Sunday, July 08, 2007

Last night was a diner for my cousin, who had turned 25 in the week and became engaged (it appears to be a disease going around, what with the St. Ives Correspondent also getting engaged through the week - something I'd like to voice my congratulations to him about before I speak to him in person). Attending this diner was family and friends. In all, around 30 or so spread across three tables (we were eating at a restaurant in Cronulla (a lot of my family are Shire-folk and haven't been outside of the boundaries that separate snob from bogan) which was very small) and took up around 70% of the place.

In preparation and research for my forth-coming post, I've been re-reading my sociology text books and articles I picked up along the way (I'm quite the hoarder and have every lecture note and textbook I've taken since day dot at university). The post that's coming is about communities and interrelatedness, as well as their relationship with identities and control and other stuff. Anyway, I had only just put down my Sociology: Themes and Perspectives when I headed there and started thinking about the party I was going to and the chapter I had only just finished: Media, identity and globalisation (yes, the act of a nerd).

The chapter, initially, looked at the early writings that were extremely pessimistic about how the media would be used to create a mass society where everyone was uniform in identity and isolated from the traditional 'groups' - family groups, 'friendship' groups and the 'community' (the world of personal loyalty and relationships (gemeinschaft by Tonnie) as opposed to the world of the impersonal market-based relationships which make up society (or gesellschaft, again by Tonnie)). Were the theorists (like Alexis de Tocqueville, Ferdinand Tonnies and Max Horkheimer) that "saw" this awful, market-driven and individualistic society correct? Are we that out-of-touch with the community, and now just one of the same, that these people were right?

No, I don't believe so. I think the theories that predicted this awful world of isolationism were quite a bit off because they had to contend with and struggle to understand developments, changes and technologies that did not exist in their times, nor could the writers understand what they were dealing with when things like computers and the early Internet etc. were released to the world. We don't even understand what effects technology that surrounds us yet, so how could these writers who had never seen them in action predict how we would turn out? The answers to to how positive or negative a world we have built will come in the form of my generation; how it develops, how it stands up against previous generations and where the world goes to from here. And that won't be evident soon: it will only become apparent when our parents and grandparents finally move over for the younger generation to take control.

The thought that triggered all of this was that I sometimes think that we are living in a society (gesellschaft) that is all about the individual. Then I thought about where I was going: a party. We, as a family and a group of friends, were celebrating another person in the sense that a community (gemeinschaft) would. The Thursday before, I saw my friend Andrew. The Monday I went to tea with Mr. Rabbit and the St. Ives Correspondent. The Saturday before that I was at a wedding for the Ombudsman, which was also a gathering of family and friends. All of these fly in the face of the individualistic notions of the sociologists who wrote about the 'future'.

And lets look a key piece of evidence that also disputes the early theories: the Internet. The Internet has its own community attached. Anyone who engages with it on a regular basis will know this and feels part of the community. The community they are attached might not be something big, perhaps just their blog and its handful of readers. On the other hand, you could be part of this massive community - a forum, an established chatroom, maybe you're a fan of a certain movie and whenever you speak to another fan, you feel 'at home' (in a sense). Either way, there is a certain degree of connectedness between Internet users who regularly 'do' the same thing. There is a community attached to the Internet, and this is something the brings people together.

But all of these things - the Internet, ways to access the Internet etc. - are all bound up within notions of capitalism. The Internet isn't free and is available to specific classes of people. But does this, at all, negate the fact that the Internet has created a community anyway? Or that traditional notions of community still exist in some for or another? Doesn't this simply mean that we can have the cake and eat it too? We still have our communities, but they exist in the society world? But not the society/gesellschaft that theorists tried to have us believe was the apocalyptic future. Rather, we have a society that is, yes, capitalist driven, but still with an element of humanity/personality? We are a mass society, and have similar traits and characteristics, but isn't that what being part of a community is: shared experiences and shared traits?

I'm a white male, 18-25, parttime employed, attending university, living in the suburbs of Sydney. I'm sure that there are heaps of people in that situation. But how many of them are exactly like me? How 'mass' is the mass society if it exists? If you want to generalise and categorise in terms like I just did, then yes, there are elements of hegemony. But unless you're going to scratch beneath the surface some more, you're going to get an incorrect feed of information. What we have are many communities existing within many societies. Both stretch beyond the traditional boundaries (such are the effects of technology and globalisation), thus enabling the people who propagate or establish either to exist in the other. The individual exists, but no where near as negative as what was predicted. And the context that the individual lives in is no where near as bad as the predictions either.

Anyway, I got to the party, had some fun, caught up with the family and met some new people. All-in-all it was a pleasant evening as I felt quite at home and looking forward to the next event - whether it be with my important family or as important friends.



Anonymous said...


Thomas said...

I believe it's 'wanker' - no hyphen required.

I anticipate the day you can actually spell your name.