Moving On


Dear Mark,

I think we’ve reached the end of a couple of threads here.

First up, you wrote:

Objects don’t define practices. Practices define objects.
Academic disciplines and media industries are best though of as institutionalized practices.
For both sorts of institutionalized practice it matters that pictures aren’t words (even though, like with the 70s and 80s treatment of everything as “text,” there are often disavowals). You seem reluctant to agree. Why?

This, I agree with. No murky ontology. Practices define objects, and if we want to stop defining ourselves by reference to the objects we study, we must redefine our practices. At the risk, that is, of losing control over (including the definitions of and the distinctions among) those objects (pictures, texts, etc.).


We might want to devote some other posts to explaining what it means for a practice to be institutionalized.  It may be worth pointing out that since Robert Merton’s 1940 classic “Bureaucratic Structure and Personality” it has been clear that institutions cannot be adequately thought of as Weberian rationalizing machines, because they also train people to over-conform to their rules. Merton discovers that bureaucratic inefficiency is an effect of the very rules supposed to make institutions hyper-efficent.

This would be good to talk more about. Off the top of my head, I’d say that we lay the groundwork for this already, but that like Graff et al. we tend to rely on polemics about institutional practice rather than sociological studies of what happens in the classroom, etc. Do we need to think more about the latter? Or do I just need to get off the couch and read more of these classic works on bureaucracy you seem to know something about?

Third, part one:

I want to embrace the flattening gesture that puts us all in the market, while also registering that major differences of opinion exist within film and media studies on the question of “whether [we] should work with and within the culture industries.” Projects dedicated to using “new media” to promote participatory culture, like those of Sharon Daniel, have a different orientation than those working to bridge industry and academe under that banner of the Convergence Culture Consortium.

A different orientation, for sure, but they share a reluctance to reproduce the academic exceptionalism that makes university practice seem somehow outside the market while commercial practice is in it. For our purposes here, we need sometimes to be agnostic about these differences. I’m thinking of the laundry lists of “interesting things going on that are not business as usual” that we’ve been generating. Sometimes, however, we may want to privilege one or the other. On what grounds, for me, tbd.

Third, part two:

We should not lose sight of the fact that in the 20s and 30s “zealous engagement” with Hollywood often meant strident opposition to it. What I think we aim to describe is how culture industries and universities developed together as institutional fields that collaborated, competed, and often mirrored one another. It’s not for nothing that we talk about an academic “star system.”

Sure. It matters to us why Hollywood is being opposed, in addition. There’s a regulatory argument in most oppositional stances, I think we’ve found. Looking forward to the days of fewer individual academic stars, more star teams.


I’m finding it difficult to reconcile the mental picture of films and novels strutting about in mediation suits with that of a 3D chess match involving  objects, institutions, and disciplines in which Bazin squares off against Marshall McLuhan (they are both wearing Star Trek uniforms).

Oh now you hate all figuration. Whatever. Try this one on: both wearing Star Trek uniforms, but it’s all about rank. Who is the redshirt?


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