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The transdisciplinary approach; The articulation between pornography and the Internet; Proletarianization as the class formation that emerges through the cultural formation 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 pornography Raymond Williams, one of the grand-parents of cultural studies, offered a roadmap to the study of culture. His approach is applicable to the culture of the Internet as much because the Internet is intrinsically connected to the history of media and culture, as because the Internet is a technology that offers bright possibilities for new cultural formations. Williams argued that the empirical cultural researcher who studied the “phases of social consciousness which correspond to real social situations and relations,” 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 that have taken hold in communication studies, like “effects,” “mass public,” “control” and “socialization,” to replace the study of “complex sociology … within … the capitalist system.” (136-137). While much has happened since Williams launched that critique in his “Sociology of Culture” essay in 1977, the absence of a determined and critical engagement 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 fact ascendant. Suffice to say, the relationship between the Internet and class is a significant transformation of the global media space. However, much of the Internet’s content is not welcome in “good homes,” which is to say the dominant spaces where “bourgeois cultural sociology” is lived.
This cultural studies approach prompts two questions: How is social neutralizing constituted in the era of the Internet? Does the Internet encourage a form of alienation from the complex affairs of the world, or does it magnify them? Critical work in cultural studies takes the challenge from Raymond Williams seriously because the field is often not engaged in the key issues of the day. Pornography is one such area where cultural studies has presented itself as liberal and thus socially neutral. It is as if there is a moral location in which criticism does not occur of the private space where the consumption of pornography takes place. It was in this type of context that Manuel Castells noted that in the new global networked society the risks associated with networked communication increase making “the management of anxiety [is] the most 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 take seriously this anxiety. How then should we approach the study of pornography? Examining pornography in the Internet era, means that a new set of cultural concerns have arisen that cannot be swept aside by liberal disinterest or active disregard for 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 his admonishment to heart, the relationship of pornography to the Internet demands new and critical research approaches. The transdisciplinary approach One such approach can be seen in the transdisciplinary approach, advocated by the Salzburg school of ICT (Hofkirchner et al. 2007). Advocates of “The Salzburg Approach” 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. That is, because it cannot be defined by discipline-derived concepts from discrete fields, the Internet demands an open theoretical domain, where theories rise in an amalgam from social networking, Web 2.0, virtual communities and media intertextuality to coalesce in transdisciplinarity. “A transdiscipline,” they argue,
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 and generalists as well as the gap between applied research and basic research.
The Salzburg approach promotes the non-classifiable characteristics of disciplines that transect the natural sciences and the humanities through the dynamics of the Internet’s converged concerns. The most appealing feature of Salzburg research orientation is the restatement of the claim made by Helga Nowotny and Michael Gibbons that because “transdisciplinarity does not respect institutional boundaries” its “knowledge is transgressive” (Gibbons and Nowotny 2002, 70, in Hofkirchner et al. 2007, p. 12). It is the rule breaking function of knowledge production within and through the Internet that mobilizes the transdisciplinary approach. This obsolescence of institutional structures in tandem with the rational claims to principles that have been codified in society and continue 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 the intersection 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 the general inability of interdisciplinary approaches. Surely the transgressions of Internet knowledge 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 with the transgressive newness of Internet media. The appeal of processual media theory is that 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 always conditioned by and articulated with seemingly invisible forces, institutional desires and regimes of practice. Furthermore, a processual aesthetics recognizes the material and embodied dimensions of Net cultures. (2005, p. 174). While there may be questions to ask about what aesthetics means here, the key point refers back to transgressive knowledge, because the processual approach can “consider
the technics of combining visual and tactile perceptions in certain ways and in certain contexts to allow for distinct modes of understanding the world” (2005, p 175). Pornography and the Internet Pornography is a way of understanding the world that requires acceptance of transgressive knowledge. Internet pornography insists on old and new questions, many of them about class. Raising class is a transgressive act. It is out of fashion because it is considered a redundant topic in liberal circles. The articulation of the Internet with pornography raises class as an issue because the proliferation of material intended to generate sexual arousal is available on line. This simple statement of the articulation of the content with a new delivery or transport mechanism into global markets and to users marks a significant change in the modality of pornography. To provide an idea of the dimensions of what this means and the potential shifts involved in the culture consider this: in 2008, about 3.3 billion people in the world will use a mobile phone, about half the world’s population. (“Halfway There,” The Economist, May31, 2008. p 68-69.) Mobile web access via cell phones is part of the Third Generation (3G) system and will become increasingly available around the world. In China alone, 14 million users of Opera Sofware, viewed 3billion web pages in the month of June alone, a 300 percent increase on a year earlier, according to The Economist (“The meek shall inherit the web,” September 6, 2008, Technology Report, p.3). Streaming pornography is generally available to web users, although some of the software barriers installed for national portals and by ISPs restrict access. The fact is that the circulation of pornography has intensified like never before. Given the numbers, it is surprising that more discussion does not take place of this powerful shift in the global culture, due to mobile telephony. I suggest that a significant amount of social neutralizing of the Internet space has in fact occurred. An additional explanation is that the transgressive knowledge that accompanies pornography itself is problematic in many liberal research contexts. Proletarianization Proletarianization is the move of otherwise regulated images of human behavior via the Internet to the monitor space. In this private space it is reproduced as a commodity in the market, where it may find its use value in its social function, not in a
market-based exchange value. The complexity of this formation is new and powerful because it brings very large numbers of people into an intense association with capitalism. Furthermore, pornography brings otherwise regulated behavior into the private space of the computer monitor – including cell phones. This complex of interactions engages users with the production and consumption of culture in new locales, across new territories with new implications for human values. The question is what values? My argument is that because the Internet is unregulated – generally speaking and from the hegemonic perspective of the US and its free speech ideals – it offers a way of bringing regulated, or otherwise repressed, illegal proletarian culture and values into circulation. Returning to the transdisciplinary: proletarianization is the circulation of transgressive knowledge. It is the formation of class associations that emerge through the production of Internet images transmitted over the Internet. Conclusion Cultural studies as a critical practice offers a way of approaching pornography that does not reproduce “social neutralizing.” It sees that there is something at stake – issues of ethics, truth and class. Transdisciplinarity offers a way forward because it brings to the foreground transgressive knowledge – those cultural formations that have been rejected as unsuitable for liberal debate and have therefore been regulated within liberal democracies. The articulation between pornography and the Internet raises new questions about class. What is the key question? The key question is what is happening in the culture with pornography on the Internet? The subsidiary question is how does this articulation of pornography as an expression of unregulated proletarian culture connect with global capitalism? My answer and my theory, is that proletarianization emerges as a cultural formation because of the articulation of pornography and the Internet. Marcus Breen Ph.D. Associate Professor Department of Communication Studies Northeastern University Boston firstname.lastname@example.org
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