Saturday, January 31, 2009

Qualitative trip

A classroom is an interesting space. Looking around in our classroom I see various ethnicities and approaches that make me feel like I´m right in the middle of very fertile ground when it comes to intellectual production. Nevertheless, I can´t shake the feeling that most of my co-thinkers have been raised on numbers. I´m also still fighting with the shock of coming to UT and finding the absolute dominance of quantitative research over qualitative; a brave, sheer disregard of the need to explain the unexplainable. Is it that scary to work outside our comfort zone?
Don´t get me wrong, I love UT. What I dislike is the intellectual inbreeding that goes on in academia. We have built an imaginary world in which we can do a web-based survey, throw the numbers on SPSS, do a regression, a few comparisons and boom!, we have an understanding of what´s going on, now lets go to a conference. But stop and think about it for a second: how many more agenda setting studies do we need this year? why are surveys such a predominant tool when an in-depth interview can open a little window into the brain, the place where the decisions are made? How longer are we going to ignore Gonzalo Abril, the brilliant work of Latin American culturalist like Martin Barbero, Eliseo Colon or Nestor Garcia Canclini, the relationship between psychology and communications, Michel Foucault, the individuality of each member of our audience, Jean Baudrillard, the power of written language, the magic of semiotics, "coolness" as a motor for consumption or the unspoken effects of netiquette? (I´m really just mentioning a few).
Now I take this class and I see an opening. Between this and Theory Building I can finally breath and let the "mischievous braingels" manifest themselves.
I still feel that quantitative research has a tendency to obscure qualitative when a good paper absolutely needs to have both.
Now we get Althusser, Marx, Gramsci and so forth... great!
I offered myself a truce: I played the game the first semester without straying too far form the things I like to do, now I will thoroughly enjoy this little qualitative trip as much as I can while trying to marry it to numbers. I hope I´m not alone.

Thanks, Teresa

Really nice post, and particularly appreciate the clarification on
Just to be clear, I didn't mean to suggest the empiricists didn't have
an 'agenda'; I assume everyone does (to some extent, at least) and we
all certainly carry biases and other baggage. What I did mean to
suggest, however, was that it seems cultural criticism has an inherent
weakness in that it begins 'honestly' (if that's the right word),
stating up front what its agenda is.
Let's put it this way: if I come out and say "you know, I'm here to
show the superiority of capitalism" and then begin my theory, I begin
from a point of weakness, it seems to me, because a certain swath of
people (perhaps a large one) will already have discounted me and my
work. They'll know where I'm headed: how I get there becomes
(perhaps, literally) academic...
I suppose I think its easier to get buy in--and more convincing from a
theoretical basis-- to work within the rules of the status quo/
(embrace the hegemon!) and then show the internal contradictions...
Anyway, I look forward to hearing other perspectives--and thanks, again!

David D. Brown

Teresa: Researchers and their agenda

Regarding to what David just discussed, I kept thinking about another similar idea: Do researchers have an agenda? Should they have? Generally, people think that researchers that come from a critical/cultural approach are more “ideological”, therefore, they have an “agenda” (e.g., expose relations of power in society) while researchers that come from an empirical approach do not —or should not— have one because they should be more “objective” “detached” and approach research without preconceptions.
First, I think that the phrase “having an agenda” is negatively charged; therefore it may not be the best concept to use in this discussion. But if for “having an agenda” we mean “personal viewpoints/ideas/background/interests” that feed/guide our topics of interest, and ultimately, our research questions or hypothesis, then, I do think that every single researcher has “an agenda.” We do research about certain topics because we CARE about them. For example, some ways that I have heard empirical researchers referring to their work are: “I do research on internet and civic engagement because I want to explore in what ways this new technology is helping to create community and engage people civically,” “I do research on race and politics because I want to investigate the role played by race on political decisions.” I describe my own research —which is mostly quantitative— in similar terms. These descriptions reveal that they do think there are relationships between those variable; otherwise, they wouldn’t be investigating those topics. Of course, once we have posed research questions or hypothesis, we should make the observations in an unbiased manner —or as much as we can. This does not mean, however, that we had an idea or “an agenda” that moved us to certain line of inquiry in first place.
On another note, the fact that Lazarsfeld and Adorno were friends and tried to work together for a year or so also surprised me. In the beginning, it was a nice surprise because it confirmed my idea that quantitative and qualitative approaches are methodologically complementary. However, they followed two radically different paths (critical/cultural vs. empirical/behaviorist) that eventually could not get along.

Friday, January 30, 2009

David B: Impressions and such from week one

I'm in a hotel room in Sioux Falls. Work stuff. 18 below. Austin seems a world away. I often find this 'disembodied' sense helpful in thinking about--maybe, disassembling--what I'm feeling about things in general.
In thinking about class and the subject matter at hand, I'm really fascinated by the historic aspect of the development of cultural/critical studies. You know, the stuff about the BCS (had never heard of it before) and where Lazarsfeld rose from.
Which brings me to my first real question: I gathered from last week's readings that Lazarsfeld was part of that movement based at Columbia, but I've always thought of him in the 'numbers' camp: the group that made mass media studies (as we think of it in Nielsen/ratings/marketing terms) commonplace. Did I get this wrong? Did he start in critical studies and 'cross over'?
Back to feelings, now:
Someone in class talked about what seemed like the "paranoia" underlying some of these ideas in crit/cultural theory, and though "paranoia" doesn't seem like the right word to me, I get it. Paranoid or not, it doesn't really bother me that others think the world is out to get them, or that its unfair. Indeed, it just seems to me that the critics want another status quo, which, in my way of thinking, is no better than the status quo ante. Just another somebody's idea of what's right/just/fair. And kum-ba-yah idealism ("Can't we all just get along?") seems naive, at best (corrosive at worst.)
And yeah, I guess I have a problem with the idea of setting up theories in support of one's preconceived idea of justice or addressing imbalances of power. Why? Cuz they seem just power grabs dressed in fairy dust and unicorns. And in general, I'm not crazy about power grabs, regardless of my unicorn-love. On the other hand, if you're gonna try to upset the apple cart (to thoroughly mix metaphors), why not telegraph it up front? Seems dumb, but so be it. 
I think history shows the most durable paradigms are those built on unspoken lattices of self-interest...but whatever. Che looks cooler on a tee-shirt than Thatcher. But let's be honest. Thatcher got a lot more done. And shattered a lot of old-school in the process. Again: whatever.
But I think its really, really stupid to waste my semester gnashing my teeth over what these theorists are trying to accomplish and why. My favorite part of this whole endeavor is observing the deconstructionist approach which constantly pricks and claws at common understandings and pi**es off people who think they know it all. May it ever be thus.
And I genuinely look forward to thinking about how I can corrupt my own work at school with the dangerous ideas of cultural/critical studies.
David D. Brown

Sunday, January 25, 2009

David's Questions

1.) On p. 9 in Durham and Kellner, Marx and Engels write that "in an age…where royal power, aristocracy and bourgeoisie are contending for domination…the doctrine of separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an 'eternal law'". This idea seems a pretty important lynchpin in the notion of hegemony. But isn't it true that in the broader arc of history, we've seen an erosion of 'eternal law' (right up to the very notion of eternal law, per se?) That is, if hegemonic ideology were so pernicious, why has it been losing the war to pluralism and pluralistic thought as a positive cultural value?

2.) In the introduction, p. xxxi, Durham and Kellner quote Larry Gross: "(r)epresentation in the mediated "Reality" of our mass culture is in itself Power." First, is it possible to think critically about media without ultimately asking questions about 'power versus powerlessness'? Second, is this true, and if so, why is power the dominant value? (And why does Gross capitalize the word 'Power'?)

3.) On p. 16, Gramsci writes about "…the material organization aimed at maintaining, defending, and developing the theoretical or ideological 'front'", i.e., the publishing houses, newspapers, and periodicals. This sounds like a cartel of ideology—one which, if it were to be formed as a 'front' (not merely an unhappy accident), would certainly be apparent to those structuring it. Is that true, based on what we know about how media operates in the real world? Another way to think about this: how is this ideological front formed and maintained? Is its existence apparent to those 'pulling the strings'?

4.) Throughout the excerpt in Durham and Kellner pp. 79-88, Althusser refers to " the (repressive) State apparatus", though he has already specifically stated that what he has in mind is the Marxist 'State apparatus' which ultimately "functions in violence" through some form of repression. Why, then, does he continue to parenthesize "repressive"? What's his point?

5.) Conceptually it is easy to comprehend a distinction between the ideological State apparatus and the "(repressive)" State apparatus (Althusser, p. 79, 1st graf.), but as a practical matter doesn't State power belong to those holding 'the power to repress' (that is, the ability to incarcerate, silence or otherwise eliminate its opponents)? In other words, isn't the ideological apparatus a lubricant more than an essential component of power?

Lei's questions

Marx and Engels, "The class making a revolution comes forward from the very start, if only because it is opposed to a class, not as a class but as the representative of the whole of society, as the whole mass of society confronting the one ruling class. " (P10)
Marx and Engels discussed ideology in the context of classe struggles. According to their argument, it seems that there is a competition among those non-ruling classes. Each attempts to make people believe it could best represent the interest of the society.
1. But how can they win the competition? Is that winner the one knows best about the trick of "forms of self-determination of the concept"? Is that they overvalue the importance of ideology-making?

2. After all, is ideology more a pre-manipulated trick or the result of public opinion?
b. Gramsci, "One must therefore distinguish between historically organic ideologies, those, that is, which are necessary to a given structure, and ideologies that are arbitrary, rationalistic, or "willed". (P15)

3. But even for those "arbitrary, rationalistic, or willed" ideologies, they would be presented in the form of "common sense". Then how can we figure out the difference of the two? Or, is there really two different ideologies?

"Indeed, it is Althusser who shifted the discussion of "ideology" to focus on everyday practices and rituals orgnized via social institutions he designated as "ideological State Apparatues". (P6)
4. Althusser took several examples of daily pracitices, such as shaking hands. But what's the difference of ideology and culture in this regard?

5. In Althusser's work, ideological state apparatues produce ideology. And individuals are always ready-subjects to be interpellated by ideology. Are individual always passive in his eyes? Do they have the subjectivity to establish their own ideology system?

Teresa's Questions

1- Durham and Kellner (2006) assert that social and cultural theories explain, interpret, and contextualize sociocultural practices and structures. The theories that derive from the traditional scientific method generally intend to make predictions about how society works and must be falsifiable. In what ways the definition of theory that comes from the critical/cultural approach is different or similar to the one that derives from the empirical approach?

2- The history between cultural and critical studies is at times similar and interrelated and at times more conflicting. The Birmingham School, for example, adopted a Marxian approach to study culture but then it focused on cultural expressions, saw the audience as more active, and saw the working class as an instrument of social change while the Frankfurt School saw the audience as more passive and the working class as subjugated. Today, people commonly refer to critical/cultural as a single approach. How do these two schools of thought relate nowadays?

3- Marx and Engels pose that the ruling class dominate the production and distribution of ideas. According to this view, the media, dominated by the ruling class, would be one way to produce and distribute these ideas, and the audience would act as passive receptors. The advent of new technologies such as the Internet has demonstrated that the ruling class still dominates. For example, the mainstream media are still important players in the online world and the great majority of the most visited blogs are written by men (Harp & Tremayne, 2006). However, it is important to note that this new technology allows the audience to be more active in the production of content. As a result, many citizen-based media that are not in line with the ideas of the ruling/mainstream media have emerged. How does the Marxian theory explain this phenomenon? Or, how do these type of media fit in the theory?

4- Political economy focuses on the production and distribution of texts, which eventually may help to understand the final product. In what ways political economy relates to the media sociology field, which focuses on the factors that shape media content?

5- Althusser asserts that “no class can hold State power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the State Ideological Apparatuses” (Althusser, 1971, as cited in Durham and Kellner, p.81). This has been demonstrated not only with Lenin but also with Venezuelan President Chavez and Peruvian former President Fujimori. Because one of the key State Ideological Apparatuses is the media, the question emerges: Should the media, besides acting as a government watchdog, take a more active role and advocate for alternation in power?

Sun Ho's Questions - Week 2

Q1 and 2. [Economism, ownership and control of the media ]

“The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental production, so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it.” (Marx & Engels, page 9)

The base/superstructure model of Marx and Engels sees the “economic base” of a society as a determinant of cultural, legal, political, and other forms of life. Using their idea of economism, the commercial media of our age can be seen as distributing ideas or "false consciousness" of their choice in order to maximize their audience and ad revenue. But to what extent is it applicable to the news media, especially when it comes to hard news? In what ways and to what extent does the ownership influence news content in the U.S.?

Q3 and 4. [Counter-hegemonic values and the media ]

“The press is the most dynamic part of this ideological structure, but not the only one. Everything which influences or is able to influence public opinion, directly or indirectly, belongs to it: libraries, schools, associations and clubs of various kinds, even architecture and the layout and names of streets.” (Gramsci, page 16)

Gramsci’s point of view differs from those of Marx and Engels in that he sees the media having a relative autonomy from the economic base. Instead, he emphasized that a social group dominates by obtaining the “consent” of the majority and that ideological structure can be maintained by the press. Although today’s media still has an important role in developing “popular beliefs”, they sometimes promote counter-hegemonic values such as feminism. How can this be explained by Gramsci’s theory? How do the media retain hegemony/promote counter-hegemony?

Q5. [Media text as the determinant of audience response]

“In order to grasp what follows, it is essential to realize that both he who is writing these lines and the reader who reads them are themselves subjects, and therefore ideological subjects (a tautological proposition), i.e. that the author and the reader of these lines both live “spontaneously” or “naturally” ideology in the sense in which I have said that “man is an ideological animal by nature.” (Althusser, page 84)

Althusser rejected Marxist economism and supported his theory of interpellation. According to his theory, mass media texts interpellate the readers and viewers considering both of them as subjects. According to some theorists, he tends to see the text as the determinant of our response. This view grants more active roles to audiences than those of Marxists, but can texts be the sole determinant of our response?

Marcus' questions

1 – Karl Marx contended that media were simply an arm of the establishment, and were used most often to help repress the working class. His works were written at a time when the cost of media production was very high , and few but the elites could afford to publish and distribute media content. That has changed, however, with the internet. Media production costs have fallen dramatically, making it possible for many members of the working class to produce media content online or in print. Would that price reduction alter Marx’s opinion of contemporary media?

2 – Karl Marx also wrote his works during a time of heightened racial tension, where minorities were more likely to be subjugated and mistreated than they are today. Racial and language differences made it even more difficult for them to become media consumers, let alone producers, during Marx’s time. But that has changed today, with minorities consuming more mainstream media and producing more of their own material – some of it largely for their consumption, others for mass consumption. How would Marx regard that distinction now?

3 – McLuhan predicted that the rise in media would create a “global village” of concerned citizens, and allow everyone to communicate and build collective ideas through newer media. His focus was primarily on television, but can be applied to the internet as well – but it does not effectively address the novelty and power of new media. Why does McLuhan feel global citizenship will displace propaganda and nationalism, particularly given the effect of propaganda and then-new media use during WWII?

4 – The discussion of hegemony, in many ways, seems to focus on the development of a media elite or controlling agent. Would it be possible, instead, for a collective will to displace any particular market interest? A general hegemonic trend rather than a deliberate effort, or even a coincidental growth or a dominant ideology?

5 – Why has the emphasis been placed almost entirely on the manipulative powers of media, and not on the potential for liberation? The majority of the arguments presented in these readings have been cynical and concerned with coercion, not about the potential for societal growth presented by media. Why is that?

Yukun's Questions

1 In Page xix, the 3, 4 and 5 paragraphs, the authors discussed Fordism and Frankurt school’s “the end of individual”. However, I am wondering that some super star reporters are not under the organization of news media. Though they have some official titles such as reporter of XXX TV station or XXX newspaper, they have their fans and promote themselves through their articles and faces. In addition, with the development of new communication technologies, audiences are more divided. It is impossible for traditional media to occupy the whole market share by unified contents. Unlike 50 years ago, today some small media or even individual media workers have more chances to attract their own fans or build their own media business. Does Frankurt school touch this topic? What is its opinion about the communication technology?

2 Question about McLuhan’s Understanding Media
In page xxii, the authors indicated that “….media culture produced more fragmentary, nonrational, and aestheticized subject, ….” But at the end of the 4 paragraph the authors indicated McLuhan believed global culture and consciousness will overcome individualism and nationalism. As what I know, there are two features about globalization. One is integration, and the other is fragmentation. I am confused about McLuhan’s perspective. At least, I don’t agree with the notion that global culture will overcome individualism and nationalism. No matter in normative theories or empirical evidences, globalization will bring more conflicts and trigger more extremely nationalism or racism, though it indeed creates some forms of transnational culture.

3 Question about hegemony
In page 3, there are some discussions about hegemony. For me it seems that the relationship between up and low is a one-way direction. In addition, in page xxiv, at the end of the second paragraph, the authors indicated “hegemony” and “counter-hegemonic forces” from British cultural studies. I am wondering if there is any other theory using more dynamic relationships to explain hegemony. For example, “Hybrity” in postcolonialism theory.

4 Question about repressive state apparatus and ISAs
In page 80 Althusser mention “ the repressive state apparatus functions by violence”, Whereas ” the ISAs function by ideology”. In page81, “no class can hold state power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the state ideological apparatus.” I am just wondering what Althusser’s opinion is about EU, where repressive state apparatus is left in states but part of ISAs are transiting to an organization above states. Especially, Althusser is a French philosopher.

5 In page xxvi, section of political economy and globalization, at the end of the last second paragraph,” The system of production often determines what type of artifacts will be produce.” It reminders me Dr Joe’s book World Television from Global to Local. Even material networks or production systems are controlled by a hegemonic country or big transnational media groups, it doesn’t mean that the globalized content will be accept by local audiences. I am curious with the debates within the scholars of political economy. Do they all accept production decide content?


If, as Hegel expressed, “the theorists, ideologists and philosophers” have “at all times been dominant in history” (p. 11, end of the first paragraph), why is there always one idea that stands above the rest and becomes the dominant one? What relationships should we be studying that tie together politics, economy and theory?

Antonio Gramsci speaks of subaltern groups as those who oppose hegemonic (dominant) powers (p.14). Groups tend to have leaders and they obey certain hierarchical order; is there, then, any space for the voice of a unique subaltern? Are not the latest trends in consumer goods (i.e. “unique designs”, customization, personalization) just a silly attempt at making the subaltern feel like he or she has options and a voice?

Maybe it’s just my impression, but Althusser seems to repeatedly put scientific knowledge over ideology (p.86). How can the scientific discourse be considered subject-less when it is born of a subjects ideas, questions and previous knowledge?
Hasn’t the constant revocability of scientific knowledge proven that what is completely obvious today will be proven entirely wrong tomorrow?


Welcome to our class blog. This semester we'll be posting questions from our readings here. I hope you'll also use this as a space to ask questions and participate in discussions about the class generally and your work in the School of Journalism.