Mediations and Hybridizations:The Revenge of the Cultures

Chapter 11

Return to the Singular

Although the new philosophy of globalization inspired by geostrategies of the world economy came into vogue in the 1980s, there also emerged parallel visions of the world that were poles apart from such views.

As the world system” deployed itself, connecting various societies with the products and networks destined to function at a universal level, other approaches to the transnationalization of culture, more concerned to restore its character as a process of multiple interactions, also came into being. What concerns us here are the responses of individual societies to the prospect of the reorganization of social relations brought about by new apparatuses of transnational communication that simultaneously destructure and restructure national and local space. These responses range from resistance to mimicry, from adaptation to reappropriation. In short, questions were now being asked about the processes of resignification” by which the innumerable hookups to the networks that make up the fabric of globalization acquired a meaning for each community. Through this return to differences and to processes of differentiation, international communication” is thus finally beginning to be conceived in terms of culture.

This is a return to cultures, territories, and particular spaces, as well as to concrete subjects and to intersubjective relations. Since the 1970s, critical research on the intercultural balance of forces had dealt above all with logics of deterritorialization and had favored the examination of the strategies of macrosubjects such as nation-states, major international bodies, or the new transnational economic groups-but also large-scale institutions representing the working class, such as parties and unions.


More recent critical approaches are attentive to the logics of reterritorialization or relocalization-that is to say, all the processes of mediation and negotiation that are played out between the singular and the universal and between the plurality of cultures and the centrifugal forces of the world market, but also between different ways of conceiving the universal. For despite the hegemonic concerns underlying mercantile conceptions of cosmopolitanism, one of the major points of theoretical rupture consisted in exploding the essentialist conception of the universal.” Consequently, the very geography of social actors taken into account by analysis was called into question. New historical subjects began to inhabit both theoretical references and reality itself. Other scientific disciplines were called upon and the monodisciplinary perspective was contested by cross-fertilizing viewpoints.

This sudden appearance of new ways of seeing not only the relation with the international” but also, more generally, the relation with the Other” took place in a context where theoretical ruptures had definitively lost any unambiguous meaning. The free circulation of skills and knowledge required by the new modes of social regulation introduced ambivalence as a major feature of the contemporary evolution of theory.

From Americanization to National Traditions

Two studies provide food for thought. The first is about the formation of the social group known in France as cadres,” that is, business executives. While published in 1982, it was mostly carried out in the 1970s: a time when business and its culture had not yet become the objects of a cult, and when numerous sociologists were concerned with the internal contradictions of corporations from a perspective not yet biased by the desire to master them for the needs of management. This study is the work of the sociologist Luc Boltanski of the Pierre Bourdieu research group. The second, undertaken in the second half of the 1980s, is the work of Philippe d’Iribarne, an engineer at the Ecole des Mines, a product of the elite Ecole Polytechnique, and director of the program Technology, Jobs, and Work” developed under the aegis of the CNRS, the French government research body. Its objective was to compare various national traditions” of corporate management.

In a chapter entitled The Fascination with America and the Importing of Management,” Boltanski wrote:

One cannot understand the postwar transformations affecting the social representation of cadres” if one is not aware of how much these changes owe to the importation of value systems, social technologies and standards of excellence of American origin which accompanied and sometimes preceded the realization of the Marshall Plan, or, to be more precise, the political and social conflicts within the bourgeoisie and petite bourgeoisie over the Americanization of French society.” … The introduction of human engineering and of American-style management accompanied economic changes The enterprise of modernizing the economic appara­tus is not just a technical matter. This modernization, partly in­spired by the American economic authorities, who stipulated, as a condition for the French to obtain funds, the formation of a group of indigenous managers, economically competent and politically reliable, presented itself explicitly as an endeavor to transform French society as a whole.1

What Boltanski brings out is the process by which a class structure was redistributed: how, putting multiple social technologies” to work, the group of cadres — a category that John Galbraith had been the first to try to grasp under the term technostructure” — became embodied in its institutions and finally had its existence recognized as an objective, eternal, and natural fact.

Philippe d’Iribarne, for his part, endorses that nature of things. Interrogating a sample group of managers in the United States, France, and Holland, he tried to uncover the sources of efficiency proper to each culture. Writing from the point of view of one seeking to mobilize enthusiasm for the economic war,” he rebels against the discourses and globalizing formulas taken from Japanese and American textbooks, and counterposes to them the specifics of national cultures:

What world are the advice-givers talking about when they people their books with an undifferentiated humanity-Japanese, Americans, or French, who, whether turners or accountants, are all melted down into the same vague category? These advice-givers certainly know that the passions that animate men of flesh and blood are often incomprehensible under foreign skies. How can they forget that the traditions in which each people is rooted fashion what its members revere and despise, and that one cannot govern without adapting to the diversity of values and customs?2

Thus he points out, for example, that French managers obey a logic of honor” (hence the title of his book) that causes them to make an infinite range of subtle distinctions between the noble and the base; that the American responds to the lure of gain and the passion for honesty; whereas the prudent Netherlander tries to bring different wills into agreement.

Through this reflection on the adaptation of management to individual conditions, a certain relativism is slowly introduced into the very heart of a science that sees itself as universal because it is modern.” This relativism is in tune with the search for organizational modes closer to the flexibility requirements of the network-corporation. Here is another passage from d’Iribarne:

The research we have been able to do in the three modern” societies of the United States, Holland, and France has not simply reminded us that modernity is not wholly triumphant and that traditions and particularisms are alive and well. It has profoundly transformed our perception of the relation between the modern and the traditional. One can say that the contractual system is simultaneously modern and traditional, that it relies on ways of being, of living in society, that we are accustomed to attributing exclusively to either modern societies or to traditional ones. The relation it establishes between, on the one hand, structures and procedures, and on the other, traditions, is a relation of synergy, not of competition.3

This is not isolated research. From Africa to India via Mexico, numerous investigations in the areas of labor economics, labor sociology, and industrial economics began in the 1980s to focus on the types of organization best able to draw on local cultures in order to be more efficient.4

Simple Techniques

In deliberately drawing a parallel, almost at random, between two studies representing two different positions but also two moments in the way of defining the international” and its relation to national cultures, we have deliberately tried to make apparent what the problematique of internationalization both won and lost in its passage from one perspective to another. Between the first and the second, the utopias that stimulated the desire for another kind of society had collapsed, and labor unions and working people’s struggles had grown weaker, whereas management had redefined its ideology and strategy, regaining the means to think and act.5 But this passage from one perspective to another also witnessed the rise to power of new professional strata, as the centrality of the working class and the workers’ movement crumbled.

What separates these two outlooks is essentially the fact that the social technologies of mobilization, identification, and classification described by Boltanski present themselves more and more as simple techniques.” This occurs as the strategic place of these new strata, who play a mediating role in matters of power and in social conflicts, is legitimated within the corporation as well as in society.

The conflicts and divergences within the corporation over the very definition of management,” however, attest to the fact that there remains scarcely any neutral zone. More than ever, the corporation is a place of contradictory interests and of clashing value systems. This is shown clearly by the vicissitudes of introducing non-Taylorist forms of organization - in particular participant management - into the corporation. The logic of the corporation’s citizens” (in Norbert Alter’s phrase), which tries to appropriate this mode of organization, collides with that of the policymakers,” who embody managerial logic and who see participation rather as a means of reaching an efficient and happy consensus” and a normalization of behaviors.” These actors’ logics, each of which represents a conception of the corporation, of the product, and of individual interest, conceive participation as a space of maneuver, of power relations, of struggles for influence. This leads Alter, a sociologist of organizations, to conclude that the return of ideology” is one of the characteristics of the modernist-participative” corporation, for the simple reason, in his words, that once the notion of participation becomes the cornerstone of the functioning of this type of enterprise … , struggles become ideological wrestling, because culture and cultural influence give players muscle and the right to define the field as well as the nature of participation.”6 In the light of these hypotheses, one better understands the strategic positions acquired by communication and corporate culture as forms of social recognition in permanent tension between two ways of practicing participation: on the one hand the project developed by the management of formalizing a responsible,” programmed,” rational,” and descending” participation, and on the other the project embodied by the group of corporate “citizens,” in favor of ascending” participation and management of creative disorder.”7

Felix Guattari attributes this reemergence of ideology to the necessity for the new agents of this development of integrated world capitalism” to assure the construction of the subject and of subjectivity. The structures that produce signs and subjectivity,” he writes, have overtaken the structures that produce goods, causing all singularity to pass under the domination of specialized equipment, professions, and frames of reference.”8

The Management Horizon

To grasp the ultimate implications of this sanitizing of specialized frames of reference” or social technologies” one must assess what has changed in the ways of posing the issue of mediators” or what might be called the median class.”

What has been eclipsed is quite simply any critical questioning of the role of carriers of knowledge and know-how in the redeployment of society and the economy. In the 1970s, this questioning was far from being the exclusive fiefdom of social critics. This is shown clearly by Michel Crozier, when, in his contribution to the Trilateral Commission’s report on the factors in the crisis of governability of liberal democracies,” he expressed worry about the flagrant imbalance between the weight acquired by traditional intellectuals, seen as troublemakers,” and the other intellectuals who place their knowledge in the service of the functioning of society.

Crozier wrote in 1975: A significant challenge comes from the intellectuals and related groups who assert their disgust with the corruption, materialism, and inefficiency of democracy and with the subservience of democratic government to monopoly capitalism.’” The attitude of these value-oriented intellectuals,” who devoted their energies to critiques and contributed to provoking a breakdown of traditional means of social control, a delegitimation of political and other forms of authority,” contrasted, by Crozier’s own admission, with that of the also increasing numbers of technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals.”9

At the root of this diagnosis of the delegitimation of the traditional means of social control” was the idea-soon to gain currency-that the media had a great impact on the evolution of opinion concerning the Vietnam War, and also had influenced the memory of the challenge to that war in the West, in a context of generalized protest against the international system and the social order. Zbigniew Brzezinski, prefacing the report of Crozier and his colleagues, spoke of widespread disarray, and of pessimism regarding the evolution of Western societies: In some respects, the mood of today is reminiscent of that of the early twenties, when the views of Oswald Spengler regarding The Decline of the West’ were very popular.”

To mitigate this crisis afflicting the very form of the democracies of North America, Europe, and Japan and making them ungovernable,” the 1975 report made the following recommendation:

In due course, beginning with the Interstate Commerce Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act, measures had to be taken to regulate the new industrial centers of power and to define their relations to the rest of society. Something comparable appears to be now needed with respect to the media. Specifically, there is a need to ensure to the press its right to print what it wants without prior restraint except in most unusual circumstances. But there is also the need to assure to the government the right and the ability to withhold information at the source.10

Since history often travels by detours, it would take more than fifteen years for this prophetic recommendation to be realized, with the shackling of the news media by the military authorities during the Gulf War of January and February 1991 — as I have already pointed out. To justify it, the authorities of military censorship would invoke precisely the need to not repeat the media excesses of the Vietnam War. Between the Vietnam War and 1991, deregulation, actively consented to by the state, had shown that it was not necessary, in order to regulate the dysfunctions of democracy,”11 to resort on an everyday basis to the direct intervention of state power; to find new means of social control,” it was sufficient to shift society’s center of gravity to an entrepreneurial logic.

The rise of the so-called postindustrial society only accelerated the upsetting of the relationship between traditional intellectuals and the others, causing the balance to tilt definitively to the side of the latter. In 1967, Daniel Bell, in his initial analyses of this type of society, had foreseen that it would be characterized as follows: The whole structure of social prestige is rooted in intellectual and scientific communities.” 12 As we have already stated, however, Bell was convinced that this ascension of the new bearers of knowledge and know-how could only be accomplished under the protection of the state. The information society circumscribed by the market caused this predicted outcome to give way gradually to the logics of management and managers.13

As a last resort, all these ideological evolutions — since one must dare to call things by their names — resulted in the undermining of the idea that we were entering what the philosopher Gilles Deleuze called, after William Burroughs, control societies,” and what Michel Foucault called disciplinary mechanism” societies, to differentiate them from the old discipline-blockade” societies. The crisis of the corporate regime as a milieu of disciplinary confinement is the same as in all closed spaces (prisons, schools, hospitals). The resolution of the crisis in one site often accompanies its resolution in another, as if there, too, integration were becoming the norm. The introduction of the corporation into all levels of schooling is merely the most flagrant illustration of this. The forms of these sociotechnical mechanisms of flexible control and the speed at which they are instituted vary little from one institution to another, although the factory, contrary to what the hegemonic culture of leisure might cause us to think, constitutes, at this stage at least, the model.

Gilles Deleuze, who is poles removed from enchantment with managerial communication and cultural discourses on the transformation of the corporation, writes:

The family, school, army, factory, are no longer distinct analogous milieux which converge in a proprietor, state or private, but rather coded instances, deformable and transformable, of the same enterprise, which has only managers We are taught that business corporations have souls, which is indeed the most terrifying news in the world. Control is short-term and in rapid rotation, but also continuous and unlimited, whereas discipline was long-lasting, infinite and discontinuous. Man is no longer imprisoned, but indebted. It is true that capitalism has kept as constant the extreme misery of three quarters of the world, too poor for debt, too numerous for imprisonment; control will not only have to confront the dissipation of frontiers, but also the explosions of the slums and ghettos The rings of a snake are even more complicated than the holes of a mole-hill.14

Whether one likes it or not, the era of the information society and industry is also (when we look beyond the myopic gaze of its prophets) the production of mental states, the colonization of the mind. This requires us to think through in a different way the question of freedom and democracy. Political freedom cannot remain simply the right to exercise one’s will. The increasingly fundamental problem is how that will can be formed. Unless we abandon the well-established belief that the fate of democracy resides completely in the media, we can scarcely hope to begin answering the question left up in the air by Deleuze, regarding the gradual and diffuse institution of a new regime of domination” and the uncertainty concerning forms of resistance. This is true as well for intellectuals, who are more and more in the grip of managerial positivism, a new utilitarianism that stimulates the search for epistemological tools capable of circumscribing the potential zones of conflict and diminishing tensions through technical solutions.

An Alternative Modernity?

The theories of linear modernization expressed the Western vision of modernity. Its predictions were not realized. The political and economic forms inspired by modernization/development all failed.

Taking note of this patent failure, anthropologists started to investigate critically how political scientists, historians, and sociologists had posed the relation between transnational cultural flows and national” cultures in the so-called Third World. Their central hypothesis was that the intensification of the circulation of cultural flows engendered by the process of transnationalization does not lead to a homogenization of the globe, but to a world more and more hybridized.” (Some preferred the term creolized.”)

Two scenarios seemed possible to these anthropologists regarding the long-term effects of transnational cultural flows. Either the transnational cultural mechanisms will continue to weigh indefinitely on the sensibilities of peoples on the periphery, subjected more and more to imported meanings and forms from which local cultures will hardly distinguish themselves, to the point of blending with them. Or else, with time, the imported forms will be tempered and recycled by local cultures. In reality, these two scenarios are woven together.15 The Indian anthropologist Arjun Appadurai writes:

The globalization of culture is not the same as its homogenization, but globalization involves the use of a variety of instruments of homogenization (armaments, advertising techniques, language hegemonies, and clothing styles) which are absorbed into local political and cultural economies, only to be repatriated as heterogeneous dialogues of national sovereignty, free enterprise and fundamentalism in which the state plays an increasingly delicate role: too much openness to global flows, and the nation-state is threatened by revolt-the China syndrome; too little, and the state exits the international stage, as Burma, Albania and North Korea in various ways have done. In general, the state has become the arbitrator of this repatriation of difference (in the form of goods, signs, slogans and styles). But this repatriation or export of the designs and commodities of difference continuously exacerbates the internal politics of majoritarianism and homogenization which is most frequently played out in debates over heritage.16

Appadurai even dared to speak of alternative modernity.” This idea is borne out by studies of advertising and the building of consumer communities” in India where, contrary to what had happened in the West where the ideology of nationalism had preceded the arrival of advertising techniques, the development of advertising took place contemporaneously and synergetically with it. These studies noted the rapid emergence of middle classes with a significant disposable income and cosmopolitan tastes, and the explosion of efforts on the part of businessmen to diminish the gap between signs and dream and between products and markets. In a similar vein of research, Brazilian anthropologists undertook to retrace the history of the modern tradition” in their country, in the words of Renato Ortiz, taking as their thread the genesis of the cultural industry and the national market for cultural goods.17 It is an admixture of the modern and the traditional, as witnessed by a remarkable alloying of mass culture and popular cultures in the products of Brazil’s highly competitive television industry, which succeeds in combining postmodernity and signs of the preindustrial.18 Brazil even outperforms countries such as France in the world market for programs. This leads Ortiz to conclude his study with these words:

The debate on the national takes on a different significance. Until now, it was limited to the internal frontiers of the Brazilian nation Today, it is transformed into an ideology to justify action by corporate leaders on the world market. This is no doubt the reason why there has been no major difference between the sales discourse for the telenovela and the arguments of arms dealers on the export market (Brazil is the fifth world producer), since the two are seen exclusively as national products. I would say, then, that this marks a new stage in Brazilian society, making it impossible to return to the old opposition between colonizer and colonized with which we are accustomed to operate.19

To put this so-called alternative modernization into perspective, and to avoid being deceived by a new myth, we have still to complete this vision of modernity, based on the progress of classes and social categories integrated into its system of rewards, with other logics-those of segregation, which within the same social reality have not ceased to grow. To characterize it, Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells has even employed the notion of new dependence.” The new model of world development provokes a progressive detachment of segments of economies, cultures, societies, countries, and social groups, all of which cease having a functional and economic interest in the system as a whole, being too poor to constitute markets and too culturally backward to serve as a work force in a productive system founded on information. All societies in search of an alternative modernity” are also societies of uncontrolled modernity-uncontrolled for those segments that remain outside the global economy functioning as a unit in daily real time. The basic process experienced by what we call the Third World,” writes Manuel Castells,

is its disintegration as a relatively homogeneous entity. South Korea or Singapore is closer to Europe in terms of economic and social development than to the Philippines or Indonesia. Even more important is the fact that Sao Paulo is further away socially from Recife than from Madrid. And that in the state of Sao Paulo itself, the Avenida Paulista and the working-class city of Osasco belong to different socioeconomic constellations, not only in terms of social inequality, but also in terms of cultural dynamics and segmentation Therefore, the story begins in the context of the segregation of a large portion of the population of the planet, not in the dangerously simplified terms of North vs. South, but in a more complex and insidious way.20

This logic of social segmentation is taken for granted and accepted by the heads of global advertising and marketing firms, who do not hesitate to draw strategic lessons from it.21

The sectors of society thus rejected by the global network of discriminatory interdependence” supply recruits to the new front of planetary disorder,” in the phrase of the geopolitical specialist Michel Foucher,22 with its many expressions, such as drug trafficking and money-laundering; collective explosions of looting, which target the sanctuaries of consumption; the irrational appeals to cultural, ethnic, or religious identities; the rise of fundamentalisms that, paradoxically, have incorporated into their strategy both the most modern means of communication and the innumerable suicidal weapons of the excluded, not to mention the rise in would-be political saviors, packaged with the aid of the audiovisual media, who fill the void left by the crisis of political representation.

But above all, there is a new everyday disorder that has turned the culture of violence into a normal dimension of life. A Peruvian theater critic wrote in 1990 that the crisis has ended up inhabiting the most intimate sphere of our daily life. The pauperization and the semi-proletarianization of the middle class, as well as the fall in the consumption level of the popular strata, have produced a series of spontaneous responses to the crisis, giving rise to a new urban, social, and cultural ecology, in which we begin to see our own reflection.”23

These everyday experiences are precisely what transnational communications apparatuses rarely convey, since they are more accustomed to covering police operations against drug trafficking than to expressing how Third World people might continue to maintain their dignity, even though every threshold of violence has been exceeded.

These media representations of the other as agent of the fronts of disorder” lodged themselves in a social reality in which the way of experiencing the Third World has changed completely. The heroic idea of the faraway Third World of the 1960s has given way to a Third World represented as the experience of minorities on the home territory, product of the great diasporas of the labor market. It is an experience bristling with sensitive zones, always ready to explode into crises, into cultural conflict, against the background of rising political and religious fundamentalisms and fanaticisms. The situation has become all the more complex in that the extreme right has turned inside out the right to difference-what Pierre-Andre Taguieff calls differentialism,” a touchstone of anti-racist thought-and now uses it to preach exclusion of the foreigner” and the revival of the idea of the nation as patrimony and fatherland.24

The anthropologists’ new formulations about the possibility of an alternative modernity” suggest the aptitude of societies and their various components to deviate, corrupt, and pervert the instruments by which this difference was relegated to the margins.

This line of research, which expresses a movement toward the reappropriation of particular histories, also inspires studies that in the 1980s began to examine the unequal exchange between mass culture and the experience of popular cultures. This is especially true of research on television genres of national or regional origin, and particularly genres belonging to the great tradition of melodrama as it appears in Egyptian serials, Latin-American telenovelas, or the cinema of India, the most prolific producer in the world.25 What this sort of study is trying to understand is the capacity of this type of narrative to create veritable states of catharsis on the scale of an entire country, if not a whole continent, and to mobilize its effects. Beyond case studies, a whole field of investigation has opened up on the formation of national identity and national-popular cultures, a question already taken up by Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s; on the confrontation between these cultures and transnational networks; and finally, on the role of intellectuals in all these processes of acculturation.

Another dynamic that contributed in many Third World countries to the renewal of theoretical questions was the rise of communication networks and popular or participatory” education. This kind of communication, which employs various media from video to radio and the traditional printed forms, goes hand in hand with the search for types of self-organization by which new social actors try to assume the management of their own affairs, in a context where the state has ceased to provide welfare, if it ever did. Of course, these microexperiences do not always avoid the trap of basism,” a constitutive element of the history of quests for alternative communication” everywhere. (“Base” is used here in the sense of grassroots”; basism” is thus an exaggerated concern with the preferences and desires of participants.)

In any case, the point to be emphasized about the rise of the networking conception of social organization, as implemented by diverse nongovernmental organizations, is that it has begun to stimulate new forms of international exchange between North and South and between South and South, originating from civil society. This has the merit of laying the basis for reflection on an international third space” (as in Third Estate) that, if we were to daydream, might find a place between intermarket logics and interstate logics that mediate respectively the pragmatism of the merchant and the Realpolitik of the prince fettered by the reason of state.26 This reflection is all the more crucial in that to the search for a redefinition of North-South relations has now been added a search to redefine those between East and West. There is a need to construct ties other than those determined by the expansionary logic of a world market already too accustomed to reducing freedom to the freedom of commercial expression and citizens’ rights to consumer sovereignty.

Solitary Pleasures

As we have already noted, in the redeployment of free enterprise the consumer is the keystone. He or she is at once, as coproducer,” one of the links in the production process and, as representative of the people-as-market (peuple-marche), the key to the process of legitimation of the neoliberal conception of society. For it is not a matter of just any consumers, but rather of consumers who are sovereign in their choices in a free market. Neoliberalism, in its struggle against all forms of control (except of course its own, those of free enterprise), whether they emanate from the state or from organized civil society, reveals itself as a form of neopopulism as well. Thus it experiences the constant need to reaffirm the representativity of consumers in their role as market shares. It speaks in their names. Hostage and alibi, this consumer has, indeed, the starring role on the stage of the democratic marketplace; he or she is a citizen” of it. The discourse built around the consumer, a consumer free of all attachments and determinations other than his or her own will, claims such authority that it often becomes a totalizing discourse, one leaving no place for other issues than those related to consumption. Consumption is assumed to contain within itself its own explanation and raison d’etre.

This logic, which seeks to rehabilitate the consumer and represents a new situation in societies subject to the laws of the market, does not facilitate the critical apprehension of the different and contradictory theoretical movements that developed since the early 1980s around the status of the consumer as receiver or user of the media and of communicating machines. In an age when the theme of reception is quite widespread, so frequent are the efforts to make us believe that the return to the consumer is necessarily interesting in itself and constitutes a fundamental break with the past, that one often forgets to question the reasons for the evolution of these approaches and the origin of their diversity. To justify the celebration of this return to the consumer and user, however, it does not suffice to cite a whole series of studies illustrating this phenomenon. For those who do not wish to dance exclusively to the reception” tune, it is necessary to clear up a few ambiguities, and this requires us to return to the past.

Who can deny that the problem of reception upset the old-style functionalist research? As Wilbur Schramm admitted in 1983, shortly before his death: It is illuminating to think of communication as a relationship built around the exchange of information. The process of exchange is more likely to resemble a biological than a physical one, to make a difference in both parties, to change the relationship rather than changing one participant.”27

But it is to Elihu Katz that we should turn for an example of research that claimed to be innovative in the field of reception studies from a functionalist perspective. In the course of the 1980s, Katz and his collaborators performed a series of investigations in an effort to discern the different ways in which receivers of diverse ethnic origins, such as Palestinians living in Israel, Moroccan Jews, and Americans of Los Angeles, decoded the television serial Dallas, the product par excellence of a culture supposedly universal in range. Their main observation was that the readings were very diverse, and that each reading was a function of the nature of the viewer’s implication in the serial, which was related, in turn, to the manner in which each viewer’s culture constructed the role of the viewer. The study in itself combines empiricist attention to detail and a certain myopia caused by its theoretical poverty.28 From this point of view, the judicious criticism addressed to Katz by James W. Carey and James Halloran in the late 1970s, when his expertise was sought by the BBC, had said everything there was to say regarding the merits and failings of this type of approach.

For this research adopts a conceptual framework that is not so new. It is the culmination of a long evolution in which two things are at stake, since it operates on two fronts. The first is the one opened up in the 1950s by the theory of the two-step flow, and is directed against the Lasswellian theory of the media (“Who says what to whom on which channel with what effect?”). To the question: What effects do the media produce on society, groups, and people?,” Katz counterposed another interrogative chain: What do people, groups, and society do with the media?” This was the question that became more and more crucial to him beginning in the 1970s, to the point where it fueled a whole current of studies on the satisfactions of media users, which would be known as uses and gratifications.” These studies developed the notion of negotiated reading,” that is, a reading or reception in the course of which meaning and the effects it produces are born of the interaction between the program and the roles assumed by different types of viewers or readers. This new line of research would have broad repercussions not only in the United States but also and most notably in the United Kingdom.29

The second front aimed to refute the very idea of power as it had been developed by various critical traditions. This aim became increasingly important, as one could not avoid coming to terms with these traditions in posing the problem of international communication, and also because Lasswellian visions of the media were in decline. We need not insist on the disarray experienced by empiricist sociology in the face of the dysfunctions” occasioned by the debates on the new order and national communication policies and the absence of a discourse or analytic framework other than those closely complicit with the neoliberal philosophy of free flow of information and the free consumer in the free market-the free fox in the free chicken house.

Yet one may address to Katz’s reception studies exactly the same criticisms that Jean-Marie Piemme formulated in 1978, in a book that remains a classic, about the uses and gratifications theory: With Lasswell as well as Katz,” he wrote,

one finds juxtaposed two elements (the media on one side, people, groups, and society on the other) which are assumed to be autonomous, then one asks about their relation. This clearly means there was no initial effort to locate the media within the circumstances of the social formation. They are resented outside any structure and appear to engender on people/groups/society an effect sui generis, whose structural determinations and contradictions are ignored, as if they had nothing to do with the power relations that give the social formation its particular configuration. This theory seems oblivious to the fact that the media take part in social contradictions and that their effects are interventions that may either comfort or alter the existing balance of forces.30

All this has been known for a long time. The novelty resides in the role demanded of these studies-a role they intend to play31-in the current context of confusion, characterized by the lack of questioning of their epistemological status. Why continue to speak of power relations between audiovisual cultures and economies when the way people decode this supposedly ecumenical” serial (but not timeless, since the producers of Dallas decided to suspend it in 1991!) proves that they have a formidable power, that of conferring meaning: here is an argument, drawn from this type of study, that serves to shunt aside all the issues raised in the conflictual history of communication, its theories and their uses, ever since the first concept of communication was forged.

Such issues are also passed over in silence by the ethnographic variety of research on audiences, which flourished in the 1980s, particularly in major industrial countries where old conceptions of vertical and monolithic power had been abandoned. It, too, isolated the problem of reception while exaggerating the power of receivers and overestimating the value of the direct, negotiated encounter between offer” and demand.” While claiming not to belong explicitly to the functionalist tradition, in fact this type of ethnographic research revalidated its premises and endorsed, like other currents, the idea of the absolute freedom of the consumer in the choice of meaning.” 32

Following on the determinist conception of the abstract consumer dear to the structuralist research of the 1960s and 1970s-in which the consumer, lacking a voice, was subject to the imperative of a structure, and the broadcaster was no less abstract-this new version of empiricism brings us receivers so concrete that one forgets which society they live in, thus concealing both the tree and the forest. And this is happening at a time when the process of Taylorization of consumption is making palpable the need for information about a receiver who is both the point of departure and the end point for strategies of globalization and the infinite segmentation of targets and markets. It was as if, in this contemporary hybrid reality, ethnography retained only one strategy, that of personalization: the contingent, the singular against the global. What is clearly wrong with this approach is not so much its attention to the minute detail of procedures, a quality one can only praise because it undermines the old determinisms of all stripes, as its willful or forced extrapolation to the world-space in order to deny the latter’s inegalitarian logics.

This ethnographic vision is a good partner for the postmodernist conception of audiences, in which the television viewer, in insouciant nonchalance, operates shrewdly in media spaces. In this universe of nonsense where everything is equivalent to everything else, the new relativism completes its cycle.33 It is careful not to ask why certain problems are well studied and others are less so, or even totally ignored.


The new empiricisms of consumption fortunately do not exhaust the theoretical and practical upheavals that have occurred in this field. There are other responses to this crisis of the macroscopic conception of power. Competing traditions of research have formulated differently the problems of the reception of television programs and the construction of their meanings by the public(s).

Here, there is definitely a break with preceding decades. What is new is that the problem of reception and use has become impossible to evade. Well before it was widely recognized as important, this concern for reception and uses had its pioneers. For example, there was the British author Richard Hoggart, whose first book, published in 1957, was significantly entitled The Uses of Literacy. It was one of the first studies of the evolution of the culture of the popular classes under the influence of modern mass culture.34 Hoggart himself belongs to the antipositivist tradition of the study of cultural forms and relations initiated in the 1920s by F. R. Leavis.

Another venerable tradition of literary research raised questions about the role of receivers long before the sorcerer’s apprentices of communication. It defined literary work metaphorically as encounter” (R. Ingarden), dialogue” (M. Bakhtin), convergence” (H. R. Jauss), or interaction” (W. Iser) between the text and the reader.35 Jean-Paul Sartre, whose role as precursor in the reorientation of literary studies is undeniable, made the relation between the reader and the text the essential starting point for answering the question What Is Literature?” (1947).

The institution of the theme of reception and uses, or of the receiver and users, as the norm in communication research, took place under the effect of very different logics. We have already alluded to the industrial ones. Social logics, insofar as it is possible to separate them from the latter, refer to the new conditions under which democratic life is organized. For those who wish not to reduce the problem to an equation of supply and demand, the theme of the active role of the receiver and user is indissociable from questions raised by citizens organized in civil society about the possibilities of exercising a real democratic control over the new flows and new networks. The notion of use concerns not only what one can do with television programs, but the utilization of all the technological tools of the new mode of communication. We are beyond the stage of posing the problem in the simple and unequivocal terms of state control over such tools.

It would be illusory to look for a single body of critical knowledge that systematizes this return to the user. At best one can sketch some traits that identify the origin of these new hypotheses and distinguish them clearly from the new empiricist currents.

The point of departure of the new critical theory of social uses is first of all a position confronting the idea of order and control with the reality. Its corollary is the idea that this order — that of the state and the market — and its multiple networks can be appropriated and diverted by its users, and that there is no passive consumption. The new critical thought on uses and users inevitably returns, then, to a conception of power and counterpower. If society is made up of apparatuses that produce control and constraint, adhesion and conformity, it is also made up of discreet ruses, inexhaustible tactics, subtle reappropriations and evasions, makeshift constructions, poachings, and unforeseen uses that preserve, even in submission, the inalienable freedom of the ordinary person, the man without qualities,” the common hero,” target of all efforts at domestication.

Michel de Certeau, historian, linguist, psychoanalyst, and ethnologist, made it his project in the late 1970s to advance some hypotheses about what he called the invention of everyday life.” In counterpoint to the strategies of Foucault, who analyzed society’s networks of surveillance in Discipline and Punish, de Certeau speaks of networks of antidiscipline,” revealed by everyday practices or ways of doing”: those tactics or operations” of users that constitute the active process by which, out of products and norms, they manufacture their own styles. Consumption becomes the art of using products. Statistical analyses of the time spent in front of the TV set, or the number of books sold, and content analyses of broadcasts, tell us little about the receiver, since there is no equivalence between the product disseminated and the product consumed. One must thus study the everyday practices of users in a logic of production or appropriation, no longer just in a logic of reproduction.36

Obviously we should not look to a historian for a methodological answer, in the American sense of the term, to the question of how to study daily practices. Intuitive and poetic, de Certeau’s thought does not deliver tools for grasping these indomitable practices and thus it does not open the door to a control and surveillance of users by revealing predictable patterns of behavior. This is doubtless one of his virtues, at a time when the exhaustive study of audiences aims to measure the user’s smallest acts and gestures in order to chart the inputs and outputs of cultural production. De Certeau’s importance is elsewhere: it lies in providing a counterweight to those analyses that privilege invariant factors and social determinisms, and in reminding us that a common error is to analyze the effects of power by beginning with power itself, its acts and its perspectives, rather than with those who are subjected to it.

The trap here is clearly that of underestimating the importance of the great industrial and financial strategies, as well as the geopolitical stakes of industrial production of culture and communication. But Michel de Certeau does not see this as his concern. He leaves that to Foucault, whom he criticizes for having constructed an overly coherent system, while nonetheless subscribing to the new perspectives opened up by Foucault’s examination of contemporary technology of observation and discipline,” the organizer of spaces and languages. And since in de Certeau’s work, and contrary to the empiricist approach, the examination of practices does not imply a return to social atomism-his project being not psychological, but sociological, involving the study of modes of action and not the individuals who carry them out-there are no grounds for holding de Certeau responsible for a lack of analysis of the macrosocial outer lining of network society. For the person who goes to the trouble of seeking further, his decisive contribution consists not only in informing studies of consumption practices” but also in obliging us to adopt a different outlook on the formation of apparatuses of mass cultural production.

Fools imagine,” wrote Marcel Proust, that the large dimensions of social phenomena are a fine occasion to penetrate further into the human soul; they should understand, on the contrary, that it is by plunging into the depths of individuality that they have a chance of understanding these phenomena.” 37

The model of the plural should be sought in the singular: this claim was also made by Gabriel Tarde, for whom the history of societies repeats, on a larger scale, the history of individuals-against a Durkheim who postulated that the collective is not reducible to the individual. Nearly a century has passed, and this tension still exists. But the conviction that it is difficult to understand one without the other has at least cut tracks in the analysis of the supranational social relation, even if it has not opened broad avenues.

University of Minnesota Press, 1992; G. Vattimo, La societe transparente, Paris, Desclee de Brouwer, 1990.

  1. L. Boltanski, Les cadres: La formation d’un groupe social, Paris, Minuit, 1982, p.155. Translated as: The Making of a Class: Cadres in French Society, trans. Arthur Gold­ hammer, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987.↩︎

  2. Philippe d’lribarne, La logique d’honneur: Gestion des entreprises et traditions nationales, Paris, Seuil, 1989, p. 9.↩︎

  3. Ibid., p. 263.↩︎

  4. For example: J. Ruffier, La gestion de l’automatisarion: Un modele mexicain,” Revue Francaise de Gestion, no. 64, September-October 1987; Dossier, Marketing et pays en voie de developpement,” Revue Francaise de Marketing, no. 2, 1987.↩︎

  5. P. Fridenson and A. Straus, eds., Le capitalisme francais, Paris, Fayard, 1987.↩︎

  6. N. Alter, La participation: Piege a innovation?,” Prospective et Telecom, Lettre du service de la prospective et des etudes economiques (SPES), Paris, Direction generale des telecommunications, no. 11, May 1987.↩︎

  7. Alter, La participation.”↩︎

  8. F. Guattari, Les nouveaux mondes du capitalisme,” Liberation, December 22, 1987.↩︎

  9. M. Crozier et al., Introduction to The Crisis of Democracy, New York, New York University Press, 1975, pp. 7-8.↩︎

  10. M. Crozier et al., Appendix I. Discussion of Study during Plenary Meeting of the Trilateral Commission,” ibid., p. 182.↩︎

  11. Conclusion,” ibid., p. 161.↩︎

  12. D. Bell, Notes on the Post-Industrial Society,” The Public Interest, Winter 1967.↩︎

  13. On the evolution of the intellectual classes in the major industrial countries, see R. Miliband and L. Panitch, coordinators, The Retreat of the Intellectuals, London, Merlin Notes to Chapter 11 281 Press, 1990; A. and M. Mattelart, Part 3: Intellectuals and Media Culture: Redefining the Relationship,” in Rethinking Media Theory, trans. J. Cohen and M. Urquidi, Minneapolis,↩︎

  14. G. Deleuze, Les societes de contr6le,” L’Autre Journal, May 1990. By the same au­ thor, Pourparlers, Paris, Minuit, 1990.↩︎

  15. U. Hannerz, Notes on the Global Ecumene,” Public Culture l, no. 2, Spring 1989.↩︎

  16. A. Appadurai, Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” Public Culture 2, no. 2, Spring 1990, p. 16.↩︎

  17. R. Ortiz, A moderna tradisao brasileira, Sao Paulo, Editora Brasiliense, 1988.↩︎

  18. M. and A. Mattelart, The Carnival of Images: Brazilian Television Fiction, New York, Bergin & Garvey (Greenwood Press), 1990.↩︎

  19. Ortiz, A moderna tradisao brasileira, p. 206.↩︎

  20. M. Castells, Le commencement de l’histoire,” Le Socialisme du Futur l, no. 2, 1990. By the same author, High Technology and the New International Division of Labour,” International Labour Review, October 1989; and, in collaboration with R. Laser­ na, The New Dependency,” Sociological Forum, Summer 1990.↩︎

  21. See A. Mattelart, Advertising International: The Privatisation of Public Space, trans.M. Chanan, London-New York, Routledge, Comedia Series, 1991, chaps. 8 and 9.↩︎

  22. M. Foucher, in Liberation, special edition entitled La Nouvelle Planete.”↩︎

  23. H. Salazar del Alcazar, El teatro peruano de los 80: las marcas de la historia y de la violencia de estos dfas,” Conjunto!Casa de las Americas, January-March 1990, p. 38.↩︎

  24. P.-A. Taguieff, La force du prejuge, Paris, La Decouverte, 1988.↩︎

  25. By way of illustration: J. Martin Barbero, De los medios a las mediaciones, Barcelona, Gustavo Gili, 1987; A. Rajadhyaksha, Neo-Traditionalism: Film as Popular Art in India,” Framework, no. 32, 1986. The journal Telos (Madrid) published a mono­ graphic issue on new trends in research in Latin America (September-November 1989), as did Media, Culture & Society (no. 4, 1988).↩︎

  26. See R. Kothari, New Social Forces,” Development Seeds of Change, no. 1, 1985; P. Waterman, Is the People’s Flag Deepest Red … or Brightest Green? Reflections on the New Social Movements Internationally,” Philippine Quarterly of Third World Studies 2, no. 3, 1987. Also see the final declaration of the International Conference of International Organizations: The Manila Declaration on People’s Participation and Sustainable Development,” !FDA Dossier, Nyon, Switzerland, January-April 1990. Among the numerous publications illustrating the link between network and communication, see M. Gutierrez, coordinator, Video, tecnologia y comunicación popular, Lima, IPAL-Crocevfa, 1989.↩︎

  27. W. Schramm, The Unique Perspective of Communication: A Retrospective View,” Journal of Communication 33, no. 3, Summer 1983, p. 15.↩︎

  28. E. Katz and T. Liebes, Mutual Aid in the Decoding of Dallas,“ in P. Drummond and R. Paterson, coordinators, Television in Transition, London, British Film Institute (BFI), 1985.↩︎

  29. See in particular E. Katz, M. Gurevitch, and H. Haas, On the Uses of the Mass Media for Important Things,” American Sociological Review 38, 1973; J. Blumler and E. Katz, coordinators, The Uses and Gratification Approach to Mass Communication Research, Sage Annual Review of Communication Research, vol. 3, Beverly Hills, Calif., Sage, 1975.↩︎

  30. J. M. Piemme, La television comme on la parle, Brussels-Paris, Editions Labor/Fer­nand Nathan, 1978, p. 95.↩︎

  31. E. Katz, Apropos des medias et de leurs effets,” in Technologies et symboliques de la communication, ed. L. Sfez et al., Grenoble, Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 1990. 282 Notes to Conclusion↩︎

  32. To fuel the debate on the reconceptualization of the audience, see J. Fiske, Television Culture, London-New York, Methuen, 1987; J. Curran, The New Revisionism in Mass Communication Research: A Reappraisal,” European Journal of Communication 5, no. 2-3, June 1990; D. Morley, Television Audiences: Eight Cultural Studies, London, Rout­ ledge, 1992.↩︎

  33. For a critique, see P. Dahlgren, Media, Meaning and Method: A Post-Rational’ Perspective,” Nordicom Review, no. 2, 1985; I. Bondebjerg, Critical Theory, Aesthetics and Reception Research,” Nordicom Review, no. 1, 1988.↩︎

  34. R. Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy: Changing Patterns in English Mass Culture, Fair­ lawn, N.J., Essential Books, 1957.↩︎

  35. On the genealogy of research in Great Britain, see N. Garnham, Toward a Theory of Cultural Materialism,” Journal of Communication 33, no. 3, Summer 1983. On approaches to reception through literary studies see, for example, T. Todorov, Mikhail Bakhtine: Le principe dialogique, Paris, Seuil, 1980; H. R. Jauss, Pour une esthetique de la reception, Paris, Gallimard, 1978.↩︎

  36. M. de Certeau, L’invention du quotidien, vol. 1: Arts de faire, Paris, Folio/Essais, 1990 (first edition, 1980). Translated as The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1987. On networks, see M. de Certeau and L. Giard, L’ordinaire de la communication, Paris, Dalloz, 1983.↩︎

  37. Quoted in S. Gaubert, Proust ou le roman de la difference, Lyon, Presses Universi­taires de Lyon, 1980.↩︎

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