Digital Technology and Cultures/Birmingham School
The Birmingham School and The Digital Divide
The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies or CCCS for short was the heart of British cultural studies. Founded by Richard Hoggart in 1964, the Centre operated at the intersections of literary criticism, sociology, history, and anthropology. Rather than focus on ‘high’ culture, the intention was to carry out group research on areas of popular culture such as chart music, television programmes, and advertising. This approach went profoundly against the grain of conventional academic practice. The school went through a few directors including Stuart Hall, Richard Johnson, and Michael Green. The work that was produced at the Centre worked on many different intersections of study, such as sociology and literary criticism. In 2002, the school closed its door, as the senior management says the program needed restructuring (1).
Richard Hoggart- Born September 24th, 2018 in Leeds, Richard was from a working-class family. His began his career as an adult education tutor. His work The Uses Of Literacy published in 1957 would define his career. In this work, Hoggart wrote about the changing working class from the 1930's to the 1950's. He contrasted these two timeframes by separated them into two cultures:
"An “older” order’, describing the working class culture of Hoggart’s childhood in the 1930s; and ‘Yielding place to new’, describing a traditional working-class culture under threat from the new forms of mass entertainment of the 1950s. Dividing the book in this way in itself speaks volumes about the perspective taken and the conclusions expected. On the one hand, we have the traditional ‘lived culture’ of the 1930s. On the other, we have the cultural decline of the 1950s. (2) "
- The antagonist to the traditional working-class culture was the threat of new forms of mass entertainment of the 1950s. He refers to the pleasures of mass entertainment as irresponsible and vicarious. Hoggart noted that the working-class did have a great natural ability to survive change by excepting what they want and ignoring the rest. In the book, " Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction" by John Storey he writes that "Hoggart can be criticized for his romanticism of the 1930's in order to that that his picture of the 1950's is exaggeratedly pessimistic and overdrawn." The rich life of his childhood seemed to be exponentially ruined by the popular culture of the 1950s. In Richard Hoggart's book, "The uses of literacy" he writes about what he sees as the relationship between these two cultures:
"Having a good time’ may be made to seem so important as to override almost all other claims; yet when it has been allowed to do so, having a good time becomes largely a matter of routine. The strongest argument against modern mass entertainments is not that they debase taste – debasement can be alive and active – but that they overexcite it, eventually dull it, and finally kill it. . . . They kill it at the nerve, and yet so bemuse and persuade their audience that the audience is almost entirely unable to look up and say, ‘But in fact, this cake is made of sawdust’ (3).
Stuart Hall- Born February 3rd, 1932, in Kingston, Jamacia, In 1964, Hall joined the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, became the acting director in 1968, then fully took over in 1972. (4)
Hall was very interested in the crisis of identity and what that meant culturally. In his journal italicsIdentity in Questionitalics, Hall writes about the 3 types of identities we have.
- Enlightenment Subject: A human person as a fully centered, unified individual, endowed with the capacities of reason, consciousness, and action, whose "center consisted of an inner core which first emerged when the subject was born. (5)
- Sociological Subject: A human person who reflected the growing complexity of the modern world and the awareness that this inner core of the subject was not autonomous and self-sufficient. Formed in relation to the significant others who mediated to the subject values, meaning, and symbols the culture of the world she/he have. (5)
- Post-Modern Subject: A human subject that conceptualized as having no fixed essential or permanent identity. Identity formed and transformed continuously in relation to the ways we are represented or addressed in cultural systems which surround us. (5)
These three types of identity that Hall laid out are the process in which we project ourselves. In the enlightenment subject, this is where we build out primary discourse. We begin to decipher whats good and bad or right and wrong. In the sociological subject, people are looking outwards outside of their primary discourse. We take from others people values, meaning, and symbols to make sense of our own. In the postmodern subject, a person is non-stop changing with the culture around him/her.
'Raymond Williams'- Born August 31st, 1921, in Lianfihangel Crucorney, Wales, Williams was a colleague of Hoggart and Hall at the Birmingham school of cultural studies. Raymond Williams was from a working-class welsh family, his father was a railway signalman. Throughout his career, Willians released several novels, literary and cultural studies journals, and short stories. In one of his most prolific works "The analysis of culture", Willams put cultural into three general categories:
- Ideal: Discovery of certain absolute or universal, high and low meaning and values. (6)
- Documentary: Culture is the body of intellectual and imaginative work, in a detailed way, human thought and experience are variously recorded. (6)
- Social: Culture is a description of a particular way of life.
- Within a given society, selection will be governed by many kinds of special interests, including class interests. Just as the actual social situation will largely govern contemporary selection, so the development of the society, the process of historical change, will largely determine the selective tradition. The traditional culture of a society will always tend to correspond to its contemporary system of interests and values, for it is not an absolute body of work but a continual selection and interpretation (5).
Cultural studies and the digital divide
The Birmingham school of cultural studies was focused on class, gender, race and the politics of representation. The digital divide is a problem in which people in poverty have a lack of access to quality technology and tend to have lower digital literacy skills. This phenomenon has been seen as a very complicated issue that is connected to race, education, and poverty. The lack of resources has a direct effect on literacy, to solve this problem the cultural theorist believed that cultural practices such as digital literacy should be studied within the culture. Each of these cultural theorists would look at the digital divide differently, for instance, Richard Hoggart who was a purist thinks that these pleasures of mass entertainment do nothing but ruin culture and forces them to adapt to the changes. The tech of the 1950's ruined the culture he knew as a child. Although Hoggart was pessimistic about some technology advancements, he believed the working class had a strong ability to survive change. Stuart Hall, on the other hand, would look at the lack of resources as a threat to the identity of the postmodern subject. The digital divide keeps impoverished people away from the cultural systems that surround them. As the digital divide effects people in poverty, it also affects their digital identities in the communities that surround them. Raymond Williams focused a lot of his work on the marginalized, with his Marxist ideology the digital divide would be an important topic to him. Williams stood up for injustice and would see the digital divide as being a disadvantage to the disenfranchised.
1. "About CCCS: history and project." About the Birmingham CCCS - University of Birmingham. Accessed February 27, 2018. www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/historycultures/departments/history/research/projects/cccs/about.aspx
2. Storey, John. 2015. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture : An Introduction. London: Taylor and Francis. Accessed March 1, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.
3. Hoggart, Richard. 1957. The uses of literacy: aspects of working-class life. London: Penguin.
4. "Stuart Hall." Stuart Hall - University of Birmingham. Accessed February 29, 2018. www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/perspective/stuart-hall.aspx
5. Williams, Raymond. "The Analysis of Culture." The Long Revolution, 1961, 57-70.