ABSTRACT • This article looks at the articulations of the subject position ‘ordinary people’ by analysing focus group discussions with audience members, and interviews with participants in a north Belgian audience discussion programme called Jan Publiek. In this talk show ordinary people are granted access to a prime-time, live television programme, in order to discuss one specific issue each broadcast. This feature positions Jan Publiek among what have been called ‘audience discussion programmes’ or ‘vox-pop’ programmes (in contrast to elite talk shows). The article focuses on the construction of the ordinary person as a complex and multi-layered subject position. We argue that this identity is relational, and positioned towards an alliance of power-blocs consisting of celebrities, experts, politicians and media professionals. Through this relational positioning, ordinary people become articulated in Jan Publiek as authentic, but also as unorganized, apolitical, powerless, unknown, spontaneous and unknowledgeable. Lefebvre’s distinction between the everyday and everydayness is then used to evaluate the political and emancipatory capacity of Jan Publiek and audience discussion programmes in general, which are sometimes criticized for their commodified and apolitical nature, but on other occasions valued for their democratic potential. •
This article identifies the significance of ‘the ordinary’ in Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy and notes its distinction from philosophies of ‘the everyday’ that have been ascendant in recent cultural studies theory. It does this in order to oppose the rhetorical use of ordinariness promoted by conservative politicians such as Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Such etymological specificity is argued to be necessary so that cultural studies and other scholars can continue to promote the relationships of empathy in class-segregated societies that Howard’s use of ordinariness strategically lacks.
To be a common hero: The uneasy balance between the ordinary and ordinariness in the subject position of mediated ordinary people in the talk show Jan PubliekInternational Journal of Cultural Studies November 1, 2009 12: 597–616
Recent debates about the knowledge society have furthered awareness of the limits of knowing and, in turn, have fuelled sociological debates about the persistence and intensification of ignorance. In view of the ubiquity of the notion of ignorance, this paper focuses on Georg Simmel’s insightful observations about Nichtwissen(nonknowledge) as the reverse side of knowledge. The paper seeks to relate the notion of nonknowledge to Simmel’s conceptualization of objective and subjective culture. In Simmel’s view, modern society produces cultural objects in order to satisfy individuals’ inherent drive to become social beings. Ever more nonknowledge can be understood as an outcome of the growing difficulties in absorbing the achievement of objective culture into subjective culture. To illustrate the crucial importance of such a view of the unknown for today’s debates on the knowledge society, the paper uses illustrative examples ranging from the strategic acknowledgement of nonknowledge in personal relationships to public encounters and the right not to know one’s own genetic identity.
Dominique Guillo, Centre Jacques Berque (USR 3136, CNRS-MAEE), 35, avenue Tarik Ibn Ziad, 10000 Rabat, Maroc Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The meaning of the concept of natural selection undergoes important changes when it circulates, through the use of analogies, between the realms of biological and cultural phenomena. These changes are not easily detected, but they are unavoidable. They have to do with differences between the properties of cultural phenomena and those of biological phenomena: in particular, the absence of the equivalent of a Hardy–Weinberg law for culture. These differences make it necessary to translate the concepts of classic population genetics into the language of transmission. This translation enables the theorists discussed here to build a unitary general theory of evolution (GTE) based on analogies between biological and cultural evolution, and at the same time to single out their differences. But the unity and the rigor of this theoretical approach are merely apparent. The concept of selection as it is defined here loses, in its three spheres of application – GTE, culture but also biology – the meaning and explanatory power it has in classic population genetics. This means that the mechanism of Darwinian selection cannot be considered as a universal algorithm that is valid for both biological and cultural phenomena alike.
Media Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
We study the relationship between genetic evolution, learning, and culture. We start with the sim ulation environment of Hinton and Nowlan in which individual learning was shown to guide genetic evolution towards a difficult adaptive goal. We then consider, in lieu of individual learn ing, culture in the form of social learning by imitation. Our results demonstrate that when genes and culture cooperate, or enhance one another, culture too is able to guide genetic evolution towards an adaptive goal. Further, we show that social learning is superior to individual learning insofar as it with genetic evolution converges more quickly to the goal. However, the social learn ing algorithm results in slower genetic assimilation of adaptive alleles than with individual learn ing. It is as if, we argue, the adaptive values are stored in the culture rather than in the genes. Finally, we consider what happens when culture and genes pursue diametrically opposed goals. Here we show that culture, in the form of social learning, is no real match when opposed to genet ic evolution with individual learning. In fact, only the most herculean of social learning algorithms is able to keep a neutralizing toe-hold against the slow plodding force of genetic evolution. Finally, our results suggest that in both cases, opposition and enhancement, transmission forces such as the ratio of teacher to learner are central to the success of social learning.