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Internet Pornography: Constituting proletarianization

Internet Pornography: Constituting proletarianization

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Published by Dr Steven McDermott
This contribution to the discussion of pornography deals with the unintended consequences of the Internet. The material is part of a larger study of class and the Internet, specifically the process of proletarianization that has occurred through the growth and application of low cost technologies that make it possible for the poor to become deeply engaged with the processes of capitalism in its contemporary globalized manifestations. The work is conceived around cultural studies approaches. This contribution will critically examine the challenging contradictions within the global sex industry, as conceived by liberal politics in advanced economies. It will indicate how the theory of proletarianization operates, drawing in turn, on theories associated with transgressive knowledge and moral economy to explain how the relationships are constituted. Fundamentally, this paper looks at how class is articulated with Internet pornography within the global political economy.

This contribution to the discussion of pornography deals with the unintended consequences of the Internet. The material is part of a larger study of class and the Internet, specifically the process of proletarianization that has occurred through the growth and application of low cost technologies that make it possible for the poor to become deeply engaged with the processes of capitalism in its contemporary globalized manifestations. The work is conceived around cultural studies approaches. This contribution will critically examine the challenging contradictions within the global sex industry, as conceived by liberal politics in advanced economies. It will indicate how the theory of proletarianization operates, drawing in turn, on theories associated with transgressive knowledge and moral economy to explain how the relationships are constituted. Fundamentally, this paper looks at how class is articulated with Internet pornography within the global political economy.

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Published by: Dr Steven McDermott on Oct 09, 2008
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06/27/2012

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Internet Pornography: constituting proletarianizationThis paper will address four issues:Cultural studies as a way of approaching pornography;The transdisciplinary approach;The articulation between pornography and the Internet;Proletarianization as the class formation that emerges through the culturalformation of pornography and the Internet.The conclusion: how these four issues constitute a new way of analyzing culture,as seen in pornography.Cultural studies as a way of approaching pornographyRaymond Williams, one of the grand-parents of cultural studies, offered aroadmap to the study of culture. His approach is applicable to the culture of the Internetas much because the Internet is intrinsically connected to the history of media andculture, as because the Internet is a technology that offers bright possibilities for newcultural formations. Williams argued that the empirical cultural researcher who studiedthe “phases of social consciousness which correspond to real social situations andrelations,” should avoid “social neutralizing.” By this he meant that a shift to the
neutral territory
of “bourgeois cultural sociology” would use convenient yet shorthand ideas thathave taken hold in communication studies, like “effects,” “mass public,” “control” and“socialization,” to replace the study of “complex sociology … within … the capitalistsystem.” (136-137). While much has happened since Williams launched that critique inhis “Sociology of Culture” essay in 1977, the absence of a determined and criticalengagement with and study of the relationship between class and the Internet – indeed, between media and class in general – suggests that bourgeois cultural studies is in factascendant. Suffice to say, the relationship between the Internet and class is a significanttransformation of the global media space. However, much of the Internet’s content is notwelcome in “good homes,” which is to say the dominant spaces where “bourgeoiscultural sociology” is lived.
 
This cultural studies approach prompts two questions: How is social neutralizingconstituted in the era of the Internet? Does the Internet encourage a form of alienationfrom the complex affairs of the world, or does it magnify them?Critical work in cultural studies takes the challenge from Raymond Williamsseriously because the field is often not engaged in the key issues of the day. Pornographyis one such area where cultural studies has presented itself as liberal and thus sociallyneutral. It is as if there is a moral location in which criticism does not occur of the privatespace where the consumption of pornography takes place. It was in this type of contextthat Manuel Castells noted that in the new global networked society the risks associatedwith networked communication increase making “the management of anxiety [is] themost useful personal skill” (2000:21). If, following Castells, anxiety is part of the psychological energy that is brought to criticism – anxiety about ethical behavior, justice,human decency, democracy, truth – then liberalism has failed to accommodate or takeseriously this anxiety.How then should we approach the study of pornography?Examining pornography in the Internet era, means that a new set of culturalconcerns have arisen that cannot be swept aside by liberal disinterest or active disregardfor difficult subjects. The Internet is an especially powerful location for pornography because the Internet has facilitated and promoted the production and utilization of  pornography – as I will suggest later. If we take Raymond Williams and hisadmonishment to heart, the relationship of pornography to the Internet demands new andcritical research approaches.The transdisciplinary approachOne such approach can be seen in the transdisciplinary approach, advocated bythe Salzburg school of ICT (Hofkirchner 
et al 
. 2007). Advocates of “The SalzburgApproach” have argued that a transdisciplinary approach is required as much for functional reasons as for critical reasons to comprehend the scope of ICT in society. Thatis, because it cannot be defined by discipline-derived concepts from discrete fields, theInternet demands an
open theoretical domain
, where theories rise in an amalgam fromsocial networking, Web 2.0, virtual communities and media intertextuality to coalesce intransdisciplinarity. “A transdiscipline,” they argue,2
 
is expected to bridge several gaps: the gap between the two cultures of (natural)science and social and human sciences as well as the gap between specialists andgeneralists as well as the gap between applied research and basic research.
The Salzburg approach promotes the non-classifiable characteristics of disciplines thattransect the natural sciences and the humanities through the dynamics of the Internet’sconverged concerns. The most appealing feature of Salzburg research orientation is therestatement of the claim made by Helga Nowotny and Michael Gibbons that because“transdisciplinarity does not respect institutional boundaries” its “knowledge istransgressive” (Gibbons and Nowotny 2002, 70, in Hofkirchner 
et al 
. 2007, p. 12). It isthe rule breaking function of knowledge production within and through the Internet thatmobilizes the transdisciplinary approach. This obsolescence of institutional structures intandem with the rational claims to principles that have been codified in society andcontinue in metastasized form in institutions, suggest that the transgressive view of knowledge production operates across what already exists and what is coming into view.The inherent dynamic of transgressive knowledge is part of the lengthy history of theintersection of knowledge and technology in society.Transdisciplinarity is not in itself anything more than a stated recognition of complexity and the challenge that the Internet poses to established disciplines; plus thegeneral inability of interdisciplinary approaches. Surely the transgressions of Internetknowledge need a theory that admits the old and the new. In this respect, Ned Rossiter has offered “processual media theory” as a way of incorporating the already existing withthe transgressive newness of Internet media. The appeal of processual media theory isthat it is inherently transdisciplinary because it points out how “the unthought media of aesthetics” are constituted, where “social and cultural forms are not determined by media potentialities.”A processual aesthetics of new media goes beyond what is simply seen or represented on screen. It seeks to identify how online practices are alwaysconditioned by and articulated with seemingly invisible forces,institutional desires and regimes of practice. Furthermore, a processualaesthetics recognizes the material and embodied dimensions of Netcultures. (2005, p. 174).While there may be questions to ask about what aesthetics means here, the key pointrefers back to transgressive knowledge, because the processual approach can “consider 3

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