Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lei's questions for week 5

Q1/Q2: Intellectuals vs. ordinary people

Most readings in this week points out that cultural studies should not be merely regarded as “academic sub-division”, but a “political project”. The arguments here echo what we read last week about how aesthetic convention of scholarship prevents cultural studies from being political. These readings make me think further about how to look at researchers and researches in the field of cultural studies.

In terms of researchers, Hall, in “Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies”, drew upon Gramsci’s concept of “organic intellectuals”. Gramsci required that the “organic intellectual” must work on two fronts at the same time. On the one hand, they had to at the very forefront of intellectual theoretical work; on the other hand, they had to transmit those ideas, that knowledge, through the intellectual function, to those who do not belong, professionally, in the intellectual class.

It is politically progressive that intellectual work is separated from academic field, which links cultural studies to struggles in real life. My question is, as per the definition of “organic intellectuals”, do researchers regard themselves as “higher” than those ordinary people? Are they what Burgess called “speak heroically on behalf of ordinary voices”?

Q2, Even in the digital storytelling workshop, Burgess argued that “distribution channels for digital stories remain limited and frequently are under the control of the institutions that provided the workshops”. What I am now studying is also a digital storytelling workshop in the context of mainland China. And I found out that although those projects/workshops emphasize citizen participation/ “vernacular creativity”, those people’s media production process would be influenced by the workshop/project organizers more or less. On the other hand, those ordinary citizens cannot be access to media without the help of those intellectuals.

How can we look at the relationship between intellectuals and ordinary citizens in terms of media representations? It seems that we can not avoid the so-called “elitism” both in researches and in workshops.

Q3: Big political project vs. “personal is political”
And I found some tension between two different understandings of politics in cultural studies. In Kellner and Hall’s articles, they greatly value “resistance” . And such “resistance” should challenge existing structure of oppression. While in Burgess’s article, he pointed out a term, “vernacular creativity”. “The central placement of the politics of ordinary participation through everyday cultural production shapes our concerns towards access, self-representation, and literacy, rather than resistance or aesthetic innovation.”

How can we understand these two different focuses in cultural studies? Shall we focus on as if working on a big political project resisting the conservative hegemony both materially and symbolically, or value “personal is political”?

In Kellner’s analysis, it seems that cultural study is a very difficult area, which demands a lot of work. (1) It should be “transdisciplinary”. “Study of culture is intimately bound up with the study of society, politics and economics". (2) It should use different approaches integrating “production & political economy”, “textual analysis”, and “reception and use of cultural texts”. (3) And it should combine different theories within the cultural studies. “The more theories one has at one's disposal, the more tasks one can perform and the more specific objects and themes one can address.”

In terms of such integration of theories and approaches, how can a cultural studies beginner conduct the research? Or, is it too inclusive, thus risking losing the deepness of each approach/theory?

Although Kellner positively claimed that “it is time that media culture overwhelmingly supports capitalist value, but it is also a site of intense struggle between different races, classes, gender, and social groups”, it seems that people in the non-mainstream group don't have the competencies and recourses to compete with people in the mainstream group. Even with the development of new media technology, the same situation occurs. “While this aesthetic and the idea of amateur creativity it promotes are both ubiquitous in contemporary urban Western cultures, the kinds of refusal of ’dominant’ (photographic) culture that lomography endorses actually relies on very particular cultural competencies as well as creative and technological illiteracies that we cannot assume to be shared by the majority of the population—that is, by those whose participation in media culture is relatively peripheral (Warschauer, 2003)”.

How can media culture serve as a site of intense struggles between different social groups when most ordinary people even don’t have the access to participate in the struggle? Is it true that mass media is no longer a battle field since most people turn to alternative media such as the digital storytelling workshop?

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