This is a synopsis of the sixth and final session of the Media & Participation unit: Identity.
The sixth session of the Media & Participation unit was concerned with ideas about 'identity' and 'therapy'. The online assignment was:
[* 'make something' - it would defeat the object of a participatory course to tell you what to make. It could be anything from a picture to a poem to a blog post to a video to a sound sample to a sculpture.]
In the spirit of fairness, I joined in this assignment - you can see something I made which expresses something about who I am here
The format of the session was the familiar one where we get our heads around some conceptual and theoretical ideas, and then examine the 'primary evidence' at hand in order to see whether those concepts, theories and models seem to help or hinder our understanding of the examples.
In short, we're interested in rejecting the idea that one's identity is fixed, stable, continuous and unified. Rather, we're interested in identity as something 'produced' and 'performed' - what Giddens might call the 'reflexive project of the self'.
So, Dancing Joe is not merely fluffy fiction. Dancing Joe is a performance (literally and metaphorically) in which I can perform a different 'front persona' than the kind of performance I'm likely to produce in a lecture theatre, or a bank manager's office. These different 'stages' may well determine the kind of performance I may be able to produce (and hence in each case I stick to a 'script' which is 'normative'). If I were to stray too far off these scripts (by, for example wearing only pants to my lectures, and talking nonsense), then I might be considered deviant. Maybe Dancing Joe will make you think I'm deviant anyway. Can't win. Hmmm
James made a video, about his addictions. We can argue (we won't) about whether James is 'revealing' aspects of his identity, but we can certainly claim that he is 'producing' aspects of his identity. His statements as to his values - more important things than sex, drugs, money - may or may not 'map onto' the 'truth about James'. But they certainly do create in us, his audience, an understanding of what it is to be James.
Chris chose to represent himself by using album covers to create a mosaic of himself.
Music seems to be an important and powerful resource by which (especially) young people create messages about themselves - asserting their allegiance to specific subcultures (in my day it was goths and new romantics). The way we dress, too, allows us to 'produce' in others an understanding of who we claim to be.
But allegiance to subcultures is inextricable with 'consumption': CDs and clothes are commodities, which are produced by an industry. Hence Marxist commentators have tended to assert that our use of commodities to signal our identity disguises the fact that we are victims of tyranny.
Baudrillard, in The System Of Objects describes the way that while we feel as though we have a sense of freedom to choose which commodities to buy, actually, our choice is no more than an illusion. According to Baudrillard, the commodities choose us. A pre-defined set of choices whose very existence is predicated on an industry which simply wishes to extract capital from us is no choice at all. Is it really possible to express our individuality through the consumption of commodities, which we only want because we've been skilfully manipulated into wanting them through advertising and peer pressure?
Fiske, on the other hand believes we can do exactly that: actually what the Marxists call the 'culture industry' is always trying to play catch up with what these young, cutting edge fashion-setters want. Buy Jeans - rip them. Buy ripped Jeans - sew them. Buy sewed up Jeans - fade them with bleach. Buy faded Jeans - dye them. Buy dyed Jeans.... and on it goes.
And in any case, is it more important to find some kind of semiotic system which we can use as a resource to form relationships and allegiances with each other and express our sense of ourselves, or is it more important that we become system-rejecting tramps just to please some jaded old Marxists? You decide.
Vic drew a self-portrait.
Vic said he was surprised by how sad the portrait looked. Vic is generally a cheerful person. Perhaps the portrait adds depth to this cheerful persona - none of us are always in the same mood, always full of cheer? There is a sad Vic somewhere, whose existence has been conjured. Certainly, we agreed, the production of this portrait can't be undone, and it will now form (however minutely) a part of Vic that will always be there.
Danda made a sculpture with utility. Some stolen traffic cones and a sign have been transformed into a coffee table. Danda says "everything I do is expressive of who I am in one way or another".
Some of the semiotic codes in this image which seem to tell us 'who danda is' include the traffic cone - the stealing of which is a compulsory part of being a student; does danda seem to be saying yes, I am a student, but I am also a coffee-table maker?
Will took a photo of his notice board. His flatmate is extremely tidy, while Will likes some disorganisation. Will isn't entirely sure whether his hoarding of paper-based messages is full of usefulness or not.
I too have friends who iron their tea-towels and boxer shorts. Unlike them, I have from time to time kept boxes of crap, which I periodically dispose of in one great cathartic spring-clean.
Dean sees himself more as the bird than the shitty post, obviously.
Carl likes to express his visual creativity in between snow-boarding breaks.
jimirich emphasises the importance of his friends and family to his sense of who he is.
wmjb is the greatest dancer. Or is he?
Here's a question: if you persuade everyone that, on the dance-floor, you're greased lightning, and everyone believes that, on the dance-floor, you're greased lightning, doesn't that mean that, on the dance-floor, you're greased lightning?
Patrick is made of Arsenal, web searches, Budweiser, funk, and sleepless nights.
obourneo describes himself as a ginger-topped pixel man moving forward into something. He's not sure what he's moving into, but it feels right.
Certainly we concede that something outside of us, (our experience of the 'exterior'), imposes on us a set of constraints which necessarily determine how we 'perform' our identities. We noted that many Marxist ideas tend to assume that we're passive (and stupid) and therefore unthinking victims of these institutional state apparatuses.
However, a crucial thing to grasp is that 'who we are' is a collaborative project. These external constraints are our collaborators in the reflexive projects of our selves, resources that we utilise, play with, or reject, in order to achieve our sense of selfhood.
We noted the example of Salam Pax, the Baghdad blogger, who in an interesting piece in The Guardian described a difference between the Salam he believed himself to be, and the Salam whose persona emerged in the blog. We might argue, actually, the persona in his blog was produced by the 'real' Salam, and while this persona seems aspirational, perhaps by 'producing' this persona, the 'real' Salam becomes more like the aspirational Salam.
So instead of thinking of people who write blogs, or create Youtube videos, or just generally make things, as 'revealing' aspects of their identity, instead we might think of them as producing new aspects of their identity, consolidating performances they enjoy into their sense of who they 'really' are.
Participatory media increase the range of tools available to us to produce the identity performances (or provide opportunities for 'identity-work') that we want to engage in.
So, while Arnold and Keen wonder whether participatory media signal the end of culture, the significance of tools which allow us to explore who we want to be, and thereby become who we want to be, dwarves their parochial little concerns.
silentmiaow made a video. Watch it, and she'll tell you far more about self-hood and normality than I can begin to hope to explain.
Here's the brief for your assignment. Deadline: 12pm Thurs 21st February. We agreed the topics in the session, and I've since turned them into proper academic-looking titles. If you weren't present and you don't like the questions, email me with your alternative suggestion.
The main assessment for the Media & Participation unit is a 2000 word essay. Choose one of the 7 titles listed below, and use the title to explore the ideas discussed in the unit. You should utilise both primary evidence (examples of phenomena such as media artefacts or events, case studies, etc), and secondary evidence (conceptual and theoretical sources and ideas) in your analysis. Use the essay to communicate your ideas and opinions, and ensure that you demonstrate, in an analytical way, what evidence brings you to favour those ideas and opinions.
The secondary assessment for the Media & Participation unit consists of the online assignments for each of the unit sessions. Please submit, alongside your essay, a short document providing links (urls) to each of your online assignments. See the unit materials for details of all online assignments.
I look forward to reading your work, and thanks to all of you for your contributions to the unit.
Joe Flintham 2000 - 2015
Long form: Menticulture
Professional Services: Fathom Point