Archive for the ‘Modernity & Network Culture’ Category


I was spoilt for choice with this blog! Finding an everyday urban space in Bristol is like finding chocolate in Cadbury World – no problem. The difference though was I didn’t want the crowded space where digital and space crash together in a never ending stream. Instead I chose a less obvious space, somewhere where there was the hint of aloneness – a glimpse of the individual without the digital world. There was an Orwellian sense of urgency about this – where could I go and not be digitally disturbed?




Outside @Bristol is a calm outdoor urban area and as far as I could tell, a relatively digital free zone. But almost immediately, I was disturbed by someone walking past, talking loudly on their mobile. Which reminded me – I must resist the urge to look at my phone for messages. But as Turkle (2011) states: “The pull of these devices is so strong, that we’ve become used to them faster than anyone would have suspected.” Immediately I began to think of messages I might miss or worse, that in that hour, no-one would text me! Turkle continues, “What is so seductive about texting, about keeping that phone on, about that little red light, is you want to know who wants you.”


 I lifted my phone to take the first photo, it buzzed! Immediately on the screen came the announcement that I had 4 new notifications from 3 different programmes! I laughed at the irony of the digital media crashing into my quietness. Poised to take the first photo, an area of the building came to life and I was faced with a giant TV screen promoting a Bristol Festival. I think the question to ask here is did I mind? I was aware of a growing tension between ‘wanted’ and ‘unwanted’ digital media. But in order to look at this point objectively, I need to be able to unplug myself from the digital age and view the networking of public space as an almost before and after phenomenon. My generation is drenched in digital media and we are not really sure of the impact yet. There is a wealth of evidence out there linked to the advantages of the digital age. We can keep in touch with people all over the world, we have immediate (at least in the developed world) access to unlimited information. I can buy anything I want, pay for it and have it delivered without leaving my chair and yet alarm bells are beginning to ring! Varnelis and Friedberg in ‘Place: The Networking of Public Space’(2012) conclude that “Global connections versus local disconnections, the growing overlap of local and virtual presences….will utterly reconfigure our relationship with place and all offer opportunities as well as challenges.” It would appear that although I can choose my place (as I did for this blog) I am not always in charge of what is in it.




Turkle, S (2011) Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other Basic Books


Varnelis,K and Friedberg,A (2012) ‘Place: The Networking of Public Space’, MIT Press


Humphery, Kim (2007) Australian Humanities Review. Issue 42




I am thoughtful after this week’s discussions about Biosphere Culture and the ‘Matter’ of waste. I was bought up in a very eco-friendly house. I have grown up with the feeling that I was doing my bit for the environment and I felt good about it. Gay Hawkins in her book, The Ethics of Waste: How We Relate to Rubbish (2006) explores ‘how waste mediates relations to our bodies, prompts various habits and disciplines, and orders relations between the self and the world.’ (p.4). This is true – waste does impact on me, my decisions and my actions. Image

I have never thought of myself as an ostrich, sticking my head in the sand when thinking about environmental issues, yet Pete Posthleswaite’s words suddenly ring out – ‘We could have saved ourselves,’ in the film Age of Stupid, when climate change has had a catastrophic effect on the planet. Linked to this in the film is the irony of Alvin Duvernay being hailed an ‘American hero’ saving over a hundred people after hurricane Katrina – we are then told he works for an oil company, one of the biggest pollutants in the world and a contributor to climate change and consequently, changing weather patterns! There is a thread of denial and guilt that runs through the whole film and there is a similarity here with Hawkins argument – we need to stop feeling guilty if we are to think differently and more positively about our relationship with our waste. We need to stop denying there is a problem and stop feeling guilty about it if we are to solve the problem.

So the simplicity of ‘you’re a recycler or spawn of the devil’ is dismissed by Hawkins, which I think is really positive. If we are to work together as humans to save the planet we have to, as Kim Humphrey (2006) suggests “begin forging a politics of waste that does not rely on ideas of transcendence, on moralism and guilt-tripping, or on a bland version of consciousness raising.” He believes that we must stop fearing waste but understand how we interact with it. The problem with this though is that it will be others (Governments/large companies) here who could dictate how we interact with our rubbish in the future and they have many agendas.


I found clues to a more positive future in Jeremy Rifkin’s book ‘Empathic Civilisation’ (2010). He claims that we are almost ‘hotwired’ to care about not only what happens to us but others too. Is this where the solutions lie? By understanding the cause and effect of waste not only for us but for others, we can begin to build a more sustainable approach to waste and waste management. But are we all starting from the same ‘empathic point’? Waste management is not going to top any agenda when you are starving or homeless. Perhaps the answer is to ensure we are all equal first and then we can all start working together to save the planet.


Hawkins, Gay (2005)The Ethics of Waste: How We Relate to Rubbish, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Humphery, Kim (2007) Australian Humanities Review. Issue 42

Age Of Stupid – Spanner Films (2009)

Rifkin, Jeremy (2010) Empathic Civilisation, Jeremy Rifkin Enterprises

Google Images

Walking into Bristol museum is like walking into a cathedral – there is a reverence, a hushed expectation. When observing the different collections not only was I aware of the historical connections ofImage such items in terms of colonialism, but also the sterile environment in which the objects were kept. Sterile because they were void of their cultural meaning. Take the child’s robe from China that I chose. In one way it is simply an article of clothing. But that’s like saying that a diamond is just a diamond when there is a huge background of slave labour in South Africa, to the cultural implications of ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend!

Having read Edwards, Godson and Phillips book Sensible Objects:Colonialism,Museums and Material Culture,(2006) I wondered how many of these items were given freely by the people who owned them and how many were taken because we had such power over these countries! But there is a sense of custodianship in the museum. Items are displayed with great care. It is just such a shame we can’t touch and smell the objects. Stoler in her book Race and the Education of Desire states that “the hierarchy, class and caste were created and represented through clothing, buildings and…..around food, odors, sounds, and the bodily contacts in which material objects were, and continue to be, entangled.” Stoler p122 (1995)Image

The child’s robe opposite is from China and while looking at the robe the sense of sight was the only indigenous sensory experience I was allowed – other senses were denied to me. I wanted to touch the expensive silk of a robe that took two years to make. I wanted to smell the fabric, get a ‘feel’ for it. The sensory approach to objects allows us to get closer to them – to find out more about them and understand better the people and the culture from which the object originally came. How would that silk robe feel and importantly, how would it make me feel if I was wearing it (although at 6ft 4 and 14 stone I’m not sure it would be that comfortable).

Behind the glass cabinet, objects lose their potency and their power. Their cultural power is diluted to such an extent that when I look at the robe, I really don’t ‘feel’ much at all. The museum does not allow me to experience much more than this but this course is teaching me that the robe is more than just an object. It is a cultural symbol of power and influence, being the robe of an Emperor’s child.

The contemporary object that I found to make comparisons is a children’s Chinese top from Bristol Market. In this environment I could touch and smell the top as well as gain an insight into its locality. Similar material and style in a very different setting – two similar tops separated by over a hundred years. What was interesting was the two Imagesettings – one was interactive, cultural, social. The other was not. Perhaps museums could learn something from contemporary market places!Image

Oxfam photoI came across this Oxfam campaign and was immediately interested in the photograph, particularly after our lecture on photography. The Oxfam message is clear – overseas aid isn’t working. I did think though, that there could be a white western person standing there, holding food from a food bank, and the message could still be relevant – a campaign waiting to happen!

As for objectivity, every viewer when looking at this photograph will see something different and the viewer, whether consciously aware of it or not, will bring a cultural, social and historical bias that means they will view the photo is a particular way.

In this photograph, gone is the Huxley and Lamprey approach to anthropomorphic photography. You do not feel that they have disregarded the person’s feelings. She is not naked, exposed, docile, scientific (traits of the photographs of aboriginal women from the Victorian scientists Huxley and Lamprey). If anything we can see the French anthropologist Bonaparte’s theories in this photo. In his book ‘Les Habitants de Suriname a Amsterdam’ (1884) his portraits of Indian women showed them in ‘festive costume of their people and from the viewpoint that highlighted her pensive beauty’ (Anne Maxwell, 1999, p44)

The photographer has captured, from my viewpoint, a strong, proud and beautiful woman. There is no trace of the helpless, starving, skeletal pictures that prompted ‘Live Aid’. Here is a woman who has been photographed from Thun’s perspective. He believed that it was a photographer’s duty to ‘use photographs as an accurate record of artefacts and clothing as they appeared in their original contexts, before they were sacrificed to the forces of cultural assimilation’ (Anne Maxwell, 1999, p52)
Thun also believed in natural lighting and made use of the developments in shutter speeds during the late 1800’s. The photograph above also uses light to enhance the natural setting behind the woman.

This photograph, with all the historical bias and cultural undertones, has been taken with western eyes in mind. The woman is dressed in the clothing of her culture. This might be seen as ‘ethnic’ clothing. Her jewellery is tasteful and works with the outfit (I know I sound cynical but western eyes will notice these aspects because of beauty and fashion advertising campaigns in the West)! I think as a result of the photograph (and the very clear written message), we take away with us the feeling that we are ‘on her side’ against greedy western democracies! What is really clever about the photograph is that although the woman holds her hands out (in an almost begging pose), her face and pose is still one of strength and pride. We don’t pity her, we agree with her and there is a feeling that we are ‘in this together’. It is difficult to separate the photograph from the words but it is clear that the photograph has to represent a strength and unapologetic posture that makes us believe that things are unfair and unequal for many of us irrespective of the hemisphere we live in and the colour of our skin.

Through history people have wanted to protect their land. You only have to look at the fences and hedges around modern gardens to realise the importance of this even today. The same feeling of ownership of space was probably just as important in Victorian Britain when a real ‘threat’ to land ownership occurred with the development of the railways. It was fascinating in the lecture to look back at maps of London and York before the onset of the railway system. At first the railways must have been seen as the work of the devil, viewed with suspicion. How could anyone begin to comprehend a machine that would tear through the countryside so much faster than a horse! There is a quote in Jack Simmons’ book that sums up one landowners despair after seeing a railway engine for the first time – “That was a sight to have seen; but one I never care to see again! How much longer shall knowledge be allowed to go on increasing?” Jack Simons – The Victorian Railway (1991).
It’s amazing how some arguments repeat. In 1832, the London and Birmingham railway company were trying to build their railway but surveyors had to map out the route at night for fear of gangs, recruited by landowners, trying to keep the rails off their property. They were desperate to keep their land – as Sir Astley Cooper stated: “You are proposing to cut up our estates in all directions for the purpose of making an unnecessary road,” (Quote taken from BBC News Magazine 2010)
In December last year, newspapers were reporting that the Government were ignoring the impact HS2 (the high speed link from London to Birmingham) would have on landowners who are increasingly losing land. The difference between then and now is that landowners have to wade through a 50,000 page document, prepared by the government which is supposed to put landowners minds at rest!

So will history will repeat itself? The HS2 will probably be built, but the government will have to pay landowners huge amounts of compensation just as the London and Birmingham Company spent a fifth of its entire share capital paying off landowners in 1837. One thing I guarantee will not repeat itself – the timescale! The Victorian line was up and running just six years after the proposal had first been put to Parliament. The HS2 will take approximately 20 years to build and there is little doubt that the railway has and will have a huge impact on our landscape and our lives. Some people simply could not function without the railway network taking them to and from work, not just in this country, but all over the world. But I can’t help thinking that there is some truth in Michael Freeman’s words: “Distance, of course, will no longer figure in the maps, but time will be the substitute. ‘How many miles?’ will be altered into ‘How many minutes?’ (pp 78,1992) We can never go back to narrow horizons and a time when life was always slow. I have less space around me than ever before and yet I can reach more places than ever before – does that mean I can get to more space more quickly or more places with less space? Think I need a railcard to find out!