Archive for the ‘culture’ Category
A constant challenge of producing content is distribution. You may write a book, or make a movie, but usually a third party has to approve it in order to get it distributed. However, one major form of media doesn’t have this property – podcasting. In fact, it is incredibly easy to produce and distribute a podcast. Smartphones have the ability to record hours of conversation and iTunes makes it easy to upload and make it free to anyone on the Internet.
This point was made by Kevin Smith, who was performing in Bloomington. He has at least three or four podcasts, each with an entirely different theme. He’s garrulous, so it is easy for him to generate massive amounts of material that can be packaged into podcasts which then advertise his other products (comedy shows, DVDs, films, etc.)
If you take a casual look around, you see that lots of small groups have created podcasts that reach thousands of people. For example, Partially Examined Life is a philosophy podcast run by three former philosophy grad students. And yes, they will do multi-hour discussions of Bergson. Bad at Sports is for folks in contemporary art. There is even a podcast about sociology books – New Books in Sociology. Some institutions have sociology blogs, like the Contexts podcast, but I’d like to see more sociologists get their voices out there.
Morley Safer ran a follow up to his infamous 1993 piece that slammed contemporary art as a sham. This time around, the piece was a dud. It rehashed the same ground but with less oomph. As usual, Safer wondered whether this piece or that piece was art and seemed flummoxed by the prices. Given that much of the art he trashed fifteen years ago has retained its value and has begun to be appreciated, Safer’s expose fizzled.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t dig into the art world and criticize it. If you want a really great analysis of modern art and its market, you should turn off 60 Minutes. Instead, watch two recent films and a tv show: (untitled), My Kid Could Paint That and the reality television show Work of Art.
All three works take the modern art world seriously and take the time to investigate it on its own terms. They all allow people to explain themselves and include the critics and the haters. They aren’t afraid to say that the emperor has no clothes. The films also are charitable in that they allow the best arguments to be made for modern art, even the stuff that appears lame and pathetic. What makes these works rise above the cheap journalism of Morely Safer is that modern art is a social field predicated on being edgy, which means that a lot of art isn’t meant to be pretty or pleasing. It’s about a concept, which is a form of art that simply isn’t for most people. And that’s the crux of the argument about the value for modern art.
Many of you practice prosumption everyday without realizing it. If you bus your own table after a fast food meal, do self-check out at a store, or review a manuscript for an academic journal, you are engaging in simultaneous production and consumption. Organizations are increasingly introducing prosumption into routines without corresponding compensation, or, as George Ritzer notes in his essay in this The Sociological Quarterly summer 2015 issue, savings, for the prosumer.
Here’s the start of Ritzer’s “Prosumer Capitalism” essay:
This essay involves a further, albeit still early and provisional, analysis of the relationship
between prosumption and capitalism. It is made necessary by the rapid changes
in the nature of prosumption, its relationship to the changing capitalist economic
system, as well as the growing literature on them (Piketty 2014; Rifkin 2014;
Ritzer 2014). Like its predecessor (Ritzer and Jurgenson 2010), this analysis
deals with the ever-expanding prosumption on the Internet, but it goes beyond
the now antiquated notion of Web 2.0, as well as devoting greater attention to
prosumption in more traditional settings. It also reflects significant changes in
my own conceptualization of prosumption, especially the idea of the prosumption
continuum (see Figure 1). The poles of the continuum involve a needed
reconceptualization of production as prosumption-as-production (p-a-p) and of
consumption as prosumption-as-consumption (p-a-c). More attention is devoted to
three types of capitalism (producer, consumer, and prosumer), as well as to the
“grand narrative” of producer capitalism > consumer capitalism > prosumer capitalism.
New to this analysis is another grand narrative relating to exploitation in
capitalism: singly exploitative producer capitalism > doubly exploitative consumer
capitalism > synergistically doubly exploitative prosumer capitalism. From a Marxian
perspective, prosumer capitalism is seen as an even more “magical” system than its
predecessors, at least as far as the capitalists are concerned. There is also a reexamination
of capitalism in light of other important recent characterizations of that economic
system. While others foresee the decline or even demise of capitalism (Rifkin
2014) or shift the focus to increasing inequality (Piketty 2014), this analysis foresees
the continuation of capitalism,2 albeit in the form of prosumer capitalism. The conclusion
takes a pessimistic perspective on the fate of the prosumer in contemporary
capitalism (in contrast to Toffler  and Rifkin ), although some thoughts
are offered on a more optimistic scenario. The essay ends pessimistically with some
recent examples of capitalist expansions and incursions in prosumer-dominated businesses
(Zopa in banking, Airbnb in short-term domicile rental, and Uber in the taxi
While Ritzer has a largely pessimistic view of where prosumption will lead, I have written a cautiously optimistic commentary covering the varieties of prosumption, which I dub “from parasitic to prefigurative.” Many of the examples that Ritzer and I discuss come from the so-called sharing economy, including the controversial pay-for-street-parking info apps discussed by epopp in this orgtheory post.
Here are my commentary’s central claims:
Ritzer’s analyses have mostly focused on organizations that deploy prosumption
as a means toward the end of profit. However, by studying organizations and groups
that view prosumption as both a means and an end, we can gain deeper insight into the
impact of prosumption. Thus, I examine several types of prosumption across the three
sectors of the market: for-profit organizations, the state, and nonprofit organizations/
voluntary associations. I further Ritzer’s critique by arguing that prosumption shifts
what used to be organizational and state responsibilities and risks upon individual
persons, emiserating workers and overloading individuals’ decision-making capacities.
While this shift has been portrayed as enhancing market efficiency and empowering
consumers, it can widen inequality, as it allows organizations to simultaneously overwork
employees and clients while understaffing. Those with resources can opt in and
out of prosumption when they please, reinforcing the illusion that prosumption is a
freely made choice, rather than one that is imposed for the ends of profits or efficiency.
However, not all individuals have the means to prosume, and their communities may
be unfairly stigmatized by prosumption. Moreover, attempts to promulgate parasitic
prosumption threaten to undercut access to public goods.
On the other hand, Ritzer’s (2015) mention of “dangerous giants” suggests that not
all persons will mindlessly prosume according to convention (p. 439). I elaborate on
three forms of prosumption that present potential counterpoints to conventional
prosumption. With transformative prosumption, prosumers engage in agentic action
and meaning-making. In violating prosumption conventions, the practice of disruptive
prosumption counters the push for profits and efficiency. When coupled with democratic
or collectivist ways of organizing, prosumption assumes a prefigurative cast,
enacting a society that prosumers desire rather than replicating the status quo.
I quite enjoyed writing the commentary, as it allowed me to reflect on additional ground beyond a previous prosumption article.
You can read Ritzer’s article on prosumption here. Ritzer’s essay is followed by commentaries by:
- Marie-Anne Dujarier “The Activity of the Consumer: Strengthening, Transforming, or Contesting Capitalism?“
- Robert J. Antonio “Is Prosumer Capitalism on the Rise?“
- Detlev Zwick “Defending the Right Lines of Division: Ritzer’s Prosumer Capitalism in the Age of Commercial Customer Surveillance and Big Data“
Ritzer follows with a response to the commentaries in “Dealing with the Welcome Critiques of “Prosumer Capitalism.””
Bonus: all items are ungated!!! Happy reading!
You don’t see a lot of books linking cultural sociology and gerontology. An ethnographic study of elderly people in four neighbrohoods, The End Game is a study of the coping strategies that people use and how those are related to race and social class. For example, there are those who try to preserve their health so as not to be a burden on others, while others “use up” their health while enjoying themselves (e.g., by drinking). Abramson also pays close attention to the processes that normally occupy stratification scholars, such as how wealth affects how people access food, healthcare, and social support.
What I found most compelling about this book is the careful attention paid to the combination of class based resources and “toolkits” that are driven by culture or simply variations in personality. For example, health isn’t simply a matter of who can pay for a doctor. Health is also affected by the view that medical intervention is constantly needed to maintain a deteriorating body. One thing that I wish had received more attention is the link to outcomes – there should be more discussion of exactly which traits might be conducive to longer live, healthier life, or happier life.
Near the end, Abramson discusses a mildly disturbing encounter with a sociologist who asked why we should care about the elderly. The answer is that old age is a growing feature of human life after industrialization. It can also be a long stage of life. A 90 year old person has 25 post-retirement years! Thus, we should care about what is an extremely common experience and we want people to live well. Abramson’s text is an important contribution to that vital research task. Recommended!!!!
As some of our dear orgtheory readers know, I am always on the look-out for interesting articles about how organizations use collectivist or participatory-democratic practices. One recent publication I would like to highlight involves a collectivist group fueled by a common love of cola, coffee, and beer.
Fans of a caffeinated soft drink, frustrated by Afri-Cola new owner’s refusal to change the recipe back to the original*, became the new owners and producers of the drink. Not only did they band together to revive the original product using what they considered to be more ethical market standards, they organized using the practice of decision-making by consensus.**
Participatory-democracy invariably elicits conflicts that might be avoided or suppressed under more hierarchical organizations. Members have to learn how to manage contention if they wish to stay cohesive. Premium Cola‘s members had to learn how to do this via a discussion email list.
Husemann, Ladstaetter, and Luedicke’s (2015) “Conflict Culture and Conflict Management in Consumption Communities” examines the types of conflicts and actions taken to address these conflicts within Premium Cola. The authors note the generative qualities of routinized conflict, including the reaffirmation of commitment to a collective mission:
When analyzing the Premium community’s conflicts, we found that the community’s conflict culture involved a limited set of routinized and recurring conflict behaviors. Members use behaviors such as inviting conflict, showing respect for otherness, or releasing aggressions to argue different topics, but use them in similar ways. Many of these behaviors are known from normative conflict sociology as conflict cultivation practices, i.e. routinized behaviors that conflict parties use to perform conflicts in civilized and productive, rather than destructive, ways. Through inventing, selecting, abandoning, enacting, or improving such routinized conflict behaviors, Premium community members are able to produce value rather than destroy value through uncontrolled or abusive conduct.
In contrast, transgressive conflict, in which participants break multiple norms, can lead to abusive interactions. These lead to more active interventions, including the eventual expulsion of a member over his repeated sexist comments about the hiring of a female intern and insults of other members. While the exchanges threatened corrosion, the subsequent actions taken reaffirm Premium Cola’s identity and commitment to community.
* The original recipe had less sugar and more caffeine than the newer recipe.
**More about the fascinating history and ethos of Premium Cola is available here, where the Ladstaetter and Luedicke describe Premium Cola as follows:
…the Premium Cola community can be seen as a group of “productive activists,” e.g.,
prodactivists, that combines the roles of producers, consumers, and social activists to promote change in the capitalist market system by demonstrating how market exchange can be both successful and ethical.