Archives for category: resistance

 

Nicholas Georgouras, 2006, The Landlord, marble

Inclosure came and trampled on the grave / Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave … And birds and trees and flowers without a name / All sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came.”

                                                                                                       John Clare, The Mores (1821-24)[1]

During the Industrial Revolution in Britain, vast tracts of land were enclosed and the people who lived off them were completely disenfranchised[2]. This situation was much like circumstances the world over for indigenous peoples under colonialism. With this understanding of the enclosure of land through the acquisition of property, this essay will explore the theories of justice by two philosophers, Robert Nozick and John Rawls. Robert Nozick firmly believes in the rights of private property. Contrastingly, John Rawls argues that justice is based upon cooperation rather than competition. I will argue that Nozick’s theory is problematic through its assertion of property rights being based on the rights of the individual, and that a stable, secure society can only exist through people’s voluntary cooperation.

Robert Nozick favours libertarian principles which assert that a person who legally acquires, either directly or through transfer, some form of property is entitled to that holding[3]. This entitlement can be said to be directly related to the circumstances in which one is born or one finds oneself; for it is fortunate circumstances that allows one to secure an entitlement to the property that is transferred. They are fortunate because under entitlement theory no one is entitled to any holding unless they have legally acquired it[4], which alienates and excludes people who are too poor or powerless to own or hold a claim to land. Nozick does not believe that justice is about patterns of distribution of property but about entitlement to property[5]. He objects to patterns of distribution, such as the egalitarian principles of the equal distribution of societal goods, because of a lack of central distribution[6]. He states that there is no person or group entitled to control all resources or to decide how they should be allocated[7]. Further, Nozick contends that patterns of just distribution cannot be realised without there being an unreasonable amount of interference in a person’s life[8].

Nozick’s main principle of distribution is that is it legally and justly acquired. This condition is a problem for Nozick’s argument as, historically, much of the land that has been acquired upon the Earth has been through invasion, colonisation, war or oppression, not through any legal or just means. This assertion prioritises the rights of colonisers over indigenous peoples and undermines Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which the civil and human rights of all people are equal[9]. Nozick’s libertarian view of property rights relies upon John Locke’s assertion that property is a moral right by virtue of human labour[10]. However, an objection to this assertion could be the question: Whose labour? Is the labour of colonisers more important than thousands of generations of indigenous people’s labour? In Theory of Social Democracy[11], Thomas Meyer and Lewis Hinchman argue that Locke’s linking of freedom to property was problematic because there are people whose existence depends upon the property of others which negates their access to a moral right to liberty. Michael Thompson, in his review of Meyer and Hinchman, states that ownership, which is the province of the minority, gives inequitable access to positive liberty, thereby creating a material inequality which perpetuates into inequity at the level of human and civil rights[12].

Nozick’s objection to distributive justice can be addressed through looking at the Athenian economic crisis of 594 BCE. Civil unrest occurred because of the enslavement of farmers and their families, who defaulted upon their mortgages. The civil administrator, Solon, was chosen to mediate the dispute and he enacted social, legal and moral reforms that served as the foundation for later Athenian democracy. Through his law reforms, Solon implicitly subordinated wealth to an ethical code[13]. His authority stemmed from an agreement by both sides that he administrate the dispute, and also his reasoning that the whole society would suffer if the imbalance was allowed to continue to occur[14]. Solon’s political reforms established the basis of a moral and legal framework in which individuals could pursue wealth in a social context[15]. For Solon, it was necessary to see beyond short-term gain to long-term success through the use of reason. Reason becomes the authority that legitimises a government to control and allocate resources so that there is enough equity in society to enable it to be stable. Reason also makes it acceptable for citizens to comply with the demands of society without undue interference. In contemporary society social democracy theory reflects the ideals of Solon’s reforms. It reconciles the contradiction in libertarian appeals to civil and human rights by providing a framework for the government to provide the necessary means to enable these rights to become concrete[16].

John Rawls holds a contrasting egalitarian perspective of distributive justice to Nozick. He sees society as ‘a cooperative venture for mutual advantage’[17]. According to Rawls, people are not indifferent as to how the resources, on which society depends, are distributed. Conflicts of interests arise when there are marked inequalities between individuals or groups within the system. So Rawls advocates that we should look at distributive justice with the notion of an ‘original position of equality’[18]. The main idea of an original position is that life is a lottery, with no one having knowledge of what their place in society will be when they are born. Nor do they have knowledge of how they will be allotted natural assets or abilities, or whether they will be subject to liabilities, such as being born in a refugee camp, in wartime, in slavery or servitude, or with some form of disability. In choosing the principles of justice to which we would desire to be subjected if we were placed in the original position, Rawls contends that we would make our choice through a ‘veil of ignorance’[19]. This ‘veil of ignorance’ will ensure that, as we cannot know what advantages or disadvantages we will be placed under, we will choose principles that will be of the most benefit to the least advantaged.

Considering that, in the modern world, the production of goods and services relies upon a vast network of workers and consumers; Rawls has a strong argument that society is a cooperative effort that should result in mutual benefits. The companies that produce these items or services rely upon systems of utilities, education, health, transport and communication. Even if one of these systems fails, such as when a strike or natural disaster happens, many of the other systems may also fail with the effect upon a company or community sometimes being ruinous. Therefore, we all benefit from these systems being cooperative. Nozick rejects Rawls’ theory by stating that there is no guarantee that people would be motivated to adhere to his difference principle if they emerged from the ‘veil of ignorance’ being naturally well-endowed[20]. As far as Nozick is concerned, a government has no right to interfere with a person’s liberty in order to enact the distribution of social goods, and its only role is to protect the property of persons[21]. Just as the civil strife affected Athens in 594 BCE and no estate could be cordoned off for its own protection, under Nozick’s theory the government would have an onerous task trying to protect one person’s property from the many who do not have any property. Therefore, the motivating factor to adhere to the difference principle may be that the naturally well-endowed could not be guaranteed of keeping their position if they unfairly took advantage of their situation.

Nozick’s person does not live in a vacuum, relying upon the cooperation of others to make sure that he or she is protected. As John Stuart Mill stated:  “…everyone who receives the protection of society owes a return for the benefit, and the fact of living in society renders it indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain line of conduct towards the rest”[22]. Nozick’s theory results in an unequal society that is insecure and tenuous. Under such conditions, a person’s ability to maintain their hold upon property is also tenuous. Rawls’ theory of distributive justice recognises the benefits that people should enjoy when they cooperate for mutual advantage, and is based upon principles under which there is a balance of equality, liberty and productivity and so encourages all to adhere to it.

Nozick’s entitlement theory is weak because the legal right to property can be seen to be contentious, especially with regard to land obtained by invasion and the disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples. Rawls’ theory, that we should consider our position in society from the ‘original position’, is based upon a real understanding of the unreliability of existence, as we have no concept of our potential societal or physical position before we are born. If we can cooperate to form principles of justice based upon mutual long-term self-interest, these will have more possibility of being upheld because we all benefit from them, rather than just a select few. Therefore, for the establishment of secure, stable and cohesive communities, Rawls’ argument has the most strength.

Bibliography

  1. Clare, J., The Mores, comp. 1821-24; publ. 1935, viewed 10 July 2012, http://orion.it.luc.edu/~sjones1/mores.htm
  2. Lamont, J & Favor, C, 2007, “Distributive Justice”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Viewed on 1 July 2012, URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/justice-distributive/ .
  3. Lewis, J.D, 2008, ‘Solon of Athens and the Ethics of Good Business’ in Journal of Business Ethics, (2009), 89, Springer, pp. 123-138, viewed on 13 July 2012, DOI. 10.1007/s10551-008-9989-4
  4. Mill, JS, 1869, “Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual”, Ch.4 in On Liberty,1869, Viewed on 8 July 2012, http://www.bartleby.com/130/4.html
  5. Monbiot, G., 2012, ‘John Clare, the poet of the environmental crisis- 200 years ago’ guardian.co.uk, 9 July 2012, viewed 9 July 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/09/john-clare-poetry
  6. Rawls, J. 1972, ‘An Egalitarian Theory of Justice’, extracts from A Theory of Justice, reprinted in Tom Beauchamp & Norman Bowie (eds.). Ethical Theory and Business, 6th edition, (Prentice Hall, 2001), pp. 649-656.
  7. Shaw, WH & Barry, V,1995, ‘Justice and Economic Distribution’, Ch. 3 of Shaw & Barry (eds.) Moral Issues in Business, 6th edition, (Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, 1995), pp. 101-126.
  8. Thompson, M, 2009, ‘Theorising Social Democracy’ in Studies in the Culture and Politics of Antiurbanism, Autumn 2009, Palgrave Macmillan, viewed on 14 July 2012, http://dissentmagazine.org/democratiya/article_pdfs/d16Thompson.pdf
  9. Townley C, J 2012, Justice, Markets and Capitalism, Lecture notes distributed in unit, PHI230, Business and Professional Ethics, Macquarie University, Sydney on 2 July 2012
  10. United Nations, 1948, ‘Universal Declaration Of Human Rights’, viewed on 15 July 2012, http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ .

 


[1] Clare J. The Mores, (1821-24)

[2] Monbiot, G., 2012, ‘John Clare, the poet of the environmental crisis- 200 years ago’ guardian.co.uk, 9 July 2012.

[3] Nozick, 1974, ‘The Entitlement Theory’, extracts from Anarchy, State and Utopia, reprinted in Tom Beauchamp & Norman Bowie (eds.). Ethical Theory and Business, 6th edition, (Prentice Hall, 2001).

[4] Nozick, 1974, p.658

[5] Nozick, 1974,  p. 658

[6] Nozick, 1974, p.657

[7] Nozick, 1974, p.657

[8] Nozick, 1974, p.660

[9] United Nations, 1948, Universal Declarations of Human Rights

[10] Nozick, 1974, p. 660

[11]  Thompson, M, 2009, ‘Theorising Social Democracy’ in Studies in the Culture and Politics of Antiurbanism, Autumn 2009, Palgrave Macmillan, p.96

[12] Thompson, M, 2009, p.96

[13] Lewis, J.D, 2008, ‘Solon of Athens and the Ethics of Good Business’ in Journal of Business Ethics, (2009), 89, Springer, p.124

[14] Lewis, J.D, 2008, p.129

[15] Lewis, J.D, 2008, p.131

[16] Thompson, M, 2009, p.96

[17] Rawls, J. 1972, ‘An Egalitarian Theory of Justice’, extracts from A Theory of Justice, reprinted in Tom Beauchamp & Norman Bowie (eds.). Ethical Theory and Business, 6th edition, (Prentice Hall, 2001), p.4.

[18] Rawls, 1972, p. 12

[19] Rawls, 1972, p.12

[20] Townley C, 2012, Justice, Markets and Capitalism, Lecture notes distributed in unit, PHI230, Business and Professional Ethics, Macquarie University, Sydney.

[21] Townley, C, 2012

[22] Mill, J, S 1869, “Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual”, Ch.4 in On Liberty,1869.

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The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 was crafted to preserve the great powers at the time so that they could serve their self-interest in staying in their prime position at the top of the global pyramid. It left the contemporary global system being a socially constructed reality which does not reflect the inherent resemblance of all nations as being made up of human beings. The post-colonial reality allows that hierarchy to continue with Western governments benefiting from centuries of seizures of territory and resources and its legacy to persist through ethnic conflict derived from colonially-imposed borders and unequal exploitative relationships. It is this legacy which creates the imperative for the notion of universal human rights to be an overriding issue of global politics.

Most wars now occur in the Global South, a circumstance which is derived from their colonial origins. The Global South has the highest number of states with the largest populations on the least income and with the most unstable governments. These factors lead to failed states which lead to mass emigrations of refugees, disease and famine. The armed conflict which happens within these failed states happens more frequently than armed conflict between states with 2009 seeing 36 armed intrastate conflicts in 26 locations. These civil wars have a high cost of life, have child soldiers as participants and perpetrate genocide, an example being the slaughter of eight hundred thousand Tutsi and moderate Hutu people during a few weeks in Rwanda.

Under current international law state sovereignty is supreme, meaning that no authority is above the state. In fact international law actually protects a state by giving it ‘a complete freedom of action to do whatever it takes to preserve its sovereign independence’. Even though in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed by many states to protect individuals, states still have the right to perform within their territories in any which way they choose. Up until 1952, ‘a citizen was not protected against the state’s abuse of human rights or crimes against humanity’. International law, being fashioned by realist thinkers, does not protect humans but protects the instrument of humans being the state. This goes against liberalist thinking of not using humans as a means to an end.   

This liberal view that the individual is the seat of moral value is fundamental to the notion of universal human rights. One of the corollary concepts of liberal theory stresses the unity of humankind, the importance of the dignity and equality of individuals, and the need for the promotion of human rights and liberty. Rather than being a ‘subject’ of the state, the general consensus in contemporary global politics is that people are important and have worth and therefore ethical and moral issues belong in the realm of international relations. However, the accuracy remains of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s observation that ‘man is born free, and everywhere is in chains’. Globally, a select few of the total population are prospering while there are many who can barely survive.

Constructivists make humans the primary level of analysis, with human ideas defining the identities that impart meaning to the behaviour of others. This contemporary thinking has shaped a consensus that claims that all humans have the same moral status and that ‘to accept human rights [is to make on the state] the moral demand to respect the life, integrity, well-being and flourishing of…all human beings’. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserted many civil and political rights such as freedom of assembly, freedom of thought and expression, the right to participate in government, and indispensable social and economic rights. The Declaration also asserts that ‘if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law’. This is the essential argument of why human rights are integral to global politics.  

Although the Declaration and the further multilateral treaties which enumerate these rights are legally binding on states, there have been many who have not ratified these agreements or have objected to specific provisions. For instance, the United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with reservations, but did not ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Considering that the US is the most powerful state in the liberal democratic world, this is an indictment against the moral values purported to be so important to this global group. Human rights abuses continue with 350 million indigenous peoples being without a homeland or political representation and subject to persecution and genocide; with women in the world continuing to be disadvantaged in comparison to men; with up to 4 million people subjected to slavery and human-trafficking; and with children being subjected to neglect and abuse through slavery, hunger, conscription and sexual exploitation.

With so many people of the world being the target of oppression and violence by states, the global community is morally challenged as to whether international treaties can go on being blatantly disregarded by the states that have ratified them or have some consensus with them. In principle, international law now provides protections for all people everywhere to live in freedom and security. So that these protections can finally apply to all people, traditional notions of sovereignty must be transcended. Global politics must now recognise and respect these laws so that the assertion of the Declaration of common interests of all citizens in all states is recognized and upheld.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qfo7TjwRwXI&feature=youtu.be

‘The world’s inequality is due to capitalism. Not to capitalism having made certain groups poor, but to its making its practitioners wealthy.’ (Johan Norberg)

Johan Norberg began the decade of 2000-2010 cheering the ability of capitalism to cure global inequality in his book “In Defence of Global Capitalism” (2003) and ended the decade trying to explain why capitalism had gone so terribly wrong in his book “The Financial Fiasco” (2009) . In the quote above he asserts that capitalism does not make people poor but makes people wealthy and this is the only cause of disparity in income inequality between people. It is the manifesto of laissez-faire capitalism that the ability to be able to earn money and keep it is fundamental to a human’s freedom. It is through the use of their own ingenuity and rationalism that human’s can thrive and buy property enabling them to establish wealth. Norberg argues that it is the regulation of this wealth through the state’s interference that causes financial crises, not the greed or ruthless fraud of a few who are wealthy and influentially connected. This essay will argue that Norberg is wrong in his reasoning. Although liberalism and its counterpart capitalism are great engines for human growth and civilization, it is the corruption of these systems through monopolies, subsidies and fraudulent trade practice that bring these systems down. With the collapse of these systems the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few and it is taken from the effort of all those that support or connect to those systems, leaving them poor. I will use the collapse of Enron Corporation and the growth of global agribusinesses as examples to argue my conclusion, and begin by attempting to establish what the ideals of liberal-capitalism are through looking at the work of one of its greatest advocates, Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand, a precursor to neo-liberalists such as Johan Norberg and Milton Friedman, stated in her 1967 essay “What is Capitalism?” the essential characteristic of humans is rational thought. The human mind is the basic means of survival through the acquisition of knowledge . This enormously complex process of identification and integration is something only an individual brain can perform. The concept of a collective brain is a fallacy as humans can learn from one another and can cooperate to gain new knowledge but this process requires the independent exercise of each individual’s rational faculty . For Immanuel Kant, a liberal philosopher, humans are not only individualised and rationalised they are also ‘capable of appreciating the moral equality of all individuals as ends rather than means’ What binds all individuals is that all means of survival depend upon the degree to which rationality is able to be applied; in Rand’s words ‘men prosper or fail, survive or perish in proportion to their degree of rationality’ . For a rational mind to think, freedom is a fundamental requirement . A rational mind cannot work under compulsion, it cannot be controlled by others; it cannot give up its knowledge or its perception of the truth. That principle of rational action is what all humans, no matter their ability or achievement, owe for their survival. Irrational action will be to their self-destruction . It is the connection between reason and survival that gives us the concept of individual rights .

This liberal view of individual rights is important to the tenets of capitalism because it is only the system of capitalism that recognises individual rights, including the right to property . In capitalist societies human associations are free and voluntary . The objective theory of value underlies the structure of the capitalist system. What is implied by recognising the rights of the individual is that the concept of the good is not an ideal but a concept based in the reality of every human life, such as the right to pursue happiness. It also implies that the concept of what is good cannot be held separate from its beneficiaries. It cannot be that one human or group of humans can achieve good at the price of others . Most capitalism that is alleged to be practiced today is really that which can be defined as a mixed economy. True capitalism is not compatible with government control as its innovators do not rely upon government assistance or interference, or coercion .

Corporate capitalists seek to avoid the anarchy of the marketplace by managerial coordination within firms. It is based upon the rational of economic activity rather than reliance upon market coordination . For the economist Max Weber, economic organization holds together through a system of authority . For a complex organization such as a corporation this requires an impersonal set of rules of conduct . This is the process of rationalization according to rules and structures, and it is this corporate structure upon which I will base my argument that is susceptible to corrupting the liberal capitalist system.

The economic theorist Adam Smith provided an insight into the workings of capitalism through the integration and coordination of markets with the actions of millions of people manipulating the supply and demand system . It is markets that establish values of goods and services rather than them having any innate value .This assumes, however, that there is such a thing as market equilibrium . But this denies that market equilibrium can be brought about by distorted markets. Examples of this are when goods are produced by slaves or forced labour, when there are speculative bubbles brought about by excessive leverage which allows buyers to unsustainably distort the system of demand and supply or when depression or economic stagnation deflates demand more than the amount a country can produce . For market equilibrium to be a reality, values must reflect true social cost and demand must be sustainable without undue financial leverage . If not, an oligarchy develops where significant political power is vested in the economic system and is not held to account by anyone . One of the most classic examples of this process of distortion in capital markets is the manipulation of Californian energy supplies by Enron Corporation in the late 1990s as documented by the film Enron: The Smartest Guys on the Room (2005).

In fifteen years Enron Corporation grew from a small concept company of founder Kenneth Lay to be the seventh largest company in the USA with 21000 employees in 40 countries, a true example of the globalized economy . In the late 1990s California was hit by a rolling series of power cuts organised by the monopoly energy supplier, Enron. Although California had plenty of power to meet their demands the controllers of the power grid blacked-out the northern half of the state using a series of controlled outages which were implemented in order to enact pricing fluctuations from which Enron was able to profit . This was enabled by the deregulation of California’s electricity legislation in 1996 after pressure applied by energy companies such as Enron. California State Senator, Joseph Dunn, stated that California was selected by Enron as the place “to experiment with this new concept of deregulated electricity” . The CEO of Enron at the time, Jeffrey Skilling, stated: “Reducing electricity cost is only one benefit from choice and competition” . Enron used these new rules to profiteer and gain control of the California market. In the midst of California’s energy shortages Enron began to export energy out of the state and when prices soared they brought it back in . Soon Enron was shutting down power plants to create artificial shortages to push prices even higher . In short, it was a process of extortion perpetrated by a monopolised corporation.

Enron made about $2 billion from their manipulation of the Californian energy markets, even though energy is the lifeblood of an advanced society . Instead of the average price per kilowatt hour being $35-$45 it was $1000. Enron did not behave ethically, it did not behave in its best long-term interests thus it did not behave rationally. Eventually it collapsed in 2001 amidst allegations of fraud, insider trading and political scandal over its close associations with the US president George Bush and his family . However, although many of its top associates were able to abscond with their profits intact, the millions of Enron employees, investors and pension funds went for next to nothing, leaving those people vastly poorer for their efforts .

The actions of the executive of Enron were a threat to the liberal capitalist system through its arrogant greed, fraud, and political and market manipulation. Its advocacy of the ‘free market’ brought the financial system to its knees in 2001 . This contradicts the argument made by Johan Norberg and Ayn Rand , who argue that it is government regulation that causes speculative bubbles and financial crises. The economist Milton Friedman also posits the theory that liberal capitalism organized through private enterprise operating through the free market is a system of economic freedom and is essential for political freedom . He argues that concentrated power is a threat to freedom and political authority is a threat to economic power. However, Friedman assumes that only political power can act as a restraint on a free market. In that, he disregards the fact that large corporations can be a threat to the freedom of individuals, employees and smaller companies . For Friedman to disregard this power imbalance brought about by large and powerful corporations like Enron is disingenuous and an oversimplification . By oversimplifying economic power Friedman negates the meaning of freedom to those members of society with little economic power . It allows those with great wealth to grow even stronger and the weak to be left to pick up the pieces.

In his 2003 book “In Defence of Global Capitalism” Norberg contends that instead of the world becoming increasingly more unequal, that it is in fact becoming more equal . He argues that the wealthy have become wealthier and that absolute poverty has diminished in places like Asia, where most of the world’s population lived in abject poverty only a few decades ago . This may have been the case in 2003 but since the global financial crises of 2008-2010 the level of world hunger has increased beyond the levels seen forty years ago . This is because of the globalization and corporatization of the global food supply. In December 2010 the UN Food and Agricultural Organization announced that its Food Index had hit an all-time high. This spike in commodity prices has not been caused by weather events as in the past but by trends in the supply/demand ratios for food. There is demand caused by population growth, rising affluence and the use of grain to fuel cars. The supply is affected by the loss of cropland to non-farm uses . Other causes are the cumulative effect of three decades of neo-liberal free-trade agreements where the national food production systems in most countries around the world have been dismantled and replaced by a system of agroexports which are stimulated by government subsidies to agribusiness . By forcing governments to sell off their grain reserves, the World Bank and the IMF have created ‘the tightest margins in recent history between food reserves and demand’ . These countries are now dependent upon food imports which generate greater demand and results in skyrocketing food prices.

The most important cause of the global food crisis is the entry into the commodity market of speculative financial capital in the way of global hedge funds that have invested heavily in the food market on the proviso that food prices will rise . These hedge funds have also invested in the crop-fuel industry which results in governments being pressured to designate agricultural land being used for agrofuel crops . This seems much like the energy crisis developed by Enron in the late 1990s and results in those with investments in these hedge funds and agribusinesses becoming wealthier at the expense of the world’s poor.

The liberal concepts advocated by economists such as Norberg and Milton Friedman and philosophers like Ayn Rand are based upon the theories of philosophers as John Locke, Immanel Kant and Adam Smith. The concepts that these philosophers put forward were a belief in reason and the possibility of progress; that the individual was at the heart of moral value; that human beings are ends not means and that ethical principle be paramount over the pursuit of power . These corporations that have been mentioned above are not applying these principles at all. They are benefitting from the advocacy of free markets and manipulating the financial system so that ethical principles are no longer their concern and power and money are everything. The human beings affected by their greed and manipulation are used as the means to their ends. These corporations and their supporting international institutions advocate liberalism and demand that countries cede sovereignty so that they can increase the profits of a few at the terrible expense of hunger and poverty to the many. Therefore, although persuasive and personable, Norberg’s assertion that he makes in the quote above is a fallacy. The world’s inequality is due to corporate capitalism making many poor so that a few can be wealthy.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. A Mystery in Which Everyone is Guilty- Johan Norberg on his book “Financial Fiasco” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svY3uyODAqU Retrieved 6/10/2011

2. Brown L. 2011 “The Great Food Crisis of 2011” in Foreign Policy http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/01/10/the_great_food_crisis_of_2011

3. Enron Scandal At- A-Glance, 2002, BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/1780075.stm Retrieved: 9/10/2011

4. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, 2005, film, HDNet Films, Written and directed by Alex Gibney, http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/831811 Retrieved: 8/10/2011

5. Doyle, M.W., 1986, “Liberalism and World Politics”, in The American Political Science Review, Vol. 80, No. 4 (Dec. 1986)

6. Independent Lens – Enron Timeline, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/enron/timeline2001.html Retrieved: 12 October, 2011

7. Kegley, C.W., Blanton, S.L., 2011, World Politics- Trend and Transformation, Wadsworth, pp. 37-45

8. Langlois R., 2007, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler and The New Economy, Routledge Press- http://web.uconn.edu/ciom/Graz.pdf Retrieved 25.09.2011

9. Norberg, J., 2009, Financial Fiasco: How America’s Infatuation with Homeownership and Easy Money Created the Economic Crisis, Cato Institute

10. Norberg, J., 2003, In Defence of Global Capitalism, Cato Institute

11. Rand A., 1967, “What is Capitalism?” in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand with Nathaniel Brandon, Alan Greenspan and Robert Hessen, Signet Book

12. Rosset P., “Food Sovereignty and the Contemporary Food Crisis” in Development, 2008, 51(4), p. 460 http://www.mtholyoke.edu/global/docs/global/RossetDEVfoodcrisis.pdf

13. Scott B.R., 2009, The Concept of Capitalism, Springer, http://books.google.com.au/books?id=7bjpSwjrmY8C&pg=PA13&lpg=PA13&dq=9.+The+Concept+of+Capitalism+Bruce+R.+Scott&source=bl&ots=Lz2vQSdTIw&sig=FClYNjByWlk3C11w5kqUVOw_39I&hl=en&ei=1oR1ToqsNOnbmAXc08TNDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false Retreived: 28 September 2011

14. World Hunger Education Service, 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Statistics, Washington D.C., http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm Retrieved: 5th October 2011

“In a world that is really turned upside down, the true is a moment of the false.”

Guy Debord 1968

Visual culture is defined as the way visual texts can be understood and deployed, especially in the Western tradition of art (Schirato & Webb, 2004: 105). Consumer culture is one of the ‘symbolic embodied and experiential aspects of acquisition behaviour’ (Arnold & Thompson, 2005:871). Both cultures work together within the global advertising industry to create an environment that is false and fragmented (Debord, 2002: 6). This essay will discuss the argument that visual culture is consumer culture by referring to two visual texts that are based upon specific commodity signs. The first is a work of art created for the Reebok Corporation that reifies the Reebok running shoe. The second is a work of art created as a foil for such commodity signification. With these texts I contend that consumer culture uses visual culture to authorize itself as an embodiment of power.

Research into consumer culture shows that many people’s lives in consumer society are constructed around multiple realities, and consumption is used to experience these realities which are linked to fantasies, invocative desires and aesthetics (Arnold & Thompson, 2005: 875).The process of reification in consumer culture is where a commodity is attributed with human qualities, becoming an entity that ‘thinks’, ‘is sexy’, or ‘alive’ (Pugliese, 2011). This is important when advertising a product’s life enhancing qualities, the message being that if you consume the product you will improve your life (Pugliese, 2011). Reebok’s uses fantasy and reification to advertise its latest running shoe range advertising it as pioneering and ‘whose graphic, crenelated sole not only reduces muscle fatigue but transfers energy back into the runner’s stride…’ (Wallpaper Magazine, 2011). They are referred to as ‘eye catching’ and supposedly have inspired an exhibition of artworks (2011).

 http://www.wallpaper.com//bespoke/reebok

Capitalism celebrates the individual through an illusion created by advertising (Pugliese, 2011). This illusion of individualism relies upon the contradictory mass production and distribution of goods rather than the individual and handmade. From the nineteenth century, where shopping became a recreation, to the late twentieth century where shopping promised self-fulfilment and self-realisation, it is this ‘therapeutic ethos’ to which advertisers appeal (Pugliese, 2011). They do this by promising glamour, wealth, prestige and allure (Pugliese, 2011). Art provides a means for this type of advertising because it provides the associated authority of high culture (Schirato and Webb, 2004:107) . Contemporary art as opposed to advertising has a tendency for obscurity that implies a required knowledge or literacy to understand it (2004:107). To combine the two visual cultures together, as Reebok has done, implies the exclusivity and elitism not of a top athlete but of an international contemporary artist, thereby creating the illusion for the consumer of individual accomplishment and self-realisation.

Advertising does not need to sell the image of a product or even mention the company name as long as a well-recognised logo is attached to the advertisement (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001:239). These logos are called commodity signs or signifiers. They do not sell the consumer the products functionality or quality, they sell the products style (2001: 239). These commodity signs infer the value of the commodity until this signifying value becomes more important than the commodity itself (Pugliese, 2011). Brand logos, such as Reebok designer running shoes or Apple computers and phones, compete with other similar commodities for their signs to be recognised across the globe (Pugliese, 2011). The commodity signs become hierarchical within themselves with Reebok running shoe inferring more social value than another generic or cheaper brand (Pugliese, 2011).

In the “Society of the Spectacle” Guy Debord argues that the global economy has degraded social life into one of having not being (Debord, 2002:8). The notion of social value being inferred by a commodity sign goes to the heart of Guy Debord’s notion of the ‘spectacle’, which is the visual deception that creates a world view produced by the technologies of mass media (2002: 6). The images of the Spectacle create a visually deceptive culture that provide the motivations for hypnotic behaviour (2002: 8). Jean Baudrillard continues this notion by asserting that consumer culture has become a form of simulation (Sturken & Cartwright 2001: 153). Baudrillard’s notion of simulation is when signs of the real are substituted for the real (Felluga, 2011). He states that this has caused the contemporary consumer society to be unable to discriminate between nature and artifice, or what is real and what is unreal or simulated (Felluga, 2011).

For Karl Marx, commodity became associated with class structure with the commodity itself being alienated from its system of production (Noble, 2008:101). Marx described this as ‘commodity fetishism’ where the commodity is just an object in a shop rather than having any association with its means if production (2008:101). Through this objectification there is no longer any means to see the system of exploitation that has gone into the product (2008:101). The advent of an increasingly globalised world has meant that the exploitation of many workers remains hidden in poor nations and through the commodity this exploitation becomes part of everyday life (2008:102). By being alienated from its means of production, commodity fetishism is able to infer value upon a product through conferring value and prestige upon the consumer (Pugliese, 2011). This is done through the elitism of expense, if only a few can possess it this signifies affluence, good taste and refinement (Pugliese, 2011).

The commodity signification of hierarchical branding is shown at its zenith when a brand name seeks to equate itself with something that is considered high culture and elitist. This is seen in the recent collaboration of Reebok with various contemporary international artists. Reebok invited various contemporary designers, architects and artists to come up with concepts that would create one-off artworks inspired by the Reebok design (Wallpaper-Reebok Exhibition, 2011). This lends to Reebok the authority of contemporary art and lends to the various participants the global notoriety of the Reebok brand. The pictured work is one by the French artist Ora Ito who took the imprint of the base of a Reebok shoe and created a wall-mounted sculpture made from “Hi-Macs”, an acrylic material made from wood chips and toxic resin. This infers upon the running shoe images of the consumer being socially-influential and trend setting. The sculpture’s clean whiteness completely erases any connection of the product with the production of the shoe by a third world workforce. Commodity fetishism, as Marx called it, eliminates any responsibility between the product and the producer (Debord, 2002:9).

 http://www.wallpaper.com/fashion/Wallpaper-Reebok-exhibition-London/5382

The products of the spectacle, from computers and shoes to cars, are designed to isolate and create the ‘lonely crowd’ (Debord, 2002:10). Spectators are only linked by their vision of the spectacle which keeps them from each other (2002:10). The more the spectator views the spectacle the more they are alienated, the less they live and the more they need. Their gestures become the puppet gestures of the spectacle (2002: 30). The economy of the globalised world has totally subjugated humanity to itself and the spectacle which sustains it (2002: 7). This global economy has degraded social life into one of having not being (2002:7). No longer is it sufficient to be someone, but to be fulfilled through having possessions. This idea of possessions has then shifted from having to appearing so that prestige comes from appearance (2002:7). The appearance of the commodity sign, such as the Reebok logo, gives the elitism of expense and exclusivity which signifies ‘affluence, good taste and refinement’ (Pugliese, 2011). The prestige of appearance inferred by the commodity sign is one of the dominant modes of visuality (Pugliese, 2011).

 

Nicholas Georgouras, Stick People, 2007

 The dominant mode of visuality is one that occupies a position of cultural power and authority, such as the media or a corporation. Through this, a power attempts to control meanings related to an object or image (Pugliese, 2011).  However, these visual meanings can be contested and changed (Pugliese, 2011). Through the targeting of commodity fetishism and commodity signs consumer culture can be subverted. This is called ‘culture jamming’ (Pugliese, 2011). Culture jamming sabotages advertising campaigns and parodies logos to expose the exploitation of the commodity’s producers and ridicule its promises (Pugliese, 2011). The artist Nicholas Georgouras’ group sculpture of Stick People (2007) attempts to emphasise how commodity signs become more important than the product. Being made of recycled wood and plastic tags, each of the sculptures is alienated from the other and focussed on their position in the spectacle. Each of their positions is a puppet gesture parodying the modelling gestures for each product for which the plastic tag is the commodity sign. Consumers of such products become mere extensions of the product, something to which the product can attach itself. This process of dehumanisation is what Debord calls the commodification of society (Debord, 2002: 12).

Visual culture encompasses all forms of visual media in the postmodern world (Irvine, 2011). Advertising agencies use visual culture as a communication device in all its forms. In capitalist societies, advertising is ubiquitous and pervasive. Consumer culture is veracious in its use of visual culture to establish and authorise its commodity signs and commodity fetishism. However, to state that visual culture is consumer culture would deny all the forms of visual culture that deny a capitalist society its consumer. To deny the effect of culture jamming, the effect of art forms done without thought for power or money is to deny visual culture its own legitimacy. Consumer culture is a dominant mode of visuality but it is not visual culture. Therefore, visual culture is not consumer culture.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Arnould E. J., Thompson C. J., 2005, “Consumer Culture Theory (CCT); Twenty Two Years of Consumer Research”, Journal of Consumer Research; Mar 2005; 31, 4; ABI/INFORM Global, pp. 868-877,  Retrieved from: ftp://ftp.cba.uri.edu/classes/r_dholakia/CB%20-%20Dholakia/wk%203%20gender%20consumption/Arnould_Consumer_Culture_Theory.pdf  on 3 August 2011
  2. Debord G., 1968, “Society of the Spectacle”, Trans. Ken Knabb, 2002, Treason Press, Canberra, Retrieved from: http://libcom.org/files/Society%20of%20the%20Spectacle2.pdf  on 1 August 2011
  3.  Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Baudrillard: On Simulation.” Introductory Guide to Critical          Theory. Jan 31 2011, Purdue University, Retrieved from: http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/postmodernism/modules/baudrillardsimulation.html on 14 August 2011
  4. Irvine M., 2011, “Introducing Visual Culture: Ways at Looking at All Things Visual”, Retrieved from: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/visualarts/intro-visualculture.html , on 14 August 2011
  5. Noble G., 2008 “living with things: consumption, material culture and everyday life” in Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Ed. Nicole Anderson & Katrina Schlunke, Oxford University Press Melbourne, pp. 98-113
  6. Pugliese Assoc. Professor J., 2011, Lecture 13- “Visual Culture, Consumer Culture: Fetishism and Commodity Signs”, Vision, Visuality and Everyday Life CLT120, Macquarie University
  7. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Postmodernism and popular culture (part 1 of 2)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 237-261
  8. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Postmodernism and popular culture (part 2 of 2)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 262-277
  9. Schirato T., Webb J., 2004, “Visual Art & Visual Culture”, in Reading the Visual, Allen and Unwin, pp. 105-130
  10. Schirato T., Webb J., 2004, “Selling the Visual”, in Reading the Visual, Allen and Unwin, pp.151-168
  11. Wallpaper Magazine Editorial: Reebok- Great Leap, Retrieved from: http://www.wallpaper.com//bespoke/reebok , on 12 August 2011
  12. Wallpaper Magazine – Reebok Exhibition, Retrieved from: http://www.wallpaper.com/fashion/Wallpaper-Reebok-exhibition-London/5382  , on 8 August 2011

 

 

                   I am what I desire; and I desire what I gaze upon.

                                             Sigmund Freud (1905)

Power relationships within our societies are image-based (Sturken & Cartwright 2001). Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst, asserted that humans imagine themselves as individuals within the social constructs of Western capitalism (Sturken & Cartwright 2001). An example of this is the advertising campaign known as The Champion Family. The Champions are the hyperreal, simulated family who feature in a set of advertisements directed at shoppers who shop at the various shopping malls owned by the multinational corporation known as AMP (Facebook: The Champion Family 2010). Their images are displayed throughout these shopping malls in the act of consuming products. This essay will focus on this family as it analyses how this advertising campaign affects the target audience through the technologies of visualisation and evaluates it effectiveness as a normalising process of vision.

 The Champion family are depicted as the average Australian family ‘flaws and all’: Anglo-Saxon, youthful, attractive, and comfortably wealthy. The mother, Mrs Sarah Champion, is represented as the centre of the household being in the centre of the picture. She is referred to in the advertising campaign as someone who ‘manages to juggle the demands of the household while keeping the family together’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010). Mr Paul Champion is described as a ‘doting husband’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010); this is represented by his close proximity to Mrs Champion with his body leaning into to her and his arm protectively around her. The older son, Will Champion, is also represented as a small version of his father. He is well-dressed in casual white shirt and beige pants with his arm also protectively and lovingly draped around his mother. The older daughter, Chloe Champion, is also represented as a reflection of her mother. Both have blonde hair, are dressed in casual white dresses with an emphasis on their smooth-skinned arms and legs. The younger children are the ‘mischievous’ twins Charlie and Annabel, representing the younger consumer. The image’s whiteness is reinforced by the repetition of the colour beige throughout the subjects’ clothing and the furnishings of the room. Even the dog, Millie, and the flowers are white.

The organisational properties of the image group the family together as a whole. In such group photographs the identity of the individual is dissolved into the identity of the group (Schirato and Webb 2004). The conformity of the Champion family’s smiling faces denotes compliance and contentment (Schirato & Webb 2004). The interior design which surrounds this group in the photography can also be deciphered through the value that it places upon the group (Communicating the Visual). As the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss posited, much can be learned by analysing the clothes people wear, and the colours, lines and textures with which they decorate their home (Schirato & Webb 2004). The cultural theorist Stuart Hall goes on to state that this displayed visuality tells us how valuable these people are within their society and how powerful they (Schirato & Webb 2004). The simulated Champion family has a name that denotes success within society. The advertising campaign tells us that, ‘when it comes to shopping, they’re champions’ (Facebook: The Champion Family 2010).

The advertising campaign tells us that this campaign is relevant to all consumers at these shopping malls because of the ‘unique and endearing characteristics of the individuals that make up the Champion family’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010). ‘Templates of normality’ are used by capitalism to promote consumption by advocating the transformation of people so that they can be assessed by others as normal (Schirato & Webb 2004). The role models used become an interactive way of seeing through which the audience plays out its relationship with them and it perpetuates through the audiences evaluation of the people that surround them to create a ‘normal’ way of seeing the world (Schirato & Webb, 2004). Paradoxically, one of the most important notions of this way of seeing is that the role models are depicted as individuals.

To individualise the campaign the story of the family is then broken into its individual segments. For example, Sarah is described as a ‘fun-loving caring mother’ and the heart of the family (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010). Her job is to organise the household’s needs and, being 39 years old, we are told that she is at the age when she can enjoy spending time with her girlfriends, shopping for the latest fashions and pampering herself (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010). The shopping mall is the centre of her life because it solves all the family’s problems (Knox Shopping Centre, 2004). By individualising the family the campaign is imitating reality. This imagery represents an ideal and it is this trick of advertising that can convince the eye into thinking about the aspiration of the ideal (Schirato & Webb 2004). It mimics reality by reflecting a family moment and representing such ideals of marriage, family and happiness (Schirato & Webb 2004).

In modern Western culture such visual imagery has come to control and influence people’s perception of reality (Schirato & Webb, 2004). People are seen by institutional powers through their ability to contribute to the state. They are contextualised and evaluated through normalising processes just as selective breeding programs occur on farms (Schirato & Webb, 2004). People are trained from an early age to lead non-reflective ‘normal’ lives with reality being decided by the rules of society (Schirato & Webb, 2004). Therefore people relate themselves in the everyday context to what is seen as normal which is evaluated through such things as people’s appearance, clothes, sexuality and work (Schirato & Webb, 2004). In the Champion family the two older children are depicted as normal because Chloe loves ‘shopping, texting, facebooking and thinking about guys’, while Will likes ‘surfing, skate-boarding and eating fast-food (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010). 

In order to produce a population that is pliable, productive and reliable the logic of what is normal prevails. As the seventeenth- century French philosopher Blaise Pascal was quoted by Pierre Bourdieu: “Custom is the source of our strongest and believed proofs” (Schirato & Webb, 2004). As Judith Butler, the gender theorist, argues that there are sites in society where we can assess whether we measure up to the normalised standard by their imagery of what are considered normal, healthy, desirable subjects (Schirato & Webb, 2004), the advertising campaign of the simulated Champion family does this work upon consumers that attend the shopping malls of AMP. The relationship of the consumer within this advertising campaign is one that plays upon what Jacques Lacan refers to as the gaze or le regard (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001). This imagery has the power to articulate desire for the consumer, an ability to shop without consequence. It is an opportunity to see themselves in the role of this family; to achieve happiness through shopping. However, the integral function of this advertising campaign is to activate the latent desires of the consumers relative to their social circumstances (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001).

The simulated Champion family works its effect upon the consumers attending these shopping malls by presenting themselves as the average Australian family. They are something to which the advertising executives want people to aspire: white, youthful, well-off, and happy. By trying to convince consumers that it is desirable to conform to such standards and that through being compliant they will achieve happiness, the advertisers present their shopping mall as the place where this achievement can take place. They have given the consumer individual role models that cover all aspects of the consumers that they wish to encourage by convincing them that to be like the Champions is the expected societal ideal.  Thus the world becomes shaped by such fictitious and normalised visual ideals.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Champion-Family/140330556023037?v=info
  2. http://www.knoxshoppingcentre.com.au/News—Events/News/Meet-the-new-faces-of-Knox-Shopping-Centre!.aspx
  3. Schirato, Tony; Webb, Jen. “Normalising Vision (extract)” in Reading the Visual, Schirato Tony; Webb Jen, 2004, 131-150
  4. Schirato, Tony; Webb, Jen. “Communicating and the Visual (extract)” in Reading the Visual, Schirato Tony; Webb Jen, 2004, 57-80
  5. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Spectatorship, power, and knowledge (extract)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 72-84

 “Hip-hop speaks true. It is all of us. Where we go, this is where hip-hop goes.”

  (BBC World Service 2011)

Hip-hop or rap music has become global. There is scarcely a country in the world where it does not feature. It has been transformed and globalized by the music industry, although its African-American origins survive through its transformation into re-localized cultural inflections. The sonic organisation of its poetics and beat is profoundly implicated in its cultural workings and the formation of identities  (Krims 2000). Hip-hop culture reveals how marginalised cultural practices can be used to challenge a dominant discourse such as globalization whilst using its techniques to proliferate.  This essay will attempt to analyse the culture of rap music and its relationship to globalisation and the Euro-American Empire.

Rap music is a good example of postmodern social theory, with its perceived resistance reflecting an African-American vernacular culture which persists as a challenge to dominant forces (Krims 2000). A music form was created from an African culture of call and response chants, the jazz rhyming of Cal Calloway in America in the 1930s, the love raps of Isaac Hayes and Barry White, as well as the militant style rapping of Malcolm X and Minister Louis Farrakhan (Parker 1999). Naturally rappers invent and reinvent their vernacular adjusting it to their own conventions and cultural style. Notably the evolution of message-oriented poetry set to a beat was formulated by the group The Last Poets in the 1970s (Parker 1999). This version of the Black Power movement invoked an accessible form of cultural message word-play set to a conga-drum which was a resistant discourse against racism and Eurocentric cultural dominance (Parker 1999).

This Eurocentric cultural dominance is prevalent in an English language dominated globalized world. This has produced a particular environment of raced individuals, mediascapes and economic environments (Schlunke 2008). Stuart Hall states that the hybridities and synchronicities that globalization has brought now reflect the contact zones of previously existing colonialism (Schlunke 2008). It has also brought new meanings to racial and ethnic identities through technologies such as the internet and world distribution of commodities which allows geographical and national boundaries to blur (Schlunke 2008). This allows oppositional cultures to American cultural domination to arise using similar resistance movements as those found in the United States (Schlunke 2008). In this particular case rap music reinforces these new cultural identities.

In his text Rap Music and the Poetics of Identity, Adam Krim states that the association of rap music with marginalized or aggrieved groups virtually guarantees its presence as a culturally identifying force in the ethnicized and gendered world of popular music  (Krim 2000). In November 2009 a show at the Yemeni Culture House in Sanaa, which fused a display of break-dancing with traditional Yemeni dagger dancing, was sold-out to Yemeni youth. The rapper Hagage Masaed, an American of Yemeni descent said: “Yemen is hungry for hip-hop. All the problems youth are facing in Yemen- there is no work- this is a way for them to release, an outlet (Kasinof 2010).  In November 2010, according to the UK’s Observer newspaper, a young Tunisian rapper or emcee by the name of El Général was the first to gain international attention for his raps related to the political unrest in his country. The lyrics of his Rais Le Bled stated: “My president, your country is dead / People eat garbage / Look at what is happening / Misery everywhere / Nowhere to sleep / I’m speaking for the people who suffer”, and were distributed across globalised media platforms such as You Tube (Fukishima 2011). 

This globalized process allows a cultural dominance of Eurocentric and American hegemony but simultaneously distributes the means in which resistance to this and other authorities are possible. This process was first brought to my attention when I listened to an interview with a young American photographer, Adam Sjoberg, who was doing a photo essay on hip-hop culture in places as politically and culturally diverse as Somalia, Uganda, Cambodia, Brazil and Korea (Sjoberg 2011). The stated aim of the projects that Sjoberg documents such as Breakdance Uganda, is to empower youth and break down social, tribal, religious and racial divisions (Breakdance Project Uganda 2010). The position of these young people is being from the immobile classes, one of the characteristics of the globalised world (Schlunke 2008). They are committed to their geography through familiar ties, traditional relationships and, most of all, the inability to move anywhere else because of their economic position (Schlunke 2008). However, the culture of rap or hip-hop transcends these geographical boundaries and allows these young people, not to just observe, but to reinforce their identities through the creation of their own rap cultures.

Each rap or hip-hop culture has its particular characteristics. These characteristics are based upon globalized racial dynamics and social/political contexts within nation states (Krim 2000). For example hip-hop culture in Yemen, which is an extremely conservative traditional society, shows a unique aspect through youth being seen to rebel against their traditional upbringing. In Uganda, most of the youth involved in hip-hop culture are poor and orphaned. They are deeply connected to the roots of hip-hop, and their raps are concerned with social injustice rather than an expression of youthful rebelliousness through break dancing (BBC World Service 2011). For the academic Karin Heim, hip-hop may have the ability to ease decades of social conflict. Her paper Beats not Bombs: Hip-Hop to create peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict investigates how artists use rap as a tool to help the people of Israel find common ground in the conflict.

Heim found that Middle East hip-hop artists — like the musician Subliminal, who has been described as Israel’s Eminem, and the Arab-Israeli group DAM — are using music to condemn violence, a notion that appeals to young Jewish-Israelis, Arab-Israelis, and Palestinians. Like the artists themselves, Heim found these youths use hip-hop to define their religious, ethnic, and social group identities (northeastern.edu 2011).  

Krim explains how rap musical poetics change according to local requirements although retaining its original reference to its African-American origins (Krim 2000). In Edmonton, Alberta the native Cree population use rap music to articulate location and identity through its musical poetics (Krim 2000). Therefore rap or hip-hop culture is interconnected globally and locally and intersects through its history of the musical poetics of rap.

However, even though dispersed across the globe, these localized forms of rap music are structurally dependent on a world music system based upon a centralized and commercialized form which emanates from the United States through dominant ‘musical utterances’ but also contingent musical responses. It becomes a musical theory that informs the identities of other cultures (Krim 2000). The basis for this musical theory is based upon the politics of race. It is not within the parameters of ‘white’ contexts that rap music generally lies. It is a musical genre based upon racial inequality, unlike more popular forms of music that have emanated from the United States and Britain in the latter half of the twentieth century.  As Katrina Shlunke states:”… globalisation is not a single force that overwhelms us but an environment that we are all within and in which we act (Schlunke, 2008, p.185).”  For Edward Said, power is organised through ways of showing difference (Schlunke 2008). Globalised rap culture shows ways that difference can be used to empower diverse forms and be readied to turn back upon the very hegemonic powers that used globalised means to reinforce their power.

Dilip Gaonkar and Elizabeth Povinelli suggest that circulation is important to allow a matrix within which such social forms as rap culture emerge and become newly recognisable (Osuri 2008). These matrixes are made up of compatible elements with which they are linked (Osuri 2008). The dominant compatible element of rap culture is, as Edward Said describes it, being of the status of the ‘other’ (Pugilese 2008). Even in diverse societies its musicology equates it with social inequality, racism, and oppression. Said also describes the history of the lynching of black men in the United States and its associated sexual mutilation as ‘male-defined loss’ (Pugilese 2008). He equates this practice with the rape and torture by US soldiers of Arab prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (Pugliese 2008). It is the reaction to this disempowerment; this asserted impotence that rap culture alludes to in its poetics. Elements such as the hooded youth, the menacing lyrics, the drum beat, the freedom of movement within it’s ‘breakdance’ empower its followers and allow them to reidentify themselves as individuals within their societies.

Globalisation and empires effect one’s embodiment through race and gender (Nicoll 2008). In the case of rap culture these processes also provide tools through which these meanings are challenged and disrupted (Nicoll 2008). An adverse view of rap culture uses a stereotyping of its elements in which to denigrate its form. Krim asserts that these views are usually driven by the cultural ignorance of those who wish to villainize rap based upon cultural misconceptions and racialised discourses (Krim 2000). In the chapter of her book entitled Voices from the Margins, the academic Tricia Rose states that news media attention on rap focuses on violence at concerts, gangsta rap and black nationalist lyrics (Rose 1994). Although some of these views are perpetuated through the actions of rappers themselves, rap music as a discourse brings together complex social, political and cultural issues (Rose 1994). From its beginnings rap music has articulated the pleasures and problems of black urban life in contemporary American society (Rose 1994). This life is affected by the persisting ideological, gendered system of power that works to assert and protect the interests of white people as members of a racialised society (Nicoll 2008). Cheryl Harris explains that it is through relations to property and possessions that we can understand how whiteness builds upon the policies and practices of white racism (Nicoll 2008, p.189). This discourse persists within the globalised world; it has been exported and distributed as part of the hegemonic power of European and North American nations. Just as American rappers craft stories that reflect the fantasies, perspectives and experiences of racial marginality on America (Rose 1994), so too do the array of rappers from such diverse places as indigenous Australian rural communities, Cambodian refugee camps, and Palestinian refugee camps.

The relationship of rap music within this globalised world reflects a postmodern cultural text that represents a challenge to dominant forces. Such an environment has produced a white Euro-American dominated economic, racialised discourse, but to achieve such a discourse has also led to the distribution of a means of resistance to its dominance. Marginal or socially aggrieved groups across the globe find a means of culturally reidentifying themselves through rap culture which includes poetry, art, music and dance. It empowers disenfranchised youth and breaks down social, racial and religious divisions through the transcendence and intersection of geographical boundaries and the representation of their own stories. Therefore, the interpolation of global rap gives voice to these marginalised communities in the dominant vernacular of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Krims A., (2000), Rap music and the poetics of identity, Cambridge University Press
  2. Parker, M., (1999), An Analysis of Rap Music as the Voice of Today’s Black Youth, [Online: http://mmstudio.gannon.edu/~gabriel/parker.html ] Retrieved: 10 May 2011
  3. Schlunke, K. (2008), “empire and globalisation: the stories so far”. In Anderson N., Schlunke K., (eds), Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Oxford University Press   
  4. Kasinof, L., (2010), ‘No Terrorism Please’: Yemeni Hip Hop Refrain, In: Christian Science Monitor, [Online: http://hiphopdiplomacy.org/category/middle-east/yemen/ ] Retrieved: 11 May 2011-05-15
  5. Fukishima, A., (2011), Arab Rappers in Solidarity with Uprisings in Middle East and North Africa, In: New America Media [Online: http://hiphopdiplomacy.org/2011/04/22/arab-rappers-in-solidarity/ ] Retrieved: 11 May 2011
  6. Sjoberg, A. (2011), Loose Luggage, [Online: http://looseluggage.com/luggage/tag/shake-the-dust/ ] Retrieved: 11 May 2011
  7. Breakdance Project Uganda, (2010) [Online: http://www.myspace.com/breakdanceprojectuganda ] Retrieved: 12 May 2011
  8.  Using hip-hop to promote peace (2011) [Online: http://www.northeastern.edu/news/stories/2011/05/hip_hop.html ] Retrieved: 12 May 2011
  9. Osuri G., (2008), beauty and the bollywood star: stories of skin colour and trasnsnational circulations of whiteness. In Anderson N., Schlunke K., (eds), Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Oxford University Press  
  10. Pugilese J., (2008), visual cultures of orientalism and empire: the abu ghraib images. In Anderson N., Schlunke K., (eds), Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Oxford University Press  
  11. Nicoll F., (2008), what’s so funny about indian casinos? comparative notes on gambling, white possession and popular culture in australia and the usa. In Anderson N., Schlunke K., (eds), Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Oxford University Press  
  12. Rose T., (1994), Black noise: rap music and black culture in contemporary America, Wesleyan University Press