Theory and Explorations in Everyday Culture
Theory and Explorations in Everyday Culture
In this paper, I will use four concepts from “Theory” to explore different aspects of everyday culture. I divided this paper into four segments, where each segment stands for each concept derived from “Theory” that I will be using. The first part of each segment contains a definition or an explanation of the concept that is derived from theorists and intellectuals. The second part of each segment contains aspects of everyday culture that I have selected to serve as examples and illustrations of the concepts that I have selected. In some of these segments, I express my doubts and reservations about the concepts being used.
Following the American Marxist theorist Fredric Jameson, I think that it would be wrong to say that I agree or disagree with this or that concept since theories always have their “moments of truth” while also having their “strategies of containment (1981). ” I try to provide examples and illustrations of these concepts that are true to their “moments of truth. ” IDEOLOGICAL STATE APPARATUSES As a person living in a capitalist society, I am surrounded and “subjected” to what French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser calls “ISAs” or “Ideological State Apparatuses.
” By this he is referring to public and private schools, families, legal structures of the government, political parties, trade-union organizations, what he calls “communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc. )” to which we can perhaps add the Internet, and “cultural ISA (Literature, the Arts, sports, etc. ) (1971: 136-137). ” He distinguishes the ISAs from what he calls “the Repressive State Apparatus” or RSA. According to Althusser, “the [RSA] functions ‘by violence,’ whereas the [ISAs] function ‘by ideology’ [underscoring in the original] (1971: 138).
” He says that “All [ISAs], whatever they are, contribute to the same result: the reproduction of the relations of production, i. e. of capitalist relations of exploitation (1971: 146). ” It is obvious that the “apparatuses” – hitherto described simply and innocently as “social institutions” – which Althusser enumerates touches my life everyday, and even all the time. Perhaps “touches” is too weak a word to describe these influences that saturate or even strangle my everyday life. Seen from Althusser’s viewpoint, the everyday life that I live is not separate from what Marxists like himself call “the class struggle.
” I may not consciously take sides in this struggle, or precisely because I don’t take sides, or because I do not know that there are sides that are locked in struggle in the first place, that I am an unwitting ally of one side – the side of the class that is perhaps farther from my economic standing in society, the capitalist class. For Althusser, because the ISAs are working, there is no need for the State to use the RSAs on a daily basis; in fact, while the ISAs “ultimately” rest on the RSAs, the RSAs will only be unleashed under “extraordinary circumstances” like mass demonstrations and wars.
What is present in the everyday is ideology, not force. I can go on with my everyday life and not bother about being arrested or shot by the repressive forces of the State. Because I am under the spell of ideology, I am “free” from repression. In fact, I can say that this is how ideology functions among the youth of my generation: telling us that we are free, that we can be even freer, and that we should be freer from ISAs. It is important to add, though, that there are activities and spheres that are in many ways in contradiction with ISAs but leave capitalist relations of production intact: pop culture, for example, or the marijuana habit.
HEGEMONY The British cultural theorist Raymond Williams, borrowing from Italian Communist intellectual Antonio Gramsci, says that hegemony “is… not only the articulate upper level of ‘ideology,’ nor are its forms of control only those ordinarily seen as ‘manipulation’ or ‘indoctrination. ’ It is a whole body of practices and expectations, over the whole of living: our senses and assignments of energy, our shaping perceptions of ourselves and our world. It is a lived system of meanings and values – constitutive and constituting – which as they are experienced as practices appear as reciprocally confirming.
(1977: 110)” The notion of hegemony as such moves us away from theories and definitions of ideology as systems of explicit beliefs and consciousness. It points in the direction of unstated because deeply-held and deeply-held because unstated assumptions and reflexes that abound in everyday culture. In the past few months, television viewers and Internet users the world over were gripped by events in the US presidential elections. Many of them received the reports without wanting to, while there were also many of them who became fixated with following the developments in the elections.
When African-American Democratic candidate Barack Obama won, many people were surprised. While Obama led surveys weeks before the elections, people still did not believe that he could win. First, because he is an African-American, people were thinking that most Americans will not vote for him. Second, because his opponent, Republican candidate John McCain, is seen as capable of maneuvering and cheating his way to the presidency – very much like his party-mate incumbent President George W. Bush. It is now clear that, before the evening of November 4, many Americans were hoping that Obama will win while still doubting whether he will.
This brings to fore assumptions that are hegemonic among Americans regarding their attitude towards African-Americans and their political system. While many white Americans would be quick to oppose any accusation that their country is racist, especially towards African-Americans, it appears that the hegemonic assumption in their country is that theirs is a racist country – which, it must immediately be added, conflicts with the impression that the US is now prepared for its first African-American president.
While many white Americans would praise their political system to high heavens as something all countries should emulate, it appears that the hegemonic assumption in their country is that their political system can be manipulated to serve the interests of the ambitious and powerful – which, it must immediately be added, conflicts with the impression that the US political system can still be trusted.
All in all, what happened in the US presidential elections brought to the fore hegemonic assumptions of Americans regarding racism in their country and their political system. Surely, many lines of interrelationships can be drawn between these hegemonic assumptions and the everyday culture of Americans. That many people could believe that their country is racist towards African-Americans while actually being tolerant towards African-Americans shows that many people do not trust their fellow Americans on issues of race.
Perhaps white people still traffic among themselves racist beliefs and attitudes towards Blacks – and they know it. That many people could believe that their political system is flawed while still voting for the candidate who is projected to be at the losing end of cheating and maneuvering shows that many people do not trust their fellow Americans on this issue. Perhaps many people wanted cheating to become difficult for those in power.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 3 January 2017
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