Deciphering Culture

Posts Tagged ‘Culture

Thinking about Research — Short Takes (2)

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The paradoxes of choice overload — another installment of Kyle Bylin’s series on the paradoxes of choice overload of cultural products (on Music Think Tank). The article uses the I-Pod as an example and applies choice theory to the analysis and how the I-Pod can make “maximizers” miserable and turn “optimicizers” into maximizers. [A short excerpt below]

Savor Your Music: The Effect of Abundance in Culture

III.     Overloaded With Choice

As you might guess, fans who exhibit the tendency to maximize their music experiences are also those who are the most susceptible to the paradoxes of choice overload.  When a fan is overwhelmed by the number of songs on their iPod; it will be easier for them to regret a choice if the alternatives are plentiful than if they were scarce, especially if the alternatives are so plentiful that not all of them could be investigated.  This makes it easy for them to imagine that they could’ve made a different choice that would’ve been better.  All the imagined alternatives then, induce the fan to regret the decision they made, and this regret subtracts from the satisfaction they get out of the decision they made, even if it was agood song.  It is, however, not the best song.  To consider the attractiveness of the alternative songs that they rejected causes them to become less satisfied with the one they’ve chosen, leading them to keep scrolling through their iPod.  The more songs they consider, these missed opportunities add up, and collectively diminish the amount of satisfaction they get out of the chosen alternative.

Softwired for Empathy — the human condition (talk by Jeremy Rifkin)

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Hypebot.com just posted a talk (with animation by RSA ANIMATE) by social theorist & economist Jeremy Rifkin from a few months ago on recent neurological research that indicates that humans are softwired for empathy and that the PRIMARY HUMAN DRIVE IS TO BELONG (not to compete, conquer…).  Rifkin uses this research as a jumping off point to discuss the evolution of human empathy and possibilities for saving the world it has created. Rifkin’s omissions raise many questions but there is some meat here and it’s always interesting when heterodox voices come out of mainstream sources (Rivkin has advised numerous CEOs of major corporations as well as European governments). Lots of implications for those of us doing “cultural” research (in any sense).

For an expanded version, go to Rifkin’s 2010 The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness In a World In Crisis. It’s only fair to note that Rifkin is only one of many people exploring empathy — for a primatologist’s perspective see The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal, for a business perspective see Wired to Care by Dev Patnaik and there’s a lot more work out there.

Note: Rifkin doesn’t hold  himself back from some wild rhetorical flourishes (i.e., the Adam & Eve reference in this talk) and he  has been a ligahtening rod for criticism from some well-respected sources. From Wikipedia:

Rifkin’s work has also been controversial, and opponents have attacked the scientific rigor of his claims as well as some of the tactics he uses to promote his views. A 1989 article about Rifkin in Time bore the title, “The Most Hated Man in Science”.[9]Stephen Jay Gould characterised Rifkin’s 1983 book Algeny as “a cleverly constructed tract of anti-intellectual propaganda masquerading as scholarship”.[10] Stewart Brand wrote in 2009: “Among scientists who have read his work, Rifkin is regarded as America’s leading nitwit.”[11]

Written by Jeffrey Callen

August 4, 2010 at 11:55 am

Social Media & Social Capital (an applied approach)

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As an ethnomusicologist applying my training as a researcher and scholar to work outside of academia, I am looking for ideas of how others are approaching putting humanities and social science research and analysis to work in cultural projects (commercial or non-profit or public). Although, undoubtedly shaped by a different cultural and political setting, the efforts of the InteractiveCultures group of the Birmingham School of Media recently caught my attention. The description of their work presents an engaging model for the much-needed creation of effective interfaces between arts & culture research and arts & culture practice and policy:

Our work is part of a wider strategy by the Birmingham School of Media to make arts and humanities research useful in commercial and cultural projects, and to ensure academics engage with commerce and culture. Our partners have improved their business models, developed new insights, or instigated new cultural strategies as a result of their work with us….   We provide a consultancy service for partners from businesses and organisations in the cultural sector, developing new modes of working and informing public policy.  We demonstrate creative online techniques, assist our partners in developing new strategies, and work on online prototypes.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

My interest was especially captured by a recent blog post on InteractiveCultures by Jon Hickman (Social Capital & Social Media) that resonated with my prior work on the social capital created by a nightclub district in North Richmond, California and research on online musical communities. Hickman expands upon an earlier conference paper to make a simple, yet important, point: a community created by social media is not simply a network but a culture dependent on the availability of social capital to its members. The social capital created by social media is not equivalent to that described by Robert Putman in his landmark Bowling Alone (which built on the work of earlier sociologists, such as M.S. Granovelter’s “The Strength of Weak Ties”) but firmly in line with the earlaier use of the term by Pierre Bourdieu as:

…aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to the possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition (Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital” in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. 1986, p.248)

Eschewing the theoretical frameworks and formulas placed on the analysis of social capital by Putnam (and others that came before and after him), this approach simply acknowledges “that social capability can confer power upon individuals and groups.” As Hickman states, “… that is the key issue at the basis of much that is interesting about social media.” Further, this approach opens up many interesting questions. The one Hickman addresses is how social media communities use social capital to work together for a particular benefit to the community. Community members utilize the potential social capital “resource” that existed and “was activated by a set of social media practices, delivering benefit to its collective owners. Without the social capital, the clever social media tools would be useless.” The last sentence is crucial to remember when examining social media practices — it’s not the technology but the members that have agency.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 24, 2010 at 5:13 pm

LeBron pulls the plug on Cleveland

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from Live Journal

Some may argue that writing about LeBron James’ decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to  play for the Miami Heat is stretching the theme of this blog. His decision will significantly impact the community but do sports belong in the same category as art? An argument could alway be made either way but, since at least World War II, sports stars have been entertainers (and with Vince McMahon’s brilliant creation of sports entertainment the blurry line between sports and entertainment has become almost invisible). And to belabor the point, Charles Barkley rightly stated that he shouldn’t be held up as a role model to other people’s children but he never maintained that he wasn’t an entertainer — Sir Charles knew better. But back to LeBron and Cleveland. Much has been written over the years of the negative impact of cities’ frantic efforts to attract sports franchises and the debts incurred, but this is the first occasion I remember of calculations of the detrimental effect of one athlete moving on. MSNBC estimates that the city will lose $100 million per year (Cleveland’s financial reasons for loving LeBron. Worries downtown renaissance might ebb is Cav’s star free agent leaves). However, the loss goes far beyond economic concerns and, according to Please Don’t Leave 23 (a site dedicated to a campaign to keep No. 23 in Ohio) far beyond the realm of sports:

LeBron James’ impact on Ohio goes far beyond basketball. LeBron will have the option of leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers at the end of the 2009-2010 NBA season. This campaign is dedicated to keeping LeBron James in Cleveland for the betterment of all Ohioans. We believe, if we show LeBron James that his greatest supporters are right here in Ohio, that it will have a significant impact on his decision. Now let’s get to work!!!

Unfortunately they failed but we all saw that coming, didn’t we.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 8, 2010 at 7:27 pm

How WordPress is changing publishing

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Interesting article on the effects of blogging (good & bad) on the way we publish (and the way we write, read…) and the questionable value of “democratizing” the role of the writer.

Reposted from Slate‘s Big Money blog:

The Son of Gutenberg. How WordPress changed the way we publish.

By Marion Maneker  — Posted Wednesday, June 16, 2010 – 7:47am

A year ago, Justin Halpern was an underemployed comedy writer who had to move back into his parents’ home in San Diego. Today, he’s got 1.4 million Twitter followers, the No. 1 book on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, and a CBS sitcom starring William Shatner. All it took was writing down quotes from his father that he tweets out as “Shit My Dad Says.”

Technology and social media are redrawing the roadmap to authorial success. And for every Justin Halpern, there are 10,000 professional writers wondering how to turn blogs, microblogs, and Twitterfeeds into media empires, especially now that their magazines, newspapers, and media organizations are contracting at an alarming rate. Blogs, of course, are the first refuge for professional writers fleeing the withering establishment media, and for hordes of would-be scribes finding their own voice. For these multitudes, WordPress.com has become the 21st-century equivalent of Gutenberg’s printing press. (to read the rest, click here)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 2, 2010 at 10:20 am

An urban neighborhood tells its own stories

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Over the last thirty years, the Iron Triangle neighborhood in Richmond, California has gained a reputation as one of the most distressed and dangerous urban neighborhoods in the U.S. One of the bright spots in the Iron Triangle has been the East Bay Center for Performing Arts. The East Bay Center has embarked upon the Iron Triangle Legacy Project through which more than 250 of the residents and artists are exploring their own culture, history and vision for the future through public performance works — music, theater, community gardens, photography…

Today, the Community Arts Networks posted an article by Jordan Simmons, artistic director of the East Bay Center, talking about this exciting project:

My Iron Tri-Angel: An Urban Neighborhood Seeks To Tell Its Own Story

By Jordan Simmons

My iron tri-angel,
You have with your damaged wings swept the white chalk from where
Syetha’s body’s outline lay quickly sketched on the pavement.
And whenever she laughs now, all the tears of the saints
Are close by. Still, what did she leave us?
I hit the spring-board and somersault up to the basketball net, legs wide
Open, and facing down before I dunk, I pray:
Little girls everywhere, little sisters everywhere,
Be careful when you cross the street.
Be careful when they shoot.
Be careful.

—From “My Iron Tri Angel” a new work-in-progress of the
Iron Triangle Theater Company, Richmond, California

“Just because you’re poor, it doesn’t mean you’re spiritually dead. Art comes from within. Soul: sometimes we lose touch of it in day-to-day struggle. We can help people come back to themselves. It is the easiest way to express that one is alive. When you create a piece, something that people can relate to or react to, it acknowledges that you are alive. “

— Anthony Allen, resident of Richmond’s
Iron Triangle Neighborhood

Here is an introduction to the Iron Triangle Legacy Project, a collective work led by East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and a ten-member advisory committee of neighborhood residents and activists. The work of the project is to tell the story of Richmond’s Iron Triangle, a neighborhood whose tale has been told by others in the media often enough, and deserves to be told by its own residents. The arts play an important part in the telling of this tale, and in the crafting of the project.

The Iron Triangle is a neighborhood in Richmond, California, of about 18,000 residents. Richmond’s overall population of 110,00 is rich in culture and heritage, and yet it has suffered from disproportionate urban blight and economic depression since its industrial heyday as a WWII shipyard, loomed over by one of the largest oil refineries on the West Coast and divided by railroad lines — hence the “iron triangle.” In 2004, both the local school district and the city made national news with their near bankruptcy. Since then, local public schools are regularly threatened with closure for failing to meet minimal national and/or state standards. “The Triangle,” as it is commonly referred to in Richmond, once a vibrant immigrant portal, is now a historical icon, marking the post-WWII migration of southern African Americans to the West Coast (many finding work in the Kaiser shipyards between 1941 and 1944); a destination neighborhood for California’s Mexican-American newcomers since the 1960s, and, since the 1980s, for refugees from the Southeast Asia Indo-China conflicts, especially from Laos. (to read more go to CAN)

For more info. on the Iron Triangle Legacy Project click the photograph..

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 11, 2010 at 11:23 am

“Literature is like love; it is best enjoyed in private but has social consequences.”

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A short thought-provoking article from Axess magasin, a Swedish publication that “aims to unite academic culture and publishing culture to create a forum in which researchers in the humanities and liberal arts can meet a wider public.” The article is entitled “Imagination is the Enemy of Tyranny” and, focusing predominately on literature, author Per Wästberg writes:

The Earth is not the inexhaustible resource we thought it was; it must be protected as something very precious. The same is true of the freedom of expression – it has no life of its own; it must be protected but also defined in a debate that is constantly being renewed. In a vulnerable world fraught with danger, the free flow of ideas plays a vital role. The visions of our poets and thinkers are not concerned with easy solace or a flight from reality but instead with providing nourishment and energy, creating new connections, devising new solutions.

To read the entire article click here: “Imagination is the Enemy of Tyranny”


Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 2, 2010 at 7:49 pm

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