Name: Harriet Turner
Tutor and tutorial day and time: Kai, Tuesday 5pm-8pm
Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth believe that social media ‘bleeds across platforms…, across social and media contexts, and creates various forms of presence’ (2013, p. 1). It is reasonable to conclude that the multifaceted concept of social media has also infiltrated and permeated the daily lives of individuals globally and will continue to do so to a significant extent in both the near and distant future. When considering this, the key theme to be explored throughout this response is that of cultural intermediaries.
Cultural intermediaries engage in the process of cultural intermediation. Essentially, cultural intermediation is the promotion of the flow and exchange of both knowledge and ideas. Cultural intermediaries are deemed to be those that facilitate this flow and exchange and examples include community managers, artists and/or social media managers. Liz Moor’s work titled Branding Consultants as Cultural Intermediaries provides valuable insight into what exactly cultural intermediaries do.
Moor states despite the fact that commercial brands have been around since the late 18th century, it is only during the early stages of the post-modernist 21st century that a definite branding industry has developed and flourished. The notion that cultural intermediaries promote the flow and exchange of knowledge and ideas is highlighted through Moor’s argument of branding consultants acting as cultural intermediaries in our digital day and age. Moor believes a plethora of factors contribute to branding consultants being thought of as cultural intermediaries, the primary one being that their consultancy work often encompasses ‘…them in drawing upon ‘legitimate’ culture and embedding it in goods circulated to a mass audience…’ (Moor 2008).
With Moor’s work in mind, it becomes evident that certain cultural intermediaries (e.g. branding consultants, community managers, artists and/or social media managers) act as the link between individual users and institutions. Cultural intermediation as a process is dependent upon the agents who are located between stakeholder groups and it also contextually requires the understanding of norms, languages, use and/or regulations. According to the work of Pierre Bourdieu (whose ideas will be discussed further at a later stage in this response), cultural intermediaries more often than not possess high social capital. This in turn enables them to have the ability to negotiate for more productive outcomes, fostering the connection between individual users and institutions.
Cultural intermediation is necessary for the collaborative production of cultural artefacts to occur. This response will also observe the works of Bourdieu and Keith Negus alongside that of Jonathon Hutchinson and the case studies of dogs Marnie, Doug the Pug (Doug) and Manny the Frenchie (Manny), all of whom have become lovable social media stars through the actions of cultural intermediaries and ‘…petworking…’ (Hutchinson 2014) facilitating cultural intermediation.
When observing cultural intermediaries, it is important to take into account Bourdieu’s work Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Distinction) and his ideas incorporating the ‘…three types of knowledge he called ‘capital’…’ (2013, p. 82). These three categories include social, cultural and economic capital and Bourdieu believed them to be ‘…three significant kinds of capital that influenced people’s taste…’ (2013, p. 42). Social capital places an emphasis on networks and community influencing one’s personal taste. This is the most relevant in relation to cultural intermediaries as it is all about the information and/or emotional support individuals receive from their surrounding social networks. Ultimately, social capital is all about the size of networks and the value of connections and cultural intermediaries can promote the link between individual users and institutions to grow both.
In terms of Distinction, Bourdieu enlisted an ethnographic approach and conducted multiple interviews, observations and large-scale surveys. By doing so, Bourdieu aimed to unravel cultural artefacts ‘…through a concerted programme of empirical research into cultural practices and institutions’ (Murdock 2010). He interviewed over 1,000 French individuals from different socio-economic backgrounds and the results enabled him to conclude that ‘…cultural preferences are securely anchored in the systems of perception, judgement and action…’ (Murdock 2010) resulting from the dominant social conditions ‘…in families, education systems and the multiple milieux of adult life’ (Murdock 2010).
Negus’ The Work of Cultural Intermediaries and the Enduring Distance between Production and Consumption (Production) builds off Bourdieu’s Distinction and explores the limitations associated with his work on cultural intermediaries, looking for more clarification. Negus’ approach in Production is based on that of reappropriation in relation to the term cultural intermediaries. Hutchinson notes Negus ‘…reappropriated the idea by contextualizing the cultural intermediary within the creative industries as a means of bridging the gap between cultural production and consumption’ (Hutchinson 2014).
Hutchinson approaches cultural intermediaries by examining the notion of ‘…petworking…’ (Hutchinson 2014) and how this facilitates the flow and exchange of knowledge and ideas. Hutchinson also touches on the works of both Bourdieu and Negus in order to make sense of the ‘…petworking…’ (Hutchinson 2014) phenomenon and discuss the rise of social media star and Pomeranian Boo. This response however will focus on the case studies of other dogs such as Marnie, Doug and Manny, all of whose rise to fame are similar to Boo’s. ‘…Petworking…’ (Hutchinson 2014) is the ‘…increased affect of connectivity between pets and their owners within the broader pet community’ (Hutchinson 2014). The phenomenon occurs across a range of social media platforms (i.e. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) and is linked to cultural intermediation in the sense that Hutchinson deems the stakeholder groups involved in ‘…petworking…’ (Hutchinson 2014) to be the pets and the pets fans.
When it comes to the case studies of Marnie, Doug and Manny, the cultural intermediaries associated with the process facilitate the flow and exchange of knowledge and ideas by understanding the interest of pet fans and how to represent said pets and align them with those interests. Marnie has 2.1 million Instagram followers (see Figure 1) and Doug and Manny have 2.5 million and 1 million followers respectively. These dogs highlight how being adorable can be employed as a ‘…powerful instrument to create a cultural artefact’ (Hutchinson 2014) and how the role of the cultural intermediary (i.e. the owners of Marnie, Doug and Manny) is to foster the link between individual users and institutions.
Figure 1: The Instagram accounts of Marnie, Doug and Manny.
Bourdieu’s work on social capital can be related to my own work during the semester as it links back to the group assessments and our work on the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (The Con). The three capitals of social, cultural and economic tie in with Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s ideas surrounding high and low culture. This relates to our work on The Con, as the whole premise of our group’s campaign was that The Con is an institution for the young and not just the old. Our campaign utilised the social media platforms of Facebook and Instagram alongside the posting of memes (i.e. ‘Meme Monday’) to encourage cultural intermediation and the blurring of the distinction between high and low culture.
We hoped this would attract a younger target audience for The Con and demonstrate it isn’t just a place for the old and those who were traditionally thought of as sophisticated and possessing a significant amount of high culture and high levels of social capital. Our team’s use of multiple social media platforms for the development of our campaign for The Con also highlights the immense power of social media. This can be linked to the cases of Marnie, Doug and Manny as their online presence/s also exemplify the power of social media in contemporary society, contributing to and developing on the theories discussed above, reinforcing that social media is multifaceted and has many dimensions.
One of the most interesting aspects of the course for me was learning about user generated content (UGC) and user created content (UCC) and the difference between the two. As I’m studying Strategic Public Relations, I particularly found learning about UGC insightful and enjoyed discussing the award winning and global campaign of ‘Share a Coke’ done by Coca-Cola. This specific campaign was an example of UGC and having some background knowledge on this area will be of use to me in the future as the content of many of my subjects cross over.
The power of social media and its various platforms is immense and is something that is continuously evolving. I do not know how the aforementioned concepts will radically shift in the coming years as technology and how individuals use it changes every day. However, it will be fascinating to see how UGC and UCC will be utilised by individuals and companies and their advertising campaigns in the near and distant future as well as the impact technological advancements will have upon the work of cultural intermediaries.
Full bibliography and reference list:
Hinton, S & Hjorth, L 2013, Understanding Social Media, 1st edn, SAGE Publications Ltd, London, LDN.
Hutchinson, J 2014, ‘I Can Haz Likes: Cultural Intermediation to Facilitate “Petworking”’, M/C Journal, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 1 – 4, viewed 12 April 2017, http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/792
Moor, L 2008, ‘Branding Consultants as Cultural Intermediaries’, The Sociological Review, vol. 56, pp. 408 – 428, viewed 13 April 2017, SAGE Journals database.
Murdock, G 2010, ‘Review Essay: Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste,’ International Journal of Cultural Policy, vol. 16, pp. 63 – 65, viewed 20 April 2017, CrossSearch database.