Friday, 28 August 2009

The Use of Online Social Networks by Mexicans in the Context of Globalization

Lorena Nessi
is studying for a PhD at Nottingham Trent University. Here she discusses her research into the use of online social networks.

My research engages with current Internet studies by analysing the use of online communication through online social networks (OSN) such as MySpace, Hi5 and Facebook amongst young Mexicans. It aims at gaining an in-depth understanding of the relationship between the use of these networks, the representation of personal profiles and the creation of groupings online. In doing so, its principal objectives are the following:
  • To analyse how young Mexicans represent their identities in their online profiles.
  • To analyse how OSN and online groupings joined by young Mexicans are related to social, cultural and economic capital.
  • To explore how young Mexicans use these spaces to negotiate identities within a local and a global context.
One of the authors who has paid great attention to the study of networks and globalisation, situating the internet as the most important of these networks, is Manuel Castells, who argues that we are actually living in a 'Network Society', a society in which the key social structures and activities are organized around electronically processed information networks (Castells, 2001). OSNs seem to play an increasingly important role in the Network Society described by this author, in which interaction, interconnectedness, communication and information technologies (ICTs) are all interrelated. However, despite the growing use of the Internet in Mexico, and the popularity of OSNs among young Mexicans (MySpace even having created a special version for Mexican users, and Facebook having recently developed a version in Spanish) the academic analysis of these networks, and indeed cultural and social analysis of the Internet in general, is still rather lacking amongst Latin American academics. Most of the research of cultural and social practices on the Internet, specifically of OSNs, has been developed in developed Western countries. In Latin American, academics are predominantly focused on more general, often cultural questions related to information and communication technologies. One of my motivations is to contribute to this field of knowledge through analysing the use of OSNs.

These spaces are web based services which provide a range of ways for users to connect to and interact with each other. They contain large amounts of first hand information, consisting of symbolic content produced directly by individuals negotiate ways of representing their identities electronically and interact using these representations. (Have cut a sentence here) In the virtual world, personal images and information about our selves can become fantasies that find an online place to be presented to others. Some core social practices and values of specific groups, in this case, Mexican OSN users could be found in this space.

These dynamics raise questions related to the possible existence of common aspirations among Mexican OSN users. Can we analyse these aspirations through studying the construction of identities online? Are the Western models of success becoming aspirations for Mexicans? Beauty, fame, sex, a perfect figure, a nice house, health, and a good job and income, are amongst the common characteristics of the Western model of personal success. Happiness, defined according to a Western perception of it, is a common goal. The cultural, social and economic capital described by Bourdieu, are some of the main resources required to reach such goals, and are produced according to cultural models which are constantly reproduced in social spaces on the Internet and in other media. My research will analyse the extent to which these online representations on OSNs are related to global and local contexts.

Bourdieu’s work is a very original attempt to break with traditional academic use of research in its combining of aesthetic and philosophic analyses, using statistics, surveys, and ethnographic research. The complexity of his analysis and research is one of many obstacles that academics have to face when using his theories as a foundation for cultural or social research. Most of Bourdieu’s books have not yet been translated into Spanish. Nevertheless, many Latin American academics are interested in Bourdieu’s legacy and have attempted to apply his suggestions in anthropology, sociology, communication and cultural studies. The role of the Internet, and specifically whether OSNs increase or decrease our social capital, has also been explored by some academics within Anglo-Saxon traditions. His is an innovative contribution to the field of Internet studies. However, until now the question of how we can progress in studying other forms of capital represented in these spaces has remained open, and I am interested in elaborating on this concern. I will explore how the social, cultural and economic forms of capital of Mexican OSN users are constructed online, and how they can be studied through analysing online profiles and groupings in these networks.

Since Internet studies is a relatively new field of research, some of the main challenges for this investigation are concerned with the methodological and ethical issues which need to be addressed. However, this also situates this work in a unique and challenging position, since such a wide variety of innovative material is available for research. In addition many different approaches exist which have attempted to explore online communications and interactions, and these must also be examined.

(Photo credit: AJC1. Permissions)

Monday, 24 August 2009

Palestine, Culture and Politics: Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish, the great Palestinian poet (best known in parts of western academia through having been championed by his friend Edward Said) died in August 2008 writes
Patrick Williams.

The University of York organised a conference in his memory earlier this year, with a keynote by Barbara Harlow from the University of Texas, (another long-time friend of Said) and contributions from academics from Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon, as well as the UK. I gave the final paper, on Darwish and ‘Late Style’, the Adorno-derived concept which Said had been thinking about in his final years and which is the subject of his posthumous book of the same name. The papers were interspersed with bi-lingual readings of Darwish’s poems by students and academics – and there was a very impressive (unscripted) performance of a long poem entirely from memory by one of the Egyptian contributors. Papers from the conference will form a special issue of the Routledge postcolonial journal Interventions.
(Photo credit: Yemisi Blake. Permissions.)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

9:58 - Why Usain Bolt Matters

Dean Hardman discusses what Usain Bolt's 9:58 in Berlin means for athletics.

The sport of track and field athletics has meant a lot to me for as long as I can remember. I just about recall as a four year-old running in the pre-school race at my primary school’s annual sports day – my mother tells me that I did shuttle runs in the back garden as a “warm-up” for the event – and throughout my teenage years I could be found spending evenings and weekends running around (or, more often, sitting besides) a local track. For me, it has always been the purest of sporting endeavours – people simply pitting themselves against others using nothing but their own bodies to propel themselves or simple implements faster, further or higher. It’s democratic, too. You don’t need lots of fancy equipment; you just need determination and somewhere to run, so the poorest in society can compete against the richest. It’s one of only a handful of sports where women’s events share the spotlight with the men’s and the geographical spread of participating nations means that countries as diverse as the USA and Ethiopia, Namibia and Japan have had success on the global stage in recent years. It should then, be the most popular sport in the world, after the all-conquering football.

But it isn’t. And the reason it isn’t, is because of performance enhancing drugs. Not so long ago, the television viewing figures for athletics in Britain were fantastic, as millions of people (in pre multi-channel days) tuned in to see the exploits of the likes of Seb Coe, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram, Daley Thompson, Tessa Sanderson and Linford Christe. The Seoul Olympics in 1988 were a turning point. Ben Johnson, the Canadian winner of the 100m was found to have taken anabolic steroids and over the subsequent 20 years the sport has found itself embroiled in drugs scandal after drugs scandal. Media coverage and interest ceased to focus upon performances – by the middle of this decade the back pages of newspapers barely mentioned athletics results, let alone reports of meetings – and instead devoted space to track and field only when the likes of Dwain Chambers, Marian Jones and Justin Gatlin had found themselves in disgrace. The sport, up until recently, had become the preserve of the aficionados only. Nobody else seemed interested.

That is why Usain Bolt is so important. His recent world record of 9.58s, accompanied by his Beijing Olympic records in the 100m and 200m completely obliterated Ben Johnson’s drug fuelled times of the 1980s and have made athletics front and back page news for the right reasons once again. Globally, media coverage has shifted from the ultra negative to, as Colin Jackson might say, the 'super positive'. Bolt has become the poster boy for the sport, a global icon to match and maybe even supersede the likes of Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. His exuberant behaviour and incredible athletic feats make him, and the sport, something that people want to see, and through him the sport can hopefully recover a place in the sporting public’s affections through increased positive media coverage. Most importantly, his precocious performances as a 16 year-old make his performances believable for the media and the viewing public, and that should help to restore a once great sport to what would be, in my opinion, its rightful place.

(Photo credit: Permissions)

Friday, 14 August 2009

Summer Reading: Domination and the Arts of Resistance

Martin O'Shaughnessy discusses James C. Scott's Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (Yale University Press, 1990).

There are books that you feel should have made more of a stir than they did, or that maybe made a stir in another field without you noticing from the field you were in, hedges sometimes being over-high. For me, Domination and the Arts of Resistance is one of these. If power and resistance are the stock-in-trade of Cultural Studies, then this is surely a work that its practitioners should look at, not least because of its implicit or explicit disagreement with key figures like Gramsci or Bourdieu.

At the heart of Scott’s book lie the core concepts of the ‘public transcript’ and the ‘hidden transcript’. The former is constituted by those practices and discourses through which the dominant perform their powerfulness and the subordinate seem to pay homage to it. The latter consists essentially of those covert practices (poaching, pilfering, tax evasion, vandalism etc.) and discursive forms (gossip, calumny, pamphlets etc.) by which dominated groups oppose their subordination. Between the two lies a third layer consisting of coded and evasive texts or gestures (silences, ironic consent) which suggest a resistance that can rarely be openly stated. Because only the public transcript leaves hard and easily visible traces, it is often mistaken for the whole picture, producing a misleading sense of more or less willing compliance to power. But, as Scott notes, even the public transcript can be a site of negotiation and struggle, as when the subordinate try to turn power’s flattering self-image to their own advantage.

Part of the importance of Scott’s work lies in its methodological implications: the need to read between the lines of the public transcript and to find ways to access a hidden transcript that by definition resists visibility. Part of its importance is theoretical, its opposition to strong and weak versions of the dominant ideology thesis whereby the dominated are fully incorporated by the ideology of the dominant group (unable even to think resistance), resigned to their subordination (unable to conceive of an alternative order as realistic) or actively complicit with it (hard-wiring their inferiority into the practices, spaces and discourses through which they live their lives). Disagreeing with these different versions of incorporation, Scott sees the dominated as both conscious of their subordination and able to express their resistance to it by coded negotiations in the public transcript and underground opposition in the hidden one. One of the benefits of such a position, not the least, is that rather than casting himself in the superior position of the one who knows the subordinates’ true position in a way they never can, Scott takes on the more modest role of decoder of the implicit and excavator of the buried.

One of the reasons his writing appealed to me was in the way it helps us think about the relationship between periods of calm and periods of rebellion. If we only pay attention to the public transcript and take it at face value, we can never see where rebellions come from, nor how their agents can imagine a different, more just set of social arrangements. Revolt simply seems to spring from nowhere creating its own self-aware, resistant subject in the process. But if we deploy the concept of the hidden transcript and hold onto the many signs of coded or covert resistance it entails, we are much better placed to understand how, in particular circumstances, the masks and gloves may come off and apparently compliant subjects rebel. Cultural analysts are much attracted to the idea of the Carnival as a time when hierarchies are inverted, the powerful are mocked and the repressed rises to the surface. While some would define the Carnival as a safety valve, a letting off of steam, that helps preserve a social order it only seems to threaten, Scott sees it much more as an authentic expression of resistance, a kind of rehearsal for real rebellions. In the same way, he sees the pan-European tradition of ‘world-upside-down’ prints as an expression of the capacity of even those who have never known anything different to imagine an alternative social order. His work might seem unduly optimistic, finding resistance everywhere from the prison to the plantation. Yet he also recognises that resistance can only arise when there is communication and co-ordination amongst subordinate groups and when ‘sequestered’ spaces where the dominated can speak freely (the tavern, the chapel etc.) can be found and maintained.

His work seems particularly relevant to current times, in negative and positive ways. On the negative side, we might find it hard to see how practices and spaces of resistance might be built and defended in the face of social atomisation, enforced individualisation and ever more prevalent surveillance. On the more positive side, the one we might prefer to hold onto, his work might encourage us to seek out and delineate the covert and implicit practices and discourses of resistance that persist beneath the surface of apparent consensus.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Conference Round-up

Many of the big cultural studies conferences have recently announced calls for papers for 2010. Here is our round-up of them.

The huge international conference Crossroads in Cultural Studies is heading to Hong Kong in July 2010. Invited speakers include Andrew Ross and Tony Bennett. The deadline for proposals is December 2009.

The next Cultural Studies Association (US) conference is in Berkeley in March 2010 with the deadline for proposals on 15 September 2009.

Also in California and (rather bizarrely) at the same time, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies 2010 conference is in Los Angeles (indeed, at the Bonaventure Hotel for that 'authentic' postmodern experience). With a conference theme of 'Celebrating 50 Years: Archiving/Screening/Mobilizing the Pasts and Futures of SCMS', the deadline for proposals is 1 September 2009.

Closer to home, the MeCCSA's 2010 conference is in London with a focus on 'Media Communication, Policy and Practice'. Among numerous invited speakers are (the seemingly much in demand) Tony Bennett, Georgina Born, Paul du Gay and Sylvia Harvey. With the conference scheduled for January 2010, the deadline for proposals is 18th September 2009.
(Photo credit: DrareG. Permissions)

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

On the deadly beauty of Screapadal, Raasay

Patrick Wright
reflects on literary landscapes, exploring Sorley Maclean's 'Screapadal'.

The easiest way to reach the site of Sorley Maclean’s poem ‘Screapadal’ (1982) is to drive towards a place named Brochel, on the inner-Hebridean island of Raasay, and then walk in a southerly direction along the island’s eastern coast. After struggling through through the wreckage of a felled Forestry Commission conifer plantation, you arrive at a bright area of grassland, which comes sweeping down from a towering inland crag to the rocky shore below. Without the guidance of Maclean’s poem, you might easily mistake the ridges and grassy mounds in this entrancing wilderness for prehistoric residues. Yet the crofting settlement known as Screapadal was actually only extinguished in the 19th century, its people turfed out by a landowner named Rainy, who ‘cleared fourteen townships’on Raasay in order to make way for sheep, and who also, as Maclean writes, ‘left Screapadal beautiful’.

Maclean’s poem reserves its bardic cadences for Gaelic readers, but his English translation still thunders through this emptied scene like an earthquake: shaking up the birches and bracken; galvanising the deer, the soaring golden eagles and the quick-flowing burn. In Maclean’s poem, every element of this place mourns a Gaelic history apparently reduced to residues. Maclean was, perforce, an elegist, yet he was also a veteran of El Alamein, and by no means inclined to overlook the modern installations to be found on the rocky shore beneath Screapadal. Like many of Britain’s wilder places, the Inner Sound between Raasay and the mainland is now a military resource. The basking sharks have had to adjust to the coming of a torpedo testing range. The ancient tower of Brochel, that teetering relic of clan warfare, now looks out onto the ‘sleek black sides’ of the submarine conning tower. As for the infamous Rainy’s evictions, the Cold War turned them into an anticipation of the more devastating clearance that might come with ‘deadly rocket,/ hydrogen and neutron bomb’.