Author Archives: erin

Not to be a bug-a-boo

Sorry to repeat an old question, but is there somewhere that we can go to find out the real (?) identities of our fellow bloggers?

I was going to try and make some analogy between base/superstructure and real person/username, but as I lack both wit and intellectual insight at the current moment, I’ll simply try to impress you with the fact that I tried…and failed.

She’s gonna blow

I am currently overwhelmed by the plentitude of compelling – yet slippery, impossible to hold onto – claims contained in Althusser’s two essays, and so I will pull on a tiny thread that has very little connection to any of these other compelling ideas: the idea of cultural expansion.

Althusser only lightly touches on this concept in one small passage of “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”: “But in the social formations of that mode of production characterized by ‘serfdom’…we observe that…the number of Ideological State Apparatuses is smaller and their individual types are different” (1493).  Here Althusser makes a distinction between the IDA’s of economic systems past (namely feudalism) and those of our current capitalist system: not only are our current IDAs different in type, but they are also more numerous.

This line stood out to me because of the way it echoed a similar claim in Williams’s essay “Culture is Ordinary.”  Williams makes the argument of ever-expanding culture more explicitly, stating, “we live in an expanding culture, and all the elements in this culture are themselves expanding” (14).  Upon reading this statement, I couldn’t help but think about our universe and its own progressive expansion – but, at least according to Williams, there is a difference between the spreading of our planets and the growth of our culture.  Culture isn’t simply spreading out (and this visual makes me think of ideas reaching more and more people, “taste” and products being shared globally instead of locally), but increasing in quantity, in density.  There is simply more cultural production.

If we are to go along with Marx and say that the root cause of this (as with everything else) must ultimately be mode of production, then it seems that the cause of this increase of culture is directly linked to changes in technology – and here we end up back at claims made during our discussion of the internet.  Expanding technology (the internet!) leads to expanding cultural production created by an expanding number of cultural authors (bloggers, website creators, etc).  The central question of this debate was whether or not this expansion allowed for resistance, led to any greater freedom of movement within ideology.  Althusser’s framing of this expansion as an increase of Ideological State Apparatuses – institutions that are means for continuing the relations of production and reasserting the dominance of the ruling class – leads me to think that more culture = more means of subjection.  But I can’t get past the visual.  Ever expanding, blowing up and blowing out – culture may become too numerous to be harnessed for a single goal, to be controllable.  Perhaps, as those Benjaminists were arguing on Wednesday, it is expansion that is key to revolution…

Prelim Bibliography: Green Products/Economy

Some sources to start things off:

John, Grant. The Green Marketing Manifesto. Chichester, England; Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

Johnston, Josee. “The Citizen-Consumer Hybrid: Ideological tensions and the case of Whole Foods Market.” Theory and Society 37.3 (2008): 229-270.

Stolle, Dietlind, and Michele Micheletti. “The Gender Gap Reversed: Political consumerism as a women-friendly form of civic and political engagement.” Gender and Social Capital Conference, St. John’s College, Manitoba. 2-3 May 2003. <>

Micheletti, Michele, and Dietlind Stolle. “Mobilizing Consumers to Take Responsibility for Global Social Justice.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 611.1 (2007): 157-175.

Micheletti, Michele. Political Virtue and Shopping: Individuals, consumerism, and collective action. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Nelson, Michelle R., Mark A. Rademacher, and Hye-Jin Paek. “Downshifting Consumer = Upshifting Citizen? An Examination of a Local Freecycle Economy.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 611.1 (2007): 141-156.

Prothero, Andrea, and James A. Fitchett. “Greening Capitalism: Opportunities for a Green Commodity.” Journal of Macromarketing 20.1 (2000): 46-55.

Szasz, Andrew.  Shopping Our Way to Safety: How we changed from protecting the environment to protecting ourselves. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

And, yeah, there was absolutely no reason for me to abbreviate “preliminary” in my title, other than the fact that I like to stand out.


Horkheimer and Adorno are driving me MAD!  It’s just unending unending unending – if you aren’t going to let me break out of the culture industry, at least give me a break in a paragraph!  RAWR.

Okay, this post is adding nothing to the discussion – I just – I just thought for a moment that I might explode if I didn’t say something…and the beauty of the blog is that even when you are trapped in your room with two essays by three long-dead theorists, you can at least pretend that you are reaching out to someone…Oh god, I think that may support what Horkheimer and Adorno are saying.  Oh, no.

And the ants go marching on…

I want to use this response to explore an idea that’s been niggling at me ever since last Wednesday’s class: the claim present in both Marx (and Engels) and Arnold’s essays that there exists a necessary historical progression (towards perfection?) in the “development” of society and culture.

An excerpt from Arnold’s Sweetness and Light that was particularly striking: “But the flexibility which sweetness and light give, and which is one of the rewards of culture pursued in good faith, enables a man to see that a tendency may be necessary, and even, as a preparation for something in the future, salutary, and yet that the generations or individuals who obey this tendency are sacrificed to it, that they fall short of the hope of perfection by following it; and that its mischiefs are to be criticized, lest it should take too firm a hold and last after it has served its purpose” (26).

This “necessary evolution” claim bothers me for several reasons.  First off, there is an inherent devaluing of those stages that are said to come before the current and/or final stage in this progression.   Rose disagreed with me about this during class (and Rose, please fight me on this one), but I can’t see how it can be any other way.  The devaluing of the “early stages” is most clear in Arnold’s essay, but it is also present in Marx’s conception of history.  If communism is our goal, is what will finally bring justice to the proletariat, and if a society must go through all of these other stages to get to communism, then a group of people that are still in the “tribal” stage are behind the times.  This is particularly troubling to me as there still tribal societies in the world – and the argument that these people are somehow akin to early stages of our society’s development is an old and frightening one.   Two: this claim promotes a sort of helplessness – or at least makes the achievement of change in the current era seem less likely and thus less worth striving for.  Arnold perhaps makes an argument for fighting for change by saying that the “mischiefs” of the current era must be “criticized,” or else we may continue to perform them.  But if everything is thought to follow a certain necessary – and thus predetermined – evolution, then there is really nothing we can do.  We are going to continue to screw with our world until the right amount of time elapses and capitalism devours itself; until that breaking point, though, we are stuck.   And finally, I simply don’t buy it.  I do believe in progressive change, in the ability of new ideas to build off of and improve upon old, but human evolution hasn’t been a simple path of progress.  And who is to say that this progression has been necessary instead of random?  Not to tie our class yet again to environmental concerns (I don’t know how this has become my shtick, but I can’t seem to get it out of my head), but I refuse to believe that countries that have not yet gone through all of the “correct” stages of economic development must repeat the mistakes that other countries have made.  They don’t need to start with the quick and dirty, resource-consuming industrialism that the West did.  Countries can learn from one another, use each other’s solutions and skip some of the stages.

Perhaps I’m taking this too far (as I said earlier, the current state of my cold-addled brain is not to be trusted), but, well, this argument has gotten under my skin, and I just don’t like it…

I hereby propose…

I’m going to give this a shot and hope that something intelligible emerges from the foggy land of my cold-clouded mind:

What has repeatedly struck me (and many of us, from what I can tell through blog posts) is how freakishly accurate Marx’s predictions for the future of capitalism have turned out to be.  While reading his essays, I have frequently found myself thinking about the ways his ideas foreshadow the current state of the planet and recent turns in the environmental movement.  Today, environmentalist hippies are becoming capitalists and capitalists are “going green” – and suddenly the market is being flooded by “green products.”  I want to look at this new market.  I’m not quite sure as of yet if I should focus in on one product, or if I should look at the concept of the “green economy” as a whole – here some feedback would be greatly appreciated.  These products are currently the subject of debate much like that surrounding the image of Che.  In many ways, the values underpinning environmentalism are diametrically opposed to those that feed capitalism.   Many claim that these products are steps toward a more sustainable future; but don’t they simultaneously further an economic model whose endless growth makes sustainability an impossibility (for example: did oil companies bring about the initial death of the electric car…hmmm…) ?  Has environmentalism been co-opted by capitalism?  There are many more nuances to this issue than I am capturing here, but these are some initial thoughts…

Ramblings on Reader Response…

While reading the Communist Manifesto, I was particularly struck by the experience of reading this text in the present moment.  In this text, Marx and Engels do a dangerous thing: they propose a future – and declare it a necessary future.  Throughout the text are claims for predetermination, or at least for determinism: following a necessary path of evolution, economic systems have devised their own downfalls, and the end of capitalism is finally upon us; the conditions for its destruction are in the making, have been for years, and through revolution will come the guaranteed next step: communism.  Very convincing.  Except here I sit, over 150 years later, and the things Marx and Engels said will happen – no, must happen – have not.

Reading in the future that Marx and Engels have claimed to know and yet have, through history, proven themselves as incapable of foreseeing as the rest of us, I approach their manifesto with measured skepticism.  At the same time, however, I find the connections between their descriptions of the consequences of capitalism and the realities of our current moment, particularly in terms of environmentalism, striking:

“The productive forces at the disposal of society…bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property…And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises?  On the one hand, by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones.  That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented” (215).

In a moment of heightened environmental awareness, I cannot help but read these words as a description of the ever-increasing resource abuse and environmental devastation brought about by capitalism.  I find in the text the future I currently see as predetermined: (a hopeful escape from) environmental destruction.  Engels himself acknowledges the Reader Response mentality of my present reading response when he states that “the Manifesto has become a historical document which we [(Marx and Engels)] have no longer any right to alter” (208).

Like Che’s image (to make too quick a jump to Che’s Afterlife), the Communist Manifesto has been reproduced and re-distributed, put in the hands of students who, to a certain degree, find in it what they will.  In the words of Berger, “it is a question of a reproduction making it possible, even inevitable, that an image will be used for many different purposes and that the reproduced image, unlike an original work, can lend itself to them all” (25).  But comparing the multiplicity of meanings that have latched onto Che’s image to my riff on a few sentences of the Communist Manifesto exposes a difference between image and text (or at least these kinds of texts and these kinds of images).  This text has far less flexibility of meaning than Che’s image.  It can only be altered and interpreted so far before Marx and Engels step in and attempt to re-assert their own meaning (as they do on page 225, for example).  Perhaps this attempt is necessarily unsuccessful, but still the attempt exists.  Che’s image, on the other hand – singular, without words – is defenseless.