As we continue reading Gilbert’s Anticapitalism and Culture, we are attempting to deepen our understanding how political-economic changes affect the cultural conditions for social (and environmental) change.
Much of this entry will review the political-economic shifts we examined in class this past week. For those who’d like to review any of the videos we watched (or who were not in class), I’m including links to the videos and to further readings. Specific pointers on this week’s Gilbert readings are presented below.
One of the arguments I presented in class was that the social movements of the 1960s were the product of a “sense of possibility” that was enabled, in part, by the economic gains of the post-war period — the Fordist grand compromise that undergirded the “welfare state” — and by the more global media of the time, a media that, in Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase, was turning the world into a “global village.”
The student-and-worker revolt in France in the spring of 1968 was perhaps the most clear crystallization of how this “sense of possibility” as it was experienced by French students could be linked to a sense of possibility for better conditions for French workers. This was a moment in which a kind of “counter-hegemony” — a broad alliance across social classes — seemed possible.
Here is the video we watched about the Paris uprising.
We also watched part 4 and much of part 5 of “1968, The Year that Shaped a Generation.”
As was made clear, the electoral victory of the Gaullist government later that year, and of the Nixon administration in the U.S., signalled that this counter-hegemony failed to translate into a popular mandate. Somehow, it seemed, the majority wasn’t convinced and the revolutions failed.
I suggested also that the emergence of neoliberal ideology and post-Fordist economies, beginning in the 1970s, could be seen in part as responses by dominant political-economic classes to the challenges of the Sixties, the New Left, the anti-colonial revolts that spread through the Third World from the 1950s on, and the “new social movements” that grew through the 1970s.
As we saw, the first major movement to constitute itself as an anti-neoliberal movement — and to have a global impact — was the Zapatista movement in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Here’s the video we watched an excerpt from, “A Place Called Chiapas.” We started roughly 6 minutes into this segment, and continued for about 17 minutes (follow the links to sections II and III once this segment ends):
Tying much of this together, while focusing particularly on the economic crash of 2008, was David Harvey’s video on “The Crises of Capitalism” (2 million YouTube views and counting!):
Harvey, who is one of the most famous human geographers, is the author of A Brief History of Neoliberalism, which can be read online here and here. Jason Hickel’s “Short History of Neoliberalism” is a more concise account of some of the same material. I also recommend the UN Research Institute for Social Development report by Jan Arte Scholte on “The Sources of Neoliberal Globalization” (PDF warning).
(And, for fairness, I mentioned that the weekly magazine The Economist is perhaps the best periodical to provide a view of world affairs that is inflected with a “pro-neoliberalization” perspective. But pro-neoliberal views are much easier to find: much of mainstream neoclassical economics is permeated with it, as are the views expressed by governments of the Right and the Left over the last 25 years. The question for us to consider is how that view became so hegemonic, and how an alternative view might become similarly hegemonic — for a wiser, more just, and more ecologically sensible world.)
Assignment for this week
We are reading chapters 3 and 4 of Gilbert’s Anticapitalism and Culture.
In chapter 3, “Another world is possible,” please focus on how Gilbert defines the “anti-capitalist movement” (a.k.a., altermondialisme, globalization from below, global justice movement, pro-democracy movement, anti-neoliberalism, etc.), and on his discussions of the Zapatistas, Reclaim the Streets, the Battle of Seattle, and the World Social Forum. Pay particular attention to how Gilbert is working out an idea of “anticapitalist culture” (which he expands on in the next chapter). You needn’t pay too much attention to his critiques of specific thinkers, such as Naomi Klein, the Situationists, or Murray Bookchin. But it will be important for us to understand his general argument about pluralism, radical democracy, and “anti-essentialism” — themes we’ll pick up on later in the book and course.
In chapter 4, “(Anti)Capitalism and Culture,” try, again, to get a sense of the overall argument — about capitalism, creativity, and “creative destruction.” Don’t get too bogged down with his discussion of individual theorists. One such discussion, beginning at the bottom of p. 117 and ending on p. 121, can be skimmed or skipped altogether; but do read his discussion of music, which begins at the bottom of p. 121 (with the paragraph that starts with “Most Marxist cultural criticism…”), and continue on to the end of the chapter.
Your comments for this week will be expected to respond to the general argument(s) presented in the first 4 chapters of Gilbert’s book. Feel free to anticipate the discussion to come by looking into how the movements mentioned — the EZLN (Zapatistas), Reclaim the Streets, the “anti-globalization” protests, the World Social Forum — made use of new media, and by thinking about how cultural possibilities for new alliances might have been missed by these groups, and might be available for us today.
Somebody please volunteer to start the discussion. . . Enjoy!
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We live in a different world than did previous generations of humanity. Billions of humans can access a vast ocean of information at their fingertips. Digital media have helped construct a sphere of thickly networked, hypermediate, and interactive communication links that span all levels of human society around the globe.
How do these new media environments affect and interact with the social and biophysical environments that preceded them, and that continue to undergird them?
The concept of “media ecology” is not new. From the medium theories of Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, and Neil Postman to the media ecologies of Felix Guattari, Matthew Fuller, Jussi Parikka, and others; from the “mental environmentalism” of Adbusters and other culture jammers to the “cultural environmentalism” of public domain defenders like James Boyle and Lawrence Lessig — understandings of media as ecologies and of ecology as mediated converge in many ways today.
We are beyond the old debates between the caffeinated cyberoptimism of the digerati and the anti-technology pessimism of the Heideggers, Elluls, and Zerzans. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t precariously poised over the abyss. Ecological calamity stares us in the face, and we need some kind of new “natural contract” with the planet, as philosopher Michel Serres has called for. How can digital media help us get there?
e2mc seeks to explore the relationships between media and ecologies: material, social, and perceptual ecologies within which mediations play an increasingly powerful, complex, and transformative role. It is devoted to the idea of “evolving ecological media culture”: an evolution of a media culture that is cognizant of its multiple ecological contours and connections.
e2mc begins as an experiment, a class exercise for ENVS 204 “Media Ecologies and Cultural Politics,” a senior undergraduate class at the University of Vermont. But it will not limit itself to traditional pedagogical constraints. Where it leads we will see. We invite any and all to share in the adventure.
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