Welcome to my social theory archive
The main intent of this page is to compile and explain relevant fragments from a variety of the different social theorists that we have been exposed to throughout the course of this seminar. Obviously, I have selectively summarized/analyzed only those theories which are most relevant and useful for augmenting the discussions contained in other parts of my blog, but my hope here is that you all will find ways to fold this information into your own projects. Whether it is a clarification of a theory that you had always struggled with or an introduction to an idea that you never knew existed, I am laying these modular parts before you as a virtual and intellectual toolkit to be employed in any ways that you see fit. May it serve you well.
Lev Manovich – Remixing and Remixability
Before diving right into a discussion on remixability, it would first be helpful to explain another concept that is central to Manovich’s article (and to the concept of remixability itself): that of modular parts. The easiest way that I have found to view the idea of modularity is to envision modular parts as Lego blocks. Each is standardized and designed for use with other similar modular blocks, allowing the potential for the creation of a new form although the integrity of the original blocks themselves are maintained. What is perhaps most important about modular pieces is that they can be recombined into more than one tight structure that is similar to but different from other tight structures in the same form. For example, more economical car manufacturers such as Honda or Toyota often design parts that will fit several different models of car: a particular air conditioning component might function equally well in a Civic, an Accord, and a Pilot.
Manovich’s theory fits quite easily into human culture in a broader historical sense. As Manovich explains, “most human cultures developed by borrowing and reworking forms and styles from other cultures” such as the Romans from the Greeks, the Renaissance from classical antiquity, and so on. What really transitions Manovich’s theory really smoothly into the cultural discussions of this blog is his assertion that this “traditional cultural remixability” is actually a “part of the same continuum” as the “vernacular remixability” afforded to us by recent developments in Internet technologies such as Web links, blogs, tagging, peer-to-peer networks, Firewire, and Bluetooth to name a few. What’s more, Manovich singles out these new virtual forms of modularity as possessing the potential for even more variation because even the building pieces themselves are incredibly mutable. Think of an endless bag of Lego blocks that can and will be infinitely altered to fit the virtual constructions in which they are used. The effect, as Manovich puts it, is that “post-computer modularity can produce unlimited diversity.” Because of this element of the virtual, even social artifacts such as photographs which we once saw as nuclear, indivisible pieces of media can be broken down and reformatted by the addition of notes or comments as it is shared across a social network like Facebook or Tumblr on the personal pages of various users.
This conception of virtual modularity relocates Manovich directly in the center of my discussion on social prostheticism. This connection is most easy to envision when we consider how social identities themselves can be remodulated through networking sites like Facebook or Second Life.
Additionally, there is a reason that this theoretical summary is the first in my archive. This entire blog is an exercise in remixing: that of theorists, my own past work, and even the ideas of my peers as they appear in their respective blogs. (For a more thorough meta-discussion of this element of the remix, visit my Meta-Reflection page.)
The Simulacrum via Bill Nichols’s The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems
I have extracted this discussion of the simulacrum from my second essay. Although I discuss the major themes of this essay more fully in my Time/Space page, I felt that this general summation would fit better in a more purely modularized form here. As I discuss in Time/Space, this definition is limited by the scope of my essay in that it focuses mainly on defining the simulacra via the opportunities for control that it affords. Nonetheless, I feel that it is a useful starting point for conceiving of simulacra in any capacity.
Bill Nichols provides a solid starting point for analysis of simulacra by citing zoos and botanical gardens as physical precursors of the myriad of virtual planes that exist today. These environments, Nichols writes, are “predefined, self-regulating world[s] with no reality outside of [their] own boundaries” (634). A key feature here is that they exhibit a potential for controlling the environment of the simulation (634). Furthermore, Nichols postulates that virtual simulacra expand the potential for control even further. Because these non-temporal simulations are entirely defined by humans, nature has no influence as it would over compatibility of animals or foliage with an external condition like climate in a zoo or botanical garden, and the replica itself can be made more “perfect” or more “ideal” (634).
Theory from Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life
I think that here it would be helpful to augment my application of Nichols’s simulacrum with some of Boellstorff’s theory on virtual worlds and social play in Second Life as a way of focusing my overall discussion more succinctly on the question of social interactions via simulation. Part of the aim of this inclusion is to perhaps provide a more solid basis for addressing some of the questions that were left unanswered in my second essay for this seminar. (A full discussion of this issue can be found on my Time/Space page.)
To construct this particular subheading, I started by reviewing some of the theory presented in the “Emergence of Virtual Worlds” section of Boellstorff’s book, which begins on Chapter 1, page 24 of his book. Though I am only going to highlight a more general key point from this section in terms of what is not true about Second Life, it does contain quite a bit of pertinent material in terms of hashing out some of the more prevalent negative assumptions of. For this reason, I have cited it in the Notes for Future Projects section of this blog.
The point that I want to emphasize here is made by Boellstorff in his conclusion to the section. Here, he addresses the general sentiment of the specific false negative assumptions about Second Life that he pointed out earlier in the section as “fail[ing] to appreciate how human experience is culturally mediated” (27). Boellstorff encourages and challenges us to view Second Life and virtual worlds in general from a neutral perspective, without the extreme optimism and pessimism that have pervaded culture their inception. He is careful to point of the fact that he distinguishes between the virtual world and the physical one because both of these are real worlds. He reminds us that while social networks may facilitate escapism (such as what we see in Catfish ) ultimately the degree to which an activity is ‘escapist’ is independent of whether it is virtual or actual (27). This, I think, is a perspective that is overlooked all too often.
Boellstorff, Tom. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton: Princeton UP,
Manovich, Lev. “Remixing and Remixability.” Lev Manovich – Articles. Amsterdamn, Oct.-Nov. 2011. Web. 12 Dec. 2011.
Nichols, Bill. “The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems.” The New Media Reader. Ed. Noah Wardip-Fruin and Nick
Montfort. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 627-641. Print.