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Journal ArticleDOI

Popular culture and new media: The politics of circulation

26 Jan 2015-Cultural Trends (Routledge)-Vol. 24, Iss: 1, pp 107-108

Abstract: This is a relatively short but dense and ambitious book, which attempts to provide some conceptual tools with which to approach the transformations to contemporary cultural life wrought by the inex...
Topics: Popular culture (57%), New media (52%)

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Original citation:
Wright, David, 1972- (2015) Review of Popular culture and new media : the politics of
circulation, by David B. Cultural Trends, Volume 24 (Number 1). pp. 107-108. ISSN
0954-8963
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Wright, D. (2015) review of Beer, D. Popular Culture and New Media: The Politics of
Circulation, Cultural Trends, 24 (1): 107-108
DOI: 10.1080/09548963.2014.1000600
Beer, David (2013) Popular Culture and New Media: The Politics of Circulation,
Basingstoke: Palgrave, 190pp, Hardback, £55.00, ISBN 978113727004.
This is a relatively short but dense and ambitious book which attempts to provide some
conceptual tools with which to approach the transformations to contemporary cultural life
wrought by the inexorable rise of what are still termed ‘new media’. Actively and explicitly
eschewing, what, in the words of the Science and Technology Studies scholar Steve Woolgar,
represents the cyber-bole’ of some commentary on these processes, and being careful not to
fetishize what is or isn’t new about these media by keeping a close regard to continuities as well
as changes, it calmly and carefully lays out how a range of media technologies, and the data
generated through either their primary function or as bi-product of their use, operate to
illuminate or obscure our understanding of cultural life. ‘Popular culture’ is the object – but this
is popular culture in its broader, routinized, day-to-day, ‘way of life’ sense, rather than relating
to the hierarchical, legitimate or commercial cultural things.
New media technologies, and in particular the production, accumulation and circulation of
digital forms of data are, the book argues, transforming this version of popular culture in quite
fundamental ways. It is convincing in its claim that these developments, whilst not, as some
enthusiasts might argue, spelling the end of theory, do require a theoretical response that
recognises that the game of culture and of popular culture in particular has been changed by
these technologies and that the established theoretical corpus for understanding culture might
need to change too to take account of them.
The book begins with consideration of the ‘objects and infrastructures’ of the new
media/popular cultural world, emphasising that a precursor to any substantive understanding
of the role of digital data in social, cultural and political life is an appreciation of the devices that
produce it and the extent to which they are not just technologically neutral carriers of
information but also objects which elicit emotional attachments and which are, increasingly,
engaged in shaping and recording experience and memory. It then considers in turn a series of
topics in which the roles of these objects, infrastructures and modes of circulation are evident,
beginning with the digital archive. For Beer this has a central, constitutive relation to
contemporary forms of cultural production and consumption. What appears to be the banal act
of tagging a YouTube clip, or liking a Facebook page for example, generates and reflects new

ways of engaging with culture, beyond the cliché of the (inter)active media audience. This open
and accessible ‘classificatory imagination, has profound implications for how culture circulates.
Following Foucault, the power to classify and the consequences of classification take on greater
urgency in contexts where the volume of data being produced is so vast, and where the
technologies of classification are so embedded in the practices of everyday life, so sophisticated
and so ripe for commercial and perhaps other - forms of exploitation.
The story continues in a revealing chapter on the social and cultural significance of the
algorithm. This draws on research about how algorithms act as hidden decision makers in a
range of fields, shaping how we interact with everyday forms of software, but also informing
substantive and significant decision-making such as assessing the relative risk of migrants at
border crossings or, less significantly perhaps, informing the holy grail of search engine
optimisation in academic abstract-writing. These same processes of intelligent and reflexive
automated decision-making are applied to a more in-depth consideration of how algorithmically
generated data help shape and circulate tastes in powerful new ways, such that in contexts such
as iTunes, NetFlix or Amazon we don’t so much discover new cultural products as have them
discover us.
A brief sojourn through the cultural and democratic possibilities of data ‘play’, afforded by the
diffusion of the means of manipulating and visualising open data, takes us to the final chapter,
on the body. This contains some intriguing reflection on the relative absence of the body from
theorising of digital culture - an absence surprising given its centrality to social and cultural
theory at the dawn of the digital age (e.g. Harraway’s ‘cyborg manifesto and its discontents).
Mobile media are explored in relation to how the boundaries and territories of bodies are
created and managed. This is almost exclusively focussed on iPod/Walkman technologies as
representations of developments in the relations between bodies and space and the strategic
creation of ‘mediated solitude’. Through all these examples, each placed in its own theoretical
context, Beer convincingly argues that alongside their technological significance, new media are
also cultural constructions or assemblages- infused and overlain with powerful assumptions,
held and enacted by both producers and consumers, about how and for what reasons data can
and should be circulated.
There is popular culture present in that other, more restricted and recognisable sense too,
though albeit as occasional empirical example. These draw on and extend Beer’s published
research into how digital methods of circulation are transforming musical genres or the
experience of listening to music. Equally revealing though are the examples of the author’s
attempts to teach himself to play a Jesus and Mary Chain song on the guitar by using a digital

archive or enjoy the real time TV commentary on a snooker tournament through a portable ear
piece worn in the audience of the event itself. From both types of example we get a clear sense
of a series of intellectual problems appearing before the author to be productively puzzled over
and written through. For some tastes the book might lack a solid, rigorous, empirical basis to the
reflection, but there is an openness and scepticism to the claim-making which is also a call to
researchers to make sense of the digital not as some add on to existing empirical problems but
as constitutive of how these problems might be known in the contemporary period. As a series
of informed reflections and as a primer for and synthesis of a range of current cultural
theoretical perspectives on the landscapes of digital culture, it is never less than interesting and
is more often illuminating and entertaining.
David Wright teaches in the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick. He
has research interests in the sociology of taste, popular culture and cultural policy and is
currently developing research and writing projects on cultural taste and the politics of cultural
participation.
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References
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369 citations


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Deborah Lupton1Institutions (1)
29 Oct 2014
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157 citations


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Abstract: Across multiple societies, we see a shift from regimes of truth (ROT) to “regimes of posttruth” (ROPT) characterized by proliferating “truth markets.” ROT corresponded to disciplinary society, tighter functioning between media/political/education apparatuses, scientific discourses, and dominant truth-arbiters. ROPT corresponds to societies of control, where power exploits new “freedoms” to participate/produce/express (as well as consume/diffuse/evaluate). These developments further correspond to postpolitics/postdemocracy, where issues, discourses, and agency for sociopolitical change remain constrained, despite the enabling of a new range of cultural and pseudopolitical participation around, among other things, truth. ROPT emerge out of postpolitical/postdemocratic strategies common to control societies where especially resource rich political actors attempt to use data-analytic knowledge to manage the field of appearance and participation, via attention and affect.

117 citations


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Abstract: The emergence of digitized health and physical education, or ‘eHPE’, embeds software algorithms in the organization of health and physical education pedagogies. Particularly with the emergence of wearable and mobile activity trackers, biosensors and personal analytics apps, algorithmic processes have an increasingly powerful part to play in how people learn about their own bodies and health. This article specifically considers the ways in which algorithms are converging with eHPE through the emergence of new health-tracking and biophysical data technologies designed for use in educational settings. The first half of the article provides a conceptual account of how algorithms ‘do things’ in the social world, and considers how algorithms are interwoven with practices of health tracking. In the second half, three key issues are articulated for further exploration: (1) health tracking as a ‘biopedagogy’ of bodily optimization based on data-led and algorithmically mediated understandings of the body; (2) healt...

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