffices a little.

Thanks -- I appreciate it. Perhaps there is some debate
to be had.

Phil
Next From: Travis Wall <wallt@cadvision.com>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Thursday, December 14, 2000 9:02 pm
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
> Of course postmodernism is harmful. Of course it
> supports global capitalism (which is extremely harmful).
> So does Marxism. So do other "scientific" and pseudo-
> scientific dogmas. I work in a management department.
> They teach postmodernism to management students,
> especially in PR, advertising, change management, and
> HR. Critical theory exposes some fairly intimate
> aspects of the social world. These insights can then be
> appropriated and manipulated by whomever.

Exactly, what the article postulates is that it is
invalid. I can't prove I live in textually constructed
world -- therefore I don't.  

> That's the fatal flaw of critical scholarship. That's
> why it can't ever "rest" at a particular position.
> That's why dialectics is useful and necessary as a
> method, not as a "perspective" or a "philosophy".

You can say the same thing about any aspect of theory
-- as a philosophy they tend to be somewhat problematic,
as a tool they let you do all sorts of neat things. 

> I didn't get this from the article, I must say.
> Postmodernism (and all the other "post"isms) is just
> the latest failure of critical theory to effect change.

OK, I might grant you that (though I'm not so sure
change hasn't been effected, even if we aren't living
in Eden again yet), but please let me know where it says
when I signed up that *critical theory* is supposed to
effect change. I can use what I learn to effect change,
but theory cannot. To me that sounds like an abrogation
of responsibility. "The world is screwed up, but I can't
do anything "cause my 'ism isn't fixing it."

> That's what I thought it was saying. As someone who is
> informed mostly by Marx (though not a Marxist), I can't
> claim any triumphant theoretical high ground.
> "Postmodernism" is on the way out (of fashion; as
> fashion), like Marxism was twenty years ago. Get over
> it.

Yeah, being replaced by post pomo, if that's not among
the most postmodern things I've heard in a long time ...

>> The "guardians of culture" is implied by the
>> article itself -- that the social sciences are
>> not doing their job combatting the social
>> ills out there.

> No. That's true. They're not. Most of the stuff I see
> is either rehashed, three-thousand-year-old (plus)
> dogmas wamed over and neologised, or just plain
> nonsense. Social science is now probably responsible
> for at least three quarters of social ills. I think
> that's a fairly spectacular achievement.

I'd like to hear about that actually. It sounds similar
to castigated graphic designers for being responsible for
90% of the stuff found in garbage dumps. It's true, but
misses the point.

And please, can we skip the "it sucks 'cause it's not
new." The cult of the original makes me really tired.
There's really nothing new under the sun, we recapitulate
old stuff in an ever changing context -- if you can find
an original thought we've had in the last millenia I'd be
very impressed. (That was rhetorical, I don't really feel
like digging around in historical treatises to try and
prove obscure postulates unoriginal ;-) 

> Perhaps there is some debate to be had.

Certainly looks like it. Maybe the article wasn't so bad
after all -- it did say it wanted to start discussion. 

regards
tw
Next From: John Cokley <cokleyj@qnp.newsltd.com.au>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Friday, December 15, 2000 7:23 am
Subject: RE: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
is that a fact? postmodernism supports global capitalism
and "so does Marxism"?

i haven't made a comment in this list before and i'll
probably regret sticking my nose in here, but as it
happens this touches research i'm conducting right now
(down under in Australia) ... last time i did any real
marxist study (20 years ago, which as you point out was
just before it hit the skids) i certainly didn't discern
any support for global capitalists among marxists ...
but i'd certainly be interested in any research to the
contrary

regards
john cokley
brisbane
Next From: Phil Graham <phil.graham@mailbox.uq.edu.au>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Friday, December 15, 2000 8:09 am
Subject: RE: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
Hi John,

I'm also in Brisbane (I think we've had discussions
before). Anyway, my point is not that there is "support
for global capitalism among marxists", but that the
tenets of ~dogmatic Marx~ism~ are appropriated and
deployed by global capital to its advantage. They
actually make global capital look revolutionary
(which is what Marx said it was, even when he was
very young).

I can provide you with an example: When pushing the
benefits of the NAFTA agreement, its business proponents
in the US took out a ~full page ad~ in the new york times
consisting of ... and only of ... Marx's speech to the
working men's association on free trade. You can find the
speech (to see why they used it) at www.marx.org (which
was crashed but under repair last time I looked).

John Ralston Saul (roughly): "The only functioning
Marxists are now at the Chicago School of economics".
(somewhere in "Unconscious Civilisation",1997). He is
talking about econometricians and their radical
structuralism (which is not what Marx wrote, but it is
what Marxism became).

Postmodernism is used as advertising theory, as
management theory, in HR, and in many areas of business
theory. I'm too tired to go into it all now. Look at the
last two issues of the Journals of Advertising and The
Academy of Management Journal if you want more proof.

What I mean is that any ISM is an ISM because it has
become dogmatised. Once it becomes dogma it becomes a
matter of faith, not thought. This hashappened to PoMo,
just as it did to Marxism. I am for thought and against
dogma. It's really that simple (not that simple of
course, since we are always the last to realise our own
dogmas).

Best regards,
Phil
Next From: John Cokley <cokleyj@qnp.newsltd.com.au>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Friday, December 15, 2000 9:36 am
Subject: RE: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
Hi Phil

Now I see what you're getting at, which is not what I
thought (naturally!) 

i suspect you are complaining about the tendency towards
tunnel vision among those people who THINK strongly about
something, so strongly they come to say they "believe"
it ... the slide from thought to dogma, in your words.
this is fairly common among philosophers, esp of the
religious variety, who after all have tried for centuries
to slide back up from dogma to belief by maintaining that
theology is really a branch of philosophy. 

alas for my question: the mere fact that global
capitalists might try to enlist "marxist theory" in the
same way should not convince anyone for a minute that
there is any link whatsoever between the two ... which is
what i was trying to find out

i'll chase up those references, nevertheless

thanks
john
Next From: Travis Wall <wallt@cadvision.com>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Friday, December 15, 2000 5:04 pm
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
> What I mean is that any ISM is an ISM because it has
> become dogmatised. Once it becomes dogma it becomes a
> matter of faith, not thought. This has happened to
> PoMo, just as it did to Marxism. I am for thought and
> against dogma. It's really that simple (not that simple
> of course, since we are always the last to realise our
> own dogmas). 

Like John, I think I misinterpretted what you're saying.
My background is in art, so to use an analogy from my
own field, Monet, Degas, and so on were not painting
impressionism, that only started happening when others
jumped on that bandwagon. Same deal with the intellectual
trends. I'm wondering though, if it's universal. From a
wide perspective I'd guess not, but at the individual
level can we try and recapture (or accept) the naivete
of the pioneers in a field? Pomo and Marxism are not
invalidated because they are dogmatic (there's still a
lot which can be done with both) but as social movements,
sure. They're accepted now, they're no longer those
broad subversive institutions they once were. 

Thanks, Phil, lot's to think about here
tw
Next From: Phil Graham <phil.graham@mailbox.uq.edu.au>To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Friday, December 15, 2000 6:14 pm
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
At 09:04 AM 15/12/00 -0700, Travis wrote:

> Thanks, Phil, lot's to think about here

You're welcome, and yes there is.

> Like John, I think I misinterpretted what
> you're saying. My background is in art,
> so to use an analogy from my own field,
> Monet, Degas, and so on were not painting
> impressionism, that only started happening
> when others jumped on that bandwagon.
>
> Same deal with the intellectual trends.

That's precisely my point. There was no ISM by the
"creators" of the ISMs, they were just doing their
creative, critical, dialectical thing: Marx "I am not a
Marxist"; Latour: "We have never been modern"; etc. ISMs
form after critical creativity blooms, at least it seems
so.

> I'm wondering though, if it's universal.

I tend to think so -- I like Saul's take on this too:
"fashion is the lowest form of ideology" (not meant to
construe fashion victims as plebs or low culture or
anything; merely to make the point that people are
[quite clearly] fad followers, and that that is the
easiest road to appropriation). For exAMPLE, blue jeans
were working class clothes, but are now universal
fashion; rowing was initially the work of slaves, but got
appropriated as a mark of distinction for Harrovians and
other such Public School fops in England (and everywhere
else). Bourdieu makes similar points in "Distinction" and
"Practical Reason".

> From a wide perspective I'd guess not, but
> at the individual level can we try and
> recapture (or accept) the naivete of the
> pioneers in a field?

I think that we need to try to be creative and critical;
to be mindful of our own political power as academics; to
be aware that our words *are* reality and shape reality,
whilst being metaphors for reality at the same time; to
be aware that what we say is something we do (i.e.
speaking and writing are action); that we have a social
responsibility, not only as academics but as engaged
citizens; and that we have a set of values, however
submerged they might be to us. ISMs prevent these sorts
of understandings, at least I think they do.

> Pomo and Marxism
> are not invalidated because they are
> dogmatic

Not at all, although I would tend to rephrase this as the
work of Marx is not invalid, nor are the works of many
writers who are genreally classed as (but may not
consider themselves to be) post-whatever. I think the
ISMs themselves are the problem. I think they prevent
thought and waste a lot of precious time in defending and
criticising (which was why I was reluctant to join this
debate, but I'm glad I did now)

Thanks to you too.

regards
Phil
Next From: Ruth Potter <ruthpotter@hotmail.com>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Friday, December 22, 2000 3:47 am
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
I've only just finished Uni and I was allways told that
to be critical ment to question everything especially
things that appear self explanatory or that are easily
believed their truth taken for granted.
Next From: tinota@primus.com.au
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Friday, December 22, 2000 2:57 pm
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
Such as the call to "question everything especially
things that appear self-explanatory"?

t
Next From: Ruth Potter <ruthpotter@hotmail.com>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Friday, December 22, 2000 6:39 am
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
just responding to a message that claimed critical
thinking was no longer being done properly, just thought
I'd comment on how it was taught to me not that long ago.
Next From: Travis Wall <wallt@cadvision.com>
To: <media-culture@egroups.com>
Date: Friday, December 22, 2000 6:52 am
Subject: Re: [media-culture] Cultural compliance
 
> Such as the call to "question everything especially
> things that appear self-explanatory"?

Prime questioning ground there.

Careful not to get dizzy though ;-)

tw
 
  Our response to the debate:
Next Miller, David, and Greg Philo (2001), "Consumption, reception and power. Reply to critics of "Cultural Compliance." In: Soundscapes, Vol. 4, September 2001.
Next Miller, David, and Greg Philo (2001),"The active audience and wrong turns in media studies: rescuing media power." In: Soundscapes, Vol. 4, September 2001.
   
Previous
  At the time of writing David Miller was a member of the Stirling Media Research Institute, University of Stirling; he now is Professor of Sociology in the Department of Geography and Sociology of Strathclyde University; email: davidmiller@strath.ac.uk. Greg Philo is research director of the Glasgow University Media Unit; email: g.philo@socsci.gla.ac.uk.
  2001 © Soundscapes