Cultural Studies Journal, Volume 08-02 (1994-05)

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Cultural Studies Journal, Volume 08-02 (1994-05)

Editorial Board EDITORS Lawrence Grossberg University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign USA Janice Radway Duke University US

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Pages 187 Page size 432 x 648 pts Year 2001

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Editorial Board

EDITORS Lawrence Grossberg University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign USA Janice Radway Duke University USA ASSISTANT EDITOR Stephen Crofts Wiley University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign USA BOOK REVIEW EDITORS John Frow University of Queensland Australia Tim O’Sullivan de Montfort University UK Jennifer Daryl Slack Michigan Technological University USA EDITORIAL COMMITTEE Charles Acland Queen’s University Canada Martin Allor Concordia University Canada len Ang Murdoch University Australia Tony Bennett Griffith University Australia Jody Berland York University Canada Georgina Born Goldsmiths’ College UK Hazel V.Carby Yale University USA Angie Chabram Dernersesian University of California-Davis USA Dipesh Chakrabarty University of Melbourne Iain Chambers Istituto Universitario Orientale Italy Kuan-Hsing Chen National Tsing Hua University Taiwan John Clarke The Open University UK James Clifford University of California-Santa Cruz USA Jennifer Craik Griffith University Australia Lidia Curti Istituto Universitario Orientale Italy Richard Dyer Warwick University UK Katarina Eskola University of Jyvaskyla Finland Jane Feuer Universityof Pittsburgh USA John Fiske University of Wisconsin-Madison USA


Keya Ganguly Carnegie Mellon University USA Paul Gilroy Goldsmiths’ College UK Henry A.Giroux Penn State University USA Andrew Goodwin University of San Francisco USA Herman Gray University of California-Santa Cruz USA John Hartley Murdoch University Sut Jhally University of Massachusetts USA Lata Mani University of California-Davis USA Angela McRobbie Ealing College UK Dave Morley Goldsmiths’ College UK Meaghan Morris (Independent) Australia Stephen Muecke University of Technology Australia Elspeth Probyn University of Montreal Canada Andrew Ross Princeton University USA Bill Schwarz Polytechnic of East London UK Will Straw Carleton University Canada Andrew Tolson Queen Margaret College UK Graeme Turner University of Queensland UK Gail Valaskakis Concordia University Canada Michele Wallace The City College of New York USA Peter Wicke Humboldt University Germany Janet Wolff University of Rochester USA

This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005. “To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to” Advertisements: Enquiries to David Polley, Routledge, 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE. Subscription Rates (calendar year only): UK/EC individuals: £22; institutions £60; North America: individuals $35; institutions $95; rest of the world: individuals £24; institutions £65; all rates include postage. Subscriptions to: Subscriptions Department, Routledge, Cheriton House, North Way, Andover, Hants, SP10 5BE. Single copies available on request. ISSN 0950-2386 © Routledge, 1994

ISBN 0-203-98632-6 Master e-book ISBN






Cultural Studies seeks to foster more open analytic, critical and political conversations by encouraging people to push the dialogue into fresh, uncharted territory. It is devoted to understanding the specific ways cultural practices operate in everyday life and social formations. But it is also devoted to intervening in the processes by which the existing techniques, institutions and structures of power are reproduced, resisted and transformed. Although focused in some sense on culture, we understand the term inclusively rather than exclusively. We are interested in work that explores the relations between cultural practices and everyday life, economic relations, the material world, the State, and historical forces and contexts. The journal is not committed to any single theoretical or political position; rather, we assume that questions of power organized around differences of race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity, nationality, colonial relations, etc., are all necessary to an adequate analysis of the contemporary world. We assume as well that different questions, different contexts and different institutional positions may bring with them a wide range of critical practices and theoretical frameworks. ‘Cultural studies’ as a fluid set of critical practices has moved rapidly into the mainstream of contemporary intellectual and academic life in a variety of political, national and intellectual contexts. Those of us working in cultural studies find ourselves caught between the need to define and defend its specificity and the desire to resist closure of the ongoing history of cultural studies by any such act of definition. We would like to suggest that cultural studies is most vital politically and intellectually when it refuses to construct itself as a fixed or unified theoretical position that can move freely across historical and political contexts. Cultural studies is in fact constantly reconstructing itself in the light of changing historical projects and intellectual resources. It is propelled less by a theoretical agenda than by its desire to construct possibilities, both immediate and imaginary, out of historical circumstances; it seeks to give a better understanding of where we are so that we can create new historical contexts and formations which are based on more just principles of freedom, equality, and the distribution of wealth and power. But it is, at the same time, committed to the importance of the ‘detour through theory’ as the crucial moment of critical intellectual work. Moreover, cultural studies is always interdisciplinary; it does not seek to explain everything from a cultural point of view or to reduce reality to culture. Rather it attempts to explore the specific effects of cultural practices using whatever resources are intellectually and politically available and/or necessary. This is, of course, always partly determined by the form and place of its institutionalization. To this end, cultural studies is committed to the


radically contextual, historically specific character not only of cultural practices but also of the production of knowledge within cultural studies itself. It assumes that history, including the history of critical thought, is never guaranteed in advance, that the relations and possibilities of social life and power are never necessarily stitched into place, once and for all. Recognizing that ‘people make history in conditions not of their own making’, it seeks to identify and examine those moments when people are manipulated and deceived as well as those moments when they are active, struggling and even resisting. In that sense cultural studies is committed to the popular as a cultural terrain and a political force. Cultural Studies will publish essays covering a wide range of topics and styles. We hope to encourage significant intellectual and political experimentation, intervention and dialogue. At least half the issues will focus on special topics, often not traditionally associated with cultural studies. Occasionally, we will make space to present a body of work representing a specific national, ethnic or social tradition. Whenever possible, we intend to represent the truly international nature of contemporary work, without ignoring the significant differences that are the result of speaking from and to specific contexts. We invite articles, reviews, critiques, photographs and other forms of ‘artistic’ production, and suggestions for special issues. And we invite readers to comment on the strengths and weaknesses, not only of the project and progress of cultural studies, but of the project and progress of Cultural Studies as well. Larry Grossberg Janice Radway Contributions should be sent to Professor Lawrence Grossberg, Dept. of Speech Communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 244 Lincoln Hall, 702 S.Wright St., Urbana, Ill. 61801, USA. They should be in triplicate and should conform to the reference system set out in the Notes for Contributors, available from the Editors or Publishers. Submissions undergo blind peer review. The author’s name should not appear anywhere in the manuscript except on a detachable cover page along with an address and the title of the piece. Reviews, and books for review, should be sent to Tim O’Sullivan, School of Arts, de Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH; or to John Frow, Dept. of English, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia; or to Jennifer Daryl Slack, Dept. of Humanities, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI 49931, USA.


Nordic cultural studies—an introduction Katarina Eskola and Erkki Vainikkala


The nation in the global village Ulf Hannerz and Orvar Löfgren


Cultural uniformity, differentiation, and small national cultures Kimmo Jokinen


Intellectuals as constructors of cultural identities Jostein Gripsrud


Soul for sale Anders Johansen


Sticking together or standing out? A Scandinavian life story Marianne Gullestad


Homespun life: Metaphors on the course of life in women’s autobiographies Anni Vilkko


Lace and the limits of reading Lisbeth Larsson


Reception as flow: The ‘new television viewer’ revisited Klaus Bruhn Jensen


TV News: From discrete items to continuous narrative? The social meaning of changing temporal structures Stig Hjarvard






Mirroring meetings, mirroring media: The microphysics of reflexivity Johan Fornäs


Ethnographic enigmas: ‘the everyday’ in recent media studies Kirsten Drotner



349 New revisionism in cultural studies? Heikki Hellman


Style of a radical will Steen Salomonsen


Is culture a product? Jukka Siikala


Notes on contributors




This special issue of Nordic—Scandinavian and Finnish—cultural studies follows one line mentioned in the editorial statement of this periodical. It also happens to come out after some lively discussions concerning the status of the regional and the national in international cultural flows, including those of cultural studies itself. This adds a certain contextual interest to the articles that follow. Cultural studies, of course, has always taken its impetus from tensions which serve to keep it off balance, preventing it from becoming a self-contained discipline. These tensions arise from a view of culture as an ambivalent field of resources and power, and as a moment in the interplay between the cultural, the social and the economic—between the material and the symbolic. An orientation of this kind requires a theoretical and methodological openness, also leading to a questioning of institutional solidity and disciplinary limits. Thus the identity and commitment of cultural studies are connected with a necessary instability. This particular quality can unwittingly become an occasion for tendencies towards closure—from the inside, as a particular brand of the effort gains discursive prominence, or from the outside as a result of institutional success. The term’ Americanization’ of cultural studies sums up both, denoting both a universalization of certain powerful speaking positions and—a quite different thing—an institutional threat of losing the commitment to openness. The problem of the more or less powerful speaking positions within cultural studies was brought up on the occasion of the Illinois conference1 and the ensuing volume Cultural Studies (Grossberg, Nelson and Treichler, 1992), and discussed at length in, for example, the October 1992 (6:3) issue of this periodical. Such considerations, together with the institutional success, have intensified reflections on the above tensions. In response to the outer pressures, the specificity of cultural studies tends to be defended by emphasizing key concepts and research strategies, mainly going back to the Birmingham tradition. In response to inner pressures arising from the concentrations of discursive power, and amounting to universalizing tendencies within cultural studies, the fundamental openness of the latter is stressed. Such an openness means contextual specificity which corrects linear and homogenizing notions about, for example, the same British tradition. Tracking the changing relations between the particular and the general concerns, among other things, the status of the national and the regional in global developments today, as well as the articulation of cultural studies in such contexts; this special issue on Nordic cultural studies is one outcome of such enquiry.


Cultural studies in the Nordic countries have not necessarily appeared under that name. The Continental theories that inspired the work at the CCCS in Birmingham were read and discussed in Scandinavia before the particular British configuration became known; this helped create favourable conditions for the reception of the Centre’s work. This is not only a question of ‘anticipation’, but also of different emphases and disciplinary affiliations. The influence of the Frankfurt School has been of a special importance to critical analysis of culture in the Nordic countries—Habermas’s book on the public sphere came out in Norwegian as early as 1971, and Negt and Kluge’s Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung in 1974. In other Nordic countries, too, translations of Critical Theory were published, and the influence of this tradition on the social (in action research) and human sciences (in studying cultural forms excluded from the canons) was of a kind which, as Jostein Gripsrud observes, might be surprising from the British ‘cultural studies’ viewpoint.1 In Norway, the influence of the Birmingham School made itself felt in the mid and late seventies in two areas: in educational sociology, pedagogy and youth culture as well as in Nordic literature and cultural history. These impulses, however, were blended with those from Germany and France. There are also surprising ‘predecessors’ like the nineteenth sociologist Eilert Sundt; he studied culture as a ‘way of life’, bringing together methods ranging from statistics to participant observation and deep interviews, and wished to support ‘the people’ and ‘the lower classes’ with his research. As for now, there seems to be a trend among social anthropologists to study Norwegian culture with methodologies and theoretical perspectives normally employed in studies of ‘exotic’ cultures. The concerns of such work range from the everyday lives of young working-class suburban housewives to the meanings of rock culture. Another field with a strong cultural studies orientation in Norway is media studies. In this field, British cultural studies have played an important role in demonstrating the need of basing research on a wider socio-cultural context, not forgetting the political implications of the phenomena under scrutiny. This tradition has also shown how perspectives from the social sciences and the humanities may be intertwined in a basically hermeneutic approach to contemporary culture and its historical underpinnings. Research on the interplay of different factors can also assume an historical dimension, as for example in work done by Pétur Pétursson (University of Iceland) on nation-building and secularization in Iceland. Up to the end of the First World War, political and cultural life was shaped by the struggle for national sovereignty; thereafter, economic issues came to dominate the debates. Cultural life was changed by a secularization process taking place alongside a contest with the Danish colonial government. Compulsory education and curricular requirements were determined by these forces. It is a common characteristic of cultural studies in the Nordic countries that there are no designated departments for such purposes. In Norway, as suggested above, the newly institutionalized field of media studies has, at the universities of Oslo and Bergen, come to incorporate work that may be called ‘cultural studies’. An example of this is an MA programme in Bergen, where issues of cultural history, theory and analysis are studied in relation to the media. Some recent work of the department is put together in a collection of papers called Cultural Identity and the Media (edited by Jostein Gripsrud).


As to the situation in Denmark, Klaus Bruhn Jensen likewise emphasizes the heterogeneity of cultural studies. In parts of the humanities, the classical legacy of phenomenology and hermeneutics (including German reception aesthetics) is still strong. For Danish mass communication research from the early 1970s to the mid 1980s, the role of critical theory of the Frankfurt School variety, especially Habermas’s work on the public sphere, was particularly important. Much of the interdisciplinary work with a cultural studies orientation has, in recent decades, also been drawing on the Annales school, Bourdieu, linguistic discourse analysis, labour history, and feminist scholarship. Jensen concludes that while the ‘Birmingham school’ has for the last 10–15 years been one of the main influences, cultural studies in Denmark ‘is not synonymous with the configuration of social and psychoanalytic theories that were, to a degree, imported from the European continent, rearticulated in the UK, and later reexported to the American market, as an alternative to mainstream sociology and literary studies’. In the mid to late 1980s there was an extended debate over the issue of ‘quality’ with reference to TV series such as Dallas and Dynasty. One question was whether cultural quality resides in media texts or in audience reception. As the discussion went on both in the daily press and scientific journals, it also restated the question of the cultural role that intellectuals could and should play. The positions taken by media researchers were significantly different from those prevalent in the discussions in the 1970s and early 1980s when researchers were more strongly defending the media against commercialization and also criticizing the endorsement of the social and political status quo by the public service channels. Concerning new or emergent orientations, Jensen draws attention to studies on the social formation of new (communication) technologies in the context of everyday life. Also, issues of meaning, culture and everyday practice have gained new importance within research on social and health services. As for the institutional basis of cultural studies in Denmark, such an orientation is found to some extent in social sciences ranging from anthropology to political science, but more often in departments of mass communication and film, language and literature—the latter having sometimes, as in the case of the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of Copenhagen, provided the ground for developments leading to departments of communication and film. Cultural studies in Denmark may also have been furthered by interdisciplinary developments stimulated by the so-called university centres, where teaching is largely undertaken jointly by staff from different departments. With regard to the situation in Sweden, Johan Fornäs considers the identity of cultural studies problematic because the disciplinary backgrounds and research orientations show significant differences from those usually associated with the term (even the term is not used all that often). There is a strong hermeneutic orientation, and the Frankfurt school and Habermasian critical theory have had a crucial impact, along with figures like the German social psychologist Thomas Ziehe, whose work on youth, socialization, pedagogics and cultural modernization has been influential in the Nordic countries. The impact of structuralism, which was strong around 1970, was balanced by these approaches, leading to a different orientation from that in Britain. The German influence, together with French and American psychoanalytical theory, has also led in Sweden to a particular blend of style analysis


and social psychology—even though, on the other hand, disbelief in psychological theory is strong, especially within the ethnographic-historical camp. Three interrelated fields can be discerned in Swedish cultural studies. First, there is ethnography and cultural history, which have dealt with social history, history of mentalities and general anthropology (with different emphases at the universities of Lund, Stockholm and Umeå). The second field is the study of youth culture, where the strongest currents have been British subcultural style studies, Bourdieuan sociology of culture, and German theory of socialization and modernity (Habermas, Ziehe). These two fields mingle with the third one, namely media studies and studies of popular culture (as in the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication at Stockholm University)—extending to film studies, literature and musicology. Thus there are many different traditions and research orientations that contribute to a cultural studies orientation. Such an interest is apparent in disciplines like history, sociology, anthropology, ethnology and psychoanalysis as well as in society at large, due to the process of modernization and its theories, as well as the phenomenon of multiculturality. The heterogeneity of the field means that there are no institutionally fixed cultural studies in Sweden. Departments running media studies and studies of popular culture must be mentioned with the qualification that the persisting dominance of quantitative traditions within Swedish mass communication research has been working against institutional stabilization of a cultural studies approach in this field. The orientation of Swedish sociology, on the whole, has not been amenable to cultural studies. In literature, some researchers have oriented themselves towards popular literature and reception theory. In musicology, especially in studies of rock, film and TV music, social aspects have been combined with close readings, and semiotics has also played a part. In Finland, too, direct German and French influences have been important in discussions about the end or continued relevance of the ‘project of the Enlightenment’ and its relation to the so-called postindustrial and postmodern developments. As an example of the continued interest in the British variety of cultural studies, a recent extensive collection of Stuart Hall’s articles in Finnish may be mentioned. A special feature in Finland has been the strong position of sociology in this field. Empirical research anchored in social and historical structures has been favoured, including the ‘production of culture’ approach; research on the economy of culture has been pursued at the Helsinki School of Economics. Issues of nationality have been important. Bourdieuan analyses focusing on the functioning of cultural capital in the Finnish middle classes has been pursued, including critical reflections on the transferability of theoretical concepts from one culture to another. The increasing cultural orientation within sociology has even aroused some concern with regard to the main tasks of the discipline. This concern seems to be connected with a questioning of the centrality and fixity of structural factors like social class as well as an increased attention to sign processes, the formation of the subject, representation as re-presentation, and new forms of intersubjectivity. These concerns have had the twofold effect of giving rise to paradigmatic tensions within the sociological approach to culture, and changing the orientation of many researchers in the humanities so that a new cultural studies orientation has become


evident. This new distribution of dominance and interests has created favourable conditions for cross-disciplinary work in the field. Emphases of this kind are discernible in media and literary studies (at the University of Tampere, for example, a new cultural studies option is available for media and literature students) as well as in the long overdue establishment of film studies at the universities of Turku and Oulu. Research into the ‘way of life’ began to gain ground in the late 1970s, in psychology and sociology; a later interest in biography was shared by literary studies. At the University of Helsinki, the ‘Kristiina-instituutti’ has become a centre for women’s studies; to interests in gender roles and issues of equality, more ‘Frenchinspired’ feminist emphases have been added. An important general asset for grasping ongoing cultural changes has been semiotics, which also provides a possible source for disciplinary reorientation. In Finland, too, cultural studies have arisen due to interdisciplinary interests, and no special departments have been established. As noted above, however, there have been some institutional developments in that direction, also exemplified by the Research Unit for Contemporary Culture at the University of Jyväskylä. The Unit has also organized an extensive cultural studies network to promote contacts between researchers and to serve the educational needs of postgraduate students; the quarterly Kulttuuritutkimus (Cultural Studies) has also come out of these activities. All in all, the status of cultural studies in the Nordic countries seems to underscore in its own way the multi-dimensional character and the problematic identity of such studies today. The common elements and connecting issues, in turn, are not questions of a scholarly emphasis only. The new political arrangements and discussions concerning the future relationship of the Nordic countries to the changing European Union, for example, have drawn attention to the necessity of addressing the complex interplay of the social, economic and cultural aspects of the process. As far as an interest in the nexus between the material and the symbolic is a decisive characteristic of cultural studies, this new configuration with its special challenges to the Nordic welfare states is one more instigation to continue such work. The articles to follow are divided into three sections. The first is concerned with nationality and culture. It brings some interesting variation to discussions around these issues—also to the recent ‘policy’ debate, for example, in view of Ien Ang’s remarks on ‘social democratic visions of culture’ having led in the Netherlands to ‘complacent, top-down, rationalist, and instrumentalist discourses’ (Ang, 1992:315). Ulf Hannerz and Orvar Löfgren show how in Sweden modernity was nationalized by the welfare state in the form of the aesthetic ideology of functionalism; later, it was transformed and given wider social currency by ‘American’ commercialization. The effects of this process in popular culture were not controllable by ‘state intellectuals’, but neither were they a direct effect of business rationality. Jostein Gripsrud describes the stakes that intellectuals had in the national Norwegian identity project, and how this was associated with social modernization. He does this through the biography (official and unofficial) of an intellectual rising from the lower peasantry in the nineteenth century. Anders Johansen looks into the process of symbolic homogenization leading to national cultural stereotypes, and the way these are exploited commercially now that national ideologies have become weaker in the overall culture. Streamlining now follows from the needs of the market. This seems to be a general tendency these days, with a little help from the state; and it is


interesting that some signs of a contrary development (whatever its real effect will be) are discernible in the United States. Thus the weakening of the welfare states in the Nordic countries is a very ambivalent phenomenon, also in view of the fact that the state has been, for all its rationalizing tendencies, a support for such key issues as women’s rights. Kimmo Jokinen discusses the nature of cultural change and the function of realistic reading strategies in Finland. Finnish literature has tended to assume the role of historiography, and true-to-life reading habits now offer a way to resist—or cope with—the new tendencies of cultural differentiation. The second section continues the identity theme in autobiographical and fictional contexts. Marianne Gullestad’s contribution connects directly to the previous issues, as it studies an old man’s written life story in relation to the decline of the values of the Norwegian welfare state and the emergence of a more competitive orientation. Anni Vilkko discusses problems of meaning and formal coherence in women’s autobiographies with reference to the distinction between life lived and life told, as well as to different patterns of metaphorical closure in those stories. Lisbeth Larsson explores the theme of daughters deserted by their mothers in Shirley Conran’s novel Lace, showing romance-reading as a form of resistance and a ‘utopia of intimacy’, and relating it to enlightened critics’ disparagement of women’s ‘bad taste’ (a phenomenon linked to Hannerz’s and Löfgren’s account of the pedagogical project of aesthetic functionalism in Sweden). The third section comprises articles on television as text and as received, as well as on reflexivity in relation to personal and mediated encounters. Klaus Bruhn Jensen’s critical reassessment of the ‘new’ television viewer’s power over the medium is based on a study of a sample of American households. Different kinds of ‘super themes’ are identified; they cut across the various genres of flow and establish connections with viewers’ everyday realities. Stig Hjarvard examines the change of the time-space of TV news from programme sequences to a serial flow connecting the temporal structure of public affairs to the time of the viewers’ everyday life. After deregulation, TV news assumed the form of a soap as recapitulation gave way to continued updating. Johan Fornä’s probes into late modern forms of reflexivity among middleand working-class youths playing amateur rock. Media images of youth, gender, class, ethnicity and local cultures function as frames. The uses of different discursive modes are analysed, as well as the tactics of silence, interrogation and narration. Kirsten Drotner examines the increasing importance of ethnography in the social sciences generally and in media studies in particular. She offers a critical review of sociological and phenomenological approaches to the concept of ‘the everyday’ and urges media analysts to explore, through ethnography, the everyday temporal and spatial structures of media reception. Thus the theme of identity work, figuring at different levels of this volume, recurs here as a question of the mediated constitution of personal experience. Notes 1 ‘Cultural Studies Now and in the Future’, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 7–9 April 1990. 2 We want to recognize the great help, in preparing this issue, of Johan Fornä’s (Stockholm), Jostein Gripsrud (Bergen) and Klaus Bruhn Jensen (Copenhagen). They


submitted a range of suggestions about possible contributors as well as detailed accounts on the state of the art in their countries.

References Ang, Ien (1992) ‘Dismantling “Cultural Studies”? (by way of introduction)’, Cultural Studies 6(3):311–21. Grossberg, Lawrence, Nelson, Cary and Treichler, Paula (1992) editors, Cultural Studies, New York/London: Routledge, Chapman and Hall.



‘Do you want to go on sleeping, or may we wake you up?’ The question was put to German newspaper readers in an advertisement campaign, where parodied versions of German traditional homemaking were contrasted to modern Swedish living. Interiors in drab sepia, crammed with over-decorated heavy oak furniture, flowery wallpapers and 1950s bedspreads were juxtaposed with colour photos of bright, simple interiors in natural materials. This was the successful furniture chain IKEA, marketing itself in Germany as Swedish modernity. Beginning some forty years ago with an enterprising young man selling simple chairs out of a barn in his home village, IKEA now seems to be everywhere, along with McDonald’s, Benetton, and Holiday Inn; in Germany as well as in Hongkong and Singapore. And yet it is enduringly Swedish, not only in its blue-and-yellow trade mark. That, of course, in the late twentieth century, is the way the world is. Globalization seems to touch on forever more in our lives. People can move over greater distances more rapidly than ever before, whether they do so as business travellers (with only a carry-on briefcase), as tourists, or as refugees leaving a devastated homeland. Marshall MacLuhan’s (1964) metaphor of the ‘global village’ may not have been altogether apt—it is, for one thing, rather too idyllic and egalitarian in its overtones—but he was right in that media, electronic as well as print, have a way of neutralizing space. And, not least, we participate in the global ecumene as consumers, whether we pay attention or not to the origin of the goods we reach for from the store shelves. (IKEA, of course, tends to make its prospective customers pay such attention.) The human sciences have hardly more than begun to grapple with the complexities of this world. With respect to social theory, writers such as Immanuel Wallerstein (e.g., 1991:64 ff.) and Anthony Giddens (e.g., 1987:34 ff.) point to the need to move beyond the habitual conflation of concepts of society, state and nation, and to get to work on examining transnational and global structures (although their opinions may differ on how to do this). With regard to cultural theory, the situation is hardly better; for much of the scholarly thinking about culture, as for example Richard Handler (1985:171) has pointed out, draws on the same historical roots as nineteenth-century European nationalism, and consequently tends to assume, emphasize or even celebrate national units, rather than to problematize or relativize them.


A research project Together with colleagues among ethnologists and social anthropologists at the universities in Lund and Stockholm, we have started a joint research project on national and transnational cultural processes where we hope to develop conceptual and theoretical points of view toward contemporary cultural organization, as well as a variety of empirical studies. We are interested in both how the international is nationalized and how the national is exported in different settings and epochs, looking at such large-scale scenarios as ‘global homogenization’ or ‘Americanization’, and more pluralistic and open-ended conceptions of globalization such as ‘creolization’ (see e.g., Hannerz, 1987, 1991). We also want to investigate groups and institutions involved in cultural mediation and gatekeeping of different kinds; from intellectuals and multinational corporations to au pair girls and sports fans. As another area in which we hope to initiate more research, there is the development of transnational and syncretic intellectual and aesthetic forms. The nucleus of our research group, again, is in social anthropology and European ethnology. For those readers not familiar with university organization in the Nordic region, we should point out here that in the Scandinavian countries and Finland, as in much of continental Europe, these are organized as two separate disciplines, with their own university departments. Ethnology emerged historically as a discipline devoted to the study of the national cultural tradition, with an emphasis on peasant culture, while social anthropology had its origins, here as elsewhere, in the study of more exotic, non-Western societies and cultures. At present, there is considerable convergence and overlap between the two, but undeniably there are still also differences between their respective traditions and practices, so that to a degree our research programme is an interdisciplinary venture; we also have some collaborative links with a network of scholars in other neighbouring disciplines. It may be argued that in moving toward an understanding of cultural processes on the global scale, we have to move away from the specific origins of our disciplines, where ethnology has been committed to studying the national, and social anthropology with its field-work tradition has often not ventured out of its small-scale local settings. On the other hand, both disciplines have emphasized an intensive engagement with everyday life; with the habits and institutions of ‘ordinary people’, their thought and their symbolic expressions. In some ways, this may be a limitation that we have to take into account. Yet there is also a strength in this that is not always recognized, and which may need further development. Often the work of ethnologists and anthropologists draws applause from colleagues in other disciplines because of its ethnography; the intricate detail of its descriptions, and the intimate understandings derived from a close personal familiarity with a way of life. Neither the anthropologists and ethnologists themselves nor their neighbours in other disciplines, however, seem to give much attention to the particular theoretical implications that such work may have. Agents and frameworks in cultural process Let us contextualize this. A criticism that is now frequently voiced against much cultural theory (and proto-theory), in anthropology and elsewhere, is its weak sense


of agency.1 In our own work, we tend to see culture in processual terms, as an ongoing handling of meanings and meaningful forms, by a variety of kinds of actors, in different social organizational frameworks (for a more detailed discussion see Hannerz, 1992). Like many observers, we note that the state and the market in the present era are both intensely involved in the management of culture, and we recognize that social anthropology and ethnology have long given too little attention to this fact. We are also aware of the conspicuous contribution that movements—of ecologists, feminists, religious fundamentalists, or of a variety of other persuasions— make, although in a somewhat on-and-off manner, to contemporary culture. None the less, we insist that the largest part of cultural process still occurs in what, for lack of a more precise and revealing term, we may call the ‘form of life’ framework. This is where people, simply by going about their daily lives, and observing and commenting on one another, set in motion a massive, although largely undeliberate and decentred, flow of meaning, through a variety of institutions and contexts. And, in line with what we said before about our disciplinary traditions, this is where ethnologists and social anthropologists have usually concentrated their attention, on units like communities and subcultures, although mostly without much theorizing concerning the characteristics of its cultural process, and their changes. As organizational frameworks, state, market, movement and form of life may each have their recurrent tendencies in the handling of culture, including various temporal and spatial implications. We would argue that together they account for most contemporary cultural process, if not all, and that a developed sense of their general characteristics offers a range of useful preliminary leads in cultural analysis. It is important to understand, however, that these frames are not impermeable vis-àvis each other. It is rather in their entanglements, where different kinds of agents appropriate meanings and symbolic forms from each other, to manage them according to their own principles, or where they compete over them, that we find much of what keeps culture shifting, continuously unstable. Recognizing the frames also allows us to see interfaces and crossovers more clearly. It may well be in illuminating these interrelations that we can most clearly discern the necessity to develop a more explicit and orderly understanding of processes in the form of life framework, in order to grasp how they affect the whole. Rethinking national cultures One of our concerns in the project is to renew our conceptions of national cultures, in the context of organizational diversity and global interconnectedness (see Foster, 1991). This is the issue that we will mostly dwell on here, using the Swedish case to illustrate a more general perspective on the constant making and remaking of national integration and identity. In order to understand why the nation-state has been such a successful machine for political mobilization and cultural homogenization, displacing or overruling other traditional allegiances, we have to look at the ways in which the political structure of the state has been linked to the cultural conception of the nation. The idea of the nation gives legitimacy to the political structure of the state, while the state provides an institutional framework of cultural and social homogenization, an efficient infrastructure for culture-building.


The interesting paradox in the emergence of modern nationalism from the end of the eighteenth century onward is that it is an international ideology which is imported for national ends. This was the case at the end of the eighteenth century, when the revolutionary national experiments in the Americas inspired European intellectuals on the other side of the Atlantic, and this is still the case at the end of the twentieth century, when new national movements appear in the Third World or old national projects are called to life in the disintegrating Second World. In this perspective we may view the ideology of nationalism as a gigantic do-ityourself kit. Gradually a more and more detailed list of ideas is developed as to what elements make up a proper nation. Fixed conceptions emerged in the nineteenth century about how a cultural heritage should be shaped, how a national anthem should sound, or when the flag should be waved. National galleries were founded, national mentalities discovered. In this parallel work of nation-building, cultural matrices were freely borrowed across national frontiers. National projects were made transnational, imported and transformed into new, unique national settings. In this process the national is constantly redefined and reworked—in 1792 as in 1992 (see Löfgren, 1989). Nationalizing modernity The Swedish twentieth-century experience is a good example of such processes of cultural appropriation. Here, as in the other Nordic countries, certain ideas about modernity were nationalized into a local version of the welfare state. In this process a social movement, the Social Democrats, was turned into a nation-building force during its nearly sixty-year period of government. It has often been said that the Social Democrats replaced old national values and heritage with an ideology of internationalism, but in retrospect we can see how they developed new and even more powerful tools of homogenization and nationalization. Modernity became a very Swedish project, taking on national forms which were very effective because they were based more on everyday practice than on ideological statements or national rhetoric. In the making of the new Sweden, new ties of dependence and solidarity emerged, as well as a new national pride. The making of the new welfare state carried the idea of collective progress: a nation moving united into the future. Old habits and traditions had to be discarded, old rhetoric about the glorious past had to be exchanged for visions of a common future. The good Swede was a modern Swede, looking forward rather than backward. Functionalism rapidly became the aesthetic ideology of the intellectuals in the movement. Through modern design and modern living, people would be able to reorganize their everyday lives in rational forms. At the New York world exhibition in 1939 this Swedish version of functionalism was proudly announced: We know that good homes can only be created by healthy people in hygienic dwellings through education and knowledge, with furnishings that are in harmony with the times. We know that beauty and comfort should be for everyone…This is, briefly, the idea of the Swedish Modern movement.


In this nationalization of modernity there was a heavy focus on home improvement. A public and rather normative discourse on the art of good living emerged. Architects, planners, interior decorators and teachers of home economics were united in a crusade against ‘the unnecessary ugliness’ of bad taste and old traditions, in which even the smallest detail—a kitchen utensil or a panorama window—could become an educational tool. The battle was carried out during the 1940s and 1950s in many arenas and by different means: evening classes, home exhibitions, school books, furniture catalogues and interior decoration hints in magazines. School children were trained to furnish model flats, while their fathers took part in photo competitions on the theme of hominess, and housewives went to evening classes to learn modern living. Here questions of taste in consumption and above all in interior decoration were discussed in great detail. The aesthetics of modernity could be expressed in the pedagogical task of making the right choice between two glass bowls. In these normative examples the beautiful was always the same as the utilitarian, the simple, the practical, the restrained. The focus on the aesthetics of everyday life was strongly linked to ideas about mentality and morality. The peaceful and light, the restrained and low-key, the orderly and practical home should create a setting for light, open, harmonious and rational minds. Swedish modern The reformers of the 1930s and 1940s, however, tended to go unheard, despite their control of both state and movement channels of information. Their middleclass discourse on good taste and rational living was largely ignored in working-class homes—it was quite out of tune with the everyday realities and thus had poor chances of penetrating the framework of life forms among most Swedes. It was not until the 1950s and 1960s that modern living really caught on, and then in forms which the intellectual avant-garde would not always approve of. The market interacted more effectively with the form of life than they had been able to do through their organizational forms. With increased spending power and shorter working hours, the working class acquired new opportunities to attain a modern life with the aid of the growing range of commodities on offer. By this time the international style of tubular furniture and naked walls had been confronted with Swedish traditions and translated into new forms which were more acceptable to ordinary consumers. The faith in development was reflected in the design: everyday life and consumption were to be imbued with speed, flair, and verve. The ideas from the 1930s about streamlined forms now really caught on in everyday life. People could buy streamlined iceboxes, toasters, pencil sharpeners, radios. The objects with their curved lines became the icons of modernity; they were suffused with energy, as if they were in a hurry to reach Futureland. During these years the importance of being modern became a standard argument in the marketing of everything from kitchen pans to ashtrays. In advertisements the two most frequent adjectives used during the 1950s and 1960s were ‘new’ and ‘modern’. There was an optimistic atmosphere of really getting somewhere. The winds of change and rejuvenation would blow through the home, and the housewife was


defined as the vanguard of modernity. In 1960 the Swedish marketing journal called her ‘Sweden’s no. 1 consumer’ and added that ‘compared with other European housewives, her habits are undoubtedly less conservative and she responds more quickly to new products and methods than most.’ This enthusiasm cannot be reduced to the persuasive power of home-economics teachers or the seductive techniques of marketing. A new space for creativity had emerged in the form of the life framework, an opportunity to develop talents and interests among people who had lacked both time, money and energy to invest in their own home settings. During the 1950s and 1960s a new kind of aestheticization of everyday life developed. People got busy fixing, improving and decorating their homes as never before. The first generation of Do-It-Yourselfers was born (see Löfgren, 1990). An Americanized nation? At the same time as the majority of Swedes had a chance to develop what was called a modern standard of living, intellectuals began to worry about what kinds of modernity were being imported. As working-class standards of living rose, consumption was turned into a national battleground. Now middle-class intellectuals increasingly talked about the ways in which Americanization threatened the Swedish way of life. Middle-class observers singled out groups like teenagers, housewives and working-class families as easy prey for the consumer dreams and fads that were imported across the Atlantic. In this debate there was a tendency to equate Americanization with consumerism: America represented not only a utopia of modernity, informality and efficiency, but also Hollywood vulgarity and low taste. The heated debates about Americanization mirrored this ambivalence and the fear of the middle-class of losing its position as a gatekeeper for the transnational cultural flow as well as the role of unquestioned arbiter of good taste. Through the new mass-marketed popular culture the wrong kind of American ideas and ideals were now made available to everybody. Sweden was spoken of as ‘the most Americanized nation in the world’, but in retrospect we can see how Swedes Americanized themselves in a very Swedish way. The new patterns of consumption turned out not only to open for international influences but also had a nationalizing effect: people could dream about an American refrigerator, a subscription to Det Bästa (as the local edition of Reader’s Digest was called), a glass of ice-cold Coca-Cola or an encounter with the Cartwright Brothers of the Bonanza television series, but despite such imports the end result was rather an increased homogenization of Swedish lifestyles and aesthetics. There was no way one could mistake a Swedish living room for an American or German one. It was thus during the 1950s and 1960s that a Swedish style of living became a shared aspiration in many social settings. Outsider observers marvelled at the homogeneous ways in which factory workers, office clerks, and academics decorated their homes and organized their family lives. Swedish living meant a special taste for colours and materials as well as an emphasis on the practical, but also a certain set of attitudes towards family life, sex-roles, and child-rearing.


Restraint and togetherness Over the last fifty years a common theme runs through the observations of visitors to Sweden: the extent to which a particular brand of modern living has shaped both public institutions and everyday life. Sweden is not only a model of order and cleanliness, it is also seen as permeated by a special kind of national aesthetic; one of moderation, simplicity, light colours and natural materials. This style is materialized in the colours picked for hospital waiting rooms as well as suburban kitchens, it is evident in company cafeterias as well as in government offices. Sometimes this tasteful restraint can become too much for the visitor, as when a German journalist dismissed the IKEA style of living by stating that it felt like walking through an institution rather than a living room: everything was so child-proof, non-slippery, over-planned and low-key, without any sharp edges or loud colours. The point is that, although Swedes became more international, modern living at the same time took on a distinct national flavour, and foreign imports became important tools in this cultural nation-building. American talk shows were adapted to Swedish media and interaction patterns, and helped create a national massmediated ‘we’, as the country gathered before the radio or TV set on Saturday evenings. The exotic stimulant of coffee produced new and characteristically Swedish forms of sociability during the twentieth century, bridging class and generation barriers, while ice hockey provided a new arena of national integration. To use Benedict Anderson’s (1983) term, we may follow how a new type of imagined community is created on very different levels: how new forms of cultural sharing and everyday routines make Swedes more Swedish. This is evident in the crucial role played by the very national media of the radio and the TV, in the immense national pride invested in sports, and not least in the ways in which national togetherness is materialized in administrative routines, patterns of consumption as well as physical structures. Ever more frequently, the citizens found messages, claims, and gifts from the state in their mail, learned to fill in tax forms and to apply for home-building loans, memorized the highway code to get a driver’s licence, had their health tested, answered questionnaires from the school about their children, and so forth. People found themselves sharing new identities and routines, experiencing similar settings, whether as senior citizens in an old people’s home or as children going to the local day-care centre. During the last half century the state has thus provided a large part of the new framework for everyday life, and perhaps somewhat indirectly but very effectively, this has homogenized the way people lead their lives. The process has produced more of a national habitus than a national rhetoric, and on the whole is the result of a complex interplay of state, market, movement and forms of life. It is a process of cultural nationalization which is very different from the one we find in the USA during the same period (see Löfgren, forthcoming), or from the strategies of homogenization developed in Eastern Europe. In the latter case the state had to resort not only to coercion and extreme market control, but also to a constant and loud ideological bombardment which only tended to underline the deep rift between state policy and the everyday cultural process of the form of life framework (see Verdery, 1991). This view of recent Swedish cultural history brings us back to that IKEA furniture, which can stand as one eloquent example of how state, market,


movements and forms of life have interacted in Sweden. An international style and aesthetic was imported through the intellectuals of a popular movement and became part of the ways in which several state institutions tried to modernize Sweden. In this process the futuristic ideas were confronted with existing preferences and traditions of homemaking, and transformed into a particular Swedish modern. During the 1950s and 1960s this brand of modern living formed the cultural basis of a flourishing furniture industry with export ambitions, but what is exported is not just the IKEA table Sörgården, a packet of WASA crispbread, or a Volvo car. All of them come wrapped up in a special aura of Swedish-ness—consumer goods with an air of ‘no frills’. The way IKEA sells Swedishness through its furniture (and furniture through Swedishness) is, of course, only one example of the way that contemporary globalization promotes the commodification of cultural difference. In the marketplace of ‘world music’, to take a different yet related example, the Third World and its European and North American diasporas are searched for rhythms that could follow the successful transnational path of reggae; likewise, both junk foods and sophisticated cuisines often draw some of their charms from the sense of exotic origins. We may wonder, certainly, whether in the long run there can be enough cultural diversity in the world to keep a market with an unsatiable demand for novelties going in this manner, even as local and national cultures keep regenerating. Yet there are also many local products which never will make their way across national boundaries; disconnected from their national context or frame of reference they loose their market attraction. In any case, the general point is that quite varied cultural histories emerge out of the complex interplay between forms of life, states, markets and movements in different nooks and crannies of the global village. The grand narrative of global homogenization is not the only one that exists. Afterthought: nations and the communities beyond The story that we have told about the nation, and one nation in particular, is surely not the whole story about it either. The nation changes and persists, it seems, but, to reiterate, one reason why it becomes increasingly difficult to take it for granted as a universe of analysis is that a greater variety of cultural connections now cut across its boundaries. Thus it is important to give more attention, in terms of both ethnography and theory, to the form of life framework, which is too readily assumed to remain contained within a national or even strictly local scene (while the market is commonly taken to offer the main arena of transnational cultural process). In our times, ethnic diasporas, occupational communities like computer engineers or ballet dancers, and style-conscious youths like rastas or skinheads develop their own complexes of meanings and symbols, which they keep in circulation among themselves; in some part perhaps connected to specialized markets, but also in kin groups, gangs, workplaces, neighbourhoods, and transnational networks of such contexts (see Hannerz, 1990). These are people who move about across borders, or use a variety of other means to be in touch within their imagined communities even when they are not face to face. Of what culture are their subcultures actually subcultures? The ‘cultural whole’ here is not really the nation. In some sense, at least, these are subcultures of a wider transnational, if not


literally global culture. And what implications people’s engagement with such subcultures have for their relationships to national culture is hardly very clear yet. It has been a recurrent theme in the history of nation building that some kind of unity must be created (so it has been felt) out of a diversity of local, or regional, cultures contained within the boundaries of the state—‘peasants into Frenchmen’, as one author (Weber, 1976) has exemplified it. In large part, clearly, this is still what nations do. But how are nations, and their characteristic cultural processes, affected when increasingly it is a matter of turning cosmopolitans into Frenchmen, or Swedes, or Kuwaitis, and keeping them committed to that cultural space? Note 1 See Ortner (1984:144 ff), Keesing (1986), Obeyesekere (1990:285 ff.).

References Anderson, Benedict (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso. Foster, Robert J. (1991) ‘Making national cultures in the global ecumene’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 20:235–60. Giddens, Anthony (1987) Social Theory and Modern Sociology, Cambridge: Polity. Handler, Richard (1985) ‘On dialogue and destructive analysis: problems in narrating nationalism and ethnicity’, Journal of Anthropological Research, 41:171–82. Hannerz, Ulf (1987) ‘The world in creolisation’, Africa, 57:546–59. ——(1990) ‘Cosmopolitans and locals in world culture’, in Mike Featherstone, editor, Global Culture, Newbury Park, CA, and London: Sage. ——(1991) ‘Scenarios for peripheral cultures’, in Anthony D.King, editor, Culture, Globalization and the World-System, Binghamton, NY: Department of Art and Art History, State University of New York at Binghamton. ——(1992) Cultural Complexity, New York: Columbia University Press. Keesing, Roger M. (1986) ‘Anthropology as interpretative quest’, Current Anthropology, 28: 161–76. Löfgren, Orvar (1989) ‘The nationalization of culture’, Ethnologia Europaea, 19:5–23. ——(1990) ‘Consuming interests’, Culture & History, 7:5–45. ——(forthcoming) ‘Being a good Swede: National identity as a cultural battleground’, in Rayna Rapp and Jane Schneider, editors, Articulating Hidden Histories, Berkeley: University of California Press. McLuhan, Marshall (1964) Understanding Media, New York: McGraw-Hill. Obeyesekere, Gananath (1990) The Work of Culture Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ortner, Sherry B. (1984) ‘Theory in anthropology since the sixties’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 26:126–66. Verdery, Katherine (1991) ‘Theorizing socialism: A prologue to the “Transition’”, American Ethnologist, 18:3:419–39. Wallerstein, Immanuel (1991) Unthinking Social Science, Cambridge: Polity. Weber, Eugen (1976) Peasants into Frenchmen, Stanford: Stanford University Press.


It is common knowledge that we are living in a time of rapid and profound social change. Especially the contemporary integration of Europe, but also the questions of cultural interaction between Europe and other continents, have gained prominence in public discourse. This age of transition has been regarded either as a development which heralds the withering away of small national cultures or as one which produces increasing tolerance of other cultures and leads to a flourishing of national cultures. It is, however, possible to discuss this change at a more general level. Many social scientists have argued that nowadays people have fewer and fewer experiences of traditional, permanent structures and that a whole new type of culture—and, ipso facto, society—is emerging. So radical is this change, they argue, that old sociological theories no longer provide an adequate conceptualization of the changed social reality. Hence a wide range of new concepts have been developed, some of the keywords in our time being ‘post-industrial society’, ‘the media society’, ‘the information society’, and the like. In this article I discuss some recent cultural developments, particularly those connected with encounters between different cultures and with the transformation of national cultures. On the one hand, I shall try to give a general account of the recent sociological discussion about present-day culture, and on the other, I shall analyse certain distinctive characteristics of interpretive cultural rules in Finland. Although my analysis often focuses on Finnish culture, I am convinced that it has a wider scope of application. After all, the world abounds in small national cultures like Finland. The new state of culture ‘What is the nature of the present time?’ is, without doubt, one of the questions most frequently posed by social scientists these days, and the difficulties of analysing and conceptualizing contemporary society are well known. This debate on modernity does not constitute a coherent whole. Sometimes it may seem as if every participant in this discussion was equipped with a different conceptual map or imposing his or her idiosyncratic co-ordinates on to the very same map. Among the multitude of approaches to this problem, the so-called erosion theory, for example Ulrich Beck’s thesis of ‘risk society’, is one of the most comprehensive and also most pragmatic diagnoses of the present times.


Beck argues that the time of classical industrial society is drawing to its end. The old forms of life typical of modern industrial society are being eroded, and the frame of reference of social life is gradually receiving a new, radically altered system of coordinates. According to Beck, societalization entails a massive process of individualization through education, social mobility and competition, a process in which people are liberated and differentiated from traditional family forms, work collectivities, social classes, neighbourhoods, etc. (1986:115–60). I would like to add that in this development, the association of social identity with the nation-state and nationalism may become weaker. In brief, modern capitalist society is liberating the individual from the contemporary ‘half-modern’ culture—which is a relic of the traditional society—and starting culturally to stand on its own feet. Thomas Ziehe’s theory of erosion touches upon the same theme as Beck’s thesis of risk society. Ziehe states that in the process of erosion, religious practices lose their significance in people’s everyday orientation, the puritanical Protestant ethic loses its strength, and people lose their faith in traditional authorities. In addition, changes in family structure, sexual norms and gender roles are included in this development. On the whole, this makes plausible the argument that people will be less and less able to legitimate their existence by reference to some traditional community or traditional patterns of interpretation, such as social class, nuclear family, place of residence, let alone nationality (Ziehe, 1991:117–47). A development such as this raises the question of identity in a totally new manner. For instance, Oskar Negt (1985:55–62) suggests that when it is no longer possible to construct one’s identity on pre-industrial modes of explanation, the resulting changes in the formation of subjectivity will be more profound than those which took place in the preceding hundred-year period of stable capitalism. It is possible that the traditional authority-oriented subject, whose identity is built on the Protestant work ethic, will be gradually displaced. Old binds are slackening, and it may seem that the individual’s identity no longer forms a harmonious whole. Many people will, of course, perceive the demystification of the unified subjectivity and the erosion of traditional cultural meanings and symbols as a threat to the history and traditions of their society. According to Fredric Jameson (1984:63), the question of identity—or the accompanying dissolution of the formerly centred subject—is one of the more fashionable and at the same time problematic topics in contemporary theory. It is possible to formulate the notion of the changes in identity in two ways. In a historical perspective—represented, for example, by Negt, although in a distinctive manner—it is assumed that the centred subject of the period of classical capitalism and nuclear family has dissolved in today’s world of cultural changes. As opposed to this, the more radical post-structuralists deny that this kind of subject ever existed, except as an ideological construct. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to answer the question of whether the cultural erosion has really generated a new subjectivity or whether we are ‘simply’ dealing with new ways of conceptualizing the structures of subjectivity. Furthermore, the question as such may not be particularly useful. In any case, the classical bourgeois conception of a holistic subject with a harmonious life course is being replaced by a model where the subject is conceived of as fragmented, incomplete and made up of manifold identities. As Theresa de Lauretis argues, the patterns of subjectivity are constructed across a multiplicity of discourses (including, among other things, such


cultural representations as cinema and literature), positions and meanings, which are often in conflict with each other and even inherently contradictory. Thus, a subject exists in a state of continuous change, as a process, and is therefore multiple rather than unified. Furthermore, the subject itself actively selects from these discourses, positions and meanings. In other words, socialization and the patterns of identity are no longer exclusively associated with production and social class, as was usual in social sciences as late as the 1960s and 1970s, when wage labour and other ‘permanent’ structures were seen as the solid and ultimate foundation of identity construction (de Lauretis, 1987:ix–x, 1–21). Studies of modern times have fairly often attempted to define the relationship between the new cultural conditions, on the one hand, and internationalism, nationalism and local cultures, on the other. Fredric Jameson suggests that the emergence of new kinds of text, conditioned by the culture industry and Americanization as a universal standardization of culture, combined with the emergence of a new type of social life and a new economic order, will result in an increasingly totalizing global culture. Jameson goes on to state that there is no return to national markets and their cultural specificity (Jameson, 1984). But, as Michael Featherstone points out, the fact that the conception of culture in this debate has escaped the boundaries of the nation-state society does not mean that the global mass media should necessarily be seen as the spectre of cultural homogenization in the form of cultural imperialism or Americanization. The new cultural condition is, according to Featherstone, usually defined in terms of the diversity, variety and richness of popular and local discourses, codes and practices, not solely in terms of homogenization (Featherstone, 1990:2–10). Stuart Hall, too, emphasizes that the new global culture carries within itself the possibility of recognizing and acknowledging diversity and difference (1988a:70, 75). In other words, at least certain forms of the new global culture are quite sensitive to significant and interesting differences. The appearance of new forms of cultural production has led to the emergence of new voices, new kinds of subjectivities and identities which previously marginalized social groups have brought into the field of cultural representation. As is clear from the foregoing—bearing in mind that only some of the views brought forward in the recent debate were considered—the erosion of a number of traditions can be regarded as a concomitant of the process of modernization. However, accompanying this development are unifying tendencies and new kinds of collectivity. A good example of the latter is the ever-increasing consumption of the products of the multinational culture industry. Accordingly, as Wolfgang Welsch (1988:53–7) notes, the nature of the modern world has been approached from two distinct viewpoints: it has been seen as expressing either uniformity or differentiation. One can, of course, argue that the two processes coexist. On the basis of the above it is difficult to say anything definite about the role of the nation-state. It is safe to say, however, that the future of national cultures seems to lie on shaky ground, either because the globalized culture and culture industry will tend to envelope all national distinctions under its homogenizing canopy, or because cultural practices will become more and more diverse and disparate, in which case it is probable that national cultures are among those traditions which will be eroded. Be this as it may, nationalism and the nation should not be regarded as some kind of natural necessities.


The case of Finland: towards internationalization and cultural pluralism? Erik Allardt, the most prominent figure in Finnish sociology, suggests that a tripartite scheme of the agrarian, industrial, and information society is a fruitful starting-point in the analysis of recent cultural changes in small national cultures like Finland. Allardt argues that Europeans and the nations of Europe have passed from the agrarian society through the industrial society to the information society over a relatively short period of time (1988:2–3). Allardt wants to show that the three types differ clearly from each other in the degree of cultural conformity and homogeneity required. A typical agrarian society displayed a large variety of cultural forms. No uniform system of rules regulating working life was superimposed throughout the society. The codes for meaning and understanding in an agrarian society, Allardt argues, related to the experiences and economic necessities of the local community. In contrast, the industrial society is the societal type in which cultural conformity and uniformity are demanded. In the industrial society it is natural to impose a work ethic with a strict time discipline, which in turn presupposes uniform standards of schooling and education. The time of the industrial society was also the time of the nation-state and nationalism. The nation-state was the guarantee of the uniformity demanded by the industrial society; in the agrarian society such conformity was simply not needed (1988:4–9). At present the industrial society is transforming itself into the information society. In contrast to the industrial society’s cultural uniformity, the information society’s tendency to embrace cultural diversity is striking. Large-scale uniform ideologies and conceptions are being replaced by a broad range of highly specialized and internally diverse code and meaning systems. There is also a trend towards the internationalization of culture, which is clearly observable in the explosion of mass communication. However, such pressures are not as strong as they were in industrial societies, because the developments in the field of mass media produce a great variety of cultural forms, different tastes, and code systems for interpreting the world. Also ethnicity revives and national and linguistic minorities awaken. The consequence will not necessarily be the disappearance of the nation-state. However, state boundaries and states’ claims for cultural unity will be less important than they were during the industrial phase (Allardt, 1988:11–17). If we accept the above scheme, it seems evident that in Finland—as in many other Western countries—the change to the information society will erode at least some of the traditions of the national culture; the trend towards internationalization and the emergence of a large variety of cultural forms and code systems will replace the nation-state, nationalism and the requirement of cultural uniformity. On the other hand, as we shall see next, contemporary Finnish culture and the relationship between it and other Western cultures have also been characterized in a totally different way. Klaus Mäkelä (1985) argues that Finland exhibits a relative lack of hierarchical structures in cultural variation. Cultural tastes, for instance, vary from one social group to another, but there are few traces of well-established cultural hierarchies of taste comparable to, say, those in France. And although there are social markers in speech, phonetic and other linguistic variation has less social significance in Finnish than in most other European languages. This may, as Mäkelä assumes, be attributed


to the peculiar class history of Finland. The country never went through a period of feudalism; the state was responsive to the needs and interests of independent peasants. Furthermore, peasants and workers had access to higher education. The Finnish working class was culturally close to the rural tradition and did not become alienated from middle-class values. Therefore, working-class cultural traditions remained fairly weak. Because of this relative lack of class distinctions, Finnish culture may even today be characterized as unusually homogeneous. Another Finnish sociologist, Risto Alapuro (1988), shares this view. He emphasizes the importance of Finland’s agrarian background. Although the Finnish occupational structure nowadays resembles that of other West European countries, the ‘deep structure’ of Finnish culture continues to be largely agrarian. In this connection Alapuro reminds us that sociological theories, for example Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of tastes and cultural capital or the postmodernist debate, should be viewed as conceptually bound to the cultures and societies in which they were developed. This culturally conditioned character of sociological theorizing should be taken into account when theories like these are applied in the analysis of developments in Finland. Similarly, it may be assumed that only very general conclusions with regard to individual societies can be drawn from Allardt’s theory of the information society. The Finns’ favourite reading—an escape into reality One way to find answers to the foregoing questions is to closely examine some important cultural area. One of the most important cultural fields in Finland is literature. It has played a vital role in defining the national culture and identity. The establishment of Finnish literature was an important part of the national awakening in the nineteenth century, because it was considered to provide a means of allaying the rootlessness felt by intellectuals and the nation as a whole. Primary schooling and the teaching of literature in school, catechistic meetings and the library system were other essential factors in the Finns’ edification and the awakening of national awareness among the people. It is also possible to claim that Finnish authors compare favourably with sociologists and historians in their interpretations of the turning points in our nation’s history, such as independence, the civil war, and the Second World War. In spite of the growing popularity of new cultural media, the Finns continue to be avid readers: they spend more time reading books, newspapers and magazines than do people in many other countries. Furthermore, few art forms are given as much coverage in Finnish media as literature. Such being the case, an analysis of the literary tastes of the average Finnish reader is an excellent way to characterize Finland—assuming that popular culture, in this instance popular literature, can be used as one criterion in evaluating the state of culture in a society. When average Finns talk about books which they find particularly interesting, they reveal something essential about themselves and the Finnish character. The studies I shall be presenting in the following were carried out at the Research Unit for Contemporary Culture at the University of Jyväskylä. They are mainly based on the interviews, during the years 1985–87, of about three hundred adult readers representing different occupational groups (see Eskola, 1989:181–2).


Western studies (e.g., Bourdieu, 1984; Modleski, 1988; Radway, 1984) have shown that people like popular books because they are well written, easy to read and do not require intensive concentration or thinking. Furthermore, in popular novels it is easy for the reader to identify with the protagonist, the plots are easy to grasp and the stories have happy endings. Sometimes readers also want to learn. Entertainment can give information about foreign cultures, different periods, different ways of thinking and reasoning, and everyday problems and their solutions. It is particularly important that the book and the reader’s life have a number of common elements. According to reader interviews, the Finns expect three things from their favourite books. One important expectation is about the language. A popular book must be easy reading and have a good narrative technique, lively vernacular expressions, vividness, humour and colour. Above all its language must be familiar to the average Finn. Closely connected with this, of course, is the expectation that the author be Finnish. Thus, one may say that Finnish national literature has succeeded in holding its own against foreign competition. Although the demand for familiar language, for the vernacular, cannot be considered a distinctively Finnish feature, two characteristics of Finnish reading culture may involve something that does not hold universally. The second attribute Finnish readers expect of a book is that the protagonists are ordinary Finns and the narrative is linked to everyday Finnish life. The readers never cease to insist that the author must deal with the Finnish way of life and refrain from portraying the glamorous life of the rich or anything else out of the ordinary. In this respect successful Finnish prose differs clearly from international bestsellers. Escapist entertainment has often been seen as entailing that the setting, i.e., the time and place of the story, can be left undefined if the author wishes, or at least located far from the readers’ world. The protagonists are not always ordinary people, either. But for a book to sell well in Finland, it must almost without exception describe Finland and the life of the average Finn. Finnish readers do, however, allow their favourite authors to use one distancing device: the story does not necessarily have to deal with the present. The books are often set in the recent past or in an era familiar to the readers from their parents’ stories or school history books. The events take place in small towns, villages or remote areas, and typically inside the country’s borders—or if not, at least very close to them. The ideal landscape of Finnish realism is located in a marginal cultural zone, peripheral to modern Finnish culture. The Finns read many books which have no point of contact with modern times, media experiences, internationalism or big cities, and which can thus be considered to have a negative relation to the present cultural landscape. As noted earlier, patterns of identity are constructed across a multiplicity of discourses, and in Finland literature is an important medium of identity construction. Accordingly, it is possible to say that the Finns’ identity formation in this important cultural field cannot be characterized in very modern terms. Or perhaps all this reflects people’s escape from the ‘disenchantment’ of the world (Weber’s term for the evacuation of religion, magic and mystery from the world as a result of intellectualization and the rationalization of capitalism). Are we witnessing here what Ziehe (1991:92) surmised: that the spell of the notion of disenchantment itself may eventually be broken?


The third important characteristic of the Finns’ favourite reading is that it is ‘true to life’—only humorists are permitted to deviate from the truth. Readers are remarkably fastidious about the facts in the narrative. This demand for factual accuracy is, of course, not an exclusive characteristic of Finnish reading culture. Studies in many countries, particularly in Europe and the United States, have shown that people read entertainment not only for amusement but also for edification. They learn new things from books and measure the realism of the narrative by relating it to their own lives. The way in which Finnish readers expect fiction to be true to life may, however, have one typically Finnish feature. Books are read for information, but only books dealing with Finnish life are accepted. As mentioned earlier, the setting is often located in the recent past. Another thing Finnish readers generally expect is that the authors put a great deal of their own lives into their work. The protagonists in popular Finnish novels do not carry out fantastic exploits but lead ordinary lives. Their life experiences must conform to the average Finn’s idea of ‘what life is like’. Even this is not always enough. So rigorous is the requirement of truthfulness that books must be true almost word for word. The actual words in the text must be anchored to reality, as it were; the relationship between language and the external reality is expected to correlate completely. Readers are quick to react if the chimney on the roof of a Karelian sauna is not placed where it should be or if the location of a stone beside the stairs of the local co-operative shop is incorrect. This kind of view on literature is shared by distinctive reader groups. Literary critics, too, often comment on the accuracy of details in the books they review, tending to read books as if they always dealt with the author’s own life; yet they emphasize that good fiction experiments with form, plays on language and mixes reality and fiction. Consequently, it is possible to claim that the requirement of truthfulness is a common denominator of Finnish reading culture. Many of the Finnish authors themselves insist that, although a writer has a perfect right to make up stories, the setting of the novel must be highly realistic. Even the smallest details must be correct, and only when they have their facts right can authors fantasize, should they wish to do so. To quote the revealing words of a Finnish novelist: ‘Don’t lie to the reader’ (Jokinen, 1989:38–53). The most popular Finnish novelist, Kalle Päätalo, writes only about autobiographical experiences and about real people. He says that he wants to be ruthlessly honest and therefore uses people’s real names. In spite of this, he is sometimes baffled by his readers: ‘Readers are very astute. Their mental image of their home areas is so accurate that an author can but marvel’. Readers naturally mean many things when they demand that literature be ‘true to life’. They relate the stories to their own experiences, memories and ideas, stories they have heard, things they have read in other books, or the canonized ‘official’ interpretations. They may also read a book as if it were a textbook, taking it to be true without testing its truth value. In this sense the ‘true’ state of affairs is not clearly distinguishable from the interpretations, for example those given in literature; the latter contribute to the establishment of the prevailing concept of truth. Readers may disagree about the criteria to be applied in judging the realism of a book, but they are extraordinarily unanimous in thinking that a book which is true to life is always better than one in which the author has taken liberties with the facts. If a writer wishes to invent a story from beginning to end, let him or her do so,


but the text must indicate unequivocally on which side of the boundary the author operates. Reality and fiction must not be intermingled. It has been maintained that this unrelenting insistence on strict realism in Finnish literature is related to the country’s short literary tradition. Literature written in the Finnish language made its first appearance as late as a hundred years ago, emerging in the wake of various social developments, largely because there was no previous literary tradition to be related to. As a result, it has not been uncommon for Finnish literature to occasionally assume the role and function of historiography (Eskola, 1989:180). Perhaps this is something characteristic of Finnish culture as a whole. In his analysis of the differences between French and Finnish culture, Alapuro (see Niinikangas, 1989) points out that in Finland there is a one-to-one relationship between language and reality, while in France a number of layers of meaning separate the two; in other words, it seems that there is only one institution of interpretive cultural rules in Finland, whereas in France there are several. Alapuro argues that this difference is so fundamental that it will not disappear easily. Consequently, it is far from clear that the internationalization of cultures will rapidly assimilate the distinctive characteristics of Finnish culture. The Finnish semiologist Eero Tarasti agrees with Alapuro. He has found that Finland’s universe of signs is sparse. The Finnish milieu provides relatively few different signs to be decoded, whereas people in many other cultures are accustomed to receiving a constant flow of messages, possibly even conflicting ones, from different directions. Moreover, Tarasti argues that the Finnish sign world also has fewer borrowed elements (1990:207–8). On the basis of the foregoing, it seems that in a country which has enjoyed a rich and diversified cultural tradition for centuries, a work of art, for example a novel, acquires a multitude of meanings in relation to various myths and other works of art. The Finnish literary tradition exhibits the opposite case: it is too short to have been able to breed a habit of seeing books in a wider literary or cultural context. Instead, books are directly associated with social reality. Permanent structures in a time of cultural erosion What will be the fate of small national cultures? Can we still, in a time of the potential emergence of an entirely new type of culture, talk about distinct interpretive cultural rules in different countries? It is an undeniable fact that there are a number of factors which threaten cultural autonomy and culture-specific characteristics. There are, however, some features of culture which seem to be relatively immune against the processes of uniformation and differentiation. As an example of these, I have discussed the requirement of strict realism—the requirement that the work of art must ‘tell the truth’—in Finnish literature, and the idea of a one-to-one relationship between language and reality typical of the interpretive cultural rules in Finland. Now a question arises: how do cultural structures of this kind change? In sociology the concept of culture has been almost ignored for a long time. It has been supposed that culture is only a reflection of society (the social system, the economy, or social structure). Also in cultural studies, although contemporary approaches have increasingly begun to emphasize the autonomy of culture, the relationship between culture and society has usually been interpreted in highly


mechanical terms: first, there is social structure, and only against this structural basis do symbolic classifications arise. That is to say, all logical categories, modes of knowledge, and other classifications are unambiguously of social origin, and their change depends on changes in social structure. Such pairs of opposites as nature-culture, base-superstructure, economy-culture/ psyche, mind-body etc. have always been sociological commonplaces. Usually one or the other of the paired opposites is treated as more essential and more important. The starting point of sociological explanations is, without doubt, the economic structure or the social organization. There are, however, few detailed explanations of how or why the causative link should work. In addition, as Stuart Hall (1988b) points out, the researcher’s ability to translate social developments into the language of ‘structures’ has been overemphasized, with the result that the other dimensions have been ignored. In other words, the relationship between culture and social structure may be analysed from different points of view. For instance, Marshall Sahlins maintains that the so-called material causes—the societal infrastructure— must be seen as the product of the symbolic system. Without the mediation of the symbolic sphere, Sahlins argues, no adequate relationship between given material conditions and a specific cultural form can be specified. Production, for example, is something more than a straightforward outcome of the practical logic of material effectivity; it is a cultural intention. Sahlins is thus saying that we cannot separate symbolic systems (superstructure) from material causes (infrastructure) (1982:56–7, 168–70). Richard Rorty argues that the history of language—and, by implication, that of culture—is analogous to the history of a coral reef. Old metaphors are constantly dying out and serving as a platform and foil for new ones. The world does not provide us with any absolute criteria of choice between alternative metaphors, which is why our language and culture are shaped by a great number of sheer contingencies. Rorty maintains that there are no criteria for the choice of vocabulary and that the notion of criteria is irrelevant when it comes to changes from one language game to another. Europe did not ‘decide’ to accept Galilean mechanism or the idea that the earth was not the centre of the universe on the basis of some telescopic observations, nor on the basis of anything else. Rather, Europeans gradually lost the habit of using certain words and acquired the habit of using others! Rorty’s argument amounts to saying that it is impossible to forecast changes in the use of language (1989:3–22). Ludwig Wittgenstein joins the discussion by arguing that language depends on agreement in judgements, and that we should not think that there is a standard beyond, some kind of a higher physical or mental reality against which our concepts could be tested. Different linguistic practices cannot be reduced to differences in the circumstances between different societies, although Wittgenstein admits that some of these differences can be explained by reference to the environment. It is what human beings say that is true or false, and they agree in the language they use. What goes beyond that is what has to be accepted as given: forms of life. Thus, Wittgenstein denies that language has any abstractably essential nature, and argues that it must be thought of as a repository of diverse social games and practices (1978:56–88, 226). He repudiates the realistic conception of language without, however, providing any clear alternative to the realistic interpretation. Sometimes Wittgenstein has been regarded as an advocate of conventionalism (the view that our linguistic systems are


created by ourselves, in the form of a convention or an institution) or pluralism. True, Wittgenstein has sometimes characterized linguistic practices as arbitrary and the like. But, as Oswald Hanfling points out, this does not mean that, having rejected realism, Wittgenstein had to opt for one of the remaining alternatives. Wittgenstein did not intend to follow any of these theories, nor to put forward a rival one of his own; he did not expect any single theory to exhaust what language is (1989:127–51). As Wittgenstein puts it in the preface of his Philosophical Investigations: ‘After several unsuccessful attempts to weld my results together into such a whole, I realized that I should never succeed. The best that I could write would never be more than philosophical remarks’ (1978:vii). There is no theory which exhaustively explains the relationship between language and reality, and, I would like to add, it is also very difficult—perhaps impossible— to explain the ultimate logic of cultural changes. It is safe to say that, at the level of social and cultural theory, some radical changes are taking place at present and that these changes are more or less related to broader socio-cultural developments, which may be more rapid and go deeper than ever before. There are good reasons for assuming that the rupture may not be absolute. At least at the level of cultural interpretive rules and cultural deep structure there are practices which change very slowly, and it is also extremely difficult to anticipate how and when changes will take place. Language and the way in which literature is discussed are, of course, always linked with external reality in one way or other. Unfortunately, reality does not provide unambiguous criteria for its description. The world does not speak and consequently cannot present a language for people to speak. Literary interpretive rules do not explicitly follow such developments as the modernization of business and industry or the intensification of international contacts. In our Finnish case, they can best be understood as a form of discourse on Finnishness, which in turn influences the social structuring of Finland. The Finns are used to demanding that literature is true to life. In the future they may find that other interpretations also come naturally to them. References Alapuro, Risto (1988) ‘Suomalainen Bourdieu ja Musta leski’ (The Finnish Bourdieu and the Black Widow), Sosiologia, 25:1, 3–7. Allardt, Erik (1988) The Agrarian, the Industrial, and the Information Society, Working Papers 42, Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki. Beck, Ulrich (1986) Risikogesellschaft. Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag. Bourdieu, Pierre (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Cambridge: Harvard University Press. de Lauretis, Teresa (1987) Technologies of Gender. Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Eskola, Katarina (1989) ‘Reading life through literature/literature through life’, in Erkki Vainikkala and Katarina Eskola, editors, Literature as Communication, Publications of the Research Unit for Contemporary Culture, University of Jyväskylä, No. 18:180–201.


Featherstone, Mike (1990) ‘Global culture: an introduction’, Theory, Culture & Society, 7: 2–3, 1–14. Hall, Stuart (1988a) ‘Kulttuuri ja vastarinta’ (Cultural struggle and resistance), in Katarina Eskola and Erkki Vainikkala, editors, Maailmankulttuurin äärellä (On the verge of a world culture), Publications of the Research Unit for Contemporary Culture, University of Jyväskylä, No. 11:68–86. ——(1988b) ‘Brave New World’, Marxism Today, October: 24–9. Hanfling, Oswald (1989) Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy, New York: State University of New York Press. Jameson, Fredric (1984) ‘Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism’, New Left Review, No. 146:53–92. Jokinen, Kimmo (1989) ‘Lukijalle ei saa valehdella’ (Don’t lie to the reader), in Markku Ihonen, editor, Kirjallisuuden kentillä (On the fields of literature), Acta Universitatis Tamperensis, Ser. A, Vol. 270, University of Tampere: 32–61. Modleski, Tanya (1988) Loving with a Vengeance. Mass-produced Fantasies for Women, New York: Routledge. Mäkelä, Klaus (1985) ‘Kulttuurisen muuntelun yhteisöllinen rakenne Suomessa’ (The social structure of cultural variation in Finland), Sosiologia, 22:4, 247–60. Negt, Oskar (1985) Lebendige Arbeit, enteignete Zeit. Politische und kulturelle Dimension des Kampfes um die Arbeitszeit, Frankfurt: Campus Verlag. Niinikangas, Vesa (1989) ‘Pelin säännöt Ranskassa ja Suomessa’ (The rules of the game in France and in Finland), an interview with Risto Alapuro, Kulttuuritutkimus , 6:3, 3–10. Radway, Janice A. (1984) Reading the Romance. Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature, Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press. Rorty, Richard (1989) Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sahlins, Marshall (1982) Culture and Practical Reason, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Tarasti, Eero (1990) Johdatusta semiotiikkaan (Introduction to semiotics), Helsinki: Gaudeamus. Welsch, Wolfgang (1988) Unsere postmoderne Moderne, Weinheim: VHC, ActaHumaniora. Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1978) Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Ziehe, Thomas (1991) Zeitvergleiche, Weinheim und München: Juventa Verlag.


I The construction of cultural identity is always an intellectual enterprise. Ordinary folks normally don’t care very much. Intellectuals as a rule have a hard time convincing people about the relevance of these identity constructions. In this article, I will look into a particular historical instance, and discuss the factors that were involved in the development of a Norwegian ‘Identity Project’, its limited success and actual failure. I will, not least, focus on the intellectual(s) who were active in the project and ask what rewards were in it for them. This Norwegian case can in my view in many ways be read as a parallel to, an allegory of, many similar relations between (certain kinds of) intellectuals and the people they claim to represent in one way or another. Some of these allegorical aspects will be explicitly pointed out, others will be left to the sociological imagination of readers. I would like to stress, in an initial attempt to avoid certain misunderstandings, that I am not necessarily taking a position which is against all intellectual work which could be said to contribute to the construction of cultural or social identities. The critical points of the following are, firstly, that the specific socio-cultural interests of intellectuals in such work need to be looked into, and secondly, that certain kinds of identity-building function as politically misleading, ahistorical constructions of ideology. II Norway is a nation-state with a relatively brief modern history, compared to other European countries. It was a Danish province for about four hundred years, until 1814 when it was given to Sweden as a reward for that country’s efforts in the final battles against Napoleon (who was supported by Denmark). In the power vacuum of this transitional period, a National Assembly, hastily summoned, agreed upon a constitution on the 17 May 1814. This constitution was very progressive for its time, inspired by French and American ideals of liberal, representative democracy, and laid the foundations of a parliamentary democracy which was in more or less constant struggle with the Swedish king and his government until Norway’s union with Sweden ended in 1905.


For the greater part of the nineteenth century the question of ‘national cultural identity’ was a main area of public debate and intellectual work of various kinds. Artists, historians and other intellectuals were striving to build stories and images of essential Norwegianness. A poet, Henrik Wergeland, described this enterprise as being one of constructing a ‘bridge between the two halves’ of Norway’s history— the half before Danish rule, and the half that started in 1814. The centuries in between were to be forgotten, they were termed the ‘400 years’ night’. The success of this work was initially very limited in terms of popular support: ‘The great majority of Norwegian peasants are totally ignorant of the fact that they have a fatherland’, a theologist who was a nationalist activist complained as late as 1878. One issue in particular was seen as pertinent: the lack of a (written) national language. Given the influential ideas of Romanticism, this was of course a great problem. The Constitution stated that all laws should be written in Norwegian, but the only written Norwegian was pure Danish. Two main strategies for the development of a Norwegian written language developed. The radical, ‘root’ strategy would build a language as close as possible to the Old Norse of the Middle Ages (regarded as ‘authentic’ Norwegian) from ‘well preserved’ dialects of areas on the west coast and in the mountainous interior of the country. The reformist strategy was to gradually change the spelling and vocabulary of the written Danish then in use, guided by the spoken Norwegian of the ‘educated classes’ in the central eastern areas, thus after a few generations producing a written Norwegian clearly different from Danish though obviously related to it. Each strategy had its intellectual advocates; ranging from academic historians to schoolteachers. Both strategies were actually implemented—resulting in the present ‘bilingual’ situation in Norway, i.e., two closely related versions of written Norwegian existing side by side. The language issue has been struggled over for more than a century, mainly because more general social and cultural interests and cleavages have been at stake. To simplify things, one could say that the reformist strategy was supported by the upper classes and city people of all classes, especially in the more densely populated eastern parts of the country. The radical strategy was initially supported by certain nationalist intellectuals and some romanticist members of the city bourgeoisie, but support in the rural population in areas with dialects close to the radical ideal increased considerably after the turn of the century. But as industrialization and urbanization processes had their effects on the demographic structure of the population, the reformist strategy ‘won’, in the sense that the absolute majority of the population supported it. (About 80 per cent of school children now learn the ‘reformist’ Norwegian (bokmål) when learning to read and write.) The radical strategy resulted in what is called New Norse (nynorsk), a language which was increasing its support until the Second World War, but then lost ground in the post-war years, mostly due to accelerated urbanization. In other words: the most ‘authentic’ Norwegian has been fighting a losing battle. This may have many causes, and I have already mentioned the role of various socioeconomic modernization processes: the ‘authentic’ language was felt to be too far removed from the language actually in use in the growing urban areas. But there were also severe problems built into the Authentic New Norse project itself, and these problems are in my view relevant to a discussion of the construction of cultural identities in general.


III In the constitution of the collective memory of religious groups or social classes, the idolized fore-runners play a role which is often underestimated. (Jauss, 1977:233) What I have called the radical strategy in the language issue was very much part of the attempt to bring nineteenth-century Norway in touch with its great medieval past. The strategy may be said to have been implemented by a single man, Ivar Aasen. As the founding father of the New Norse movement, he has played an important role not only as linguist but also as ‘idolized fore-runner’. Born in 1813, the younger son of a peasant, Ivar Aasen would, according to tradition, be destined to remain within the lower peasantry. But modernity was just dawning, bringing new opportunities and aspirations. His life’s career would hardly have been possible had it not been for new ways of thinking about the individual, knowledge and the people. Aasen was one of the very first, in Norway at least, to make the transition from one of the popular classes to the intellectual class. His case was special, to be sure, but also typical in many ways. His life story can be read as a story of the desires and conflicts of intellectuals with a lower class background of many kinds in modern or modernizing societies all over the world. ‘Reading’ the story of Aasen’s life involves a critical reading of an established myth—the New Norse movement’s version of its founding father. This myth is of course supported by elementary facts, but it is also both a particular selection of facts and a particular interpretation of these facts. As most historians will know, finding the absolute truth is impossible. But new data and new frames of interpretation may be added, producing a both richer and less celebratory story. The New Norse myth of Aasen’s life was established quite early. His work as a linguist and ideologist could in principle clearly have been done by someone born and raised within the academic upper class that supported him and his groundbreaking linguistic work on Norwegian dialects—years and years of research. But such a person would not have had the biographical qualities that made Aasen such good material for idolization within a movement of lower-class intellectuals—i.e., mainly schoolteachers with a peasant background—spear-headed by some wellestablished writers and eventually also university professors. A great narrative was at hand for the mythologists of the New Norse movement: that of Messiah, of Jesus Christ. The parallel was never explicitly spelled out, but the intertextual references were abundant in the early mythologists’ texts about Aasen, both prosaic and poetic. In the latter, images were frequently taken from the biblical prophecies of the Messiah; in the former the phrasing used in the telling of episodes from Aasen’s life were quotes from the New Testament’s rendering of episodes from the life of Jesus of Nazareth. One example: when the young Aasen was answering questions from the minister in church at the public ceremony of Lutheran confirmation, his answers were said to have made people ‘wonder’. They weren’t surprised, impressed or proud on his behalf—they ‘wondered’, just like ‘the Jews’ had been ‘wondering’ at the answers given by Jesus when as a young boy he was interrogated in the synagogue.


The main topos in the mythic version of Aasen’s life is that of sacrifice: his invaluable cultural contribution to the national popular identity was made at the expense of his own personal happiness. He missed the family life he never had, and, apart from his all-consuming work, blamed his miserable looks for misfortunes in affairs of the heart. (According to at least one mythologist his looks were actually great, and the blame is instead put on Norwegian women in general for letting this great man pass through life without getting married.) On a more sociological level, the myth also presents as a major sacrifice that Aasen had to live his adult life as a stranger and outsider in the capital, the big city, instead of in the rural community he came from and loved so much. Still, the myth also says that Aasen’s sacrifices were actually worthwhile, because his work succeeded: He completed his mission, became a (New Norse) national hero and, importantly, was highly respected in academia for his linguistic work and at least parts of his literary production. (I will return to the significance of this latter recognition later: It was actually more important to the New Norse mythologists than they would like to admit.) The myth of Aasen as a popular-nationalist Messiah can usefully be contrasted with another story—constructed from his own writings about his life, letters to friends and other materials. To start with, it is worth quoting Aasen on how learning to read changed his outlook on life: ‘As soon as I learned to read, all of my mind was set on reading, whereas I had no desire whatsoever for the kind of work circumstances would seem to have decided for me’, he wrote in 1841. From the ages of 13 to 18, his older brother (after the death of their father) made him work so hard on the farm that he had little or no energy left for reading. Aasen later (in 1836) wrote about the sufferings inflicted on a young man who ‘very energetically is hindered by his own people in reaching the happiness for which he is destined by God and Nature, and quite on the contrary is stubbornly led towards an unhappy future’. And it was not only his brother who opposed his interests in books and learning; it was more or less the entire community. Metaphorically, Aasen described his situation as follows: ‘A spirit that loves enlightenment among the raw and ignorant is like a fruit tree growing from a stray seed in a flowerless wilderness.’ The top of the tree soon stretches above the tangled bushes that surrounds it, and in spite of attacks from ‘the aggressive goat’(!) the tree keeps on growing until it has ‘reached a height that makes it safe from its long-necked enemies’. Not surprisingly, the day after his eighteenth birthday, Aasen sought out the local minister and asked for work as a schoolteacher. He was accepted, and also given access to the local police chief’s private library. Two years later, he left teaching, and started two years of studies in history, geography, grammar and Latin with a minister at whose house he lived free of charge. This minister was obviously convinced that Aasen’s intellectual talent was extraordinary, since he offered to support the proper university studies of the gifted young man. But Aasen turned down the offer, with a later, written explanation which is most interesting. The worries he expressed about both the financial burden on his benefactors and the amount of work needed to really get to know the old languages he wanted to study are not convincing. But his more sociological and personal reasons are: Aasen said that a formal academic study for a full degree would entail a total resocialization, a total personal transformation of someone from his lower-class background. And even if this was reasonably successful, a complete integration into


the new social class would still be uncertain. At any rate, he would most probably end up in the lower categories of the educated class in terms of ‘honour and esteem’. If, on the other hand, he acquired the same knowledge without taking a formal academic route, he would stay with the popular classes but be ‘honoured’ and ‘esteemed’ there as someone unique in terms of education or knowledge. And his decision was that whatever education he could get, he would use it ‘for the benefit of the class which I belonged to’. What interests me here is the way in which Aasen’s reasoning on this issue demonstrates how a very well-developed social and sociological insight is combined with a marked interest in making his own social position as gratifying as possible. In short, he prefers to be the King of the Peasant Class to being Peasant of the Educated Class. He wanted to be (re)united with the people he so eagerly ran away from—but only as their leader, not merely as one of them. He had been at their mercy long enough. In 1855 Aasen wrote the first drama in New Norse literature, The Heir—the plot in part borrowed from a French play by Jules Sandeau. The play, a vaudeville, precisely presents a case of successful reintegration in a rural community for a young man who has been travelling abroad and in big cities for years, learning a lot about the true values of authentic Norwegian life in the country. The hero comes back to his native community to reclaim his father’s farm—the best in the area, of course. He ends up getting the farm, the most beautiful girl and the unlimited respect of the people. This reintegration remained utopian both for Aasen himself and most of his later followers. Aasen actually must have preferred to stay in the capital, where libraries, theatres and an intellectual community were at hand, long after he could have returned to his place of birth for most practical and ideological reasons. His poetic descriptions of rural Norway are full of birds and green pastures, but say nothing of sweat and the smell of manure. It is reasonable to think that he was reluctant to return to the gnawing of the aggressive goat—the peasant community he had wanted so desperately to leave. IV The schoolteachers who came to constitute the majority of activists in the New Norse movement easily identified with Aasen. Most of them—especially the males— came from rural areas, often from smaller farms. Their relatively brief stays at teachers’ training colleges and a particular kind of school for the liberal education of country folks—so-called ‘People’s High Schools’—brought them not only knowledge of school subjects, but also provided a nationalist and romanticist ideological frame in which history, geography, language and literature all were presented as elements in the history of Norwegian identity. Last but not least, this identity was supposed to be unknowingly represented by the people in rural areas, particularly areas in which dialects were seen as most removed from Danish and closest to Old Norse. The activists of the New Norse movement thus had to fight on two fronts. On the one hand, they had to struggle against the powerful supporters of Danish and the ‘reformist’ solution to the language problem. These people often had contempt for peasants and rural culture in general. On the other hand, the primary mission of the


New Norse movement was to enlighten the people, making them understand what a great heritage they bore and the necessity of guarding it from all contamination caused by ‘Danish’ influence, i.e., city language and city manners. Their message was that peasants should be proud of all ‘authentic’ national and local traditions. But at the same time this pride could only be achieved through knowledge produced by intellectuals—about language, history and so forth. And one kind of knowledge was linked to another: these teachers were, while propagating the values of ‘authentic’ cultural traditions, also the agents of moderniza-tion—in farming methods, in economic matters, in health and hygiene—and (closely linked to all of the above) in ideas about subjectivity and the role of the individual. The New Norse movement came to play the very modern double role of agency for the defence of traditional culture—mostly in the form of refined, more or less constructed versions of popular arts—on the one hand, and an agency for socio-economic and socio-psychological modernization on the other. The idealized ‘people’ were for quite a while slow learners in both respects. The popular support for the New Norse movement did not really start to grow until the late 1890s. From then on many peasants seem to have realized how the New Norse language and the attached national romanticist ideas about the national supremacy of peasants (particularly in areas far from negative city influences) actually could provide legitimation for many of their cultural and socioeconomic interests in a rapidly changing (modernizing) society. But just as support for the New Norse movement was increasing, industrialization took off, and the number of peasants decreased. Nationalistically suspect classes, such as the industrial proletariat, were increasing in numbers, to the explicit distress of New Norse leaders. But the movement had by then been quite successful on its other front—towards the political and cultural Establishment. In the Constitution of 1814, the right to vote was quite favourable to landowners, and was further extended throughout the nineteenth century, so farmers and what I have called ‘peasants’ increasingly got the right to vote. Liberals of various bourgeois factions united with rural representatives in the national struggle against the Swedish king and his government, so the national became politically equated with the democratic. Clever work by New Norse lobbyists and representatives resulted in the formal acknowledgement of New Norse as an official version of Norwegian alongside Dano-Norwegian as early as 1885, and other important political victories for New Norse followed in the 1890s— before the New Norse movement had any broad popular support to speak of. These developments, resisted by important factions of the city bourgeoisie, were particularly important to leading New Norse intellectuals. It meant a validation by the establishment of their rural, peasant origins, a recognition of them as representatives of a truly national culture, which was widely recognized as ideologically important in the political struggle for national independence. Recognition was a key word for New Norse intellectuals. Their version of the ‘authentic’ national culture, which they claimed to represent, was, as mentioned above, a refined and to a large degree (re)constructed culture. Dances were imported from the Faeroe Islands, where they were said to have been well preserved by descendants of ancient Norwegian emigrés. Local costumes (actually versions of common European styles of previous centuries) were partly refined, partly (re) constructed from scratch. The international influences evident in folk-tales, folkmusic, and folk-artisanship were not exactly highlighted in celebratory texts about


their unique Norwegian qualities. In the dominant public sphere, in the capital and other larger cities, New Norse intellectuals could present themselves as representatives of this refined, constructed version of a truly Norwegian, national culture. In the prevailing nationalist cultural climate around the turn of the century, only bourgeois cretins and socialist revolutionaries would deny the value of national culture. If at the same time New Norse intellectuals could also be recognized as their country’s leading names in this or that field, they would in fact be doubly qualified: supremely cultured both in national-popular and general (bourgeois) terms. It is tempting to see the resistance of the New Norse leadership against wholehearted support of, for instance, their own movement’s very successful amateur theatre, in light of their wish to be recognized in this way in the dominant public sphere. While the city élites could not compete in the field of folk-dances and costumes where they lacked parallels, they did have professional theatre. Amateur theatre groups playing ‘coarse’ comedies or farces could not be shown in the capital as evidence of the high cultural standard of the truly Norwegian peasants—folkdance groups could. So dance groups got more support from the top than theatre groups, even though the latter were far more popular at the grass-roots level, both in terms of participation and in terms of audience attendance. The movement’s amateur theatre was a source of embarrassment not of pride, to leading intellectuals in the movement. The conflict between the theatre amateurs and the preferences they shared with their audiences in terms of repertoire is indicative of the troubled relations between the New Norse intellectuals and the people they claimed to be representing. It made clear that they preferred to represent an idealized people, the people they dreamed of producing through their enlightenment work. The real people, who enjoyed the farces of the amateur theatre groups, farces that as a rule did not portray Norwegian peasants as overly intelligent or cultured, simply did not care very much about how they were ideologically supposed to be. They largely ignored the intellectual leaders’ wishes and demands that they should stage ideologically and literarily more acceptable dramas, plays more in line with their status as bearers of essential Norwegianness. V In short, the New Norse movement was dominated by intellectuals who idealized the peasants they had themselves more or less desperately wanted to leave in order to become intellectuals—intellectuals who also wanted recognition from and incorporation into the dominant culture. At the same time, however, the movement also harboured intellectuals for whom sociocultural marginality was both an experienced fact and almost a goal in itself: they knew they could never return to the people, and never become fully integrated into the dominant culture. To them, the New Norse movement was, among other things, an organizational marker of social and cultural difference, a semi-separate public sphere signifying the cultural split between the rural and the urban, between the popular and the bourgeois—and between the national and the ‘unnational’. They shared with the other leading figures in the movement an open attitude towards all kinds of foreign (European) culture, while resenting the ‘Danishness’ of Norwegian city culture.


These people appeared as members and supporters of the New Norse movement, but still thought differently about the rhetoric of the imagined homecoming played out, for instance, in the above-mentioned vaudeville by Aasen. The writer Arne Garborg actually did move back home—but only in summer. He socialized with the peasants of his native area, but he also wrote in a letter which was later published ([1904]1951:180 f.): And still I am a stranger who hears and says a few well-meant words and then has to go out again. This ‘home’, is it finally anything but a dream? And this ‘myself’, is it Arne, the son of Eivind, with his childhood dreams, or is it the other one with his paper and ink? Garborg also wrote a play about a homecoming—The Teacher, a tragedy. Here the protagonist was not successful at all. He wanted to change his community completely (inspired by a socially radical reading of the Bible) and ended up isolated, scorned, and prosecuted. The people’ was not at all what he dreamt it to be. VI These bits and pieces of a particular part of Norwegian history may at first seem purely exotic to people from other countries, other cultures. But I recently had a chance to present some of this material and the questions produced by it to a group of students from all over Europe. Their response was quite interesting: they had no problems recognizing the basic positions and problems involved. A female student from Paris, for instance, of Caribbean descent, talked about how it reminded her of the construction of a Caribbean cultural identity in Paris: the intellectual proponents of Caribbean culture in Paris were not happy with the present Caribbean culture in the Caribbean. It was simply not Caribbean enough for them. Actually, she said, the Paris constructors of Caribbean cultural identity were a bunch of snobs. Irish students said the Norwegian story reminded them of how a fictitious ‘Irishness’ is staged in various forms to please Irish-American and other tourists, and of how artificial traditional notions of ‘Irishness’ felt in relation to what it was really like to live in Ireland. Others recognized the idealization of the ‘people’ or the ‘working class’ by intellectuals who had actually left these social spheres and never wanted to return. The question was also raised whether the idealized ‘women’s culture’ constructed in some forms of feminist research and writing, not least in media and cultural studies, could be seen as a parallel: the intellectual feminists neither could nor would ever want to become ‘rank and file’ members of this traditional women’s culture again, but still presented themselves as representatives of it in the intellectual community. ‘Identity’ means ‘sameness’. Intellectuals who construct cultural identities of a region, of a nationality, a class, an ethnicity, a race, or a gender which includes themselves, tend to cover up the fact that their social position primarily is that of intellectuals, a marginal and complex category of people who can never ‘return’ to their origins if these are outside of that category. To the extent that these constructed cultural identities present themselves as being of an historical nature, they become even more suspect—because they are actually ahistorical. According to


the ‘historical’ notion of Norwegian cultural identity, I am in some fundamental, important way identical or similar to Norwegian vikings, or peasants in the Norwegian valleys in the sixteenth century, or the fascists from Norway who joined Hitler’s army in World War II. Not surprisingly, I guess, I refuse to accept this. I also refuse to believe, in a synchronous perspective, that I should have much more in common with a Norwegian billionaire ship-owner than with, say, a British professor of media studies or a journalist from Chile. Still, I cannot deny that the Norwegian billionaire and I will probably have learnt some of the same songs in school, know about this and that Norwegian writer or actor, know which Norwegians got gold medals at the Winter Olympics in Albertville, and both enjoy certain jokes my friend from Chile would have a problem understanding. In this sense, my ‘Norwegianness’ is real; it is a practical fact. But this practical cultural identity can hardly be used for any sensible political purpose. It does not give me substantial social interests in common with the billionaire. Pseudo-historical cultural identities like ‘Norwegianness’ suggest, for instance, that an unemployed Norwegian worker has more in common with the vikings and (therefore with) the Norwegian billionaire ship-owner than he has with unemployed workers in Spain or the US. All constructions of identity ‘roots’ stretching ‘backwards’ through hundreds of years tend to produce analogous misunderstandings of real existing conditions and conflicting interests. The intellectual constructors of these identities as a rule also include themselves in them. They claim their identity with ‘the people’ in some sense. The fact that their social situation is radically different tends to disappear. The ordinary members of the culturally identical communities they have defined may often be blamed for not being conscious enough of their (constructed) cultural ‘heritage’. New Norse intellectuals complained about the way Norwegian peasants diverged from their idealized Norwegianness, and the intellectual Caribbeans of Paris complain about the lack of true Caribbeanness in the Caribbean. The good old Marxist notion of class has been used in similar ways in complaints about how the existing working class fails to live up to the great historical task Marxist intellectuals have constructed for it. Marxist intellectuals who have come out of the working classes may have criticized the classes they left for their infidelity to what they have seen as ‘proper’ working-class culture. Still, class theory in principle categorizes people according to their actual and potentially transcendable social positions. A class position is something you are not necessarily born into and most probably never can get out of, like your ethnicity, or nationality. A person’s class position is a matter for synchronous analysis to decide; for individuals as well as groups it may change over time—and quite rapidly too. ‘Class’ is a concept tied to the analysis of modern societies, as opposed to the social systems of traditional societies. It is not accidental that most radical socialist movements of this century have been very sceptical towards ideas about national and ethnic identities: such ideas have been seen as serving the interest capital has in splitting the working classes along irrelevant lines. Thinking in terms of class more than in terms of nationality, ethnicity and other ‘ascribed’ features of a person’s social position would also make it harder for intellectuals to speak as if they were simply members of great collectives they in practice have left in order to become intellectuals.


VII Constructed cultural identities of the kind I have tried to discuss above are of course practical realities as long as they are believed in. The belief in an authentic Norwegian cultural identity was instrumental both in the struggle for the independence of the Norwegian nation-state, and in the relatively rapid development of a full, modern democracy in Norway—all Norwegians are equal in their Norwegianness, peasants from certain areas are particularly Norwegian, and should have a say in local and national politics. That the ‘national’ in the Norwegian case was so firmly tied to the ‘popular’ meant that the New Norse movement in many ways played a social, political and cultural role we (used to?) call ‘progressive’. At the same time, it is a fact that New Norse activists among teachers and military personnel were among the worst suppressors of Finnish and Lappish minorities in the far north of Norway, and celebrations of true Norwegianness often bordered on pure fascism, particularly between the wars. These facts point to the similarities between these celebrations of Norwegian cultural identity and the contemporary constructions and celebrations of, for instance, German ‘historical’ cultural identity. Still, the difference between the mostly democratic function of the construction of ‘Norwegianness’ and the fascist implications in the German case, points to the necessity of concrete analysis of the political role of each particular identity construction. Some may play a more or less legitimate, supportive role in democratically legitimate political struggles, others have a definitely regressive or even repressive function. Furthermore, cultural traditions and bonds between people do exist as sets of social practices and symbolic systems specifically tied to particular groups, also across divisions between classes in a Marxist-inspired sense. Consequently, they are obviously operative forces in social and political developments. Cultural identities in this actual, practical sense are necessary to analyse and understand as premises of all forms of communication and organized social action, not least in order to counteract tendencies towards turning differences into hierarchies. But the point in this article has been to question the role of intellectuals in the construction and upholding of identities, traditions and bonds. Intellectuals (re) produce ideas and whole systems of ideas. Their specific social interests as intellectuals should be taken into account when their work in this field is looked into. Since particularly ‘historical’ cultural identities are intellectual constructs, intellectuals may have a particular interest in promoting them—thereby placing themselves at the very centre of political and social interests. The social and experiential marginality of many intellectuals, particularly those with social origins in popular classes, also makes ideas about cultural identities forming imaginary bridges to the lost collective quite comforting. In short, all constructions of cultural identities call for, if not refusal, deep scepticism. Their unifying purpose tends to place them at odds with the very characteristic of modern identities: their unstable, highly complex and often contradictory nature. Theories and (cultural) politics which do not accommodate this fact are potentially politically divisive in unhealthy ways, and potentially totalitarian as well.


Note This article is based on my book (1990) Folkeopplysningas dialektikk. Perspektiv på norskdomsrørsla og amatørteatret 1890–1940 (The Dialectic of Popular Enlightenment: Perspectives on the Movement for Norwegianness and its Amateur Theatre 1890–1940), Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget. All translations are mine. The quote (also my translation) from Hans Robert Jauss (1977) is from his Ästhetische Erfahrung und Literarische Hermeneutik, München: Hans Fink Verlag, which has now also been published in English by the University of Minnesota Press. Reference Garborg, Arne ([1904] 1951) Knuda heibrev in Skriftir i Samling (Collected Works), vol. 8, Oslo: Aschehoug.


Surpassed only by the words corresponding to ‘much’, ‘big’, ‘good’, ‘new’ and ‘whole’, norsk—‘Norwegian’—is among the adjectives most frequently used in Norwegian newspapers (see Heggstad, 1982). All words considered, it is still one of the most common; in the dictionary of frequencies, it is ranked as no. 84. More common are almost exclusively particles like ‘and’, ‘in’, ‘of, ‘on’, and ‘but’. Among the words indicating an interest or a commitment to values, it is preceded only by no. 72—kroner—the name of the Norwegian currency. In this respect, words pointing to other standards—vakker (‘beautiful’) in 3,495th place, klok (‘wise’) in 7, 140th—are reduced to mere insignificance. This very special interest in the Norwegianness of all things has a background, and part of that background is worry. Foreign influences—represented by Muslim immigrants, satellite TV, and ‘American’ consumer culture—are seen to modify Norwegian culture, diluting its distinctiveness, cutting its roots, disrupting its traditions, endangering the very identity of the people. The worry is widespread and partly sincere—and completely unfounded. Alternatively, I present the following contentions: 1 the culture of Norway is not markedly Norwegian; 2 collective identity is not dependent on a degree of cultural distinctiveness; 3 trees (to quote Salman Rushdie), not men, have roots. Is there nothing specifically Norwegian about the culture of Norway? No, I maintain—or, better, its stamp of Norwegianness is so insignificant, and so indistinct, that it is highly misleading to name it after the political territory containing it, as ‘Norwegian’. Though many attempts have been made to define a national character or spirit, no one has come up with a convincing formulation so far. In all these cases, the typically Norwegian turns out to be a stereotype, real-life examples of which are extremely hard to find. If examples can be found, it is both because the characterizations are so loose that they may account for anything, and because our experiences are so multifarious and ambiguous that it will always be possible to find something that seems to fit any characterization. ‘We Norwegians are afraid of conflicts’, a prominent anthropologist maintained some time ago, ‘we shy away from any articulation of disagreement.’ ‘We Norwegians are unable to stick together’, a no less prominent sociologist maintained two days later, ‘we make a quarrel out of everything.’ Ideas about the Norwegian


national character are, in fact, reproduced by our nodding in recognition to contradictory statements like these. In one version, the Norwegians are said to be ‘down to earth’, ‘sturdy’, or ‘sluggish’; in others, they are ‘romantic dreamers’ like Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, or ‘adventurers and seafarers’ like the Vikings, and like Nansen and Heyerdahl, the daring explorers. To most Norwegians, all of this sounds highly convincing. When all versions are mixed into one, an impression of remarkably penetrating powers of observation is created. In that way, the much celebrated tvisyn (double consciousness) of the Norwegians is grasped. The design section of the Lillehammer Olympic Organization Committee, preparing the winter games in 1994, is a case in point. The section is determined to ‘bring to light a basic Norwegian attitude’, a distinctly ‘Norwegian aesthetic atmosphere’, which the architectural setting of the games will then be made to express. Thus, the visual profile of the games has to be ‘sober’. As that which is markedly Norwegian is ‘plain and functional, practical and solid’, a ‘richly decorated and bombastic profile would run contrary to the very Norwegian way of being’. On the other hand, architecture and design has to bear witness to the ‘plurality and luxuriance’, to ‘the phantasy and the creative resources’ which are so ‘characteristic of Norwegian folk art and so expressive of Norwegian mentality’. To be sure, none of this is an obstacle to the event’s demonstrating ‘the vitality and modernity of Norwegian culture’, its capacity for ‘innovation, futuredirectedness, and radicality’, by means of a language of forms which is ‘challenging and advanced’. In fact, it does not even prevent the games taking place as ‘a happening, a blow-out’, expressing ‘dynamism and hecticity’ by means of a scenography which is ‘ephemeral, cheap, vehement, festive’ (‘Visuell’, 1990:9–12). According to the design committee, all of this is Norwegian. And so it is, in a way, just as it is French, American and Egyptian. Our Norwegianness, the committee concludes, is demonstrated by ‘the clarity of the forms, the consistency of the means of expression, the solidity of the product’ and by an expression which is ‘luxurious but simultaneously airy and extrovert, alluding to the values of festivity, playfulness and fugitivity’. Now, who is not in a position to say these things about themselves? Coming across a convincingly realistic definition of Norwegian mentality, one can be sure that it points to ways of being and thinking which are widespread in many other countries. In Norway, complains a former Minister of Culture and Education, ‘one has to stutter and fumble in order to be believed, clumsiness being understood as a sign of the speaker’s being in earnest’ (Langslet, 1988:154). The Minister is right, of course, but he is confusing Norwegianness with modernity. Comparable norms of credibility, fostered by the intimacy of the television image, are increasingly asserting themselves in all Western cultures. Thus, the demonstrative lack of studied form is Norwegian only in so far as it is presently found in Norway too. The great orators of the Norwegian past never practised that ‘jargon of authenticity’! (See Johansen, 1989.) Norwegianness is often characterized as a preference for togetherness and equality. We behave timidly and unassumingly, as if mutually dependent in one single, tightly woven community, mobbing anyone attempting to stand forth. ‘Thou shalt not believe that thou art any better than us’, ‘thou shalt not believe that thou art something special’—these are the fundamentals of the ‘Law of Jante’, formulated by the novelist Axel Sandemose, corresponding, according to the propaganda for wage


inequalities, élite schools, and sharper elbows, to the very core of our backward and provincial mentality. After the decade of liberalism, the picture fits badly with my own experience. If, for a moment, we concede that it may contain a grain of truth, that grain may reasonably be attributed to the strength, during the first half of the twentieth century, of popular counter-cultures of the labour, lay man, and peasant regionalist kind. If these movements are to be interpreted as expressions of something more fundamentally and originally Norwegian, one may point to the late and modest development of urban centres in this country, as well as to the lack of an upper class equipped with traditions and self-confidence. However, these conditions obtain in many other places as well. The model for Jante was a town in Denmark. Jante, Sandemose emphasized, is everywhere. More than anything else, the description of the Norwegian mania for equality reminds me of life in a Mexican Indian village. Still, the Australians seem determined to take out a patent. The ‘cutting down tall poppies’ syndrome, they maintain, is a distinctive feature of the Australian national character. The Australians ‘celebrate the losers’, and ‘feel the urge to humiliate anyone making an outstanding, or even competent, performance’; they quite simply ‘hate anyone distinguishing themselves’ (Breen, 1990). As pointed out by the political scientist Øyvind Østerud, no studies of Norwegian mentality are systematic and comparative. They never inform you about the distribution of the ‘typically Norwegian’ in Norway, and they never inform you about its distribution abroad. By their very nature, they cannot. In fact, avoidance of contact with falsifiable evidence of any kind is a condition for the idea’s survival— hence the striking lack of research into this matter of great concern (1986:23). A similar point has been made by Jonathan Rée: too external to the imaginary process of identity formation, and too positive, observable features of life in Britain, like more sugar being consumed than anywhere else in the world, in no way affect the concepts of Britishness (1991:5–6). Some time ago, a native anthropologist (Larsen, 1984) gained success by characterizing Norwegians as markedly practical and utilitarian, suspicious of everything reminding them of the playful, ritualist, and aesthetic attitudes to life. Leafing through the literature on Danishness, these words catch the eye on every second page; in Bourdieu’s (1984) sociology of culture, the very same labels are applied to the attitudes of the common people—in France. According to the Norwegians, one combination of properties, at least, is ‘typically Norwegian’. Self-sufficient and envious, unable to co-operate, constantly tormenting each other with petty quarrels, we lack the self-esteem necessary to assert ourselves in the face of foreigners. We are great individualists, hampered, alas, by our provincialism and our feeling of inferiority. Having compared the selfcharacterizations of various nations, the Swedish intellectual Herbert Tingsten (1963) once picked out this one as the most widespread: all over Europe, this is what people say when talking about themselves as nations. The next time one hears someone saying ‘typically Norwegian’—or Portugese, or German, for that matter— in order to give themselves an air of cosmopolitanism, one should remember to take it as a sign of provincialism. As applied to individuals, the concept of ‘character’ implies a crude simplification. When transferred to the level of the population of the national state, it becomes an absurdity: populations in no way resemble individual men. This is not to say that


culture is non-existent or unimportant. Culturally determined variations in the patterns of thinking and feeling may even act as barriers to understanding and interaction. The distribution of differences of this kind may follow the borders between vast culture areas, witness the contrast between Europe and the Middle East (or between the ‘guzzling belt’—extending from Russia and Poland, over the northern parts of Scandinavia, to the Inuit settlements in Greenland and the Indian reservations in Canada—and the ‘continental patterns’ of drinking); they may follow the divisions between historical periods, as exemplified by the contrast between the now living pre- and post-war generations; they may follow the divisions between city and countryside, between social classes and genders—but they do not have the faintest similarity with the differences between integrated ‘personalities’, and they only occasionally overlap with the borders separating national states. Most convincingly, the uniquely Norwegian is grasped by saying—as the saying goes in most countries—that ‘our country is the country of violent contrasts’, the mentality of the people being an expression of the tension between these extremes. Hence, Norwegian culture is the expression of an attitude which is practical and down to earth—and romantically dreamy (or a mixture of ‘Viking traditions’ and ‘pietism’, giving rise to highly ambiguous phenomena like ‘berserk intellectualism’ and ‘fear-inspiring piety’ (Skirbekk, 1991); or again, in a formulation strongly suggesting Russian mentality according to the ‘swaddling hypothesis’ (see Bock, 1980:107 ff.), ‘a tendency to reject all traditional values and standards by total revolt, and at the same time a tendency to apprehensive submission to authority’ (Gunnar Skirbekk, quoted in Larsen, 1984). Obviously, everything occurring in Norway—and in all other countries—easily fits into this kind of talk. If Norwegian culture were to be characterized by one single word, wrote Lorenz Dietrichson, the founder of art historical studies in this country, that word would have to be ‘strife’. ‘Our nature, like our history and our mentality, is marked by a play of oppositions which goes deeper than among most other peoples.’ The decisive opposition is played out between the western and the eastern parts of the country— between the fjord, with the narrow strip of cultivable land, the prospect of the ocean, the longing for distant lands—giving birth to ‘the man of fantasy, the Viking, the seafarer’—and the valley, with its dark woods etc., binding the mind to the land, fostering ‘the practicality and composure of the farmer’. From a slightly different point of view, the very same opposition can be seen to run through every part of the culture. The rich and secretive fantasy life of all Norwegians, conditioned by the cold and dark winters, the dispersion of isolated dwellings, the solitude at sea and in the mountains, opposes their firmness and energy, their rugged individualism, resulting from the struggle against the hard and inhospitable nature (Dietrichson, 1906:4–10). The dualities of nature, being the very ‘life principle’ of the Norwegian people and the ‘moving force’ of its historical development, are expressed in its material culture. The contrast between fjord and valley corresponds to the contrast between the delicacy of the knife and the boldness of the axe, hence to the contrast distinguishing the Norwegian style of architecture and design. The medieval stave church—exploiting the advantages of wood in its intricate ornaments, overcoming the weaknesses of the material in rising without external support in a way which is otherwise reserved to constructions of stone—is not only built in Norway, but Norwegian in essence: ‘Its simple, practical construction and its wild and fantastic


ornamentary is the very image of our people’s physiognomy’ (Dietrichson, 1906:97–8). I would have seen no reason to rake up nationalist mythology from the turn of the century if it were not for its present-day revival in the service of image-building motivated by the processes of international economic integration. The ‘Profiling Norway’ project of the Foreign Office, for instance, is based on this very conception. Norway, one has found out, while facing the ocean, is a land of remote mountain valleys. ‘Our reputation (image) of being rough heroes and daredevils’ has been created by our life at sea. At the same time, ‘developing the inland areas, we have domesticated ourselves and our mountain country, and made it a safe place to live’. This ‘paradox’ is the foundation of the Norwegian ‘dualism’ which has to be ‘raised to consciousness and cultivated’. Now, what does all this lead up to? The Violent contrasts’ characterizing the country are to be understood and expressed as a kind of ‘luxurious minimalism’, while the ‘eminently Norwegian tension between the sedentary and the cosmopolitan’ is to be represented as a combination of ‘boldness and contentment’ (‘Presentasjon’, 1990). The main practical result of these deliberations is a logo alphabet created by joining two sorts of type, expressing the essentially Norwegian— in more or less the same way as the stave church—by an ugly combination of thin and thick lines (see Figure 1). Once, all talk about national character was surrounded by naive seriousness. More recently, it used to be accompanied by an ironical smile. Now that smile is disappearing. We have not returned to the point of departure, however, for the seriousness is of a new kind. Today the Volksgeist is strategically ‘profiled’ on the basis of market research. What about the cultural expressions of the Norwegians? Isn’t there a kind of music, or cooking, or architecture which may be called genuinely Norwegian? No, I insist. The Norwegian people’s music, i.e., the music we like to play and listen to, is international pop and rock. The bagpipe-like sound of the double-stringed harding fiddle, while it may once have been folk-music, is a museum specimen, less accessible than reggae from the West Indies, rivalled by modern jazz, at most, for its position in the people’s musical consciousness. If the point is to characterize the Norwegian sense of music—as it is, not as it may have been—we had better consider the hectic sounds from the metropolitan jungles abroad. Much the same can be said about Norwegian fairy-tales (those fascinating the Norwegian mind at the moment are named Dynasty, Batman, and Twin Peaks), and about our national costumes. If there is such a thing as a national costume, i.e., a costume much used and well liked by the Norwegians, it is made of denim, and it is produced in Thailand on licence from the USA. In so far as our way of dressing can be seen as an expression of taste and as an indication of who we are, the old rustic costumes are completely irrelevant: on the streets, they are more rarely seen than turban and sari. Variations in clothing are determined by fashion and subcultural trends, not by local tradition; style and taste change rapidly over the years, not from one place to another. The style of the 1960s is what seems strange and exotic today, not the style of the Germans or the Spanish. This goes for our material culture generally: it is primarily inter- or transnational. For the occasion, I have checked the clothes I am wearing while writing this, and all


Figure 1 Source: Presentasjon av grunnleggende profilelementer for Prosjekt Norgesprofil, 1990.

the objects in my office. Some of the books are Norwegian, I admit. For the rest, three out of over a hundred different things—a telephone, a matchbox, and a tea-cup —while they might as well come from Belgium or Canada, are at least produced in this country. In this respect, my office is like any other work place: the things that surround me come from all over the world; judging from their look, they may come from anywhere; none of them lend themselves to expressing my being a Norwegian. Once more I arrive at the conclusion that the element of exclusively Norwegian forms is minimal. As applied to the culture of Norway, the term ‘Norwegian’ is seriously misleading. If the word is to be used in this context, it has to be redefined: Any cultural element produced in Norway, or valued by many Norwegians, is Norwegian; of these, none may be more or less Norwegian than any other. A prefabricated villa mimicking North American suburbs, decorated with Swiss gables and Moorish arches, is an authentic expression of some Norwegian style of building. Jazz musician Jan Garbarek fits one of my criteria; Bruce Springsteen fits the other; Aha fits both. My doubts about the existence of a Norwegian culture—conceived of as a kind of pervasive, singular, exclusive stamp—is occasioned not only by our remarkable resemblance to people in other modern societies, but also by the degree to which we differ among ourselves. In terms of lifestyle and world-view, the difference between a stockbroker in Oslo and a fisherman in the north is greater than the difference between stockbrokers in Oslo and New York. A Norwegian punk has less in


common with his home mission grandmother than with punks in London and Berlin. Considering his value orientation, taste and way of thinking, my neighbour, who may be a taxi-driver or a shop assistant, is more of a stranger to me than young intellectuals in any Western European country. To him, on the other hand, American popular culture is less strange than the culture produced by persons of culture in Norway. Thus, lines of division within the national communities, or crossing the borders between them, are more decisive than those parallelling the borders. What is it then, that makes us—myself, my neighbour, the stockbroker, the fisherman, the punk, and his grandmother—so much alike that we may let it define our basic cultural identity? The question being put in an impossible way, a satisfying answer will never be found. National identity is not dependent on cultural homogeneity. It is a conviction about belongingness, and a corresponding sentiment, founded not on observable cultural unity but on an engagement with symbols. Hence, if we believe we are Norwegians, and say so, and if others accept what we say, then Norwegians we are. The cultural material may point in all directions, but if there is a reason to present oneself in this way, there is always the possibility of focusing on certain select features lending themselves to the making of relevant distinctions, taking them to be the decisive ones. (See Barth, 1969:14–15.) This is how the old costumes and tunes pertain to the question of identity. They are part of a symbolics activating ideas about and feelings of the people being itself in a singular way. The material may point in all directions, I remarked, i.e., the selection of national signs of identity is largely arbitrary. Our language, for instance, is basically a collection of Scandinavian dialects. The difference between the standard versions of spoken Norwegian and Swedish is slight, indeed slighter than the difference between many Norwegian vernaculars. Regardless of the degrees of linguistic variation, however, the former is magnified to a distinction between languages, the latter being played down to a distinction between mere dialects. In much the same way, while consuming pizzas and hamburgers on a daily basis, no Norwegian in his right mind would go so far as to actually eat the stinking old cheeses and the swidden sheeps’ heads regarded as national dishes; completely out of the question when it comes to Norwegian food habits, these dishes are of relevance solely to the concern for marking a border between ‘them’ and ‘us’. Similarly, while the country is full of seagulls and pigeons, the dipper, which only a few among us have ever seen, is the emblem of Norwegianness among the birds. Thus, on the occasion of choosing the national fish some years ago, the campaign launched by the Zoological Society in favour of the slimy little hagfish, so numerous along the coast, was based on a grave misunderstanding. In the early 1960s, a set of new coins depicting various animals was debated in the Parliament. Relief was expressed on the part of some Christian Democrats that the heraldic lion, that ‘African carnivore’, was finally removed from the one krone pieces. The horse replacing it, corresponding to well-known songs about the farmer’s loyal friend, was welcomed by others as the very epitome of Norwegianness. To the leader of the farmers’ party, however, that horse, remarkably similar to the relievos in King Assurbanipal’s palace, was essentially Assyrian, hence unsuited to Norwegian coins.

Figure 2. Two versions of the mascot for the 1994 Olympic Winter Games held in Norway; the first version (left) rejected by critics as ‘American’, and the second version (right) warmly welcomed as ‘Norwegian’



When searching for the one correct form expressing the essence of Norwegianness, we are searching in vain, of course—both because this essence is non-existent, and because the belief in its existence can be underpinned by anything at all. Still, debates of this kind take off now and again. The Olympic Winter Games in 1994 being an occasion for presenting Norwegian culture to the world, the design of the mascot has recently been the subject of heated controversy (see Figure 2). A first version was seen as ‘American’, hence vehemently rejected by the critics; a second one was warmly welcomed as ‘Norwegian’. The one suggesting cartoons, as I see it, the other ‘quality’ childrens’ books—much like Lucky Luke vs. Winnie the Pooh—the critics made the very common mistake of identifying culture with national culture, interpreting their own reactions in national terms, confusing their being cultured with their Norwegianness. The logos of the various sports, based on 4,000-year-old rock carvings (made by someone as exotic as an Amazon indian, identifying himself as a bear, probably), have been enthusiastically acclaimed as ‘Norwegian’ (see Figure 3). Once again, the attractiveness of rock carvings to modern designers and critics, being an instance of the attractiveness of primitive art to modernists, is interpreted as the attractiveness of Norwegian art to Norwegians, and taken as evidence of their suitability to the purpose. The word ku, ‘cow’, someone has pointed out, is the only valid expression of the reality of the cow, because of the angle of the ‘k’ corresponding to the horns, and the arc of the ‘u’ indicating the profile of the udder. This is the rationale behind all discussions of form based on nationalist premises. Obviously, the olympic mascots and logos are—and are not—Norwegian, in precisely the same sense as the lion and the horse, the cross in the flag, the stave church, and the letters of the Foreign Office’s logo alphabet. None of this is an expression, by some kind of inner and necessary relation, of a cultural essence or deep structure. All of it can, with equal right, be made to represent the idea of a national culture. Having underlined the arbitrariness of the signs of national identity, I may conclude, thus far: we may go on producing signs of this kind—and believe in them, and be moved by them—no matter how much we change and import. The worry is completely unfounded: Norwegian identity is not, and has never been, the same as Norwegian cultural distinctiveness. Norway exists, to be sure, as a state and as a society. ‘We’ are ‘ourselves’, as citizens. We relate to the same laws and institutions. The signs of unity and distinctiveness are expressions of that relationship. By virtue of them, we identify with the state’s institutions, judging their activities to be a kind of enlarged version of our own, thus, while often deploring them, never being able to disown them. Norway is a community of communication. In modern times, the state has brought us together. The road board, the post office, and the railway company have effected intercourse between the citizens of the young state. The primary school, the church, and the national newspapers, circulating more or less the same information and values to the entire population, have made a great contribution to the standardization of the many local and subcultures.1 When, for instance, rules of grammar and orthography are laid down and forced upon all children, then, finally, arises a separate Norwegian language. As spoken, that language is of more recent origin. A couple of generations ago, there were still many who—in part disobligingly, in part due to lack of familiarity—did not understand other dialects very well. The ‘great plane’ of

Figure 3. Olympic Winter Games logos ofvarious sports, based on 4,000 year old rock carvings and enthusiastically acclaimed as ‘Norwegian’



the electronic media has been levelling dialect variations, making us familiar with those remaining, until presently the various local vernaculars function as variants of a single language of the realm (Dahl, 1981:112–13). Thus, in the modern national community of communication, a circle of dialects have become readily understandable and acceptable to each other—at the very moment of emergence of satellite TV, preparing the way for a comparable levelling of differences between all Scandinavian dialects. A nation is a community of experience. Norwegians are sharing a stock of knowledge that foreigners do not even suspect—constituting implicit premises, and a sounding-board of connotations, for what we tell each other. In this context, examples will not be cited; making outsiders understand them is like trying to explain the point of a joke. References to this kind of ‘shared but secret information’ (see Meyrowitz, 1985:53 ff)—of jargons, memorable episodes, bon mots—makes one feel to what degree one belongs to a family, a generation, or a nation: ‘the others’ do not perceive what is alluded to. Though providing a strong sense of unity and separateness, this kind of implicit knowledge is not what is normally meant by ‘culture’. The language, not the content of the conversations, is seen as the identifying mark of a culture. Referring to something more basic and stable than the experiences common to a couple of generations, the decisive criteria are formal: the style and not the motifs; the way of thinking and being, not the various things being thought about and done. Intimate familiarity with various contents, while constantly providing experiences suited to underpin the belief in its existence, is to be distinguished from the kind of pervasive way and form normally taken for granted. The Norwegian broadcasting corporation, apart from providing us with a central part of that frame of reference, has been focusing our attention on the same areas and the same questions, including us in the great community of listeners and viewers, providing us with a sense of participation in the life of a collectivity which is thereby no longer wholly abstract, thus acting as the single most efficient means of identity formation on the national level. The NRK transmits international sports competitions and other nationalist rituals, just like any other national broadcasting company. Still, it is hardly possible to put one’s finger on something specifically Norwegian about the way it is being done here.2 Contrary to the native myth of creation, the Norwegian state was largely a result of the settlement between the Great Powers in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, not the expression of a centuries-old will to independence taking advantage of the opportunity. Before 1814, the population of this Danish province was locally or internationally oriented. Most people regarded themselves as inhabitants of some town or rural district, as members of Christendom, and as subjects of the king in Copenhagen. The upper classes in no way identified with the Norwegian common people, but with their peers in other European countries (Østerud, 1987:48 ff.). Their frame of reference was classical education. The authors of Roman antiquity, not the Norse bards and sagamen, made them feel who they were. On that score, the Norwegians did not differ from the population of the other provinces. Though the decisive divisions between ‘them’ and ‘us’ were based on local and regional affiliations, loyalty to the state’s institutions and symbols, not least to the king and his lineage, provided for a sense of unity throughout the realm (Østergård, 1984:90). The mixed German-, Frisian-and Danish-speaking


population in the south, defining themselves by local and state patriotic sentiments, did not set to work on sorting out relations of national belonging until well into the nineteenth century (Japsen, 1979:108). The idea that the northern province had a unique attraction may be traced back to certain homesick intellectuals seeking education and opportunity in Copenhagen and Düsseldorf during the last half of the eighteenth century. Nationalism, however, was out of the question. When Norwegian nationalism was born, it was for some time at a loss for a culture. Socially and geographically remote countrymen’s ways of life were largely unknown, and their tongue badly understood. Even Henrik Wergeland, the foremost interpreter of the national sentiment in those early years, wrote that ‘the people’s songs in their own tongue are as alien as gaelic’. About 1840, when for the first time hearing Norwegian fiddle tunes, he still regarded the existence of Norwegian folk-songs as ‘no more certain than the existence of spirits’ (Norsk, 1980:141, 163). The patriotism of the early nineteenth century was of the French revolutionary brand, not of the German romantic; it was political not cultural. It was not until the ‘national breakthrough’ of the 1840s and 1850s that certain leading circles came to suspect the existence of a culture apart from their own Danish, German and classically oriented one. The effort to appreciate that culture as their own turned out to be a voyage in completely exotic surroundings, involving a series of brutal culture shocks. The presumed carriers of the national culture, on their part, did not care much about nationality before the very last years of the century. As late as 1878, the leader of the peasant ‘Norwegianization movement’ was complaining that ‘the great majority of the peasantry is completely ignorant of their having a fatherland’ (quoted in Gripsrud, 1990:87). In the beginning was the state, and the state was in need of legitimacy. It had to be able to say, to the world, that it was the expression of a people demanding to decide for itself, and to the people, that it was their own, hence worth defending like a home. Culturally, many possibilities were open. The western areas, for instance, were in many ways united with the Faeroes, Iceland, and Scotland, as part of an Atlantic culture area, while the southern and eastern districts most appropriately may be said to have been Baltic (Berggren, 1989:76, 210). Hence, a national culture might, in other circumstances, just as naturally have been established in a part of the country—or in Scandinavia as a whole. Thus, the primary fact is the political border, not the cultural content. The idea of the national state, however, insists that it is the other way round. Consequently, during the nineteenth century, impressions of a unique and unified tradition were produced. Cultural elements from different parts of the country were selected, adapted, and reshaped—in accordance with the canons of taste and the ideas about the ‘people’ now reigning all over Europe—and presented as generally and exclusively Norwegian. Fairy-tales were collected—and improved. Supposedly later additions due to foreign influence being removed, only the pure and originally Norwegian versions were con-served—of tales, as one may easily point out today, which have been found in hundreds of versions all the way from Ireland to India. The harding fiddle, though it had never been used outside a few mountain valleys and a limited area along the western coast, was declared the national instrument. Similarly, in the first decades of the twentieth century, traditions of national dress were established.


Though no longer in use, peasant costumes from the 1820s and 1830s, themselves imitations of urban European fashion of the preceding century, were taken as the point of departure. A few were singled out and reworked. In order to be genuinely traditional, the new costumes had to part with the shawls and hoods, the top hats and cravats, the multicoloured jackets and waistcoats of its models—and accommodate the cape, the handbag, the plaited skirt etc., introduced, for the first time, by the modern inventors of tradition.3 From the very beginning, the documentation of Norwegian culture was governed by the idea that the genuine is to be found at the origin. The construction of Neo Norse—a written language disinfected of all strikingly Danish forms and turns— was largely governed by this rationale.4 Some dialects were seen as more Norwegian than others, hence suited as a basis for the new language—not because they were representative of the way most Norwegians were talking, but because they could be said to be far from Danish and close to the Norse origin. An orthography was recommended which took into consideration not only the actual pronunciation, but precisely the Old Norse spelling as well. Thus, even in this age of supposedly unbroken traditions, the culture of the Norwegians could not be accepted as the genuinely Norwegian culture. Lindeman, writing about his collecting of folk-songs, may be seen as typical in this respect. ‘When searching for melodies worth noting down’, he observed, ‘one has to put up with all kinds of fatuous trash, cajoling with utmost patience until finally one succeeds in bringing to light what, even to the people itself, surfaces as something strange, almost forgotten; the old songs are consigned to oblivion, they are buried under thickening layers of new and more or less worthless songs’ (quoted in Norsk, 1980:163). Lindeman’s strategy is our own, today. The question of who we are is being answered by looking to the past. The Norwegian people’s music is not the popular music of the Norwegians but, among other things, the folksongs collected by Lindeman, hardly sung by anyone in his time but, as he surmised, by their remote ancestors. It has often been pointed out that the typically Norwegian is not orig inally Norwegian. The painted or carved decorations of traditional furniture, for instance, represent, in a style heavily influenced by the European baroque and rococo, acanthus tendrils growing in the Mediterranean area. However, this is only a small part of the problem. Things like these, having nothing to do with present-day Norwegian culture whatsoever are, as emblems, indispensable. In order to say that we are all of a certain kind, we have to look to what someone else, in the olden days, may have been. We are the way we are because they liked music which only a few have a taste for today, because they wore dresses now completely out of fashion. Almost everything taken to be a sign of who or what we are refers to them, as we suppose they once were. Thus culture, normally identified with national culture, is conceived of as olden time. For that reason, age is among the foremost criteria of culture. From this point of view, modern methods of production are ‘technology’; old handicraft technologies are ‘culture’. Old sailing-boats belong to Norway’s ‘coastal culture’, hydrofoils do not. Great age is not decisive in this context, as production machinery from the turn of the century, veteran cars, or steam ships taken out of service no more than twenty years ago, undoubtedly constitute ‘culture’. What is demanded is that


the thing no longer be practically serviceable, so that it may be kept purely as a remembrance. The consequences for cultural policy are of at least two kinds. In the first place culture, in the main, that is to say everyday culture, is the ‘good old days’, excluding our dealing with the cars, homes, food, fashions, and machinery of today. While serious attention is being paid to everything which is no longer current, the culture we actually live by is left to the marketing consultants to deal with pretty much on their own. In the second place, when insisting upon our national culture being old, even localizing its origin and core back in the Middle Ages, we imply that it is something given—a piece of nature, like the landscape or the climate, which cannot possibly, i.e., without ruination, be other than it is. For that reason, nature itself is one of the most prominent national symbols. We identify with our country’s nature—as if it were patriotic, or of Norwegian mentality, making it possible for us to recognize ourselves in it, and for it to bear witness to us. Nature can be treated in this way, of course, no matter how it is shaped. The nature of Norway is Norwegian only in the sense that it is found within the borders of the Norwegian state. Still, it is difficult to rid oneself of the feeling that it is somehow Norwegian in itself. The meanings these stones and trees are made to carry are easily taken to be their own original properties, our Norwegianness being, in the next instance, seen as based on theirs. There are still those who look to topography and climate in order to explain their mentality and way of life. Culture, however, is not determined by our relation to nature; our relation to nature is culturally determined, hence historically changing. The national day is a remedy to the uneasiness felt by the suspicion of historical changeability. On May 17th, an historical development is celebrated as a process of nature. The establishment of the state, of service to the tasks of the nineteenth century but perhaps not to those of the twenty-first, was the result of specific circumstances, largely determined by the international situation—but the alternation of the seasons is eternal, and so is the succession of the generations, and May 17th is the timeless advent of spring. Thus, neither the young leaves of the birch twigs decorating the pulpits nor the insistence on eating ice-cream and wearing half-hoses in the showers of hail are meaningless ‘customs’. These are ritual metaphors, indicating that the founding of the state, after the cold winter of the ‘night of 400 years’ under Danish rule, was the coming of spring in the life of the people. Celebrating May 17th as ‘the childrens’ day’ is simply to underline this point: the events of 1814 were naturelike, inevitable, eternally valid, like the resurrection of life in the succession of the generations. The antiquarian conception of culture points in the same direction as these metaphors of nature. Being the way we are, it implies, we cannot deviate from our Norwegianness without deviating from ourselves, that is, without becoming estranged from what we basically are. This is how conceptions of collective identity become self-evident, strong, tenacious—and inconceivable of change, painful to lose. Consequently, I have found a sketch of an historical perspective to be in place. The distinctively Norwegian culture is a construction supporting the sentiment of national belonging, produced relatively recently as an answer to a specific set of political challenges.


Still, it is generally agreed that this distinctiveness has deep historical ‘roots’. Officially, it is the prime ambition of the cultural heritage conservation and the museums of cultural history that grave-mounds, rock carvings, stave churches, and Viking ships be used to disseminate knowledge about what constitutes our identity —as if we were ourselves in the same unchangeable, nature-like way, right through millennia of historical change. Almost all worry about the present-day ‘lack of historical consciousness’ is an expression of this lack of historical consciousness. Men have no roots. Identity cannot reasonably be anchored in the distant past. The identity of something consists of the properties which make it possible to recognize it, from different points of view, and from one situation to the next, and be convinced that it is one and the same all along. Normally, physical objects are easily recognized this way. They are what they are, nothing more nor less, completely at one with themselves. In this way, I may even believe that I can recognize myself. In that case—my personal past being but what I remember of it; my remembering being conditioned by who I am today; my way of being in the present depending largely on my ambitions for the future—I probably overrate the continuities of my life course. Still, my sense of identity is not completely unfounded. If nothing else, it is/who have changed. For the lives of past generations to form part of my identity, I have to believe in comparable continuities running through the course of historical change. Now, that belief is completely unfounded. I resemble my forebears in so far as I lead the same kind of life, think the same kind of thoughts, etc. Hence, my cultural characteristics are not dramatically at variance with those of my parents. I need only look back to the time of my great grandfather, however, to become aware of a cultural divide which is deeper than the one separating me from the average Frenchman or Russian of today. If I could go back to the early 1960s, the shock of strangeness would be greater than the one I experience when going to Sweden. This is not to deny that the changes may have occurred gradually. The almost imperceptible flow of historical change may be likened to walking, step by step: sooner or later you arrive in a foreign country. (See Lowenthal, 1985.) Thus, what happened hereabouts a long time ago does not belong to ‘our history’. It belonged to a completely foreign culture. Conceiving one’s culture as being ‘rooted’ in the distant past is highly problematical. Regarding the times of the sagas and the stave churches, it is certainly unreasonable. Why, then, go back to them to find out who we are, rather than to present-day France or Russia? The answer is simple. By the alternative procedure, one may easily create the impression that we are what we have chosen to be and what we have happened to become, thus making it difficult to assure ourselves that we, like physical objects, purely and simply are what we are. What is at stake, in the insistence upon confirming our modern sense of identity in the distant past, is precisely this reification of culture. The national ‘we’ is a stage, no more, between the horizons of town or region and those of the world. That stage is now being transcended. As international relations of the cultural, economic, and ecological kinds are being woven into an ever denser web of interdependencies, the national state is about to become too small. In this situation, it is becoming increasingly evident that the current conceptions of culture are an obstacle to rationally dealing with the questions posed by the processes of integration.


Cultivating a view of identity as a kind of original and natural thing, we are not making it easy to discuss the realities of Norwegian membership in the European Community (in the 1972 referendum, strong nationalist sentiments made an effective contribution to the people’s ‘no’; in a few years’ time, they may do so once more) or to deal with the question of immigration in a reasonably decent way. (In this area, even the most obliging may be caught in the trap of their own reified conceptions. Used to an internationalism consisting of support to movements of national liberation abroad, Norwegian radicals and liberals conceive of ‘the others’ as someone like themselves: being essentially what they are in national or ethnic terms, the others must be helped to resist assimilation and stay identical to themselves. By seeing to it that no one is estranged, the Left may, in some respects, contribute to the reproduction of maladaptation.) Similarly, the debate on the media is turned away from the question of quality, to the question of the national origin of programmes which—precisely through the effort to attract the Norwegian audience to Norwegian channels—are becoming more and more commercially oriented and indifferent. Advertisements’ attacks on everything otherwise held to be valuable—truth, decency, language—may be the most serious challenge to the cultures of Norway and any other country. The scandal costs us enormous amounts of money; all others working with words and images are over-shadowed. We readily accept it, as long as the ads are Norwegian. We even invite the advertisers to a new commercial channel, breaking the monopoly of public service television, provided it helps to keep Norwegians away from foreign channels. The intellectuals, seeing the strengthening of Norwegian literature and publishing as their most urgent task, overlook the possibility of developing a Scandinavian market, which alone would be of a size to secure their supply of specialized or highbrow reading. The debate on language is still so focused on the national question (Neo Norse competing with Standard Norwegian for recognition as the authentically Norwegian language) that the extensive damage to language—in marketing, in the tabloid press, in management and bureaucrat jargons—is hardly noticed. When the current situation is seen through the perspective of nineteenth-century nationalism, the serious problem is always located at the blind spot. While heated controversy centres on the per cent representation of each variant in broadcasting, or on the secondary schools teaching all pupils to write both, no one ever thought of founding a people’s movement for resistance to ranting, or for the protection of logically coherent sentences. In all these cases, the heart of the matter seems to be whether ‘they’ shall be allowed to stay with, decide over, share with, inform or entertain ‘us’—and that is precisely felt as an intrusion. Thus, most debates are derailed. Unless the ‘we’ and that which is ‘ours’ are soon redefined, the difficulty of dealing with the problems that really confront us (us the unemployed, the anti-racists, the antifundamentalists, the defenders of language and ozone, etc.) will keep growing. As a political force, the idea of a Norwegian culture, having performed its historical mission, is about to become a drag. Now the motives for keeping it alive are chiefly economic: Norwegianness is, ever more plainly, a marketing trick. Those worried about the fate of their national culture are to be found, not the least, in the local branch of transnational business culture. The Export Council and the Olympic Organization Committee are deeply concerned about the reports that most


Americans believe Norway to be the name of a refrigerator, and that the Japanese think Father Christmas is living in Finland. They are unable to decide whether Norway, for the sake of tourism, is a kind of open-air museum or, caring for industrial exports, in some specifically Norwegian way very modern. The dilemma is false, of course. No one in his right mind would sign contracts for the delivery of typically Norwegian products—wood-pulp, cellulose, artificial manure, carbides, raw aluminium, oil, and gas—because he is attracted by propaganda for the Norwegian lifestyle and values. Still, the rest of us, needing commissions and grants, not knowing how to motivate our concern for culture by other reasons than that it pays, are about to accept their premises. I once met a person who had written a book about the country’s most successful industrial products. They may all be called ‘solid’, she held. By calling the Norwegianness of everything Norwegian ‘solid’, we might be able to present ourselves in an advantageous way.—Don’t you think Volvo and Mercedes are characterized by a certain unexciting solidity as well? I asked her.—That’s called ‘thoroughness’, she replied: Swedish grundighet, German Gründigkeit.—What’s the difference? I asked her.—The Swedes and the Germans haven’t grabbed the word ‘solidity’, she answered. This is the point many have reached. The idea of a Norwegian culture is no longer conceivable apart from the marketing of Norway. The question of who we are can no longer be posed meaningfully apart from the question of what it may be useful to pretend to be. The Olympic Games at Lillehammer are, officially, an occasion for presenting Norwegian culture. Unofficially, it is an occasion for changing it in a certain direction. The Games, and the long process of preparation, is a lever—in a very small country, a most powerful one—for commercialization and for the propagation of marketing as a view of life. The event may be envisaged as a gigantic celebration of competitiveness. We already have to put up with praise of the winner and his aggressiveness in unprecedented amounts and intensities. It is not by chance that the leaders of the enterprise have been recruited from central business circles: the Olympic movement is part of the general cult of management. In this perspective, the Winter Games of 1994 may be seen as the culmination of a long campaign for ideological renewal, covered up by the rhetorics of presenting the national culture to the world. Starting in the mid 1980s, with systematic attacks on the restrictions to professionalism and sponsoring, the new alliance between sports and business at the top levels has implemented a far-seeing strategy for exploiting the rhetorical potential of sports and nationality. The Norwegian success in the Albertville games, demonstrating the benefits of commercialization and élitism, silencing all opposition in a roar of national enthusiasm, was a crucial step. Commenting, at the final press conference, on the ‘miracle’ of the nine gold medals, the president of the Norwegian Olympic Committee felt free to be explicit: ‘It is typically Norwegian to be a winner. For a long time, Norway has been a social democratic society in which all were supposed to be equal. Our school system was based on that principle. Now everyone, following the Prime Minister, thinks it is a good thing to win.’ The Prime Minister, herself the author of the idea of the typically Norwegian tendency to win, had attacked the ‘Law of Jante’, thereby inadvertently wounding herself. She had seriously believed in the marketing value of dominating obscure


sports like speed skating and cross-country skiing, and rejoiced at the prospects now opening up for ‘the selling of Norway’. The following few days, suddenly realizing the game she had been tricked into playing, she tried to redefine the events—as an inspiration to the unemployed, as a result of the distribution of equal opportunities to all talents, etc.—only to be met with a storm of protest, some of it deprecating the attempt at political exploitation, some of it pointing out the incompatibility of social democracy and individual excellency. Once more, a debate on values central to the development of Norwegian society had been won by converting it into a confrontation between Norway and the world. The glorification of competitiveness is one part of the business mentality now blending into national sentiments; the rationality of strategic image construction is the other. The Norwegian approach to the Winter Games of Albertville and Lillehammer, being an instance of the tendency to turn everything into pretexts for marketing, is a demonstration case for the readaptation of nationalist discourse to the requirements of a new stage of economic integration. In Norway the event, and the continuing attempts to mobilize popular support for its costs and messages, is certainly the central cultural process of the decade. Its effects may be read off a usage no longer distinguishing between image and reality. It is the ambition of the Olympic Design Committee, for instance, that ‘Norwegian forms of expression pervade the event in its totality’. Forms must be selected which are able to ‘sum up what we represent’. On the one hand, ‘the best effect will be obtained by being honest.’ On the other, the question is how to ‘create a national “image” conferring our distinctiveness to the games of ’94, so that economic benefits ensue’. The event is a ‘shop window’ to the world, in which to place ‘what we believe to be the nation’s best business idea’ (‘Visuell’, 1990:6). Notes 1 On the relations between economic modernization, social integration, and national identity, see Gellner (1983). 2 On the role of the mass media in the development of national identity, see Anderson (1983) and Morley and Robins (1989). 3 This procedure is not to be interpreted as ‘typically Norwegian’; see Hobsbawm and Ranger (1984). 4 See Jostein Gripsrud’s essay in this issue.

References Anderson, Benedict (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso. Barth, Fredrik (1969) Ethnic Groups and Boundaries, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. Berggren, Brit (1989) Da kulturen kom til Norge (The Arrival of Culture in Norway), Oslo: Aschehoug. Bock, Philip K. (1980) Continuities in Psychological Anthropology, San Francisco: Freeman. Bourdieu, Pierre (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.


Breen, Myles P. (1990) ‘Projection and reflection of American culture via mass media. Case study: Australia’, paper presented to the 40th annual conference of the ICA, Dublin. Dahl, Hans Fredrik (1981) Fra Gutenberg til Gjerde, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. Dietrichson, Lorenz (1906) Vore Fædres Verk (The Works of Our Fathers), Kristiania: Gyldendal. Gellner, Ernest (1983) Nations and Nationalism, Oxford: Blackwell. Gripsrud, Jostein (1990) Folkeopplysningas dialektikk (The Dialectics of Enlightenment of the People), Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget. Heggstad, Kolbjørn (1982) Norsk frekvensordbok (Norwegian Dictionary of Frequencies), Bergen: Universitetsforlaget. Hobsbawm, Eric and Ranger, Terence (1983) editors, The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Japsen, Gottlieb (1979) ‘Statspatriotisme og nationalfølelse i Sønderjylland før 1848’ (State patriotism and national sentiments in southern Jutland before 1848), Historie (new series), 13:1–2. Johansen, Anders (1989) Troverdighet’ (Credibility), Sosiologi i dag, 19:2–3. Langslet, Lars Roar (1988) Mennesker og milepæler (Men and milestones), Oslo: Cappelen. Larsen, Tord (1984) ‘Bønder i byen—på jakt etter den norske konfigurasjonen’ (Peasants in town—looking for the Norwegian configuration), in A.M.Klausen, editor, Den norske væremåten (The Norwegian way of being), Oslo: Gyldendal. Lowenthal, David (1985) The Past is a Foreign Country, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Meyrowitz, Joshua (1985) No Sense of Place, New York: Oxford University Press. Morley, Dave and Robins, Kevin (1989) ‘Spaces of identity’, Screen, 30:4. Norsk kulturhistorie (Norway’s cultural history), Vol. 4 (1980), Oslo: Aschehoug Østergård, Uffe (1984) ‘Hvad er det “danske” ved Danmark?’ (What is ‘Danish’ about Denmark?), Den jyske historiker, nos 29–30. Østerud, Øyvind (1986) ‘Nasjonalstaten Norge’ (The Norwegian national state), in Alldén, Ramsøy and Vaa, editors, Det norske samfunn (The Norwegian society), Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. ——(1987) Det moderne statssystem (The modern system of states), Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. ‘Presentasjon av grunnleggende profilelementer for Prosjekt Norgesprofil’ (A presentation of the basic elements of the Profiling Norway project) (1990), Oslo: Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Rée, Jonathan (1991) Internationality, Working Paper No. 80, Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Aarhus. Skirbekk, Sigurd (1991) ‘Kulturfortolkning som kategorimistak’, Nytt Norsk Tidsskrift, 8:4. Tingsten, Herbert (1963) ‘Nationell självprovning’ (National self-reflection), in Åsikter och motiv (Opinions and motives), Stockholm: Aldus/Bonniers. ‘Visuell profil for OL ’94. Grunnlaget for et designprogram’ (Visual profile for the Olympic Games of ’94: The basics of a design programme) (1990), Oslo: Lillehammer Olympic Organization Committee.



Introduction In the scholarly literature on written autobiographies and life stories elicited by interviews it is possible to discern two main views. One emphasizes the ‘life’, the other the ‘story’. In history and the social sciences, the life is most often emphasized, in the sense that the facts are given priority, while the narratives are means to the end of discovering and presenting the facts. Other approaches emphasize the narrative aspects of life stories. Within the poststructuralist turns in literary criticism, a life story is seen as an illusion, belonging to the genres of fiction rather than to the realm of history. My aim in this paper is to attempt to overcome the dichotomy implied in these different ways of reading life stories. I want to demonstrate that written autobiographies can be considered valuable material for ethnographic analysis as well as why and how it can be fruitful for social scientists to borrow some insights from analyses of antobiographies within literary criticism for the examination of life stories written by ‘ordinary people’. I am, in other words, using written life stories as data about cultural processes, wishing to avoid naive uses of them as history and also to expand the notion of history to include personal experiences. While life stories elicited from common people (as opposed to kings and poets) are often treated as ‘oral history’, this article demonstrates that it may be useful to treat these parts of ‘oral history’ as neither ‘oral’ nor as ‘history’ in any simple sense. Such an intellectual endeavour also has a more general bearing upon the ways anthropologists, historians, sociologists and other social scientists handle analytically personal recollections and similar kinds of material elicited from informants during field-work. Being a social scientist, I want to take advantage of textual analysis without losing sight of the real life experiences expressed, created and, to some extent, constituted by textual means in written life stories. First of all, I draw on the developments within literary criticism during the last thirty years concerning the study of autobiographies (Abbot, 1988; Bruss, 1976; Jelinek, 1980; Gusdorf, 1980; Lejeune, 1975 and 1984; Olney, 1972, 1980a, 1980b). In particular, I find interesting the turn from a focus on bios to a focus on autos, that is, to a focus on reflexivity and the construction of the self implied in autobiographical writing (Olney, 1980a). Second, I am inspired by a new trend in literary criticism wishing to rethink the relationship between texts and society. I approach textual analysis in a similar way that some


Renaissance literary critics now approach anthropology and the other social sciences under the labels of ‘a new historicism’ or ‘a poetics of culture’ (see for example Greenblatt, 1989; Montrose, 1989; White, 1989). While the pure poststructuralists would argue with Derrida that there is nothing but the text, the crucial question for the new historicists, as well as for my project, is how to redefine texts in relation to experiences, lives and contexts without reducing the texts to the mere reflection of an ontologically prior, essential or empirical reality. For this reason the reciprocity and mutual constitution of the textual and the social is emphasized: One the one hand, the social is understood to be discursively constructed; and on the other, language use is understood to be always and necessarily dialogical, to be socially and materially determined and constrained (Montrose, 1989). With these theoretical challenges in mind, I present some preliminary results from a long-term project, based on 630 written autobiographies elicited by an autobiography contest in Norway.2 Such a corpus of life narratives can of course be used for many research purposes. My intention is to focus on the constructions of self and society contained in these stories, and how different ways of defining the articulation between self and society involve different kinds of moral dilemmas. The ways in which autobiographical writers construct their texts may reveal tensions, dilemmas, gaps as well as some coherence in their world-views and cultural values. Dilemmas are differently framed as well as differently phrased by people of different ages, genders, and social groups. In this article, one single life story is taken up for an intensive analysis. It is fundamentally a modern text in the sense that the author seeks to create a pattern and establish a self out of his various life experiences. However, in this endeavour he is only partially successful. The text can be read in such a way that it reveals modern value dilemmas between individuality and community, as well as important cultural changes in Scandinavia during the twentieth century. The author’s life almost overlaps with the history of social democracy in Norway. He was born in the year of the Russian revolution, and his childhood took place during the hard years between the two world wars. My interpretation is based first and foremost on the text itself, but also on three, two-hour-long conversations with the author, one in February 1991, one in August 1991, and one in March 1992. The second and the third conversations took place after he had read earlier versions of this analysis, all the main points of which he accepted. In the following I refer to the autobiography by page number and to the conversations by the letter C (C I, C II, and C III).3 Øivind’s childhood story—an overview The author is a man in his early seventies (born in 1917). His name is Øivind. The whole story is 33 typed pages and treats only the childhood part of his life. The story is well written and represents in strict literary and generic terms the autobiographical genre: the author, the narrator and the main character are one and the same person. It is a retrospective account in prose of the real life of a real person, centring around his own individual development (Lejeune, 1975). In the terms of Richard Coe (1984), it is a ‘Childhood’.4


The story is called ‘No. 25. (The frame of a childhood)’, and a description of No. 25 as it was then and as it is now also frames the story. No. 25 is a building in the centre of one of Norway’s largest cities, and the story is in one sense a story of a paradise lost, and of social and moral changes. It starts out with the happy memories of moving into No. 25 in 1921. Øivind was four years old at the time and the youngest child in his family. His father, a businessman, had recently bought the whole building and the family was to inhabit a substantial part of it. Øivind the old man expresses the joy of Øivind the boy, with allusions to Norwegian folk-tales (‘eventyrene ’ ). Being situated on ‘Queens street’ (Dronningens gate), No. 25 is a castle (‘slott’), its backyard, the yard of the castle (‘slottsgården’). Øivind’s narrative contains all the usual childhood details—portraits of his mother and father, glimpses of everyday life as well as Sunday picnics, the games he used to play, reminiscences from his years at school, etc. The main plot, so to speak, is provided by changes in the social and economic circumstances of the family. The then of his childhood is the 1920s and early 1930s, a period in Norwegian history when the welfare state was poorly developed and the general economic situation was characterized by strikes, stock speculation, bankruptcies and unemployment. Not long after moving into No. 25, the building lost its fairy-tale qualities. Øivind’s father died, and the family was forced to let out most of their own apartment, leaving the mother and five children only two rooms and the back door.5 There is a development in the story from the naïvety of the child to the 13-year-old boy who has made the choice of his life—to work and thereby contribute to supporting his mother and siblings rather than getting the education he wanted. Family solidarity When his father died, No. 25 became the frame around affliction and trial, but because of this Øivind learned to appreciate the solidarity of his family.6 In his narrative, distress and solidarity are interwoven: Into the one and only living room came the family [familien], the relatives [slekten], with their support. The living room was not very big, but our family was. Mother was one of 16 siblings, most of them married and living in town. The times were bad for all of them. Some were better off than us, some worse. We all stuck together. (8) To cheer up themselves and their children, Øivind’s mother and his aunts loved to tell stories about their own childhood—about grandmother who made pancakes for 16 children and had to keep order when all of them wanted seconds and thirds. About grandfather who could not stand being home during his one week of vacation. And so on. In this way the grown-up women reinforced family solidarity not just by actually sticking together and giving each other spiritual support, but also by making family ties the focus of their attention. Øivind never knew his grandparents personally, but only through this family folklore of his mother and aunts. (C II)


A three-layered model of social classes Because of their social degradation after his father’s death, or because of a special sensitivity—or both—Øivind has developed an acute sense of social differences. They had to cut expenditure constantly and live very prudently in order to survive. But they did not feel poor. The ageing narrator is very explicit about drawing a firm line of demarcation between themselves and the poor: We ate our fill every day. And we had a piano. We were among the many, many who were ‘badly off’ [hadde dårlig råd]. Even more people had nothing [hadde ingen råd]. Because of need many people were forced to beg. Decent people as well as drunkards. They came to No. 25, too. Sometimes mother gave them a sandwich [en matpakke], sometimes not. (9) He also gives very sympathetic portraits of Sewing-Anna (‘Sy-Anna’) and LaundryAnna (‘Vaske-Anna’). Sewing-Anna mended and altered their clothes. She was ‘an artist at the sewing machine’, working to provide for herself and her little boy. Laundry-Anna was the woman who every now and then did their laundry in the washhouse in the backyard. Laundry-Anna’s life is described as totally miserable, but she herself—tiny, hardworking, badly dressed, wet and coughing—is portrayed with humanity and dignity: ‘She scrubbed and scrubbed against the washing-board, sending me a slanted smile over her shoulder’ (10). In the category of poor people are also the beggars who made a round every week to different firms in order to collect a small 25 øre coin from each. However, when old Øivind reconstructs his childhood world, he populates it not only with poor people (like the two Annas and the beggars) and people like us’ (badly off, but not poor), but also with one person who ‘stood out’ because he was well off, the factory owner across the street: He stood out because he had a car, a big Buick convertible which he entered dressed in light-coloured spats. And in addition he had a daughter, a fair dream of a princess who totally conquered me. She was distant and cool, the way princesses ought to be. She did not mix with the rest of us in the street. She went to a private school [betalingsskole].—She talked to me only once and even today, sixty years after the event, I remember her words: ‘Du er snill du’ [You are really kind]. She said this because I one day helped her open the princess gate. (19) In this quotation the folk-tale theme is reintroduced, and gives the daughter of the factory owner a dream-like quality. She is a princess just because she is unattainable (‘distant and cool’). In the way the ageing Øivind populates his childhood world it is not difficult to discern a fairly explicit three-layered model of society. In the middle there are many, many ‘people like us’, people who are struggling not to ‘sink down’ to the even more numerous category of the poor. The poor is the second category of the model. The line between ‘people like us’ and the poor is firmly drawn but, it seems, quickly crossed if the circumstances are unfavourable. Øivind


locates himself and his family above the poor. His portrayal of the two Annas is not characterized by proletarian realism but by middle-class sentimentalism. The third category is the rich. In this category there are very few people, only one man and his daughter. Between the other two categories and the well-off the distance is great and, it seems, impossible to pass. I believe that many adult Norwegians today actually perceive society in terms of more or less implicit three-layered models with themselves in the middle. During anthropological field-work among young urban workingclass people (in a wide sense of the word) in 1978–80 I found similar models at work (Gullestad, 1984, 1992). But there are also significant differences. My young informants expressed strong ambivalences about ‘the upper crust’ (‘fine folk’)—such people were both admired and despised. They also explicitly passed moral judgements on people who did not live up to their standards of how a respectable life should be lived (‘sosialtilfeller’). This difference reflects a contrast between historical periods. The markers of social class were clearer and more explicit in Øivind’s childhood than they are today. Compared to my young working-class informants, the divisions between the layers are, paradoxically, less sharp by being characterized by less ambivalence and more positive feelings. Through Øivind’s experience of the important role of the family (both in the narrow sense of his mother, himself and his siblings and in the wider sense of their relatives) in helping each other not to ‘sink down’ (Tension I), the terms are set for his choice between doing his duty by sticking together or ‘standing out’ on his own (Tension II). I see this second tension as a leitmotif in his life story, and as the pattern he creates to represent his self. Home versus outside This leitmotif is amplified by several related tensions. My reading of Øivind’s story yields two opposing sets of values which constitute his text and, implicitly, the cultural institution of childhood represented in the text. His childhood takes place within oppositions which are not mutually coherent, but which somehow form a set of value dilemmas as well as an implicit model of social life. There are thus two models of social life in this story. The second model consists of tensions between inside and outside, between safety and security, between home and exotic far-away places, between the everyday and the world of books, between not sinking down and rising to the surface, between work and education, and between the family and the individual. For example, when he was old enough to open the heavy gate, a larger world than the courtyard opened up to him; but his mother warned him not to go too far. But still—we all expand the boundaries, sooner or later crossing them. Liberate ourselves. But like an echo far back in the head the brake is there: Do not go too far! (4) […] So ‘the baby child’ did not go too far, took no risks. I turned around and went inside again. Into safety [tryggheten], into No. 25. Here was mother. Here I knew everybody. Almost. (5)


These quotations illustrate the ambivalences as well as the firm values of the narrator. The anxiety about going too far can be understood from several points of view. In the narrated childhood past it was just a question of not going too far from home. But the narrator gives these words a double meaning. It may also be a question of not letting down his own people. From the point of view of the present reader, it can in addition be read as a meta-level description of this very autobiography. It is possible to argue that there is in the story a tension between his existential search for a self and a fear of revealing too much. Øivind uses many generalized descriptions, and in addition important domains of life and emotion (like conflicts, sexuality and guilt) are absent or only hinted at. Since he wants to celebrate family values, family conflicts and ‘dark secrets’ are given little room. Starting school at the age of seven was a particularly traumatic experience. The seven years at school are described as ‘seven years which afterwards seem like a continuous grey mass’. The rules were hard, the punishment severe, and he did not really get to know the other boys. Øivind makes no explicit connection between the portrayal of life at school and the leitmotif of the story. But even if he does not think there is a connection (C II, C III), the juxtaposition of these recollections makes it reasonable for the reader to suppose that the hard discipline at school reinforced the fear of going ‘too far’ that he had learned in soft ways at home. In Øivind’s account, relatively few events in the outside world are experienced through the lens of the family. The inside and the outside seem to be defined by their almost absolute ideological separation. The inside is defined by safety, solidarity and belonging to a moral community, the outside by excitement as well as danger.7 Øivind portrays himself as from very early on being anxious about new situations and about life outside the family circle. At the same time he also portrays himself as someone who wants to get out, cross boundaries and learn new things. This theme is already introduced when he describes the courtyard of No. 25. The courtyard is paved with flagstone, providing ‘good running slopes’ (‘løpebane’—this term also means career in Norwegian—the figurative meanings are more common than the literary meaning) for ‘legs that wanted to go ahead. Legs that wanted to fly. Faster. Faster’ (4). He also had dreams of travelling to far-away countries. His desire for knowledge, he tells us, ‘far exceeded the curriculum of the school’ (11), and he was an avid reader. Reading books, which were borrowed at the library, is compared to travelling far away. In all our conversations, Øivind expanded on this theme. He continued to read throughout his life, and emphasizes how the world of fiction had always been extremely important to him. In these ways, the main ambivalence between sticking to the family and ‘breaking out’ is modified and amplified throughout the narrative. There is a conflict of values between freedom and family solidarity. Individual and community The climax of Øivind’s story happens just after he has finished the seven years of obligatory school. Since he was a very good student, he obtained a grant to go on to junior high school (‘middelskolen’). That summer the family (mother and children) were going on vacation for the first time. But when they were just about to leave, one of the neighbours (who had a telephone) brought a message: the principal at


Øivind’s school had managed to get him a summer job. He therefore stayed back in town and he worked in the office of a local grocer for the whole summer. I felt that I lived my own life—outside the family. A paid life—outside No. 25. And I could do it! The roots started to loosen. I thought. Until they came back from the countryside and I once more became one of six around a common table, one of the family, with the same problems, but with different solutions and experiences. (30) He did so well that when the summer was over and the new school was to start, he was offered a permanent job. It was not easy for a 13-year-old to decide his future. The future is shaped by the choices we make now. And who can decide his future alone? We are all tied to near and distant groups and to the surroundings influencing our destiny [bestemmelse]. The bold ones can break out, rise toward the surface and become their own decision makers. But not me. The family in No. 25 became my destiny. I was part of it. […]! was an ordinary case. (30–1) The quotation is very illuminating with respect to the dilemma of the young Øivind as seen by the old Øivind. The image of ‘rising to the surface’ (‘stige opp mot overflaten’) is intriguing. Øivind explained in our second conversation (C II) that he was thinking of the surface of society, and by this he meant the few who ‘stand out’ as against ‘the grey mass’. This image can be related to his three-layered model of society and the fear of sinking down discussed earlier. The value of not sinking down can be opposed to sinking down, which is negative, as well as to rising to the surface, which may be positive. In isolation the word ‘surface’ (‘overflate’) may also suggest irresponsibility—a much more negative attitude. Not sinking down seems to be safer and more secure than trying to rise to the surface, since freedom not only can take you to the surface, but also to the bottom. In other words, an emphasis on security as well as on stability and equality are demonstrated here (see Gullestad, 1992). Øivind made his choice. But the interesting thing is that when writing about his childhood as an old man the choice is simultaneously formulated as a choice and as a non-choice. His family very explicitly asked him to decide for himself—in other words they gave him a choice—but when writing his story in 1989 Øivind defines the choice as a non-choice. On the one hand, he stresses the central role of accidental circumstances (‘tilfeldig hetene’) in his life. Because of an accidental telephone call he was given the job offer. On the other hand, he stresses that given the choice he could not have done otherwise. When he was forced to choose, the constraints were such that there was no choice. Others could break out, but not he, which to me implies that something in him was preventing him from making the choice that would give him an education and thereby a chance to ‘rise to the surface’. His individuality was based on his ties to other people, on what he saw as fundamentally given in a situation of choice. Given the choice, there was only one


possible moral decision to make. This ethos can be related to a strong Protestant ethic, couched in idioms of work and duty, and inherent to Norwegian modernity. The gender dimension of the story is also intriguing. While identification through others has been thought of as typically feminine, to be responsible for the economic provisioning was in Norway in the 1930s considered a typically masculine duty. Abstractly formulated, Øivind’s dilemma was gender-neutral. But in its specificities it was coloured by gender as well as class. In his generation it was probably as a boy from a family of pauvres honteux that he was given a free place at school. And he did not choose between work and family but between work and education. A portrayal of childhood The story ends in the present, the author sitting in a café in a newly renovated building adjacent to No. 25. He looks through the window into the backyard of No. 25. ‘It is as if a knife had cut right through and removed sixty years of history’ (33). An autobiography is always a dialogue between then and now, between the time of the writing and the time of the narrated past. Øivind’s life story contains numerous explicit comparisons between then and now. It is therefore pertinent to question the validity of Øivind’s story as a portrayal of a childhood. How much has the child he once was been able to influence the text of the old man he now is? This text can be said to be more literary and seemingly more ‘constructed’ than many of the other texts that we received through our contest. But the constructedness does not imply that the text is inauthentic and that it is not a good source for cultural analysis. It all depends on what the story is supposed to be authentic about—historical events, subjective feelings, cultural ideas and values, the time of the narrative and/or the time of the writing. The question of truth and authenticity is a complex one, and as I will try to demonstrate in the following, it can be argued that this story is most true when it is most constructed, but also, in its ruptures and gaps, when it is least constructed. It all depends on what kinds of truth one is talking about. It may be useful to distinguish not only between historical truth and poetic truth, but also to specify poetic truths according to the relative closeness or distance to the point of view of the child in the narrated past. A historical truth refers to facts and events, while a childhood poetic truth refers to the specific point of view from which the facts and events were experienced. Øivind has presented his childhood experiences mostly in the form of generalized descriptions of typical situations. There are, however, a few clear exceptions to this main tendency. I have already quoted a part of his recollection of the particular events when he was forced to make his choice. In another passage, he presents a vivid recollection of the expectation of presents and his delight at a marzipan figure he receives from his father. He bites off its head: Then it happened. Then it happened. What I tasted was not sweet lovely marzipan, but soap foaming in the mouth. It was a soap figure! What a disappointment! What an abrupt throw from the delights of expectation to the bottom of bitterness. And then something more happened: Father laughed! Everybody laughed. At me! No comforting words. No comforting


hand. They screamed with laughter because of this ridiculous character, sunk down into disappointment and foam. I will never forget it. I will never forget it. (5–6) This is one of the very few really experience-near memories of the whole story. Here Øivind presents strong emotions close to the child he was. It also represents a rupture in the flow of the narrative in a more profound way. Øivind celebrates family solidarity, but in this exceptional recollection he demonstrates exactly the opposite: humiliation and disappointment. This is, perhaps, as close as we can get to the ‘perspective of the child’ in this life story.—There is a poetic truth in this passage which is very different from the historical correctness of the prices of groceries. It is through keeping alive and reconstructing memories like these that grown-ups can hope to get some small understanding of what it means to be a child. But also the generalized recollections from childhood are sometimes seen from a point of view close to the child he once was. The story is rich in everyday observations and recollections with no other apparent motivation than just to tell how it was and how it felt. These everyday recollections do not all fit into what I see as the main leitmotif of the story. They are examples of what Richard Coe (1984) calls ‘trivialities’, and according to him such trivialities are fundamental for a childhood narrative to be convincing. In addition they are important for Øivind’s message about family values. Through the everyday recollections a historical context is constructed within the text which functions to support his message about family solidarity. But the message of the story about the importance of family values is a statement of values which is not liable to judgements about factual truth or falsity. The message is not a message of a child, but a typical concern of an adult. As regards factual accuracy, Øivind has researched many details, such as the prices of groceries (CI), in order to make sure that he offers a historically correct picture. But historical accuracy is not necessarily equivalent to authenticity as a portrayal of a childhood. Some parts of the historical context are seen from the perspective of the child (playing games, the hugs of the maids, grinding coffee for his mother, etc.), while other parts are seen from the perspective of the adult. For example, the portrayals of the two Annas seem to be historically correct. They are also authentic expressions of the sentiments and reflections of the older Øivind, but it is difficult to believe that they are authentic expressions of the sentiments of a small boy. The difference between the perspective of the child and that of the adult can also be seen in passages where, in contrast to the emotional strength and closeness of the Christmas Eve memory, the portrayal is much more subdued and reconciled by many years of knowledge and by the poetic reflections of the older man. The generalized descriptions, too, effect a double perspective. Particular occasions are turned into instances of general patterns: ‘I can still hear them laugh over the cups of coffee, aunt Anna, aunt Dagmar…’ The use of generalized as opposed to specific memories probably has something to do with the author’s perception of his audience. He writes in order to get clarity, but he also has the hope of being published and read by a wide audience (CI). If he were writing only for himself or


for his family, general memories would perhaps have been replaced by specific incidents involving specific people at specific places. The relative generality of the descriptions conveys a strong wish in the now of the writing present to control experiences and emotions, and thus the formal aspects of his text may exemplify that being in control is an important value (see Gullestad, 1992). What he does to the smaller details is in many ways parallel to what he does to the whole life story: he transforms a series of incidents into an overall pattern. Thus on one level, the story of the past is resolved in a pattern of harmony and adaptation: In this way the weeks, months went on and changed me. I lost touch with friends at school. New ties were established. I lived more in the world of the adults, without being an adult myself. I learned to know the offices and the streets and gradually I learned to handle money as well as people. And something more which cannot be learned behind the school desks.—I thrived. (32) Judging from this quotation, the choice is made and the problems solved. The story about what happened in the past has the structure of an old Bildungsroman. From a fairy-tale beginning, through adversities, he reconciles himself with his destiny, which is to improve his conditions together with his mother and siblings. On other levels, however, the dilemma is still open to discussion, and therefore Øivind’s story is not a traditional Bildungsroman, but in my view a fundamentally modern story. The tensions between sticking together and breaking out are never quite resolved. The design he has created to represent his self consists of tensions and ambiguities. His identity is constituted by indecision and oscillation between two opposite and irreconcilable views. To write one’s autobiography can be seen as a desire to reveal a design that might release the writer from ambiguity. Thus in one sense Øivind’s search has failed. But to the extent that he has actually created a design—a pattern which sticks—he has also succeeded. Through the writing of his story in 1989 Øivind has managed to create a pattern which fits his life in the sense that it makes sense, in the sense that he can live with it now. There is thus also an adult poetic truth in the story that can be distinguished from the historical and childhood truths discussed earlier. The existential truth of the old man is a product of the dialogue between past and present, but it is related to the concerns of the present rather than to the past and it is emotional as well as cognitive. Both the adult truth and the childhood truth can be subsumed under the label poetic truth. We thus have historical or contextual truths about childhood and adulthood, as well as existential and poetic truths about both. The dilemmas of the Scandinavian social democracies Øivind’s story can in many ways be used to exemplify the historical context of his individual life. Here I only want to discuss the parallels between the dilemmas in Øivind’s text and the dilemmas of social democracy in Norway. His narrative is fundamentally coloured by his specific class background and by his class trajectory (which are definitely not proletarian). At the same time there is, as already


mentioned, no conflicts in his vision: he sympathizes with the poor working class and is impressed by the rich who ‘stand out’. But the model of the social whole as divided into three ‘classes’ is not the only social model in his text. There is also a sharp ideological separation between the inside of the home and the outside. This last opposition is, as we have seen, related to a whole set of other oppositions in the text. There are thus basically two different social models implicit in the text, one consisting of three social classes or layers, and one classless model consisting of a complex web of oppositions connected to the opposition between the home and the outside. These two models together structure much of the text. They are different and competing representations of his social world, and their difference constitutes an interesting dynamism. The way I interpret the text, the two models are closely interrelated. Through experiencing the important role of family and home in order not to ‘sink down’ to the poor, the terms are set for his choice between the duty towards home and the outside freedom to advance socially through education and theoretical knowledge. In addition the lack of conflicts in his first model and the classless aspect of his second model suggest that according to his vision familial values should be extended to the whole of society. This comes as no surprise, since similar kinds of imagery have been central to the development of the Scandinavian welfare states. In Sweden, for instance, the modern welfare state was called ‘the folk home’ (‘folkhemmet’). Øivind’s childhood took place in the hard years referred to by the politicians of the Labour Party when they want to demonstrate the social progress which has taken place after they came to power. In 1935 the Labour Party became the governing party, and after World War II it reigned without interruption until 1963. This is the period when the Norwegian welfare state was developed and set into practice, with considerable agreement among socialist as well as non-socialist parties. Since then the power has alternated between the Labour Party and different coalitions of non-socialists. But far more important than the question of who is in power is the fact that the welfare state is now undergoing a fundamental crisis. Even more than a fiscal crisis (which is also the case) it can be described as a crisis of confidence. The welfare state was based on the values of security (trygghet), equality (likhet) and above all solidarity. For the majority of the population it made sense to stick together and improve the conditions for all, instead of trying to improve conditions alone and on one’s own. The morality of the political leaders conformed to the very same ideas. For instance, the Labour prime minister for many years, Einar Gerhardsen, lived in a 4-room apartment in a co-operative estate and took the tram car to work, ‘just like everybody else’. This is now changing. The legitimacy of the traditional welfare state is crumbling. On the one hand, it has proven to be inefficient, rigid and difficult to change. Many people (the majority) are now well off and therefore able to look for private solutions to increase their welfare. On the other hand, a significant minority can (relative to current conditions) still be described as poor—the unemployed, the single mothers, those (especially women) with low-paid jobs. It is more difficult than before to mobilize solidarity for these groups. The wage differences are rising. It is politically impossible to raise taxes. On the contrary, most of the political parties want to decrease taxes and thereby necessarily decrease state distribution of health and welfare services. The party which most consistently defends the traditional


welfare state (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, the social democratic party to the left of the Labour Party) is actually the one that Øivind votes for. The typical forms of individuality in contemporary Norwegian society are in many ways similar to those of the 1930s.8 However, there are important changes of emphasis. In some ways the individualism of the present can be described as a more pronounced form of individualism than that of the 1920s and the 1930s. To put it bluntly, the latter is an individualism of hard work, self-discipline and the connectedness of relationships considered as given, while the former is an individualism of expressivity, self-realization and the intimacy of relationships that can be entered (and left) by choice. Identities cannot be taken for granted, but have to be continuously created and recreated. Divorces have become more frequent and therefore also a part of normal family life. There is a feeling that everything is possible, everything can be changed. This implies a decreased emphasis on connectedness, and a sense of loss because of that. Against this background, Øivind’s moral dilemma can be read as an illustration of the current dilemmas of the welfare state between solidarity, equality and security on the one hand, and efficiency, expressivity and self-realization on the other. It is through a dialogue between the ideologies of the past and those of the present that Øivind is able to construct the central moral dilemma of the story. Øivind has been acquainted with forms of ‘standing out’ throughout his life, as well as with the associated mourning of the loss of social connectedness. In my view it is through the knowledge of the present ideological climate9 that Øivind both gets the motivation—and the intellectual viewpoint from which to question his decision in 1931 and see it as a moral choice confirming family values. At the time he felt he had no choice. His family and their needs were considered as given. But seen from the present he knows that ‘the bold ones can break out’, and being brought up with discipline in the hard days before the introduction of the welfare state, he was not one of them. In terms of the choices young people make in the present, he could have done differently. Notes 1 This is a heavily abbreviated version of a much longer analysis. Earlier versions have been presented at The American Anthropological Association, 90th Annual Meeting, Chicago, 20–24 November, 1991; at the seminar ‘The multiplicity of writing and social anthropology’, The University of Oslo, 17–19 October 1991; at the seminar ‘Kjønnsidentitet, utvikling og konstruksjon av kjønn’, Centre for Women Studies, University of Trondheim, June 1991; at the meeting of the international research group L’Europe des familles, Centre d’ethnologie Française, Paris, 28–29 May 1991; and at the session ‘Biographies familiales’ at GdR Sociologie de la famille, Centre d’ethnologie Française, Paris, 30–31 May 1991.1 wish to thank Gunnar Foss, Steinar Gimnes, Helge Høibraaten, Sue-Ellen Jacobs, David Koester, Otto Mathisen, Marit Melhuus, and Sharon Stephens as well as my colleagues at The Norwegian Centre for Child Research—in particular, Anne Trine Kjørholt, Gunvor Risa, Alfred O.Telhaug and Per Olav Tiller—for useful comments. 2 The data-collection procedure of the contest is described in detail in Gullestad and Almås (1991). The project has so far resulted in an edited volume of six




5 6


8 9

autobiographies (Almås and Gullestad, 1990). This nationwide autobiography contest, called ‘Skriv ditt liv’ (Write your life), was organized in Norway in 1989 by sociologist Reidar Almås and myself. Some of the texts are autobiographies in the strict traditional literary sense (Lejeune, 1975); others are closer to memoirs, diaries, letters, or even take the form of dissertations or novels; and many stories can be read as montages of different genres. The 630 autobiographies are all categorized by a number (depending on the order in which they were received) and a letter (M=male, K=female) indicating sex. This particular autobiography is categorized M 127. The quotations are translated by me. All emphases are in the original. Being a well-rounded narrative of the childhood part of a life, this particular autobiography conforms to Richard Coe’s (1984) definition of the ‘childhood’ as a literary genre. In contrast to Coe (from whom I have otherwise learned a great deal) I do not see a childhood as a literary genre in contrast to the autobiography, but rather as a subspecies to the latter. Later on in the story they were also forced to sell the building. In Norwegian the term ‘familie’ (family) means in colloquial speech both the nuclear family (or other family forms) and kinship relations. In addition the word ‘slekt’ means kinship relations. This term is often used in definitive form, ‘slekten’ (the kindred), giving off connotations of a well-rounded organic unity. Øivind uses both terms to emphasize the role of family and kinship in his childhood. The opposition between inside (home) and the outside is central in Norway. Norwegian culture can be described as particularly home-centred (Gullestad, 1984 and 1992). The cultural characteristics of present-day Norway are discussed in Gullestad, 1984, 1985, 1989a, and 1992. In a paper about the new reproductive technologies Marilyn Strathern (1989) has argued that consumers’ choice is becoming a central metaphor in contemporary social life.

References Abbot, H.Porter (1988) ‘Autobiography, autography, fiction: groundwork for a taxonomy of textual categories’, New Literary History, 19:3. Almås, Reidar and Gullestad, Marianne (1990) Livshistorier, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. Bertaux, Daniel (1981) editor, Biography and Society. The Life History Approach in the Social Sciences, London: Beverly Hills. Bertaux, Daniel and Kohli, Martin (1984) ‘The life story approach: a continental view’, Ann. Rev. Sociol ., 10:215–37. Bourdieu, Pierre (1979) Distinction, a Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Bruner, Jerome (1987) ‘Life as narrative’, Social Research, 54:1, Spring. Bruss, Elizabeth W. (1976) Autobiographical Acts. The Changing Situation of a Literary Genre, Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Burgos, Martine (1980) ‘L’Émerge du romanesque dans les histoires de vie paysannes: analyse comparative de trois récits’, in Sociétés paysannes et depaysannisation. Les usages de l’histoire de vie en anthropologie et en sociologie, TUD HA BRO, Sociétés Bretonnes 6, Université de Haute Bretagne, Rennes.


——(1983) ‘Un récit en creux’, Revue des sciences humaines , xiii:192, octobre-décembre: 73–90. Coe, Richard N. (1984) When the Grass Was Taller. Autobiography and the Experience of Childhood, New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Douglas, Mary (1966) Purity and Danger. An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Gimnes, Steinar (1991) ‘Danning og desillusjon. Nils Collett Vogts selvbiografi ‘Fra gutt til mann’, Edda, hefte 2. Greenblatt, Stephen (1989) ‘Towards a poetics of culture’, in Veeser (1989). Gullestad, Marianne (1979) Livet i en gammel bydel, Oslo: Aschehoug. ——(1984) Kitchen-table Society, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget; Oxford: Oxford University Press. ——(1985) Livsstil og likhet, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. ——(1989a) Kultur og hverdagsliv. På sporet av det moderne Norge, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. ——(1989b) ‘Small facts and large issues: the anthropology of contemporary Scandinavian society’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 18:71–93. ——(1992) The Art of Social Relations. Essays on Culture, Social Action and Everyday Life in Modern Norway, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget; Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gullestad, Marianne and Almås, Reidar (1992) ‘Write your life. A Norwegian life story contest’, in press Oral History, 20(2):61–5. A French version of the paper, ‘Ecrivez votre vie’, is published in Cahiers de Sémiotique Textuelle (1991) 20:43–64. Gusdorf, Georges (1980) ‘Condition and limits of autobiography’, in Olney (1980b). Jameson, Fredric (1984) ‘Postmodernism and the consumer society’, in Hal Foster, editor, Postmodern Culture, London: Pluto Press. Jelinek, Estelle C. (1980), editor, Women’s Autobiography. Essays in Criticism, Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press. Langnes, L.L. and Frank, Gelya (1981) Lives: An Anthropological Approach to Biography, Novoto, Cal.: Chandler & Sharp. Lejeune, Philippe (1975) Le pacte autobiographique, Paris: Éditions de Seuil. ——(1984) Moi aussi , Collection poetique, Paris: Éditions du Seuil. Mills, C.Wright (1959) The Sociological Imagination, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Montrose, Louis A. (1989) ‘Professing the Renaissance: the poetics and politics of culture’, in Veeser (1989). Olney, James (1972) Metaphors of Self. The Meaning of Autobiograpby, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ——(1980a) ‘Autobiography and the cultural moment: a thematic, historical, and bibliographical introduction’, in Olney (1980b). ——(1980b) editor, Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Roos, J.P. (1985) ‘Life stories of social changes: four generations in Finland’, International Journal of Oral History, 6:3, 179–90. ——(1987) ‘From farm to office: family self-confidence and the new middle class’, Life stories/recits de vie, No. 3:7–20. Strathern, Marilyn (1989) ‘Enterprising kinship. Consumer choice and the new reproductive technologies’, paper presented at the conference The Values of the Enterprise Culture’ organized by the Centre for the Study of Cultural Values, University of Lancaster, September. Veeser, H.Aram (1989) editor, The New Historicism, New York: Routledge.


Watson, L.C. and Watson-Franke, M.-B. (1985) Interpreting Life Histories, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. White, Hayden (1989) ‘New historicism: a comment’, in Veeser (1989).


I wish to express my sympathies to the reader of an autobiography and the scientist on whose shoulders the task of attempting to detect some significancies in the mere blabberings of the narrator has fallen upon. Even I regard the effort of putting my life down on paper as an absurdity and the entire passage through life as petty fumbling: Not much of a journey but what is done is done. (58-year-old female teacher, the first paragraph of the final sequence in her autobiography) Style and facts In every culture narrative forms and models are used when stories about life are told. We know how life is to be narrated and how the story ought to appear. The roots of the models for writing a life story are partly in the Western literary tradition of autobiographies and partly in everyday story-telling. Familiarity with these models for writing ensures an acceptable life narrative that meets the public’s requirements, but at the same time it enables the production of a particular, personal and unique story. The autobiographer sees the act of writing the story as a negotiation concerning the cultural expectations she believes the reader connects with autobiography as a genre. In order to narrate herself and her life, the writer can make use of the entire vocabulary and figurativeness provided by the models of the surrounding culture, and still she can master this in a fashion which distinguishes her from other writers. This leads one to discuss the style of autobiography. Personal life events are not to be regarded as the only outstanding values that make life stories unique. Style is also a contributing factor. According to Jean Starobinski ‘In a form of narrative in which the narrator’s theme is his own past, the individual mark of style takes on a special importance, adding to the explicit self-reference of the narrative the implicit selfreference of a personal mode of expression’ (1989:172). He emphasizes that the style of an autobiographical narrative—which in his definition is ‘the way in which each autobiographer meets the general requirements of autobiography’ (172)—is an issue continuously subject to misunderstandings. We are used to associating the writer’s stylistic choices with ‘the present act of writing’ and are thus separating the form and the content of an autobiography from one another. Hence we suspect the autobiographical narrative’s description of past reality. Instead of breeding this


discontinuity, one ought to stress the function of style in expressing the present, current truth (171–4). The style of autobiography has been a crucial question when studying life stories by people writing outside literary institutions. When social research work is built upon such qualitative material as life histories, one general validation is in fact the emphasis on ‘the taste of real life’ in life stories by living subjects. The expressions used by writers in their autobiographies are well suited to illustrate and colour the results of research reports. But sociologists are simultaneously often tempted to regard stylistic issues as disturbing factors. Style disguises the facts of life, makes the reading and interpretation of a text difficult and distorted; therefore it is easier from the traditional sociologist’s point of view the more the writer confines herself to word-by-word portrayal of the facts of life and the less she is entangled with the problems of expressing herself in written language. Style is a very complex issue. In the following, my intention is only to touch upon some of the issues concerning the stylistic choices writers make when reconstructing their pasts. My argumentation will be restricted to one specific aspect of autobiography, namely the metaphors used of lifetime and of the course of life. These metaphors are a pervasive and typical phenomenon in autobiographies, as the entire autobiographical discourse centres on giving shape to life. Metaphors and metaphorical argumentation in life narratives are not limited to the question of style. As the course of life is being described in autobiography by considering singular events, piecing them together and evaluating their importance, a meaningful construct of life is produced, that is, life represented in a special way. In a figurative sense, autobiography as such is a metaphor on the course of life; a life lived becomes denser when told, a life narrated represents itself, gaining form and order.1 In the following, I will examine in more detail the metaphors of life course that writers use to evaluate their entire life and life in general. Metaphors applied to describe the writers’ self-image in the text are not dealt with here, even if these may closely interact with the kind of metaphors mentioned above. We are used to associating the metaphors in question with the narrative’s style and, thus, with the act of writing the story. But are metaphors only a stylistic feature brought forth by the writing process? We might plausibly rephrase the question. It is my argument that when discussing metaphors on life and on the course of life in autobiography, the researcher has to find a balance between the substance of events and the style of the representation, between life lived and life told, between story and discourse. Examining metaphors from this viewpoint places one in an excellent position to discuss the nature of literary expressions and their relation to experience and to the conceptual work behind the words (see Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). Such a study, however, is complicated by the terminology available for the description of life. The concepts used here are very wavering, metaphorical in themselves, and their linkages with particular theoretical traditions must be considered.2 In the absence of a more adequate concept, I shall use the terms ‘life course’ and ‘lifetime’ in parallel when discussing the variety of figures of speech we use when regarding life as a temporal span, a stretch in time from the very beginning until the act of recording it in writing.


Life-evaluations and metaphors I shall start with a brief description of my study on Finnish women’s life stories (‘Structuring life in autobiography—women evaluating life’), specifying my interest in metaphors. The research material consists of written life stories. Except for a few of the stories, all are written by ‘amateurs’, i.e., the writers produced their texts outside literary institutions. Moreover, the writers did not appear experienced in telling their life story. The material originates from three collections of life stories gathered for research purposes by setting up public writing competitions in 1978/79, 1985/86 and 1990/91. My main concern is the study of the interaction between the reader and the writer, and the narrative structures used when presenting an individual life. When reading the stories I strive to let the interpretation process move freely between the story and the researcher, retaining the interpretations as open as possible. The aim is to create a mode of reading sensitive enough to perceive the ways in which the female autobiographers relate themselves to conventional autobiographical writing. (See e.g., Vilkko, 1992.) To facilitate this interpretation process, the composition of a story is arranged and structured in sequences and smaller segments following the structure of the story and the hints and clues the writer may provide. A life story has a passage of orientation where the writer metaphorically ‘shakes hands’ with the reader and where the reader is being introduced and familiarized with the subsequent phases of the story. One event succeeds another and, as the story progresses, the writer not only makes references to the corresponding events in her life but also evaluates their meaning as well as the story as a whole. The closing or the coda is like a macroevaluation of the life led as well as the story told about that life. ‘Bidding one’s farewells’ farewells’ to the reader manifests the return to the present time and the act of writing. (See e.g., Vilkko, 1990.) Especially in these closing sequences and last chapters of the autobiographies I discerned language different and untypical in comparison with the rest of the story. The style used in autobiographies told by ordinary Finnish women varies from one story to another but is generally rather prosaic and realistic, endeavouring to refer to the life lived as candidly as possible and using uncomplicated language. However, this cannot be interpreted as a demand to give the reader ‘a piece of the writer’s mind’ but rather as a sort of moderation, that is, an intention to stick to the ‘facts’ of the life as literally as possible. But the closing sequences diverge from this story-line. As the autobiographers gather their thoughts and utterances together, they speak about life on a general level, evaluate their life and portray the self to the reader. Doing this, they figure their life and their individual being in several ways. They may repeat themselves and speak in a manner with which the reader has already become familiarized during the course of the story, but also adopt entirely new and different expressions. The figures of speech chosen to reflect the course of life and individual existence result in language brimful of poetic metaphors. Indeed, here the reader is not confronted with the household words and ordinary colloquialisms the writer has used elsewhere along the story, which in another context I have characterized as ‘written speech’ (Vilkko, 1988). In the closing chapters the autobiographers seem to change the key and


appear severe, even solemn and sublime. To illustrate this I quote a few phrases from the closing passage of a story: I have wailed and whined, complained—even laughed—and sifted my sorrows through a sieve. All this I have done, and yet, always in the language each moment has brought from within. The tapestry of my life is of figures in many colours, stripes narrow and wide. At times it called for patching, at times silken threads would be used. At places is the tapestry unravelled and worn out but now, with the growing dusk and the final countdown in view, the golden chips of forgiving and forgiveness are beginning to crown the cloth. The entanglement of different threads has given me the great gift of selfknowledge, the ability to acknowledge my limitations, the reason for my being here and the capability to receive with joy each and every moment still in store for me. (69-year-old female social worker) This shift in style can be understood as a response to the difficulty of closing the story. Several factors indicate this. The reader may find the closing passages problematic and inconsistent, since in many cases the writers seem to be harmonizing and smoothing out the meaning structure implied by the previously told story. The story-tellers may simply exclaim: ‘Regardless of the difficulties I have experienced, I am looking at a bright future ahead of me’ or ‘All in all, I’m pretty happy with my life’. A customary way to finish off an autobiography appears also to be the reciting of an appropriate poem, proverb or an aphorism. The poems and aphorisms are not necessarily the writer’s own accomplishments but loans from the existing cultural reservoirs of literature. Therefore, writing about life from the very midst of it leaves the writer rather inconveniently with a story very difficult to end. But could it be that only the inexperience and inabilities of the ordinary amateur writer produce this flow of metaphors? From this point of view the closing passages would bear no significance in relation to the writer’s personal story, but only in relation to the proper way of ending a story. However, I am not convinced that this is an adequate explanation. Autobiographical accounts can be seen as a result of the interaction between the writer and her expectations concerning the reader. These expectations are expressed by the help of culturally adequate narrative models and a particular use of language, based on the goal of mutual understanding. This aspect underlines the cultural nature of the process of writing an autobiography. The writer presumes and signals certain conventions of the genre and anticipates the reader’s expectations, fulfilling the task of writing a self-narrative as well as she deems possible. (See Vilkko, 1988.) This may at times manifest itself in clumsy language, but also inexperienced writers wish to communicate with the reader in their closing words. Perhaps they also simultaneously wish to summarize and convey something about themselves to the reader? Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain why the language used to describe a lifetime in the closing sequences of the autobiographies is so often not only strongly metaphorical but also consists of a similar repertoire of metaphors.


Cycle, course and event In the autobiographical context, life is no longer just a shapeless mass of events or everyday life. It is organized and represented, it is given form and order. Simultaneously, autobiography accentuates some qualities of life: life consists of events progressing in time, life has a course. This specifically autobiographical life is named by the use of metaphors. Social science has attempted to get a grasp of life in the above-mentioned sense by constructing various theoretical metaphors. The aim of these constructions is to conceptually make compatible something incompatible, to connect and integrate something that is separate and obliterated. Each concept transforms life into linguistic expressions in its own fashion. Here, I will mention three commonly used conceptions of life. ‘Life cycle’ is an old, widely used, worn out and frequently even abandoned metaphorical concept. It creates the image of a process which inevitably returns to its starting point. The term ‘life course’ emphasizes the temporal aspect of life, a path consistently leading us to the final destination. It is as coherent a concept as ‘cycle’, yet carrying another figurative image. ‘Life events’ is another concept used to describe lifetime and temporality. The way in which life events are related to time and space always remains to be considered situationally. The potentially fragmented quality of this concept reminds us of the difficulty of finding a coherent concept for the portrayal of life. Classifying the expressions used about life in the closing chapters of the autobiographies made it clear that the popular, conventional metaphors on life remarkably resembled the conceptualizations adopted in social science. By experience, I knew that writers would use the above-mentioned terms (life cycle, life course and life events). Likewise, it was known to me that they might use ‘life story’ as a metaphor: ‘I am eagerly waiting to see how my story continues.’ That is why in the initial phase of classification I completely disregarded these most apparent metaphors. My supposition was that excluding the most expected metaphors might produce quite another classification scheme. However, the expressions accepted for further analysis gradually began to gather around the same three basic concepts. Therefore, these terms are present in the following as classifying principles. This grouping of the metaphors into three conventional classes is a fascinating result as such. The following description of these classes does not aim at presenting all the personal variants that were found in the material. The first class of metaphors paints a picture associated with the image of life as a cycle. In most of these metaphors, the cycle or circle will either close itself or start a new round. Some characterize life with a semicircle where the end will never meet the beginning. All these images manifest themselves in terms familiar with the circular course of nature, encompassing both life and death. Lifetime includes a morning and a night, a spring and an autumn, a season for blooming and a season for withering away. We can all relate to these images, they are common and ordinary, even traditional and universal, knowing no boundaries. The second class of metaphoric expressions denoting lifetime in autobiographies is analogous to the concept of life course. Life is a timespan that can be measured in years, having a beginning and an end. These metaphors combine nature and human activity. They emphasize coherence, i.e., the path along which a human being treads. The writer is a wanderer and life a pilgrimage along this path—be it straight,


winding or rocky. Or the duckboards on a quaking bog may lead her through. Along her route the traveller stops at resting places, where she leaves her marks before continuing the journey. These images are equally immortal, as old and worn out as those of the first class of metaphors, telling the reader a story of a passing moment of a mortal. The third class of metaphors reminds us that the shapeless mass of life events should be classified and put in some order to compile a comprehensive autobiography. These metaphors clarify the very meaning of autobiographical narrative. They are mainly composed of activities which result in traditional cultural products. The majority of the activities as well as the artefacts thus produced traditionally belong to the woman’s world. Here the events in life are threads in a fabric, life is a cloth on the loom and the weaver must master the choosing of the correct weft threads. An autobiographer designs and organizes her life events into text like a weaver would work on the loom threads. Life is a rag rug, with its dark stripes sprung from sorrow and its pleasing areas of brightness. Life is a patchwork quilt. Autobiographers weave, sew and patch, interpreting colours and stripes as traces they have left behind themselves. This imagery differs substantially from that of the former two classes of metaphors, but is still equally filled with traditional, customary and established associations—at least with respect to the woman’s world. As a whole, the imagery briefly introduced here is therefore a familiar one. It gives us a glimpse of how ‘lifetime’ and ‘life course’ are simultaneously conceptualized in our culture. My suggestion above was that the interactive process should be seen as fundamental to the constitution of autobiography. Intensely charged metaphors not only communicate with the reader but also meet the writer’s experience of how to express oneself when telling one’s life story. Cultural metaphors about life course generalize experience and link individual life with experience in a specific culture. This can under no circumstances be regarded as an outcome only of the conscious choice of the individual. The application of cultural imagery is—as the title of Lakoff’s and Turner’s work (1989) on poetic metaphors suggests—‘more than cool reason’. Culture alone, however, does not wield one’s pen on paper, but the individual holding it, consciously or unconsciously making decisions concerning vocabulary. In my belief, this has already been illustrated by my threefold classification of lifetime metaphors. Thus, these general metaphors can also be interpreted as personal choices made by the individual story-teller. But do the metaphors of life course reflect anything other than the variety of adoptable lifetime conceptions and the imagery lying behind them? What would be the parameters to be used in interpreting the metaphors? Certainly, it is problematic to try to find the person behind the metaphorical utterances. I doubt that it would prove to be of interest, for example, to evaluate whether the individual writer throughout the story coherently applies the concepts of life course used in the final passages. It should be pointed out that although these metaphors would rest on experience, they do not justify individuals’ action and choices, either in life or retrospective life review. The basic metaphors composing and structuring the overall story play the role of principles organizing the self, rather than the general, often very conventional, life-course metaphors discussed in this essay (see note 1).


But in spite of these problems, there is reason to consider whether our knowledge grows as we examine this kind of metaphorical imagery. A metaphor highlights some aspects of reality while it hides others (e.g., Lakoff and Johnson, 1980:10–13). Therefore, how should one interpret the findings described above? It should be noted that we are dealing with three different structuring principles depending on whether we choose a cyclic perspective on life lived; whether lifetime is represented as a continuum; or whether life course is described as consisting of separate events. By far the most interesting aspect raised by the threefold classification of the lifetime metaphors concerns the figures in the third class. In these instances the metaphors make the reader promises of a particular autobiographical language which is gender-specific and based on separate worlds of experience. At the same time we get convinced that even though lifetime metaphors are poetic and remote from daily speech, they are not solely a matter of words but are deeply engaged in models of thought and action. These lifetime figures and the images lying behind the linguistic expressions symbolize the traditional, central scope of women’s lives. One can be assured that no literally corresponding vocabulary is to be found in autobiographies by male writers. The activities characterized by the metaphors take place within domestic life and tell the reader about a ‘homespun’ world that every woman identifies as the woman’s world—irrespective of her ability to sew or weave. These metaphors spring from women’s knowledge of the material, terminology, and activities moulding culture. They convey hints of a practical, witty woman who renews the threadbare, dyes the faded colours of the loom and mends a worn-out cloth with new patches. Obviously, these metaphors of cultural activity and products also tell about the multi-layered character of the past and the interlacing of past and present, i.e., their simultaneous appearance in retrospective. This aspect of both life itself and its representation being heavily entangled in the same sphere of linguistic imagery, is not equally strongly, if at all, accentuated by the cycle and course metaphors discussed. Using metaphors referring to cultural activity and products, the writers create a more flexible image, possibly coming closer to everyday experience. Might one even suggest that we are clearly nearing the very essence of life? Notes 1 James Olney discusses autobiography as a metaphor of self in his correspondingly titled publication. His definition of metaphor in autobiography supports my idea of regarding autobiography as a metaphor for the entire life course. He states that ‘the focus through which an intensity of self-awareness becomes a coherent vision of all reality, the point through which the individual succeeds in making the universe take his own order, is metaphor: the formal conjunction of single subject and various objects’ (Olney, 1972:30). Nevertheless, this metaphor which encompasses the entire narration is not the issue of my essay. 2 In social scientific research the concept of ‘life cycle’ has often been replaced by the concept of ‘life course’. This replacement is due to the fact that the former concept implies a deterministic cyclic metaphor, supplying it with a normative nature that disregards deviation. Compared to this deterministic concept, the life course concept in a much broader way interlinks the timing of individual life stages and the movement


in historical time and space. (See Bryman et al., 1987a:2–5.) According to James Olney in the context of written autobiography, ‘bios’ is a basic concept—‘at the literal and figurative center of autobiography’ (1980:237). Life course and lifetime reflect this in terms of historical time already passed. But there is no concept for life expressing, for example, the ‘vital principle’, or a certain ‘mode of living’, or the process of life; ‘a process the whole of which the autobiographer is in a position to see, recall, and compose’ (240). Olney’s definition of bios simultaneously incorporates both the life course seen as a process and the unique psychic configuration that is this life and no other. (See Olney, 1980:237–41.)

References Bryman, Alan, Bytheway, Bill, Allatt, Patricia and Keil, Teresa (1987a) ‘Introduction’, in Bryman et al. ( 1987b):1–13. ——(1987b) editors, Rethinking the Life Cycle , London: Macmillan. Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark (1980) Metaphors We Live By, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press. Lakoff, George and Turner, Mark (1989) More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press. Mäkelä, Klaus (1990) editor, Kvalitatiivisen aineiston analyysi ja tulkinta (Analyzing and interpreting qualitative material), Helsinki: Gaudeamus. Olney, James (1972) Metaphors of Self. The Meaning of Autobiography, Princeton/New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ——(1980a) ‘Some versions of memory/some versions of bios: the ontology of autobiography’, in Olney ( 1980b):236–67. ——(1980b) editor, Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, Princeton/New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Starobinski, Jean (1989) The Living Eye, London: Harvard University Press. Tigerstedt, Christoffer, Roos, J.P. and Vilkko, Anni (1992) editors, Självbiografi, Kultur, Liv (Autobiography, Culture, Life), Stockholm: Brutus Östlings Bokförlag Symposion. Vilkko, Anni (1988) ‘Eletty elämä, kerrottu elämä’, tarinoitunut elämä: Omaelämäkerta ja yhteisymmärrys’ (Living, Narrating, and Biographizing Life. Autobiography and Mutual Understanding), Sosiologia 25:2:81–90. ——(1990) ‘Omaelämäkertojen analysoiminen kertomuksina’ (Analyzing autobiographies as narratives), in Mäkelä ( 1990):81–98. ——(1992) “‘Att skaka hand med hanskar på”. Kvinnliga självbiografier och tolkarens position’ (‘Shaking hands with one’s gloves on’. The Position of the Reader of Women’s Autobiographies), in Tigerstedt et al. ( 1992):107–26.


Shirley Conran’s Lace, the great literary hit of the 1980s, begins with the sounds of an illegal abortion. ‘The cold, hard metal dug deep into the child’s body. She forced her knuckles into her mouth and bit against the bone as hard as she could to fight pain with pain.’1 Lili, as the thirteen-year-old girl is called, is in Paris, the capital of romance. However, her romantic dreams have gone to pieces, and when, immediately after the abortion, she tries to find some comfort in a café, the latest Beatles hit is being pumped out by the juke-box, in a kind of ironic comment: ‘She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ By means of an effective paradox, Conran tells us what her novel is about while also, in the short introductory scene, inserting it into the tradition of reading where it belongs. During the half-hour that Lili is allowed to rest before being turned out into the street, the male abortionist’s female assistant sits by her bed. She gives the girl some pills and sits down to read a paperback romance. She reads about the dream which she has just seen shattered and which dies every day in a very concrete sense before her eyes. Nevertheless, she persists in her choice of reading matter just as Lili will persist in her romantic dream of love despite all her cruel experiences of love, present and future. Thus the novel asserts the romantic ideal at the same time as it describes the breakdown of the romantic dream in a way that shows the pattern for all the new literary hits of the 1980s. In Lace we read time and again about shattered female dreams. In the literary hits of the 1980s women are constantly being humiliated, deserted and rejected. They are sexually abused like Lili, financially deceived, socially ruined, used as cover-ups by homosexual men, locked up, raped, locked out and dismissed. Even as they take their share of the material benefits of society and acquire money, power and sexual freedom, their romantic dreams of emotional closeness, passion, and mutual love are crushed. ‘A sister in disgust and hatred’, the critic Bengt Holmqvist (1985) called Jackie Collins, another of the most popular writers in this genre. He characterized her as a ‘postfeminist’, suggesting that her novels speculate in the disillusion and impotence that have befallen women after the neo-feminist wave of the 1970s. However, it was neither women’s sense of impotence nor the reasons for it that interested Holmqvist or came to be the focus of the intense debate on these novels that arose in Sweden during the latter half of the 1980s. It was their speculative nature and, in particular, the bad literary taste of the female readers.


Lace and the new blockbusters of the 1980s did not only describe crushed dreams. They also crushed a political dream which had been much cherished in Sweden during the past two decades. During the 1970s a number of measures were taken in order to check the expansion of the growing mass-produced literature. In accordance with the circuit theories of the French literary sociologist Robert Escarpit (1958), an attempt had been made to eliminate the borderline between ‘the popular’ and ‘the educated circuit’ by means of allocating governmental subventions to the literature of the educated circuit, thus introducing it into the popular circuit.2 The idea was to try and defeat mass-produced literature on its home ground, by making ‘good literature’ as available and as inexpensive as ‘popular literature’ and by selling it at the same places and in the same format. During the latter half of the 1980s, however, these policies came unstuck. The borderline between ‘the popular’ and ‘the educated’ circuit had certainly dissolved during the previous decade but not in the way that it should have, according to the literary policies. ‘Good literature’ had not found many more new readers although it was available at a reduced price in bookstalls and groceries. ‘Popular literature’, on the other hand, had made a decisive impact on ‘the educated’ circuit. Lace and other literary hits of the 1980s were not only to be found in the ‘popular’ circuit; they had also been accepted into the traditional channels and domains of the ‘educated circuit’. These blockbusters were published by established publishers in a form and at a price that did not make them different from ‘good’ literature. Piles of them could be found at the booksellers’, hiding ‘good’ literature both literally and figuratively. The tradition of disgust ‘I only hate the reading of novels’, says the male protagonist of the Romantic Palmblad’s essay on the novel at the beginning of the nineteenth century, ‘because it precludes the reading of all other books’. Together with the other members of his party he has set his mind on rescuing the young heroine from the library in which she has taken shelter for several days, uncontrollably immersing herself in any foreign or Swedish love novel that she can lay her hands on. He continues: I cannot but consider that such reading is detrimental to young women. The tender emotions, the as yet unnamed yearnings, that are budding in their bosom, should not be made to ripen prematurely, or be caused to find an object outside of themselves. Their imagination is as yet too pure, too innocent to dwell among notions that are appropriate to a more advanced age. (Palmblad, 1812:106) ‘Furthermore, we would like to propose that the book-trade be divided into categories; for the moment, and until it can specialise according to various branches of learning, we are content to propose two kinds, decent book-sellers and filthy booksellers’, wrote C.F.Bergstedt (1851), a leading Swedish literary critic, half a century later. He called for a campaign against ‘infamous literature’, and, just as in the case of Palmblad, the female readers were the object of his concern. Even if the express target of Bergstedt’s attack on ‘bad literature’ was the kind of books that were


popular among men, almost immediately it was directed against women’s favourite reading, those popular Swedish romantic novels which, according to Bergstedt, ‘belong among the most impure and repulsive ones that can be found in any country’. Thoroughly disgusted, he makes sure, by means of a number of rhetorical tricks, that they are associated with the kind of booksellers where they belong: those who deal in dirt. The novel made its progress in Sweden as in other European countries to the accompaniment of a very lively debate on the detrimental influence it was supposed to exert on female readers. Women’s extensive and intensive reading of novels was a recurring subject of discussion in moral as well as in literary magazines. Women’s predilection for fiction was ridiculed in almost every satirical review, and it was described and examined in practically every novel. In many of the books devoted to the education of women and the welfare of the family during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the authors consistently warn against the dangers inherent in women’s passion for fiction (Larsson, 1989:27 ff., 41 ff.). Since the emergence of the literary market, women have been its main customers. In his classic study The Rise of the Novel, Ian Watt points out the connection between the bourgeois novel and women in the new bourgeoisie. Women were not merely the main readers of the new genre but its chief subject. Femininity, women’s existential problems, and women’s sensibility were discussed in novel after novel. There was, writes Watt, during this period ‘a tendency for literature to become a primarily feminine pursuit’ (1957:43). If the literary market is seen from a purely quantitative aspect, it is possible to argue that this tendency has been reinforced during the course of the centuries. Then as now women were the mainstay of the book trade, the most reliable borrowers of the libraries, and the main customers of the book clubs. Then as now their uncontrollable appetite for reading and for literature helped support the literary market. However, then as now, they are also the greatest problem of the literary institution. At the same time as the literary market emerged, it was divided into two sections, an educated one and a popular one, to cite Escarpit’s beautiful 1960s classification, or a decent one and a filthy one, as Bergstedt put it more straightforwardly a hundred years earlier. Literary criticism, which has taken it upon itself to maintain this division, thus sifting the wheat from the chaff, has consistently placed women’s preferred reading among the filth. In a manner which has become increasingly firm and ritualized over the centuries, various words for woman—maid, governess, or lady—have been connected with some word denoting literature in order to marginalize and reject the particular kind of literature about love, intimacy, and relationships that women prefer to read. With a shiver of disgust and indignation and with obvious, almost proud aversion, literary historians and critics have regularly condemned the kind of literature that women prefer to read. ‘They were about love, lovers, loving’, writes Gustave Flaubert in his classic statement about Romantic literature and its women readers, ‘martyred maidens swooning in secluded lodges, postilious slain every other mile, horses ridden to death on every page, dark forests, aching hearts, promising, sobbing, kissing and tears’ (Flaubert, 1992:28). ‘A new emetic in enticing packaging’, writes a Swedish critic (Sörensen, 1981) about Judith Kranz’s bestseller Princess Daisy. ‘Dirty tricks, obscene gestures, blows


below the belt’, is another critic’s (Holmqvist, 1985) characterization of Jackie Collins’s Hollywood Wives. ‘We are faced with an abhorrent subject’, Bergstedt began his campaign against filthy books around 1850. ‘It is disgusting’, writes Jan Myrdal (1990), making use of the same rhetorical tradition, at the outset of the article in which, a little over a hundred years later, he coined the term ‘tantsnusk’ (literally, ‘ladies’ filth’), which very soon became the received term for 1980s blockbusters in Sweden. In the US they have been called ‘shopping and fucking’ (Lewallen, 1989), and Jane McLoughlin (1986) considers them ‘a kind of consumer’s guide to the best beds in town’. ‘FLN literature’, books about ‘Flärd’ (vanity), ‘Lidelse’ (passion) and ‘Njutning’ (pleasure), was another term frequently used in the Swedish discussion before ‘tantsnusk’ replaced it. ‘She studied, in Eugene Sue, descriptions of furniture; she read Balzac and George Sand, seeking to gratify in fantasy her secret cravings’ wrote Flaubert (1992:45), and it is interesting to see how consistently the discussion of women’s reading returns during the past centuries to women’s consumption and sexuality, as if it were impossible to understand either women’s reading or their literature in other terms. This is the tradition in accordance with which Lace has been read—or rather not read. ‘Lace is a good introduction to studying FLN books’, writes Ulla Lundqvist. ‘It contains almost all the most important ingredients—pornographic sex, wealth, luxury, rehabilitation of those humiliated—framed by an abundance of branded goods. This last is actually the main characteristic of the entire genre’, she continues (1991:61). ‘In fact, Lace is almost a mini-encyclopedia in female sexuality’, writes Avis Lewallen (1989:89). To be sure, there are many references in Lace to sex, clothes and jewels. It describes how five successful women avail themselves of much of the material wealth that the West has to offer; in the process, it depicts objects, milieux and social manners in painstaking detail. Its ambition is also, as Shirley Conran herself writes in the blurb of the Swedish edition, to be ‘as honest as it can possibly be about female sexuality’. Basically, however, Lace is not about beautiful objects, sexuality or female success. It is about being a motherless child. And this theme is not a hidden one; on the contrary, Conran hammers it into the reader’s head. Still, that story seems to be unreadable within our critical tradition. Lace pays tribute to female success as romantic literature has always done; but most of all it tells the story of broken female bonds and lost femininity. Its subject, like that of all previous romantic literature, is women’s unlimited desire, but it is fraught with a resignation and a pragmatism that are entirely new in this genre. The unreadable story Lace consists of two parts, Lace and Lace II, each of which is structured in the same way. The starting-point is an enigma facing the protagonist; next follows a protracted flashback, after which the novel returns to the initial enigma, which is resolved and enables the plot to move slightly forward in time. Most of the novel, then, is set in the past. In Lace this part covers some thirty years whereas the corresponding part in Lace II covers only a year. The initial and final sections of the novel, which take place in the present time, comprise an extremely short span of time,


perhaps half an hour in Lace and slightly less than a month in Lace II. Whereas the retrospective part describes the premisses and prehistory of the drama, that part which is set in the present moment depicts its culmination and its completion. Lace is constructed according to the same formula as Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, the play in which Freud thought he had discovered the human Ur-trauma. Lace, too, tells the story of a trauma though, unlike the Oedipal one, it is experienced by the daughter, not the son. Lace is a 1980s story about a deserted daughter—or about deserted daughters. In the first few pages, Conran paints a terrible portrait of the daughter. All by herself, suffering immense pain and with tears running down her cheeks; abandoned, exposed and impotent, she is lying on a table, her knees forced high, in an illegal abortionist’s clinic. She has been seduced and used, she is completely alone in a cold, amoral and merciless world. Only the female romance reader shows some sympathy and human concern. Lili is the crying child of the 1980s, in pursuit of her mother through two thick volumes, a child in a woman’s body, the new sex ideal of the post-war epoch. She is cuddly as a kitten, prepared to huddle up against anyone who is likely to show some sympathy, completely exposed to the unconditional exploitation which she is about to suffer. However, her problem is not men though they inflict a lot of pain on her during the course of the novel. Her problem is her missing mother. ‘Which one of you bitches is my mother’, Lili asks in anger at the end of the first chapter. A thirty-year-old, world-famous film actress, she has summoned four women to suite 1701 at the Pierre Hotel in New York. One of them, and the story will reveal which, is her mother. And it is the question of motherhood, but still more the questions attendant on it, that structures and powers the story told in Lace. ‘Why didn’t you keep your child?’, Lili cries in impotent rage after finding her mother. ‘Why did you give me to someone else? Why didn’t you ever come and see me? Why did you abandon me?’ (570). While there is an unambiguous answer to the enigma of biological motherhood, the answer to the enigma of desertion is of a more complex character. It is the difficulty of taking care of one’s child and becoming a loving mother that is the principal subject of Lace II. Lace begins with an abortion and is about a girl who was not aborted, though some attempts of that kind were made, but who was given away. She is extremely beautiful, successful as few others, very attractive to men, and seemingly in want of nothing; ‘but when you looked at her you only noticed her eyes. They were huge shining chestnut eyes, thickly lashed, that glistened as if a crystal tear were about to fall from each one’ (21). Lili is a grown woman, yet still a child. She does not want to have any children of her own. ‘But how can I have a baby, how can I take on such a responsibility, when I’m so unsure of myself, when I don’t know who I am?’ (558) she tells her common-law husband when he broaches the matter. And like all her earlier men, he realizes that Lili cannot become a whole and grown-up woman until she has found her mother. However, the four women that the reader follows on their way to the meeting in suite 1701 are strikingly unmotherly. ‘Judy Jordan looked like a tiny, blonde, exhausted Orphan Annie, although she was forty-five years old’ (10), runs the introductory presentation of the woman who will turn out to be Lili’s mother. The other three—Maxine, who is intensely concerned to preserve her youthful appearance, Kate, and Pagan—also have a touch of something deserted, exposed and


very girlish about them, although they are middle-aged women. Nor are they described primarily as grown-up women, spouses and mothers but precisely as daughters. ‘Pagan seldom saw her mother, and when she did put in an appearance she was obviously bored’ (16), is how the novel summarizes Pagan’s childhood, and her mother’s emotional coldness, homosexuality, greed and indifference to her daughter are central to an understanding of her. In the same way the story of Kate’s subdued mother and terrifying father help to explain her character. ‘I wish the old devil might have seen this’, is her spontaneous reflection on any success even at the age of forty-five. The portraits of the mother and the potential mothers are similar to the point of confusion. Successful career women, they all carry a crying child inside them. And, in five variations, Lace tells the story of the abandoned daughter, which is to be carried to an extreme during the 1970s and 1980s. Lili is a post-war child, borne by one of the new generation of emancipated and successful women. She is everybody’s child—yet to an even greater degree she is nobody’s. One of a group of four friends who met during a year spent at a Swiss pensionnat was unfortunate enough to get pregnant. All of them assumed responsibility for the baby—and yet none of them did. For several years they sent as much money as they could spare to the stepmother Angelica. However, when she dies in connection with the Hungarian uprising of 1956, they lose sight of their collective daughter. To all intents and purposes an orphan, Lili becomes an easy prey for men who only want to exploit her. Inside her, however, the dream of ‘vraie maman’ does not cease to live on, the true mother who would come to fetch her one day, as her stepmother had promised. Emily Post was the name under which Judy chose to bear her daughter. Emily Post is the name of the woman who wrote the Anglo-American book on etiquette. In Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage, which was first published in 1922, but continued to appear in new editions well into the 1960s, those social rules and conventions were codified which marked the borderlines which Judy, Maxine, Kate and Pagan intend to transgress. But in 1949 the moment was still not ripe, and it is one of the novel’s characteristic ironies that Judy bears her daughter protected by the very name that symbolizes those social norms—woman’s catch 22—which make it as impossible for her to have an abortion as to keep her child. Lace tells us about the changed conditions under which women live, but its attitude to them is not unambiguous. At the same time as free abortion seems a good thing in Lace, it is described as an outrageous wrong. And at the same time as Lace advocates woman’s right to sexual freedom and in a very sensuous way describes how the four friends at the girls’ school break social and sexual conventions, it also offers, through the daughter’s fate, a frenetic account of the almost totally exposed position that women have to face in a society where sexual conventions have broken down. The generation of women who were born in the 1930s struggle throughout the novel to discover their sexuality. The daughter is drawn into the porn industry even at the age of thirteen. And while the jubilant Kate experiences her first orgasm at forty, her ‘daughter’ Lili becomes the prisoner of her own body. Lili yearns for love but sexuality is her fate. Even if Lace, as Lewallen (1989) rightly points out, focuses very much on female sexuality, ‘from loss of virginity, sexual desire, sexual satisfaction and frigidity, to prostitution, rape, adultery, lesbianism, and transvestism’, it presents a strong case against commodity sex.


Men who make love without being in love are not capable of giving genuine sexual pleasure to women, the novel’s message runs, and time and again Lace tells us about women’s sexual disappointment and loneliness. It tells us about Pierre and François, who think only of themselves while making love, about Paul who is gay and amuses himself by raping the young girls of the school, about Robert who suffers from ejaculatio praecox, and about Nick who is impotent, and so on. Still, it is not men’s sexual inadequacy and strange behaviour as lovers that these stories basically tell us about; it is their lack of love. The story of Abdullah, prince and later omnipotent ruler of the kingdom of Sydon, brings matters to a head. Abdullah is an exceptional lover. As a young man, he has been taught the art of love, all of whose details he masters to perfection. However, he does not use this exceptional ability to satisfy women so much as to outdo other men. Already engaged to be married, he seduces all women who cross his way in order to revenge the humiliations he was made to suffer as an Arab in the English public school he attended. Pagan, by contrast, insists on the romantic ideal of love according to which the lovers must be united by total sympathy and unconditional love and which sees sex as indistinguishable from love; a precondition for marrying Abdullah, she says, is that he promises her absolute fidelity. But while the story makes Abdullah pronounce the words which are so central to the genre, ‘I love you and I need you’, it is sceptical to the rule of fidelity which Pagan, in total conformity with tradition, wants to establish. Maxine, who throughout two novels is deceived by her husband, is made to represent a more pragmatic attitude: ‘I have decided to settle for ninety per cent of the cake instead of fifty per cent of the alimony’, she says (337), and she is also using sexual infidelity as a means of retaliating against her unfaithful husband. Thus the romantic ideal is retained, although the time of absolutism in morality has passed. Female needs and wishes are the same as they have always been, but the conditions have been changed, and Lace pays its homage to romantic tradition although a new pragmatism is being preached. When, after about twenty years, the four friends, Kate, Judy, Pagan and Maxine, celebrate their reunion at a royal reception at Buckingham Palace, they are all exceptionally successful but are also very chastened. And they speak about all these things which they wish their mothers had taught them. ‘From the moment we were born we were swept in warm lace shawls, and it’s very tempting not to get rid of them, to stay huddled up inside all that lace and let someone else rule the world for you. But those shawls are the spiderweb of false security…’ [Kate says]. ‘Which is worse than no security at all’, Maxine interposed, ‘for you get so damned vulnerable when you notice that the shawl has been conjured away by fate, and you stand there naked and defenceless’. (440) There are many metaphors involving lace in the novels, lace representing inherited wealth, and a protected life in luxury and comfort. However, lace also means pleasure, sexuality, and female enterprise. Local American Creative Enterprise, LACE, is the name Judy chooses for the successful all-over-America PR firm that she creates with New York as its base. And the lace metaphors of the two novels are


always ambiguous. They narrate a double story of success and tragedy in an ingenious way. Lace tells us about female expansion, liberation, and success; about sexual liberty and pleasure, financial progress and power, but it also tells us about lost security and increased vulnerability, about loss and impotence. ‘We’ve turned out to be pioneers, just as much as those women in covered wagons [Pagan tells Lili in an attempt to convey something of the experience of the four women]. But we are pioneers of the emotions, and one of our problems is that we don’t realize this…. Those pioneers knew when they were travelling through hostile territory, they could hear the war whoops, see the Indians and feel the arrows. Today some of us are under fire, some of us are walking wounded and some of us on crutches; but our scars are invisible, and often you don’t even realise that you’ve been in battle’. (72) The moment of the lace shawls definitely belongs to the past, patriarchal protection has broken down at the same time as Emily Post’s etiquette rules. Women are free but can only turn to themselves for protection. Mark, the free-lance photographer who has all the misery of the world as his area of responsibility, loves the successful Judy precisely because she is independent. Yet far from appreciating his emancipated way of life, Judy increasingly longs for his concern. ‘Like all you men, Mark thinks a successful career woman isn’t interested in kindness, or caring and sharing, and he thinks I don’t need it. But I do. I’m just as thirsty for love as any housewife running a couple of kids and a recipe club; the only difference is that I run a corporation’ [Judy says]. (297) The problem is that Mark, her new husband, does not feel at all inclined to take care of her. At the same time as Lace sets great score by the romantic ideal, as all other blockbusters do, it counts the losses and moves into new positions. In Lace, woman has to be content with 90 per cent or make do without anything, as Maxine puts it. Man is still woman’s pleasure but she cannot count on his support, and Lace lets go of the demand for male protection—a central theme in romantic fiction—in order to represent a world in which women find security in friendship with other women. ‘A good friendship is like a marriage is supposed to be, but very rarely is’, Pagan tells Lili in a conversation in which she tries to pass on the experiences of the four women to the next generation. ‘Today the men seem to come and go in a woman’s life, but our female friendships are often more enduring. In fact, as marriages crash and the generation gap widens, female friendship seems to be the only growth area in relationships’ (71). In the Swiss school the four friends swore undying friendship, and their promises of fidelity are the only ones which last throughout the novels. But at the same time as the novel puts confidence in female bonds, this is also the area of its greatest disturbance. Like so many romantic heroines before her, Lili has no mother. And at the end of the story, like so many romantic heroines before her, she finally finds her mother, but their reunion is hardly a jubilant one.


In the reunion scene that Lili had imagined all her life, she had always flung herself into the arms of vraie maman. Now slowly she stood up and took a tentative step toward Judy. Her mother wasn’t what she had expected, but nevertheless, Lili had found her. (596) In the second installment of Lace, which takes place a few months after the scene at the Pierre, mother and daughter are reunited, but the dream of ‘vraie maman’ has not come true. There is ambivalence on both sides, and suddenly the strained mother-daughter relationship breaks down and Lili disappears. Moving in a trajectory parallel to the daughter’s in Lace, the mother in Lace II sets out to search for her daughter. The focus of the narrative has changed, and the retrospective story can be seen as an analysis of the mother’s ambivalence about her daughter. While Lace told us about the daughter’s incurable longing for her mother, Lace II concentrates on the mother’s almost equally incurable fear of her daughter. Lili almost immediately causes her mother great financial problems. An interview with the recently discovered daughter results in a lawsuit which threatens to ruin Judy’s entire life-work. But, above all, the daughter threatens her mother’s female identity. She makes her feel old and ugly, outdoing her as a sex object. ‘Do you want to know how it feels to become a mother when you’re my age and then suddenly find that your baby is one of the most beautiful women in the world?’, Judy cries to Mark, who like all other men is seized with hopeless passion for Lili. ‘It feels as if I’m slowly becoming nobody! It feels as if I’m becoming the Invisible Woman! Little by little, I’m losing my identity!…—all because I’m Lili’s mother’ (179). However, when the wishful dream of motherhood comes true and the daughter disappears, it turns into a nightmare, and the mother’s hatred for her daughter gives way to the love that is also there. The lack of motherly love which even the daughters of the generation born between the wars suffered from becomes almost total during the post-war years. The daughters find it increasingly difficult to find their mothers—or maternal qualities—and the union between ‘mother’ and daughter which always precedes union with a man in this genre has become the very goal of the narrative in Lace. Twice mother and daughter have to search for each other while hosts of lovers come and go, and twice they embrace each other in an intensely charged final scene. The act of reading In romantic stories the textures of the world are woven tightly together. They are about being intimate, loving, merging with other people, giving up one’s reserve, and letting oneself go. ‘If anyone wants to talk to me, they have to shake me so that I regain consciousness’, says one of the readers of romantic fiction interviewed by Gunnar Hansson (1988:82, 78). ‘I finish a Harlequin at one sitting…I can’t put it aside’, another one tells us. ‘I am not affected by what goes on around me; I concentrate on the book. I am totally absorbed, and I have had to take a lot of scolding for that…’, a third one comments. ‘He feels shut out’, Penny says in Janet Radway’s Reading the


Romance (1984), and the women in this survey often talk about men’s irritation with their intense reading. ‘Even at the table, she had her book with her, and she would be turning the pages, while Charles was eating and talking to her’, Flaubert disapprovingly writes about his mid-nineteenth-century heroine (1992:45). Like her latter-day sisters, Emma Bovary immerses herself in the novels she is reading, and Flaubert has a terrible death in store for her. When Emma Bovary finally is tossing about, suffering one of the most painful and disgusting deaths described in literature, there can be no doubt that she is as much a victim of the romances she has imbibed as of the arsenic she has just swallowed. In research on reading, the particular kind of reading named after her is consistently described as destructive. The Bovary way of reading dissolves the limits between reality and fiction, and survey upon survey establishes the fact that women—for it is women who engage in this kind of reading—lose both their sense of reality and their own identity reading in this way. As early as the late 1970s German researchers working on popular fiction reached a new understanding of mass-produced literature (see Larsson, 1989:224 ff.). Ideology-critical readings had turned out to have obvious didactic limits, and it is possible to see how pedagogical scholars tried to find an attitude that was more loyal to the readers. Researchers such as Peter Nusser (1975), Günther Waldmann (1981) and Kaspar H.Spinner (1976) claimed that even reading popular fiction can reinforce the reader’s identity. It was seen as so many games, as ways of distancing oneself from the world in order to conquer it. The Norwegian novelist Kjartan Fløgstad (1981) described, drawing on Bakhtin, the rebellious potential of this literature. Just like the medieval carnival, he claimed, it takes place within the established order, but its zest is directed against this order. Constructive elements were discovered in crime fiction as well as Westerns, science fiction, and pornography. Engaging in this kind of literature, it was claimed, the reader distances himself from the enfeebling reality surrounding him, and for a moment fiction permits him to feel his real power, his possibilities, and his value. However, the tolerance had its limits. While detective stories could be studied for their descriptions of the power of intelligence, Westerns for their accounts of mental strength, pornography for its depiction of sexual prowess, and science fiction for its mastery of technique, romances, which trade in closeness and intimacy, seemed to have no redeeming features. When Peter Nusser (1973) and Günther Waldmann (1972), the pioneers of the new tolerance, arrive at romances, they reach the limits of reading. They find the identificatory and totally unconditional reading that romances inspire utterly destructive. The literature of intimacy preferred by women is systematically depreciated by our culture as is the female reader and her intimate way of reading. Women’s lack of distance to what they read has caused literary theory to consider them bad readers as their lack of distance to other people makes psychoanalytical theory see them as suffering from an imperfect sense of identity, and cognitive theory as ethically underdeveloped. Women read the same way they live, according to Nancy Chodorow (1978), Carol Gilligan (1982), Nel Noddings (1984), Ulrike Prokop (1976) and other feminist critics.3 They look for intimacy and are empathic. There is a clear parallel between the way these researchers characterize female identity and the approach which, in all kinds of research on reading habits, emerges as typically female.


Women read as they live. In a society which has set greater and greater store by rationality, separation, autonomy and distance in the course of the past few centuries, women have continued to cultivate close relationships just as they have continued to read about love, closeness, and intimacy. Criticism of Lace, like all discussions of romances, repeatedly points out the novel’s lack of liberating power.4 By reading in this way, women, contrary to their own interests, accept the society which exploits their attitude to life while at the same time dismissing it as devoid of value, critics argue. If you look at women’s reading of romances from the perspective of the dominating paradigm, this way of reading obviously seems both regressive and incompetent. Still, this long, unbroken research tradition, which constantly has pointed out that women’s reading of romances is meaningless or even destructive, is opposed by the readers’ own descriptions of the ego-reinforcing and vitalizing role that reading plays in their lives. ‘I often recognise myself in these books. Well, myself and others, one of the readers interviewed by Hansson (1988:107) comments. ‘I feel they enhance my understanding of other people…my experience is, you care more and more afterwards’, another one comments (103). Reading is an expression and a means of the relation-oriented way of life that women readers seek, and the content of the romances is felt to be invigorating, even necessary, just like the reading act itself. ‘I can’t live without books, I couldn’t imagine a life without books’, another one says. ‘If books didn’t exist, I suppose I would be in a bad way’, yet another one remarks.—‘It seems to sustain them, at least temporarily, for they believe reading helps to make them happier people and endows them with renewed hope and greater energy to fulfill their duties to others’, Janet Radway (1984:100) writes. To them, reading is like withdrawing to a room of one’s own, not to disappear and perish like Madame Bovary but to derive new strength and energy the better to live the life they want to live. Radway’s survey is unique because it not only permits the reader of romances to tell us in her own words about her reading, but also goes a long way towards reading them in a way loyal to the way many readers approach them. Just like Chodorow’s and Prokop’s analyses of women’s identity and attitude to life, it opens up new and fascinating perspectives, not by reducing woman to a faulty object, as tradition bids, but seeing her as a subject, trying to look at the world with her eyes. However, just like Chodorow and Prokop, Radway abandons her empathic perspective. ‘When I finally posed the query of whether romance reading ever changes women, it was met with gales of disbelieving laughter whose force cannot be conveyed on paper’ Radway (1984:101). Her readers do not for a moment doubt that their reading is a positive active force in their lives, but Radway cannot accept that. Just as Chodorow and Prokop in the last analysis cannot find that women’s intimist attitude reinforces their sense of identity or liberates them, Radway cannot perceive a real force in the reading of romances: ‘it cannot be overlooked that the fictional world created as its consequence also reinforces traditional female limitations because it validates the dominance of domestic concerns and personal interactions in women’s lives’ (1984: 214). The traditional thought structures, which deprive the intimist attitude and the subjective, identificatory way of reading of all liberating or developing dimensions, once more show their undeniable strength. Still, if one sticks to the empathic attitude characteristic of the romance reader— the non-objectifying attitude which serves as a basis for all feminist


research—women’s reading of romances cannot be viewed as simply a way of conforming to society.5 In romances there is a vision of another society than that of rationality. Romances depict a utopia of intimacy in which closeness and love are not identical with weakness and loss of self but with force and true self-esteem. If this is taken into account, women’s reading of romantic fiction—to an even higher degree than Westerns, thrillers, and pornography—can be looked upon as an act which, although it takes place within the established order, is directed against it. In immersing themselves in their reading, women do not distance themselves from their own selves or the text, like the ideal reader, but from the world surrounding them which constantly regards them with diminishing eyes. Radway’s (1984:14) readers also describe their reading as ‘a declaration of independence’. In romantic fiction their own attitude to life is reinforced on all levels. And to the readers described in Reading the Romance, the most important moment of their reading experience is that of ‘the female triumph’ when the man finally turns to his woman, sees her, recognizes her view of the world and his need of that and her (1984:54 ff.); when he, like Abdullah in Lace, speaks the magical words: ‘I love you and I need you.’ The untellable story The story of Abdullah also serves to suggest the limits of the Lace narrative. Lace is the story of something that has been eliminated—‘SCRAPE…SCRAPE… SCRAPE…’—but has to be regained. It tells a story which has been dismissed by society and which is unreadable on the premisses established by the dominating paradigm, yet it also contains an untellable story. Just as mother and daughter have to try to find each other twice for the world to be healed, this story must be repressed twice for the bonds not to break. Twice mother and daughter are united in a fervent embrace; twice the mother decides that the daughter must never learn the truth about her father, his character, and her too close relationship to him. There are some really scary stories about men in Lace. Repeatedly, the novel tells us about male violence, amorality and cowardice; about male desire as merciless, uncontrolled and as inevitable as the forces of nature. Like lightning, it strikes women’s world, breaking up all bonds and demolishing all security, taking possession of their bodies and ruining their mental health. Lili is the result of a rape, and this helps explain her mother’s ambivalent attitude to her daughter. She is not a love-child but the result of male aggression, and that is an untellable story. Excited and irritated, after having once more failed to seduce Pagan, Abdullah rapes Judy without either seeing her or understanding what he is doing. Judy decides to keep silent about it. ‘Nobody must ever know’, she thinks when she is back in her room. ‘No boy ever goes with a girl that’s been raped. She had to suffer this misery by herself.’ (577) Her decision becomes even firmer when she realizes that Abdullah is Pagan’s boyfriend. Fear of being judged by men forces her to keep silent—but so does female solidarity. As loyally as the friends have concealed the unsuitable truth about the mother’s identity, they now conceal the unsuitable truth about the father’s identity. But whereas the mother’s name is finally revealed, the father’s will have to go on being concealed.


When, at the end of Lace, Judy states that Nick, a friend of the four girls during their year in Switzerland, is Lili’s father, the others know that she is lying. Kate because she was in bed with Nick, who has since died, at the time in question; Maxine, because Nick’s parents have told her that he was sterile; and Pagan because she realizes the genetic absurdity of two blue-eyed people being the parents of a brown-eyed child. But the friends keep silent out of loyalty, and the truth of the father’s identity remains Judy’s—and the reader’s—secret throughout Lace. However, at the end of Lace II, when Pagan finally decides to marry Abdullah, Judy is forced by different circumstances to tell the truth to her friend. But her advice is that Pagan should behave as though nothing had been said. ‘Please’, Judy said, ‘don’t wreck your future only because of something horrible that happened years ago in my past.’ And furthermore she forces Pagan to promise not to tell the truth to Abdullah or to someone else. ‘Because the whole world knew that they had a passionate affair. Because, unknowingly, they committed incest.’ (444) ‘In that case, who is my father?’, Lili asks when the truth about her mother’s identity has been revealed to her. But that is a question to which she cannot get a truthful answer. In describing fatherhood as a result of a rape and the incestuous relationship between father and daughter, the story touches on the limits of neoromantic fiction. Notes 1 The quotations from Shirley Conran’s Lace and Lace II are from the Pocket Books edition, New York & London, 1983 and 1985. 2 The basic facts underlying these reform policies can be found in two official investigations initiated by the Swedish government: SOU 1972a and SOU 1972b. 3 For a further discussion, see Larsson (1989:244), where women’s position in reception theory and reader response criticism are also shown to fit in this pattern. 4 Lundqvist (1991), Lewallen (1989) and Fahlgren (1986) all emphasize the lack of liberating strength at the end of their studies. Lewallen and Fahlgren, however, find it a good thing that women in Lace act out their sexuality and do not remain mere objects of men’s desire. 5 This argument is further developed in Larsson (1989:257).

References Bergstedt, Carl Fredrik (1851) ‘Om den usla litteraturen’, Tidskrift for Litteratur, Uppsala. Chodorow, Nancy (1978) The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender, Berkeley: University of California Press. Escarpit, Robert (1958/64) Sociologie de la littérature, Paris: Presses universitaires de France. Fahlgren, Margaretha (1986) ‘Det maskinsydda broderiet. Lace och 80-talets kvinnliga populärroman’, Kvinnovetenskaplig Tidskrift, 3. Flaubert, Gustave (1992) Madame Bovary. Provincial Lives, London and New York: Penguin. Fløgstad, Kjartan (1981) Loven vest for Pecos og andre essays om populærkunst og kulturindustri, Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag.


Gilligan, Carol (1982) In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Hansson, Gunnar (1988) Inte en dag utan en bok. Om läsning av populärfiktion, Linköping: Linköping Studies in Art and Science 30 , Tema. Holmqvist, Bengt (1985) ‘Postfeministen Collins. En syster i människohat and livsäckel’, Dagens Nyheter, 21 August. Larsson, Lisbeth (1989) En annan historia. Om kvinnors läsning och svensk veckopress, Stehag: Symposium. Lewallen, Avis (1989) ‘Lace: pornography for women’, in Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment (1989) editors, The Female Gaze: Women as Viewers of Popular Culture, Seattle: The Real Comet Press. Lundqvist, Ulla (1991) Sagor om sex och skräck. Populärromanen än en gång, Lund: Bibliotekstjänst. McLoughlin, Jane (1986) The Guardian , 5 June. Myrdal, Jan (1990) ‘Tönt och språkslamsor skapar en dum underklass’, Dagens Nyheter, 20 September. Noddings, Nel (1984) Caring. A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, Berkeley: University of California Press. Nusser, Peter (1973) Romane für die Unterschicht. Groschenhefte und ihre Leser, Stuttgart: J.B.Metzler. ——(1975) ‘Kriminalromane zur Überwindung von Literaturbarrieren’, Deut schunterricht. Beiträge zu seiner Praxis und wissenschaftlicken Grundlegung, 27:1. Palmblad, Vilhelm Fredrik (1812), ‘Öfver romanen’, Phosphorus, No. 1. Prokop, Ulrike (1976) Weiblicher Lebenszusammenhang. Von der Beschränktheit der Strategien und der Unangemessenheit der Wünsche, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag. Radway, Janet (1984) Reading the Romance, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. SOU (1972a) Läs—och bokvanor i fem svenska samhällen. Litteraturutredningens läsvanestudier, Stockholm, investigations of the Swedish government, No. 20. SOU (1972b) En bok om böcker. Litteraturutredningens branschstudier, Stockholm, investigations of the Swedish government, No. 80. Sörensen, Lennart (1981) ‘Läckert’, Sydsvenska Dagbladet , 1 August. Spinner, Kaspar H. (1976) ‘Das vergällte Leservergnügen’, in Jörg Hienger (1976) editor, Unterhaltungsliteratur. Zu ihrer Theorie und Verteidigung, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Waldmann, Günther (1972) ‘Der Trivialroman als literarisches Zeichensystem. Modellanalyse eines Frauenschicksals-Adels-Heftromans’, Wirkendes Wort, 22:4. ——(1981) ‘Trivialliteratur. Ihr Dilemma und Wege aus ihn in Problemfeld Kommunikations—und Produktionsorientiertem Unterricht’, Wirkendes Wort, Deutsche Sprache in Forschung und Lehre, 31:2. Watt, Ian (1957) The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding, London: Chatto & Windus.



Introduction During the 1980s, the notion of a new, powerful television viewer became widespread in both ‘administrative’ and ‘critical’ mass-communication research. Researchers within the industry have referred to increasingly selective viewers who zip, zap and graze their way through an expanding TV universe (Channels, 1988). Critical cultural studies, to varying degrees, have interpreted the prevalence of oppositional decodings as an assertion of viewer control over the medium.2 Perhaps, then, viewers may select, interpret and socially use programming for their own ends. This article presents a critical reassessment of the ‘new television viewer’ with reference to a qualitative study of a sample of American households. While the current debates on the status of the audience cannot be covered here,3 the purpose of the study was to explore some of the structural factors affecting the scope of reception. The flow character of television, in particular, sets the terms for the viewers’ selection, interpretation and social uses of television programs. The three flows of television In all communications systems before broadcasting the essential items were discrete. A book or pamphlet was taken and read as a specific item. A meeting occurred at a particular date and place. A play was performed in a particular theatre at a set hour. The difference in broadcasting is not only that these events, or events resembling them, are available inside the home, by the operation of a switch. It is that the real programme that is offered is a sequence or set of alternative sequences of these and other similar events, which are then available in a single dimension and in a single operation. (Williams, 1974:86–7) Whereas this classic definition captures an essential feature particularly of commercial television (see also Ellis, 1982), it is important analytically to distinguish three aspects of TV flow (Figure 1). First, a channel flow is the sequence of program segments, commercials and preannouncements that is designed by the individual station to engage as many viewers as possible for as long as possible. Second, viewers


Figure 1. The flows of television

create their customized viewer flow from the available channels. Third, the sum total of possible sequences represents a super-flow. The interrelations between these flows, while bearing on the relative power of the medium and the viewer, have primarily been examined through aggregate measures, such as the ratings (Nielsen, 1989) and the overlap between audiences for different programs (Barwise and Ehrenberg, 1988). Cultivation studies (Gerbner and Gross, 1976) offer a relevant approach to audience-cum-content analysis, but without focusing on TV as a structured flow. Some recent research has studied the flow of individual viewers across channels (Heeter and Greenberg, 1988; Pingree et al., 1991) without, however, examining the discursive structures of the selected programming in detail. Conversely, a couple of studies have analyzed television flow as texts, but without simultaneous empirical analysis of concrete audiences. Thus, Nick Browne (1987) has argued that the networks’ historical strategy of aiming for a common denominator has resulted in the relative homogeneity of TVs ‘super-text’ (in the present terminology, super-flow) and that, further, this homogeneity is self-perpetuating because, over time, viewers have been socialized through the ‘mega-text’ of television to expect particular (super-)texts. A similar, but more cultural-optimistic perspective has been advanced by Horace Newcomb (1988), who, through a thematic reading of a ‘strip’ (viewer flow) of network programs on a particular evening, substantiates the argument that TV represents an open forum (Newcomb and Hirsch, 1984) for diverse political and cultural issues and viewpoints. Surprisingly, however, Newcomb’s reading does not include the commercial breaks. And, as in most other studies, no simultaneous empirical analysis of audience and contents—of viewer flows selected from the channel and super-flows—was carried out. Methodology This empirical study produced a ‘reverse video’—a record of the viewer flow in specific households—by asking the respondents to make all channel changes with their VCR running and attached to their main TV set. The recordings were made


Table 1. A power index of television

The ratio of viewer-initiated to channel-initiated changes: Mean: 1:13.93; High: 1:87.00; Low: 1:2.37.

on a Wednesday evening in the middle of the TV season (1 February 1989), an ‘average’ night of regular programming. Respondents were asked to watch some TV between 7.00p.m. and 9.00 p.m. but not necessarily for the whole period. In addition, respondents filled in basic questionnaires about demographics and television use as well as any comments especially concerning their channel changes, hence offering additional information about the recordings, which were examined as the primary objects of analysis. The local TV Guide (1989) documents the availability of network, independent and public TV stations in the super-flow, as well as additional cable channels, to which half of the sample had access. A sample of twelve video households from the Los Angeles metropolitan area was selected by a local market research firm. The aim was to explore as wide a range of household types as possible in terms of household size and socio-economic status; the actual sample was predominantly white and middle class, but included both young and elderly viewers as well as households with/without children and with one/ two parents. Before reporting two sets of findings, it should be emphasized that while relying on a small sample, the study may identify some basic structures particularly of the viewer flow. These structures lend themselves to further research on a representative scale, and they also complement previous interview and observation studies on the decoding and social uses of specific texts or genres. Although the design entailed an intervention into daily routines, the households were familiar with the video technology, and were not required to watch for the entire two-hour period. The recordings, in sum, document some actual instances of reception as flow which may question the notion of a new, powerful viewer. A power index of television? The first form of analysis examined the number of channel changes made by the respondents, compared to the content changes resulting from a channel introducing a commercial, a preannouncement, or a program segment. The ratio between these two kinds of changes may be interpreted as an index of the relative power of TV and its viewers, in the sense that each change controls which flow segment is subsequently shown on the screen. The capacity to control which texts and genres one is to receive can be defined as a minimal form of cultural self-determination. This analysis thus initially accepts the terms of the industry’s argument that increasingly viewers select the segments they want to watch while avoiding not least the commercials. Simultaneously, however, the analysis prepares the way for an


immanent critique (Bernstein, 1991:315) of the logic behind the argument. Even on its own terms, the industry’s conception of the selective viewer may not hold. Table 1 reports the number of viewer-initiated and channel-initiated changes. The channel-initiated content changes include only changes between commercials, preannouncements and program segments, not between scenes of fictional series, news stories, or music videos, and only simultaneous changes of image and sound. The viewer-initiated channel changes include the initial switching on of the set. The figures suggest the relative control of the medium, at least in this sample of viewers and the super-flow at this time of day, even if the findings may call for replication on a representative sample. Rather than concluding in quantitative terms that hence viewers are powerless, or that more frequent channel changes as such would make them more powerful, the purpose of the analysis is a preliminary, immanent critique of the common conception of the ‘new television viewer’ in industry rhetoric as well as some research and public debate. The super-flow establishes particular conditions of reception, which are not eliminated through a measure of zapping or oppositional decodings. The next step, then, is to ask which specific range of discursive meanings are available in the viewer flows that audiences construct for themselves from the super-flow. One answer is suggested by a second form of analysis examining two types of discursive structures—intertextuality and super-themes—across the different genres of flow. Flows, genres and super-themes The genres which predominate in American television on weekdays, between 7.00p.m. and 9.00p.m., especially present an opportunity for viewers to negotiate the relationship between private and public areas of life. They are three: situation comedies, tabloid journalism (e.g., A Current Affair, Entertainment Tonight), and tabloid science (e.g., Unsolved Mys teries). In social-structural terms, the genres of this period serve to mediate between the public life of work or school and private life (Scannell, 1988:26). On the one hand, situation comedy is a fictional genre which, though focusing on the home, raises social issues pertaining to families and individuals; on the other hand, the tabloid programs present facts about the world which may affect families and individuals in various respects. Whereas the analysis returns to some of the variations of how viewers combine these genres, it may be noted here that, despite other options including cable programming, the households themselves also emphasize these three genres in their actual viewer flows. It is also interesting to note that some of the subscribers to pay movie channels would only watch part of a movie before selecting another channel, thus apparently treating pay channels as simply elements of the super-flow. The viewer flows were analyzed with reference to a category of super-themes, defined as highly generalized concepts which may establish meaningful relations between the generic realities of TV programs and the everyday realities of viewers. Previous research in the United States and Denmark have identified such super-themes structuring the reception of TV news as well as the everyday conceptualization of politics more generally (Crigler and Jensen, 1991; Jensen, 1988). Thus, although the study did not interview or observe viewers, the actual viewer flows may be


Figure 2. Super-themes of television flow

examined as potential structures of meaning, as selected by recipients, and may be interpreted with reference to the theoretical categories of earlier reception studies. The configuration of super-themes is summarized in Figure 2, and discussed below. Flow as discourse The super-themes were inferred from a detailed analysis of three categories of the TV discourse: actors, coherence and presuppositions (for surveys of discourse analysis, see van Dijk, 1991; Jensen, 1987). First of all, the verbal and visual representation of actors and their actions carry a range of positive and negative connotations (Barthes, 1964:89–94). Further, such representations cumulatively imply appropriate public and private roles of actors. To exemplify, the flow of one household (Household 2) featured Charles in Charge, A Current Affair and Unsolved Mysteries, in which actors related to all four superthemes appeared. A Current Affair reported on a doctor’s sexual abuse of a patient, a Congress politician allegedly having sex with teenagers, and an update of a story on marriage fraud. Articulating a discursive boundary between the family and a deviant private or sexual life, and employing a terminology of insanity, the reports on these cases establish a contrast with the ‘normal’ family life of Charles in Charge. Similarly, a contrast is established between the nation and supernatural dangers. Unsolved Mysteries included coverage of the exploration of Mars, where traces of ancient civilizations may be found. In reference to ‘America’s romance with Mars’, it is significant that ‘America’, not ‘humanity’ or ‘Earth’, enters into the relation with other forms of life. Supernatural powers in the form of UFOs also appear briefly in Charles in Charge as a threat to family security. Second, the discursive coherence of TV flow contributes to developing the superthemes. Coherence is carried not just by the verbal and visual structures and sequences of television, but as importantly by the functional relations between sequences, which may indicate a causal or temporal relationship or a conclusion (van Dijk, 1977). Such relations obtain both within and between the three types of flow segment. To exemplify coherence within a segment, Household 2 selected Unsolved Mysteries, which included a classic narrative comparable to folk-tales (Todorov, 1968). This was the story of a little girl who, when living with her parents in Austria as a refugee following World War II, was taken to a Christmas party by an American soldier. Now, through the intervention of this program, the two have


been reunited in the US. The story of their lives, then, is told through categories such as The First Encounter, Separation, Quest and Reunion. Similarly, coherence is established across segments, not least through the commercials. In the course of the video from Household 2, several commercials represent other cultures with an implied contrast to the American nation. A soldier wearing a Nazi uniform and speaking with a heavy German accent drives his tank up to a fast-food stand, and discovering the low prices, he decides to ‘fill up the tank’. The immediately following item advertises a new book with reference to an ominous atmosphere in a Japanese context. And, several later commercials featuring a cream cheese depict a band of dancing cucumbers singing a Latino tune and wearing Mexican hats. Another commercial in Household 2’s flow is a parody of a United Nations assembly debating heatedly where to have dinner, and the commercial offers the solution: a local hamburger chain. Finally, presuppositions carry the fundamental assumptions of a discourse (Culler, 1981; Leech, 1974). While they may be explicit, presuppositions are often the implicit premises of an argument or narrative, constituting sometimes the conditions of possibility for interpretation. For example, a commercial for a traditional steak dinner which presents a singing cowboy while, behind him, what is evidently a movie set is being dismantled, may mobilize the viewers’ interpretive repertoire (Potter and Wetherell, 1987:138–57) for the Western genre. At the same time, the ambiguity regarding the status of the myth of the West, and by implication the American nation, suggests the more general point that the superthemes may articulate both a common conception of social reality and some contradictions within that conception. This conclusion is substantiated by a further analysis of the whole configuration of super-themes. Four super-themes The family is represented as an institution offering physical and emotional security. Even though some families, including a family unit of orphans (the video of Household 5), differ from the common nuclear form, here also the oldest child manages to set up a home providing for traditional needs and roles. The families of sitcoms are a source of caring also for friends of the house, and in commercials families are assisted by companies, such as a law firm enabling one family to keep their home (Household 10) and a children’s cable channel keeping the whole family (viewing) together (Household 11). There are also many portrayals of traditional gender roles, from a husband cooking food out of a can for his children, to a housewife who is said to love her family 25 per cent less after cooking with a margarine of 25 per cent less fat, which is humorous precisely because of a presupposition about her caretaker role (both in Household 5). Even the TV medium itself may serve the family, as in a game show referring to two boys at home watching their father on the program (Household 7) and in the commercial for the cable channel keeping the family together. The primary threat to the family may come from the body. The camera feasts on the human body, particularly in tabloid news and commercials. The most explicit sex is seen on MTV (Household 9), but there are comparable visuals reporting on Jamaican resorts, where ‘hedonism’ is ‘the key word’ (Household 1). And, Lady Di


is shown in a swimsuit in another story, which is immediately followed by a cereal commercial whose camera slowly pans up a young woman’s presumably naked body as she pulls on her swimsuit (Household 10). The point is, however, that the body represents a narrative boundary between more or less legitimated aspects of private life. If one indulges the body, the result is likely to be immoral or criminal, as suggested by the examples of doctor-patient and politician-teenager sex. Further, bodily drives may lead to insanity, as in a news story of a man murdering the husband of a woman who had promised to then marry the murderer (Household 10), or a father convicted of killing his children (Household 7). The movie Psycho III, as selected in part by Household 1, emphatically links the body to insanity. The body sometimes is present only as an absence. It is peculiar, for example, that a tabloid report on nudism does not show one naked body (Household 2). While this is explained by the regulations and conventions of US television, it bespeaks the limits of television as a cultural forum (Newcomb and Hirsch, 1984). An episode of a sitcom, Head of the Class, addresses AIDS and condoms in the context of a date. After consulting a teacher, the boy buys condoms, but sex is never mentioned, and finally the couple agrees that they would rather just talk. In silencing a vital, if culturally controversial aspect of private life, television comes to suggest emotional security as an alternative to sex, both here and in another sitcom, TV 101 (Household 12), which may encourage teenagers to choose the family. It is hardly surprising that the public domain is depicted less frequently in these genres and at this time. Yet, some segments establish a link between private and public domains, sometimes by suggesting that America is a nation of families. Several car commercials refer to the family as a base for operations into the public domain, when a father teaches his son how to sell cars (Household 9), or when a father teaches his daughter how to test a truck before buying (Household 7), both reiterating traditional gender roles. Moreover, in numerous commercials, viewers will encounter various key American values which cut across private and public domains: cars are associated with nature, animals and freedom; nature is a value in itself, for which one company is said to be caring, and which a travel agency offers as an ‘antidote for civilization’; and a bank claims to join freedom and success for its customers in ‘the freedom to succeed’. Whereas money, being the bottom line of public life, thus may remain an implicit reference, it becomes the explicit object of the TV discourse in game shows, and a PBS play, A Raisin in the Sun, which portrays the life and troubles of a black family, specifies to what degree money is a condition of public success (Household 8). The nation appears subject to more contradictions than the other super themes. The status of the nation is continually undercut by irony and humor, despite references to ‘America’s’ romance with Mars and to an ‘American original’ beer and a genuine coffee from the American West. When one of the characters of Growing Pains decides to join the Marines, the narrative moves back and forth between two viewpoints, noting his earnest commitment but humorously exaggerating his parents’ patriotism (Household 1, 5, and 7). Further, MASH contributes an alternative declaration of independence when the local bar secedes, founding a nation on ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happy hour’ (Households 9 and 12). Only once in the sample does one encounter an unambiguous statement on possible national political ideals, when a teacher announces in Head of the Class that next


class will address recent US initiatives in South Africa, ‘if we can find any’ (Household 5), and the statement is not underscored by the laugh track. If the discourses of the viewer flows imply some current difficulties of positively defining the American nation, the representation of other cultures can be seen as a negative definition projecting what American culture is not. In addition to the already noted stereotypes of German, Japanese and Mexican culture as well as the United Nations, The Gong Show opens with a disclaimer that, ‘This is not a tribute to Russia’, and proceeds to introduce a Gorbachev lookalike and his punk-style companion, who are asked to ‘go take a seat-skij’ (Household 10). Later features include Rocking Rasputin, who is stopped by ‘almost a Chernobyl gong’; Olga, an ‘athlete who missed one day of hormones’, singing ‘Those Were the Days’ in Russian while Gorbachev does a cossack dance; and Eric Clapenov, who grew up in Chernobyl, then defected to New Jersey, and now ‘naps in the microwave’. Viewers are asked to stay tuned for the next segment to learn the cause of the Cold War and the ‘nagging post-war nasal drip’. Other, less spectacular images of other cultures include, of course, a few news reports, but also a commercial for a hotel chain presenting itself as a common denominator for many cultures through reference to their music (Household 6), and the tabloid news story on Jamaica’s picturesque features (Households 1, 4, and 10). Black culture, finally, appears in a border area between the nation and other cultures. The study was conducted during a black-history month, and several news programs addressed the issue of whether blacks living in the United States should be called African-Americans. Furthermore, in the play, A Raisin the Sun (Household 8), an African foreign student starts a relationship with the daughter of the black family, which again may thematize the question—what is American culture?—at the level of the family and the nation. It should be added that three of the sample’s twelve families selected other genres than sitcoms, tabloid journalism and tabloid science, which are the primary basis for the analysis of super-themes. Nevertheless, these viewers would, to a degree, encounter a similar configuration of super-themes in the commercials. Moreover, the other pro-grams—a feature movie (Household 3), a basketball game (Household 6), and a combination of a game show and a theater play (Household 8)—did explore aspects of the super-themes. The movie, Gaslight, is the story of an insane person, speaking also with a foreign accent, who destroys his marriage and threatens his wife’s life. The theater play and game show, as already noted, thematize money as the bottom line in family and public life. The sporting event, while focusing on the body, stays within the legitimated, athletic uses of the body. It is for further empirical reception studies to examine the presence of super-themes across different genres and times of the TV day, as perceived by viewers. Intertextuality If super-themes can be defined as structures of the subject matter or contents of TV flow—or to be precise, schemata potentially structuring the reception of TV contents—intertextuality can be defined as a formal feature of TV discourse and its reception. Intertextuality occurs when discursive elements communicate specific meanings to audiences by referring implicitly to other, familiar texts (Coward and


Ellis, 1977:51). Perhaps intertextuality is an especially prominent feature of mass communication, because the media in several ways feed on each other. Increasingly, media must be examined as part of an integrated media environment (Jensen, in press). Furthermore, this raises specific issues for media effects studies, since whatever impact one text is said to have, may thus be reinforced by intertextuality. The impact of intertextual media and discourses is more than the sum of the impacts of individual media and discourses. While there are various approaches to intertextuality (Coward and Ellis, 1977; Fiske, 1987), in the present context it is important to distinguish between two aspects: structural and thematic intertextuality. First of all, structural intertextuality is not normally emphasized in literary and cultural studies of media discourses, but contributes to the configuration of texts as part of a communicative purpose. Concretely, the program segments of a channel flow are strung together through various forms of preannouncements and, during commercial breaks, commercials and other announcements are edited as one integrated message. The discursive boundary between program segments and commercials are further blurred when in the present sample, for example, a sports announcer reads the list of sponsors for the program (Household 6). Another form of structural intertextuality is achieved in advertising for other media, such as the many commercials on American television for new film releases. The repetition over time of a commercial message, in the same or a different medium or genre, similarly may serve to structure audience attention. Of course, campaigns within marketing or politics traditionally rely on several media and genres. In addition, however, the cultural recycling of key themes and symbols through the media remains a crucial, but largely unexamined aspect of the history and impact of mass communication (but see Bennett and Woollacott, 1987; Pearson and Uricchio, 1991). The second type is the more traditional literary, or thematic intertextuality, which may be defined as a function of discursive elements from one text, genre, or medium being incorporated into other texts. Three varieties can be identified in the present sample. First, a number of commercials adopt their entire format from other genres, particularly game shows, sitcoms, and news. An additional example is a series of car commercials with faithful reconstructions of famous Norman Rockwell drawings, representing quintessentially American themes and values, and a commentary spoken by his granddaughter (Household 2). Second, programs and commercials will ‘borrow’ a character or narrative element from other texts. Discussing whether there are Martians in the kitchen, one character of Charles in Charge suggests they should ‘nip it in the bud’, and a second character responds: ‘This Bud’s for you!’, the Budweiser slogan (Household 2). Incidentally, some viewers may have referred back to the then recent Super Bowl of American football on TV, when one major commercial featured two opposing ‘teams’ of Bud and Bud Light cans. The concept of ‘super bowl’ also is used by a network referring to its programs as ‘the Super Bowl’ and ‘World Series’ of comedy. Moreover, characters from TV series frequently appear in other genres, as when a character from Growing Pains during a commercial break of this program appears as ‘Columbo’ in a preannouncement of the latter series (Households 1, 5, and 7), or when sports stars recommend equipment (Household 6). Finally, intertextuality may defamiliarize a representation to the viewer, as in poetic uses of language (Jakobson, 1960). This may be an intentional technique, when


the characters of a commercial argue with the voice-over about the product (Household 7). Elsewhere defamiliarization is an incidental consequence of the flow structure, when the ‘arrest’ of a ‘suspect’ in MASH immediately is followed by a preannouncement for the tabloid documentary Cops in which a suspect is arrested (Household 12). Thus, TV flow may indeed communicate the point that its representation is only one version of social reality. And, like the super-themes, such intertextuality may become a resource for viewers to establish the coherence and relevance of TV flow for themselves. But super-themes and intertextuality nevertheless lay down specific conditions of reception in the first instance. Conclusion In summary, this study has examined some specific structural factors affecting the scope of TV reception. Whereas the power index may furnish a preliminary, immanent critique of ‘the new, powerful viewer’, the main argument has been that the discursive structures of TV flow, particularly the range of super-themes and intertextuality, prestructure the meaning potential and hence the cultural agenda that viewers encounter. After a decade of research documenting the relative autonomy of audiences, there is a need to explore the structural limits of autonomy by combining ethnography, surveys, and experimental methodologies. Reception studies which focus on the decoding of individual programs and microsocial uses of media, so as to neglect the embedding of reception in macrosocial structures, may become theoretically incoherent and politically irrelevant. The super-themes also represent a contribution to communication theory. The two dimensions of Figure 1 are comparable to the metaphorical and metonymic axes of semiosis (Jakobson, 1960). While the channel flows correspond to the metonymic or combination axis building discursive sequences, the viewer’s channel changes correspond to movements on the metaphorical or selection axis. Superthemes may be said to mediate between the two axes, thus establishing meaningful relations between diverse flow segments; super-themes are perhaps overdetermining metaphors which become points of access to several metonymic sequences. The interaction between the axes, and hence between flow and viewer, remains an empirical question with few answers, but significant theoretical and political implications. Notes 1 Research for this article was conducted, in part, during 1988–89 while the author was a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies at the Annenberg School of Communications, University of Southern California, USA. He wishes to acknowledge the support of both ACLS and the Annenberg School. An earlier version was presented as a paper to the 17th Conference of the International Association for Mass Communication Research, Bled, Yugoslavia, 1990. 2 Fiske (1987) remains the most significant statement of this position; see also the discussion of cultural quality in Schrøder (1992).


3 See the survey in Jensen (1991) and the commentaries by Fiske (1991) and Newcomb (1991); also Ang (1991).

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During the last decade the notion of time as a resource and structuring principle for social and cultural relations and actions has (once again) come to occupy a prominent position within social, ethnographic and cultural studies. Time has become a key concept in social theory in general and in the analysis of the development and transformation of (post)modern society in particular. Kern (1983) characterizes the modernity at the turn of the century as the ‘Culture of Time and Space’, and Harvey (1989) elaborates on how the ‘time-space compression’ in the postmodern period transforms the economy and culture as well as the way in which we represent the world to ourselves. A common feature in the different accounts of the impact of time in modernity is the underscoring of how time becomes an explicit theme and problem. Under the condition of modernity time is described as externalized and detached from concrete social processes and is considered a force outside the experience of the single individual. Contrary to this, a pre-modern, feudal world was characterized by a concrete conception of time: time as woven into and regulated by the local material and cultural organization of society; the passing of seasons, day and night, religious feasts, etc. The detachment of time from concrete social processes is often considered within a dualism between public and external time and private and internal time. On the one hand time as an external, linear, rational force subjugating both society and individuals, and on the other hand time as internal and amorphous, loosening the ties between past, present and future, furthering a decentring of the subject, who increasingly comes to live in sequences of non-related moments. The external time is directed towards the future, its thrust towards geographical universality materialized in the world standard time system, its social dynamic and brutality originating from the incessant demand of ever shorter cycles of the reproduction of capital. The internal time is non-directed, individual and local. Whereas the entrepreneurs of modernity favoured the first conception of time, it is the second image of time which, taken to its extreme, characterizes certain postmodern philosophers’ declaration of the end of history. The conflicting experience of time in modernity was (and is) related to the geographical expansion, which not least the new means of communication and mass media made possible. The spatial expansion fostered the experience of simultaneity, which Kern (1983) sees as a distinct feature of the modern experience around 1900:


The sense of the present was the most distinctively new, thickened temporally with retentions and protentions of past and future and, most important, expanded spatially to create the vast, shared experience of simultaneity. The present was no longer limited to one event in one place, sandwiched tightly between past and future and limited to local surroundings. In an age of intrusive electronic communication ‘now’ became an extended interval of time that could, indeed must, include events around the world. (Kern, 1983:314) The experience of the expanded ‘now’ reflects both sides of the duality of time. On the one hand, the public, absolute time bringing the multiplicity of social interactions into a single line of abstract evolutionary logic. On the other hand, the experience of how non-related fields of social interactions exist side by side, each being directed by its own inner local time. This conflicting experience of time was (and is) a predominant theme in psychoanalysis and modernist art, and the new means of communication and reproduction techniques were (and are) used by the avant-garde to both express and subvert the new experience of time. As Kern (1983) depicts it: ‘The thrust of the age was to affirm the reality of private time against that of a single public time and to define its nature as heterogeneous, fluid, and reversible’ (Kern, 1983:34). In the analysis of modernity and postmodernity, the electronic mass media, radio, televison, computers etc., are almost ritually attributed a crucial role. Not least for their ability to connect simultaneously former separated areas of social interaction, these media are the symbols of modernity par excellence. Nevertheless, there are few concrete, detailed analyses of how these media contribute to the construction of new spatial and temporal structures. The emphasis is often placed on how new electronic media transcend and erode earlier forms of social interaction, but the way in which temporal and spatial structures are built anew by the influence of electronic media is seldom elaborated. When the analysis stresses the dissolution of earlier structures and limitations, the result is often either technological optimism (McLuhan, 1964) or a history of the decline of experience and rational argument (Habermas, 1989). The present is measured by the categories of the past, instead of being analysed in its own right. Giddens (1984, 1991) has characterized the transformational force of modernity as a duality of dis-embedding and re-embedding. Modernity does not only imply the displacement of pre-modern locally embedded structures, but constantly furthers a re-embedding of social interaction. The proliferation of communication technologies breaks down earlier forms of social interaction and increases what Giddens (1991) labels the global reflexivity of modernity. As a result the routinized ways of behaviour and interaction are no longer adequate, reducing the ontological security of individuals. At the same time, electronic media establish new social spaces of interaction regulated by more abstract rules and less bound by physical locale; but these new spaces nevertheless form the basis of new routinized ways of interaction, thus re-stabilizing the ontological security of the individual. As Scannell (1988) has pointed out, the task of broadcasting has been ‘the mediation of modernity’:


In class-divided nation-states, radio first and later television unobtrusively restored (or perhaps created for the first time) the possibility of a knowable world, a world-in-common, for whole populations. The social world was rendered sociable, and the manyfold anxieties of public life were greatly eased. […] In so doing, it redeemed, and continues to redeem, the intelligibility of the world and the communicability of experience in the widest social sense. (Scannell, 1988:29) Considering this in relation to temporal structures means that time as influenced by modern communication technologies is not (only) external and absolute or internal and relative, but first and foremost social. The electronic media bridge between the domestic, local time of individuals and the external public time of social affairs in specific ways, creating new social and symbolic communities as well as new temporal structures for collective experience of social reality. In the following I will try to clarify and exemplify these theoretical considerations by making an outline of a historical analysis of temporal structures in television news. Through a comparison between the scheduling and narrative structure of television news in some West European countries in the 1960s and 1990s, I will demonstrate how different social identities are constructed and offered in the ‘old’ and the ‘modernized’ public service system and how the change in narrative structures alters the way viewers are prompted to make sense of the social and political reality. Item versus flow Williams (1979) was the first to conduct a more thorough analysis of the temporal structures of broadcast television. His point of departure was his shock-like experience of American television. Brought up with the public service culture of the BBC, he was used to a calm undisturbed narrational mode and a distinct demarcation of programmes. The programme schedule of the BBC encouraged the viewer to make conscious choices, to select the programme of one’s interest in advance. Television consisted of discrete items, consumed within a limited, welldefined amount of time. American commercial television, on the contrary, presented a never-ending sequence of programmes made to incite consumption and adjusted to a more casual pattern of use. The intersection of trailers, programme segments, commercials, logos etc., transformed the sequence of programmes into a flow. Although this flow was most apparent in the American commercial TV-model, it was gradually becoming a feature of English public service television as well. As such, Williams (1979) pointed out, flow is a specific televisual form of expression closely related to the fact that television merges several former separate cultural forms into the same type of experience, that of ‘watching television’. The ability of television to unify different types of expressions and content into a new type of experience is the subject of Meyrowitz (1985). Like Williams, he sees the importance of television— not in its specific content but in the integration of initially separate types of information-systems into a single, shared information-system accessible for all social and cultural groups relating the external political world with the inner private


world. This new type of information system forces all, both producers, actors, politicians and viewers to develop a new type of behaviour, neither a private nor a public behaviour, but a ‘middle-region’ behaviour accommodated to a new more unified space of social interaction. Where Williams (1979) and Meyrowitz (1985) place emphasis on television’s homogenization of content and form as well as social organization, Ellis (1984) accentuates the segmentation of content and form in television. The narrative film as part of the cinema institution is characterized by a structure in which each element is part of the larger whole, each part contributes to the advance of the story, each element produces both new meaning to what has been told so far (the past) and informs our anticipation of what is to follow (the future). As opposed to this Ellis stresses the erosion or lack of narrative structure in television. Television consists of self-contained segments of 3–5 minutes duration with weak or no relation backwards and forwards, the segments being only loosely connected and assembled by the programme structure and schedule. Ellis’s underlining of the segmented and heterogeneous nature of television is not surprising as his standard of reference is the narrative film. His description of broadcast television, consisting of rather self-contained segments, has some validity at a purely textual level. However, his account does not take into consideration the narrativity, continuity and homogeneity created by the convergence between the everyday life of the viewer and the world of television. As it has been pointed out by numerous studies, TV creates through its serialization of virtually all genres, facts as well as fiction, a correspondence to the repetitive and routinized character of day-today life. The serial structure gives television the same pace and rhythm as the everyday life of viewers. The soap especially constitutes an isomorph to the everyday life of the viewers. The soap comprises a special hybrid between the series and the serial. As the series it can in principle continue indefinitely, and as the serial the individual episodes are unfinished. The soap departs from the traditional series by not being concluded in the individual episode and from the serial by the absence of one single overarching narrative striving towards conclusion in the last episode. Instead, the soap consists of a multiplicity of narrative sublines and subconflicts, which successively are replaced by new ones. The similarity between the temporal structure of the soap (but also other serial forms of fiction) and that of the viewer’s everyday life, creates the illusion that the fictional characters have a life between the episodes, parallel to the viewer’s life. As Scannell (1988) has suggested, this creates a sense of unchronicled growth; the new episode provides an update on the life of the fictional character since the last episode. From recapitulation to updating Like other television genres, news has a serial form. To understand the serial structure of television news it is not enough to consider its relation to the everyday life of the viewer; the temporal structure of public affairs must be considered as well. The political events happen outside, but parallel to the time of the everyday life of viewers, and the function of news is to keep the viewer abreast of this external time. However, this function can be carried out in many different ways and with different


Figure 1. The temporal structure of television news in the traditional public service schedule

outcomes, depending on—among other things—the temporal structure of the news story and the way the scheduling of news programmes relates to the daily activities of the viewer. Figure 1 gives a graphic representation of the temporal structure of television news in a big West European country before the deregulation and increased competition of the 1980s. It is not the schedule of a specific television station, but an ‘ideal’ schedule like it with minor differences was to be found on most of the (major) public service stations in Western Europe in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.1 The main news bulletin was scheduled around 8 o’clock in the evening. The remaining two short news programmes were scheduled 2–3 hours before and after. The short news bulletins had almost the same content as the main bulletin; the difference was the brief, headline-like verbal presentation accompanied with a few (still) pictures. Figure 1 compares three different ‘times’: the time of public events, the time of television (the schedule) and the time of domestic, everyday life. The television schedule is the mediating link, providing the plane of intersection between public and domestic time, and hence structuring the experience of public time in specific ways. The specific function and meaning attributed to the news programmes by this structure was that of recapitulation, the summary of the most important events of the day. At first this is an obvious result of the disparity between the length of the news programme and the length of public time. Due to its limited time the news must have the character of recapitulation. However, it is also the result of the schedule; the news programme at 8 o’clock is, although not the only one, the most important. It is not possible to refer to a coming news bulletin to follow up on the story. The news programme constitutes the main and final account of the events of


the day, thus it has to take the form of recapitulation. The form of recapitulation bestows the news with the quality of closure and conclusion: the (political) events are dealt with after they have taken place and have had their impact. The events of the day follow a cycle from morning to the time of the news broadcast; after that nothing seems to happen until the next day. This closure corresponds with a distinct conception of the social identity of the viewer in the schedule of the old public service television. As Paterson (1980, 1990) has pointed out, the schedule of the BBC was accommodated to a specific notion of family. The day was the time of work and hence no programmes were broadcast. Late afternoon was the time of family life (sphere of intimacy) that television could stimulate with children and family programmes. The evening was the time of individual/adult cultural enlightenment and relaxation (cultural public sphere) with first cultural programmes and secondly more popular, entertaining material. In the transition from the sphere of intimacy to the cultural public sphere, the viewer for a short period became homo politicus and participated symbolically in the exercise of a political sphere. The old public service television distinguished between the different social spheres and social roles through the temporal demarcations of the schedule. Political man was not an aspect of the identity which was continuously addressed; it was a specific social role addressed at a specific time of the day. During the deregulation of broadcasting in the 1980s, public service stations were forced to change their programme policy in order to compete with the commercial newcomers. In this process of modernization and restructuring news was considered a key area, being both a popular genre and a field within which public service stations could demonstrate their special social commitment and indispensability. One of the ways to compete within this genre is to enhance the immediacy of the news.2 This was (and is) done in two ways. Firstly, by placing more emphasis on hot news, at best reported ‘live’. Secondly, by increasing the number of news programmes, thus expanding the period through which news can be transmitted and reducing the interval before a news item can be broadcast. Figure 2 gives a graphic representation of the modernized and competitive schedule of public service television in the beginning of the 1990s. Again, it is not the schedule of any specific channel, but an ‘ideal’ one representing the basic features of the schedule of major West European public service stations in the beginning of the 1990s. See the Appendix for an overview of the actual schedules of public service television news. In this new structure the function and meaning of news is no longer that of recapitulation, but that of updating. When the interval between two news slots is very short, it no longer makes sense to recapitulate the events since the last news bulletin. It is no longer quite obvious which of the news slots has the status of being the main news programme of the day. It becomes difficult for both TV station and viewers to decide where the authoritative recapitulation of the day’s events take place. The news programme scheduled early in the evening is changing character; earlier it was the main news bulletin, but gradually it becomes a programme for those segments of the population with a special interest in news. Instead of closure this schedule gives the news a quality of openness and continuity. The news provides a continuous update, constantly making an (implicit) reference to stories reported in earlier news programmes and explicit reference to the coming news bulletin for more details, the latest development, more news. A


Figure 2. The temporal structure of television news in the modernized, competitive public service schedule

journalistic story was usually completed in the main news bulletin in the old public service schedule. Now the same story often runs through a whole sequence of programmes with a small change of content for each new presentation. In the old schedule the news had the function of daily history-writing. In the new schedule the news both becomes timeless and expands temporally. The temporal distance between event, news production, broadcast and reception decreases, and the news becomes tied to an eternal present. The shift from recapitulation to continuous updating reflects a change in the balance of power and authority between state, TV station and viewers. As a monopoly institution, public service television had the authority and obligation to perform the definitive selection of news; television news should recapitulate the political agenda of the nation. After the break of monopoly such an authority cannot be exercised with the same force. Instead news increasingly becomes a service to the viewer and as such must be available day and night. The longer news programmes are scheduled at points corresponding with transitions between daily activities of the average viewer: morning, lunch, home from work, beginning of the evening, the end of the evening. These transitions in daily activities at the same time corresponds with shifts between different types of entertainment programmes. The news offers an update on the external social and political world at the points of transition between different types of activities of everyday life and between different types of televisual recreation. For the planners of the schedule the news slots mark the transitions from one type of aggregated audience to another. In this way the news provides both an entrance to the schedule for new viewers and variation to existing viewers. The short news bulletins


constitute a micro-structure within the general news structure. They correspond with the abstract transitions of linear time (the whole or half hour) and signal the transition between one or two programmes. In this structure the news bulletins perform a ritual function: They indicate the breaks and transitions in the endless programme flow and at the same time tie together the different sections of the schedule. The news provides variation as well as continuity. The schedule exploits the privileged status of the news genre. In step with the increased competition, the news almost has become the only genre to deal with a reality outside the media itself. The supply of programmes has become ‘polarized’ in news programmes dealing with a world outside of television and entertainment and fiction programmes created especially for television and increasingly referring to the world of the media themselves. This privileged status as a special reality-oriented genre means that the news slots in the schedule become ‘peepholes’ through which a reality outside the broadcasting institutions becomes visible. In the old schedule, the news programme mainly had the form of the series; it could be watched independently of earlier episodes and most of the stories were brought to some kind of conclusion. The same actors and conflicts would appear in similar constellations year in and year out, but a certain finality was aimed at in the presentation of the news story. Individual stories could by virtue of the real course of events continue through days and weeks. In these cases the news achieved the form of the serial at the level of the individual news story. The modernized schedule gives the news programme the form of the soap: it continuously elaborates on earlier stories, and although these come to an end, new stories are perpetually introduced and pointing ahead to the next news slot. Few stories are reported in only one news programme; whether or not the real course of events has come to an end, it runs through several news programmes. Earlier the political and social events appeared to have a more demarcated temporal extension, a regular daily rhythm and a certain quality of closure and finality. In the new structure the world takes the shape of a flow of events, each sequence of events being in a different stage of development. As with the soap, the openness of the news structure creates the impression that the earlier reported events continue in a parallel time, but ‘behind’ the screen while we watch other programmes. This is of course an illusion, since social reality is not made up by a limited numbers of events, but by an infinite number of social interactions. The illusion arises because the reports of events have already been initiated as continuous stories. The illusion is further supported by the multi-channel system: by watching the news programmes of other television stations including the dedicated 24-hour news channels like CNN and Sky News, the viewer can watch almost the same stories and pictures unfold in a parallel, continuous flow. The experience of reality unfolding in a parallel time behind the screen—in the transitions points of the schedule—to break through the flow of fictional and entertaining programmes, can best be described by a concept from the world of computers: multitasking. Two sets of ‘programmes’ are being executed at the same time and are available for the viewer: one set comprised of the entertainment material made for television itself, shows, serials, quizzes etc.; another set made up of news-pictures of the external reality. The second set breaks through the first set at regular intervals to report the present state of affairs and is in principle always


available; if something very important happens, reality forces itself through the schedule and makes itself visible by suspending the flow of entertainment. ‘Live’ Since the middle of the 1980s the use of ‘live’ reports in news has been increasing. Most notably the coverage of the upheavals in Eastern Europe and the Gulf War has demonstrated the importance and power of live reporting. The use of live television is no longer restricted to a few international events, but has now become a normal part of day-to-day television journalism. This development was made possible by the miniaturization of satellite technology and the price reductions following from deregulation of the area. Where the technological revolution of TV-news production in the 1970s was Electronic News Gathering (ENG), the revolution of the 1980s was Satellite News Gathering (SNG). The small, mobile satellite transmitters have made possible the live coverage of events from almost anywhere in the globe. The increased use of ‘live’ coverage is also motivated by the temporal structure of the modernized television schedule. The live report or, second best, the ‘live on tape’ report gives the news the same quality of continuity, ongoingness, openness as the series of news programmes does. Before discussing the narrative characteristics of ‘live’ reporting, a short digression on the narrative qualities of news is necessary. In order to identify the basic characteristic of a narrative, one could take the definitions by the French structuralists (especially Bremond and Greimas) as a point of departure. Accordingly, a narrative consists of a chain of events organized within a unified plot, endowed with a human interest. This implies that the chain of events must not only have a distinct chronology, but also—as a result of the human interest—be endowed by causality and/or intentionality brought about by the actions of human agents. At a more fundamental, ‘deep’ structural level, one can consider a narrative as consisting of a single transformation (or a sequence of mutually connected transformations) in which an initially static qualificative statement, e.g., situation, state, condition, is transformed by a dynamic statement or action, resulting in a new static, qualificative statement, e.g., new situation, condition etc. In most journalistic stories it is possible to identify the constitutive elements of a narrative. At the fundamental, ‘deep’ level, we find the initial situation or condition, a transformation, a new situation. At the upper level of representation we can identify the different involved human actors, their qualifications, intentions, actions etc. The news story also complies with the demand of the events being part of a unified plot. One can regard the news form as a way to isolate and thereby understand different sets of social interactions as interdependent, typically causally related and endowed with some sort of human interest or project. The news story departs from a narrative as it is defined by narratology in its lacking temporal organization of the elements. This does not imply that the news story does not have temporal references; on the contrary, news stories often make detailed accounts of the order and time of events. The news story differs from a genuine narrative in the temporal organization of events at the level of narration. The news story does not narrate the events in the temporal and causal order as they


appeared from the perspective of the human agents involved and as a result of this the quality of a narrative in progression is absent in most news stories. Instead, the news story, conventionalized in the reversed triangle, communicates all important aspects of the event at the very beginning. The news institution does not make a set of events ‘newsworthy’, that is worthy of being transformed into a ‘story’ and communicated, before the decisive transformation has taken place. Thus the news story will begin with a report of the transformation and immediately relate this to the initial state of affairs and the outcome, the consequences. The journalistic story will not organize the events in a sequence which (re-)creates the order of events as they appeared on the horizon of human actors. The German researcher of literary reception, Wolfgang Iser, has pointed out that the reading of narrative fiction creates a doubleness of retention and protention. In the act of reading we are at any given point both oriented backwards, the present events restructuring our knowledge and interpretation of past events, and forwards, the present events informing and channeling our anticipation of future events. This duality reflects that the temporal organization of events makes it possible for the reader to identify with the human project and interest with which the events are bestowed. The journalistic story lacks this narrative tension and ‘drive’. A news story will often include some few narrative passages, small chains of sentences in which the events are organized as they (are thought to have) appeared from the perspective of the involved actors. However, when these narrative fragments are not connected into a larger and unified plot, striving towards resolution, they loose their dynamic character and are transmuted into static, qualificative statements of the events. The news story becomes description and despite the nature of its content static in its form. The openness of the ‘live’ report makes it well suited to create a narrative across a sequence of news programmes. The ideal condition for the use of ‘live’ report is the case where the real events have not reached a conclusion and are about to reach a stage of major transformation. By constantly moving out to and speaking from the space of unfolding events the forward and backwards narrative tension is created. Even with ‘live’ television coverage it is only possible to represent few of the acts by the real social actors. Most often, ‘live’ television is restricted to the representation of speech acts, that is commentaries, demonstrations, debates etc. In exceptional cases, as during the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Gulf War, it is possible to represent other types of action, typically violent acts. This deficiency is partly overcome by the spatial qualities of the ‘live’ report. The presence of the narrator, the television correspondent, in the universe of events as they unfold bestows the story with a human interest and a quality of primary experience furthering emotional response to the conflict and identification with the actors involved. The use of a genuine narrative structure is limited to the coverage of developing events. Because of the power of the narrative structure to sustain the interest of the viewer, TV stations with many news-slots and the dedicated news channels will seek out the kind of events that most readily conform to this mode of representation. As these TV stations are the biggest and most influential in Western Europe, they often function as a model for smaller countries. Thus the emphasis on the immediacy of news coverage spreads to smaller European countries, although they don’t have a schedule to support this kind of updating news.


Figure 3. The developmentof a news item through a sequence of news programmes

Events with limited temporal extension and/or events that have been completed are also treated in a sequence of news slots. In this case the sequence will not have a genuine narrative structure, but nevertheless display some structural similarities. Like a narrative this type of story seems to ‘grow’, the intensity of the event seeming to rise until a point of culmination is reached after which the intensity of the story slowly fades. This fluctuation of intensity is not a result of the progression of events, but is caused by the importance and priority the newsroom ascribes to the news. Figure 3 gives a graphic representation of the treatment of a (major) news story through a series of news programmes. It is, as mentioned above, a story in which the events were concluded before they became a news story. In the first news slot after the event has been registered there is a short notice without use of pictures. The next news slot will again mainly consist of a verbal report, but a still picture is now available. Next comes a visual report and the story culminates with a ‘live’ report and/or ‘live’ interview at the place of the event (the plane crash, the resigned minister, etc.). After this the priority of the story decreases. The story doesn’t display a narrative structure. Instead it is a repetitive structure consisting of increasingly more elaborated descriptions. Within this repetitive sequence there is at the same time a spatial convergence between the space of the events and the space of the enunciation: each news slot brings the explicit narrator closer to the space of events. The verbal message by the newsreader is in terms of enunciative space most distant from the events. The enunciation of the on-location visual report is situated within the same space as the events themselves. At the surface this ‘different’ structure resembles a genuine narrative structure. The progression of the story follows the same curve of tension and promotes a somewhat similar emotional response: the building up of interest-culmination-drop of interest. The narrative structure narrates the events in a sequence, which (re)


creates an inner logic of development, a logic at the level of the events themselves. The ‘different’ structure of a sequential news story on a completed event constructs an outer movement through the narrator’s explicit accentuation of the importance of the event and the movement of enunciative space towards the space of the event. The movement of events is replaced by the movement of the narrator. ‘…because it is all being constructed’ The change in the temporal structure of television news is—of course—more complex and more ambiguous than depicted above. Although I have used the terms ‘traditional’ and ‘modernized’ to distinguish between the two different temporal structures, both are modern ways of experience. They both restructure and replace former modes of experience and provide new ways to make sense of political reality in a world characterized by the ‘thickening of the present’. There are also similarities at a more concrete level. As Schlesinger (1987) has pointed out, broadcast news has always been haunted by the demand of immediacy, and the current development is also accompanied by initiatives to develop more in-depth TV-journalism. However, my argument is that the emergence of new technology, the deregulation of broadcasting as well as the general social processes thrusting us towards a state of ‘radicalised modernity’ (Giddens, 1991), strongly favours the mode of experience labelled ‘continuous update’. This mode of experience is most obviously prompted by the commercial broadcasters and other commercial media, but increasingly it has become a feature of public service broadcasting as well. What we have seen so far is only the beginning. The technological development in the news business is directed towards the reduction of time between event, production, broadcast and reception in order to provide the ultimate experience of simultaneity. According to a representative from the international TV news agency Visnews: In ten years time, you could have a situation where a newcaster sits down, and the man hasn’t the faintest idea of what the second two thirds of the news is going to be, because it is all being constructed.3 Appendix The scheduling of news bulletins in spring 1991 by public service stations in Germany (ARD), England (BBC1), Spain (TVE1), Italy (RAI1) and France (A2). An asterisk (*) indicates that the duration exceeds 10 minutes. Notes 1 For an overview of the scheduling of news programmes see, for example, Varis and jokelin (1976). 2 Another important way to increase the competitiveness of news was to modernize the direct personal address of the news reader. See Hjarvard (1991).


3 The author’s interview with David Wratten, International Manager, Visnews, 29 August 1990.

References Ellis, J. (1984) Visible Fictions. Cinema: television: video, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Giddens, A. (1984) The Constitution of Society, Oxford: Polity. ——(1991) The Consequences of Modernity London: Polity Press. Habermas, J. (1989) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, USA: MIT. Harvey, D. (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity, Cambridge: Blackwell. Hjarvard, S. (1991) ‘Americanization of European television. An aesthetic approach’, in D.Nye and C.Pedersen (1991) editors, Consumption and American Culture, Amsterdam: VU University Press. Kern, S. (1983) The Culture of Space and Time, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, New York: McGrawHill. Meyrowitz, J. (1985) No Sense of Place. The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behaviour, New York: Oxford University Press. Paterson, R. (1980) ‘Planning the family: the art of the television schedule’, in Screen Education, No. 35. ——(1990) ‘A suitable schedule for the family’, in A.Goodwin and G.Whannel (1990) editors, Understanding Television, London: Routledge. Scannell, P. (1988) ‘The temporal arrangements of broadcasting in the modern world’, in R.Paterson (1988) editor, Television and its Audience, England: BFI. Schlesinger, P. (1987) Putting ‘Reality’ Together: BBC News, London: Methuen. Thompson, J.B. (1990) Ideology and Modern Culture, Oxford: Polity.


Varis, T. and Jokelin, R. (1976) Television News in Europe, Institute of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Tampere. Williams, R. (1979) Television, Technology and Cultural Form, London: Fontana.


There is today a growing reflexivity in individual and collective identity constructions. Identities are always formed in relation to others and through symbolic structures, but this process has been more mobilized, differentiated, focused and problematized in late modernity—the most recent phase of the process of modernization.1 This is true for daily life as well as for research. Reflexivity has in various ways been an important theme within psychoanalysis, history, anthropology and sociology, as well as in some recent Nordic studies of youth and popular culture. The well-known linguistic, cultural or communicative turn has made everyday reflexivity a central theoretical theme, and it has also sharpened intellectual selfreflection. At the same time, media seem to become more and more important as tools of identity work—in subcultural formations as well as in common everyday life. This historical process of medialization2 is intimately intertwined with the continuous increase in reflexivity, since media deliver many of those self-images used for identity constructions, including the problematizations of earlier ones. Media (mass or not) have various use values as cultural instruments for symbolic communication, and they are deeply ambivalent—both expressive and effective, communicative and constricting, emancipatory and authoritarian. Reflexivity is one of their many use values, in that they express and shape individual as well as collective identities by functioning in reception as vehicles and mirrors for self-definitions. But identities are also mirrored in non-mediated meetings between people: reflexivity can as well be carried by face-to-face interaction through symbolic forms like speech or gestures. A medium is in some sense always needed for communication but it need not be a technical apparatus—sound or light waves can suffice. My aim here is to reflect upon the relation between mirroring, meetings and media, in order to explore the fabrics and processes of self-mirroring, or what can be called the microphysics of reflexivity. The reference point for my reflections is an empirical research project, where I and two colleagues studied the relationship between some young people and ourselves as researchers. We first studied twenty teenagers in three different peer groups playing amateur rock, and constructed models of their microcultures and of the uses they made of rock—and other symbolic expressions or media forms—in identity work. We then let them read the resulting book, and discussed it with them.3 The continued dialogue also included written statements from some of these young people, by then in their early twenties. The process offers exemplary illustrations of mirroring and transference, influences and defenses, dominance and resistance, and gave us new insights in the


interplay between young people on one hand, and researchers, adults and media on the other. Talking to researchers and reading a report about oneself is of course very different from interacting with parents and teachers or watching television programs that depict youth in general, but there are also parallels. I will treat reflexivity processes in this project as a model example that can shed light not only upon the general interplay between researchers and informants or adults and youths, but also on similar processes within all forms of media use (including music listening and making), as well as within ordinary everyday life interaction. Our study heightened the reflexivity of our informants—and ourselves—in two ways. First, the research process itself gave them (and us) countless opportunities, in interviews and in talks, to mirror one’s identity in the interplay with us (them) as ‘others’. Secondly, the finished book could be read in a mirroring way. The teenagers also knew that others around could read about them in this public, printed and mass-mediated text, reflecting and interfering in their lives. Its reception can thus be read as a very special case of general processes of late modern reflexivity and media use in identity work. Dimensions of reflexivity The words reflexivity and reflection derive from the Latin reflectere: ‘fold back’. In cultural contexts, what is being folded back is thought or consciousness.4 Conscious reflection is a special case of general self-mirroring processes of physical, psychic, social or cultural reflexivity. Reflexivity is not necessarily a conscious intellectual reflection. Self-mirroring can also take place by other means, as when you use certain style elements to explicitly express your position, or media texts to confirm your identity. Theoretical concepts are only one possible type of tool for reflexivity, and hardly the most common one. Neither is reflexivity always ‘positive’. On one hand, reflexivity can imply a painful fixation to one’s own person, a subjectification that intrudes upon the ability to have real dialogues with others. On the other hand, it can be connected to a societal colonization, a compulsory expropriation of the self by dominant symbolic systems, especially in connection with media and institutions that are under hard pressure from the demands of the economical and political systems. In such instances, reflexivity might need to be counteracted, but it can also be a useful resource for communication and identity work. It all depends on how it is used: it is highly ambivalent. When identities—individual or collective, psychic, social or cultural—are mobilized and problematized, the ability and the need to view and define oneself increase. Reflexivity is intense in the life phase of adolescence and youth, where childhood is to be reworked into adulthood. It is also intensified among deliberately creative sub- or microcultures, cultivating styles and forms of expression. And when epochal shifts are taking place, reflexivity is also generally increased in society. In late modern youth culture, these focal points coincide. Reflexivity is in itself a cultural process of communicative actions relating human subjects to symbolic texts. It has, however, sources on different levels. There are objective, material, technical or institutional frameworks such as technology or the political and economical systems of state and market. Media technologies, cultural


commodities and institutions like school present tools for mirroring identities and they force each of us to use them.5 Other roots dig down to the subjective level of inner driving forces within each person’s psychic constitution. New socialization patterns give rise to a growing narcissistic potential in adolescent life, which means a growing ability and need for reflecting one’s self. The narcissistic traits that flourish in particular during the unusually dynamic and open phase of adolescence are useful to identity development.6 There are, thirdly, also intersubjective mechanisms in group relations and symbolic languages. On a social level, a greater mobility and fluidity of social groups increase our collective self-awareness of positions, norms and lifestyles, caused by increasing communications and modern individualization tendencies.7 Factors within the cultural level itself finally add yet other pushes towards reflexivity. Late modern aesthetic trends have cultivated reflexive themes, and new artistic techniques for intertextual references have been developed.8 All of these sources present demands as well as resources, and all levels need to be acknowledged in research. This means that we need polydimensional theories, or a bricolage of theories moving on different levels, to avoid any reductionism that sees reflexivity or media use as ‘nothing-else-but’ commercial consumption, inner need fulfilment, social status marking and relational interaction, or aesthetic rule games. Even if we can perhaps only study one dimension at a time, we should accept that the others are also legitimate ones. Cultural phenomena not only have causes and motives on all these levels, but their meaning-constructs also ‘point’ in similar directions. When we ‘read’ our interviews and talks with young people, the styles they shape, the songs they sing or the media texts they use, we can search not only ‘archeologically’ for the forces that shaped them, but also ‘teleologically’ for the meanings they shape (Ricoeur, 1974). And these meanings point at objective institutions, at subjective selves, at social relations as well as—intertextually—towards other stylistic formations. Thus there is an objectivizing reflexivity, thematizing external life conditions, when young people define themselves in terms of class, gender or ethnic belonging to what is perceived as fixed categories or frameworks, or in relation to systemdependent institutions like school or work. As socializing institutions exert a greater influence on young people’s lives, and as processes of systemic rationalization and colonization of the life world (Habermas, 1981b) increase these tensions, outer conditions are more often thematized and objectivizing reflexivity grows. ‘I am what I am because I live in this place, belong to this social class and am shaped by these material and institutional forces.’ Another common reflexivity form is the subjectivizing one: an inner-directed reflexivity defining identities in terms of individual development through the life stages of adolescence. Adolescence and youth are years of fast identity development on all levels: in the body, in the mind, in social positions on the way from the parental family through the school system to an adult life, and in patterns of taste and symbolic expression. Our informants often talked about themselves as unique individuals passing through such personal stages of adolescence. ‘I am what I am because of my unique childhood experiences and my present phase of development.’ Thirdly, a normative reflexivity points in a social direction, towards norms and group relations. In our time, young people are often good at analyzing their


relations to teachers, parents and peers, and at describing their own ethical norms. ‘I am what I am because I have chosen these basic ideas, values and convictions.’ In the cultural direction, expressions of aesthetic reflexivity finally relate to other texts within the symbolic field itself, to musical, visual or literary styles and genres. Teenagers shape expressions, in words, gestures and music, that intertextually thematize the symbolic field as such. ‘I am what I am because I am influenced by these stylistic genres and traditions.’ To sum up, both adolescence and late modernity increase reflexivity of objectivizing, subjectivizing, normative as well as aesthetic types. And this in turn gives mass media an increasing role in the production of objective, subjective, social and cultural identities. New media and new socio-cultural tendencies facilitate and demand that the own identity gets explicit attention. This interacts with the general high self-awareness in adolescence, as our study showed. Identities are sometimes mirrored spontaneously without much verbal and rational formulating, at other times, however, concentrated in conscious reflections. In face-to-face interaction with peers, parents or teachers, adolescents are often intensely engaged in such mirroring. Meeting an ‘other’ lets you know more about yourself through the other’s reactions as well as through the perceived similarities and differences between you. Intersubjective dialogues give you an opportunity jointly to formulate who you are. Media are also used in several ways. Surrounded by musical sounds, posters or television flows, you unconsciously get your self measured and positioned. Watching a film about youth or reading a novel can also give you impulses to think over your own identity and life choices. You can compare your own body with the pictures in teenage magazines and decide how you look and whether you accept certain ideals or not. Media use is also often a group activity. Our three groups used media as a pretext for meeting (gathering around the TV set or a new record), as a mood-shaping background (letting the music or images fill the room but staying out of perceptional focus) and as a point of reference (when talking about certain artists or programs in order to say something about oneself and the others). In any case, the chosen medium helped them define their positional identity and delivered tools for diffuse reflexivity as well as active self-reflections. Our project contained examples of all these sorts, though in a very particular setting. Meeting us, being seen by us and talking to us was an intensified encounter inviting reflective mirroring but with many traits similar to common daily meetings with others. Reading our first book about themselves was an unusually focused reflexive challenge, but it was not a totally alien experience, since they had in principle met their own images many times before, in photo albums, fanzines—or in a more indirect way in every mediated text that dealt with youth, Swedes or other categories to which they belonged. Fully aware of the crucial differences between our project and general everyday interaction or media use, I will try to depict some general patterns in their reflexive responses. My aim here is not to give a full view of the particular traits of these three groups, or the specific meanings arising from our encounters, but rather to use them to exemplify some general aspects of the microphysics of reflexivity.


Reading oneself To participate in the project and read the book was for our twenty teenagers a reflexive challenge and an important contribution to their self-constructions. Reading a book about ‘oneself means confronting a series of ‘mirrors’, asking to be used. The young people viewed themselves in the rear-view mirror, as quickly changing and developing. They used the book as a source of memory, as a stock of possible self-images to be used in reshaping the self. This was already noticed in our first study, i.e., before the book was written. But the book itself as a public text, open to everyone that can read, and much more fixed in space and time than our previous talks, made the impulse to self-reflections still more acute. In this it had some similarities to the way media function in general, with the important difference that it now was much more obvious that it was precisely themselves that this particular media text wanted to mirror. The mirrors we offered were used to scrutinize and handle both the relations to us as grown-up researchers and to their peers inside the groups themselves. On an objective level, they discussed the problems of the institutionally ‘given’ relation between us and them, and of their own class positions (often in relation to the other two groups). What were the formal rules of academic research? How could they understand the inescapable frameworks given by school and work, or by their own gender, class and ethnic origins? On a subjective level, psychic processes of transferences and projections in the interplay between us and them were treated. Which inner images had we created or fitted into? How had their own personal identities developed during late adolescence? Socially, the interactive relations between us and them were thematized, as were the roles and relations within the groups themselves. What had actually taken place in our meetings? How had, did and should their groups function? On a cultural level, our writings and other forms of expression were discussed, as well as their own language, music, style and taste. Could they discern differences in style between us three writers? Did they really talk and look the way our descriptions suggested? These reactions to our ‘mirroring provocations’ made a cumulative analysis possible that not only yielded new insights into their identity work, but also carried our original study a couple of years further. They sometimes explicitly and consciously verified or corrected what we had written in our book. On other occasions these verifications or denials were indirect or unintentional. Olof:

It’s quite funny, for the book looks from the outside on the whole sort of system—not only on myself but on the whole group. And it fits quite well, though from a different angle than we usually look. That makes it interesting to read. […] Gustav: It’s fun to have it documented—to have one’s life documented. […] Håkan: It’s all obvious, but we’ve never seen it that way. Gustav: Like, you interpret what we do, and we don’t do that while we do it. We don’t think that way. Håkan: We don’t analyze our life.


Gustav: No, and there are surely several ways to analyze this also. This is one way, and it is damn fun to see how someone analyzes us, what we do, our behavior. Olof: One gets distance, and that’s what’s fun, isn’t it? The difference in perspectives is here thematized. There is a clear fascination with the ‘undressing’ of oneself, a pleasure in being biographically ‘documented’. Several of the teenagers were struck by their own surprising accessibility and/or by our seemingly magic power of seeing them. But there is also here a hint of a distance: ‘this is one way…’. The collision between internal and external perspectives, between everyday self-understanding and structural interpretations, also contains the germ of what Paul Ricoeur (1974) has discussed as a ‘conflict of interpretations’. What had we seen that they had been blind to, what had we missed that was important to them, and which interpretation was then the most correct or legitimate one? To be analyzed in a book is to be objectivized: their living processes were frozen into fixed objects and structures. This could offer narcissistic satisfaction in the form of an elevating and expanding self-mirroring. But to be inscribed into structures they didn’t previously know of or care about also implied a reduction and a narcissistic infringement. The way the group handled this challenge often confirmed our first study, where the members of this particular group were, for instance, shown to be very fascinated by being seen and with recalling their own history. In this way our first analyses were given a direct affirmation (‘it fits quite well’) as well as an indirect or implicit one. The reflective trait denied by the informants (‘we don’t analyze our life’) was at the same time confirmed. The fascination of getting ‘documented’ and the readiness to think in terms of a play with different interpretations of oneself was easy to notice: Barbara-Ann: One ought to interview oneself like this once a year, going through one’s expectations and apprehensions about life. How wise one would then become! On some occasions, a protest against our first interpretation could in fact be interpreted as an indirect confirmation of it. One example was when Frasse, one of the Chans (‘Chance’ or ‘Prospect’) boys, who came from a business family, didn’t like to accept our claim that the Chans’ parents generally had more economic than cultural capital. It was easy to notice that most of them actually had more money than education, and that most of their children (not least Frasse himself, who started his own business early and hardly read one book a year outside school) were also more interested in earning a lot of money than in acquiring higher qualifications or cultivating cultural interests. His protests can in fact be interpreted as a confirmation of this analysis, since the last thing the rising economic bourgeoisie wants is to be seen as parvenues. This counter-interpretation is however not unproblematic, since it touches upon the delicate issue of the preferential right of interpretation. With what right can we


keep to interpretations that not only exceed the self-knowledge of our groups, but even go against it? Some disclaimers could, on the other hand, help us correct our first analyses, as when the Chans girls convincingly argued that our picture of them as two female types, one traditional and one modern, was only partly correct. Their later development shows that both were more complexly compound than we had been able to catch. Cultural studies are always a constructing of models rather than a faithful copying of reality. What was unique and irreducibly nuanced in the twenty young individuals we studied was unavoidably reduced to restricted roles and characters in the play we staged in our first book, inspired by and related to the play of the bands themselves. Each generalization from our study can therefore be called in to question. Like all scientific or literary texts, the book has its own dramaturgy, its own narrative logic, producing constructions where individual traits have to be sacrificed for the clearness and purpose of its representation. For example, the groups came from different social contexts but, for the sake of clarity, these class patterns are somewhat exaggerated in our book, which makes some individual deviations invisible. The mechanisms of mirroring not only related to objective class structures or subjective maturing processes. They also had intersubjective—social and cultural— aspects. Talks and texts are no neutral reflections of the speakers’ and authors’ social or personal, external or inner identities. They are regulated discourses, laboriously constructed dialogues that use and shape specific rule systems of what can be said and written. A letter, an interview or a group talk are relatively open genres, ruled by certain conventions but containing rifts where innovations can be made.9 Such single texts are knit together with each other in everyday cultural praxis, forming larger networks of textual structures that can be interpreted as youth cultural phenomena (genres, styles, subcultures, microcultures, identities…), and where new meaning is produced. This meaning is realized at the moment of communication, in talk, in music-making or in media use. It is context-bound, polysemic and metaphoric, and it cannot be determined once and for all.10 In order to interpret the dialogues between us and our informants, we had to give attention to the concrete forms of our language games, and ask not only what was said but also how it was said. It is possible to discern five different discursive modes in our individual and group interviews. What we often strived for was a reflecting, personal, analyzing therapeutic talk that might be called the mode of confession. It could sometimes slide over into a more distanced and interpretative analysis, turning into a mode of theorization, which we welcomed as an interesting start to the interpretative work we later did ourselves in our close readings of the interview transcripts. But when we failed, our talks tended towards the much less productive mode of interrogation, where our questions were only answered reluctantly by ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Especially with Lam Gam, this mode soon led to deadends, as painful to the young informants as to us. They then took every opportunity to switch into a fourth mode: the mode of narration. In this mode, detailed experiences were related and made present, but at the same time put at a certain distance, avoiding the anguish that the confessional mode easily produces. A fifth possibility was the mode of play, where jokes and


miniature role games were enacted to illustrate experiences, avoid hard questions or just have fun. Some such discursive patterns were common to all bands, others unique to single individuals or groups; still others would probably be age, gender, ethnic or class specific. Some belong more to the individual interview, the group talk or letterwriting. For example, play suits group talks, confession suits personal interviews. All are interrelated to other discourses in which we were not present—at school, at home, at work, in the street, with the best friend, in the band, by song-writing, by media use, and so on. All in all, the interaction between them and us was embedded in highly complex discursive processes, as is each personal encounter and each single interaction with media. Three tactics Our informants first of all read the passages about themselves. In that reading, the book was directly used as a mirroring and confirming tool. Even passages about the other two bands were clearly read through ‘narcissistic’ glasses: as negative projections of one’s own antithesis rather than by curiosity about the others or to look for parallels and joint problems. But the groups used three different main tactics in their readings. The result was in all three cases a continuous conflict of interpretations, but its form varied. The socially most impoverished band, Lam Gam (‘Lame Vulture’), from Gothenburg, built massive defenses against our reflexive challenges. They mostly avoided all our efforts to make them discuss what the book had meant. Our questions were answered by muteness, or by telling seemingly irrelevant stories of past events instead. They excelled in a tactics of silence that made it hard to get direct access to the ways in which they had experienced rock-playing or dealt with our earlier study. But their silences also contained messages to be read by us, sometimes as questionings of our own role. Our research to them had a threatening similarity with interview situations they had experienced from teachers and social workers. That was one reason why our efforts to start dialogues so often ended in the mode of interrogation, if they did not manage to escape into the mode of narration. They further found the book difficult to read and felt a great distance from the academic world of science to which we belonged. They also had strong psychic defenses towards every challenge against their pre-existing self-images. The mode of theorization was thus not accessible to them. A main focus was on the polar relation to the well-situated and wellformulated upper-class band in the study. The boys in Lam Gam a priori felt socially stigmatized by such comparisons, no matter what we had really written. This mood prevented them from working through what we tried to say about them, which was in fact not at all negative. The objective class position here worked as an effective blocking mechanism, cutting off other reflections than the ones confirming their pre-existing opinions on class injustice and their own stigmatization. Sometimes irony was used to joke about this status hierarchy, sometimes they tried to elevate themselves and criticize the opposite band. Such tactics had an offensive edge that pointed towards positive, alternative values in their own class-based group culture. But in this particular group, the collective identity


was presently too weak to carry a strong alternative value-scale—instead a bitter selfcontempt and shame was obvious behind the aggressive tone. Jonna: It’s no fun to read about such damn rich fellows as those in ‘Stockholm [laughter] […]! won’t say anything…No, but I don’t care a damn about them, it’s just tiresome to discuss…What the heck do you get out of it? We don’t gain anything from talking about it, do we? The snob-band might like to talk, but we are just rabble, aren’t we?…What’s the use of talking?…It’s ridiculous [laughter]. Talking is seen as only good for the rich, for the poor it’s safer to shut up. The language itself seems like an enemy, colonized by claims of power and control. As researchers with the written word as tool we were automatically classified as enemies, as belonging to those ‘above’. The weapon left was a tactics of silence, of refusing to talk. Each discussion about the book was immediately focused upon the issue of class and status, thus preventing other subjects to be developed. But the band they reacted against was to a high degree a construction, a projection of their own inner images of upper-class kids as the ‘Others’ that they themselves were not and could not be. In this way, defense mechanisms protected their own integrity, but also led to a distortion of their image of the others and of their own social reality.11 These structural factors were reinforced by the individual and collective development of the band members. The band had split, and was thus in one way a failure, and some of the boys had big troubles in their personal road to adulthood. Objectivizing, normative and subjectivizing reflexivity joined to motivate this problematic tactics of silence, which nevertheless showed us that we were used as identity mirrors, even if they tried to blind these mirrors to us in order to escape the control of institutions they certainly were right to defend themselves against. The other two bands actively contributed to our interpretations by coming up with counter-interpretations. The well-off male working-class OH (‘One Hand Beats Five Fingers’) from Helsingborg in South Sweden, managed to play much more freely than Lam Gam with several of the discursive modes. They willfully utilized the modes of play, of confession and of theorizing in a tactics of conquest, a counter-offensive strategy to take over the analytical concepts we suggested and carry them further. They tested them in new ways on themselves and each other, and they even turned them around and critically tried them on us. They actively shaped new metaphors, developing the ones we had constructed in our book, eager to conquer our analytical way of thinking as a weapon to use in their resolute selfdetermination and ego-expansion, aimed at development, mastering and leaving traces in history. This group engaged in reflection upon the self and the peer group as projects, concentrating upon the psychological dimensions and mirroring first of all their subjective processes of adolescent development. For them, subjective reflexivity was thus much stronger than the objectivizing one, opposite to Lam Gam, whereas both used a normative reflexivity, related to their sense of justice and rightness. This confirmed how our study first interpreted this group, which gave so


much attention to personal relations and to the joint project of ‘carrying the peer group to the stars’. The middle-class group Chans sometimes also used the reading of the book as a therapeutic tool in their personal adolescent identity work. One of the two girls in this group compared this reading to the writing of a diary, a typical adolescent habit, especially of young women: Betty: You managed to […] uncover certain moods in an objective and thus neutralizing way. It’s like when you’re sad: then I always want (even though it is now actually quite a long time ago!) to write down my feelings, as a sort of diary. And zip! the immense sorrow, that previously was so elusive and therefore hard to treat, gets concretized and written down on a piece of paper. Suddenly one can put one’s finger on what it is that hurts. And thus (to a great extent) get rid of it in a much easier way, or at least treat it. This is strikingly similar to what a member of Lam Gam said: Conny: A boy mustn’t cry in Sweden, everyone knows that, that’s the way it is… The only way to get this out, then, is standing on a stage, to sing it out. ‘Cause then they [the feelings of sorrow] disappear; I can convey to others what I feel, ‘cause if you keep it inside it only grows and grows. Sometimes you want to just stand up and shout, it can help too, [but] it’s better to write down a text […] and then get up on the stage and sing it oneself. What Conny, as a lower-class boy, can only get out through rock-playing, Betty, as middle-class girl, can also channel into writing and reading. In both cases, learning to use a cultural form of expression (writing, music) enhanced reflexive selfunderstanding and thus aided identity development. Several members of the middle-class group showed a readiness to be surprised by new insights and to change their opinions. Our book has been added to earlier selfmirrorings. The reflexivity induced by it was mostly seen as positive, as a distancing source of new (self-)knowledge. There was a narcissistic desire to be seen, which could sometimes open itself towards deeper self-reflection and more flexible learning processes. Like the other two groups, Chans liked the mode of narration, and like OH they also found the mode of confession rewarding to their narcissist desires. Unlike them, however, in group discussions they seldom engaged in the mode of theorizing. Instead they favored the mode of play, to have fun and to test or hide behind different roles and positions. Their quest for mobility needed to hold all opportunities open, never allowing them to stand still and fix their identities long enough to be classified. They excelled in an intensity-seeking tactics of flexibility, which made it possible to shift between naive innocence, narcissistic self-exposure and childish games, combining and maximizing the pleasures of being youthful, being seen and having fun. In some of the later, individual comments, especially the written ones from the girls, a more ‘mature’, OH-like self-theorizing developed, showing the versatile range of their identity flexibility.


Betty: I think all this meant quite a lot at that time; now it mostly feels like picturesque anecdotes from ‘the life with Chans’. And this leads us to the constant recalling of joint experiences that the Chans gang always excelled in. You saw it—and it fitted enormously well! Now, for natural reasons since we don’t have time to meet so much anymore, it doesn’t happen as much as before. But I think it was important. One wanted an identity—one’s own of course, but it was still more important to be part of a group, of a context. WE had experienced that and that, WE had fun then and then, WE like each other and amuse one another. To mean something to others—be somebody. ‘Cause we were actually a peer group, and it was probably only by chance that music happened to be our medium. Self-reflexivity used media but could also function otherwise. The girls, for example, talked about their fascination with looking at photos of themselves in different moods, but found a similar curiosity and pleasure by looking carefully into a common mirror. In the case of Chans, this normative, aesthetic and subjectivizing reflexivity was also mixed with portions of objectivizing reflections upon class relations towards Lam Gam, where they excelled in self-ironic jokes about their own wealth and the others’ poverty. Comparisons with the other bands also thematized issues of personal growth, as when they complained that OH sounded older and more mature than they themselves did. Their old childish innocence was now becoming outdated, as it clashed with their increasing efforts to achieve a distanced selfcontrol needed in late modern adult middle-class life, but their tactics of flexibility enabled them progressively to take the painful steps towards new outlets for exhibitionism and playful performance. Whose text? In a study like this, there is a real danger that the theoretical concepts lead to false conclusions that need to be corrected by the voices and self-interpretations of the persons studied. It is, on the other hand, not a viable solution just to reproduce the conscious selfunderstanding of the groups, since there are, in all cultural and social praxis, forces and structures that are unknown or unconscious to the actors themselves. Nobody is aware of all aspects of the objective, the social, the cultural or the subjective world she or he lives in. This implies that cultural interpretations cannot do without phases of distancing from the first intuitive self-concepts. Cultural hermeneutics has to be reflexive, and accept the need to go through a set of distancing movements in different directions. On an objective level, there are always material, technical, institutional, economic and political conditions and forces setting up limits to what human beings can achieve. These forces often act silently behind the backs of the actors. The young people we studied could not be wholly conscious of the frames and conditions for their lives that were given from outside—and the same applies to us. We are all


integrated in inescapable institutional structures, and our gender, ethnic and class positions will affect our relations to different informants differently, whether we know it or not. For instance, we are all subject to systemic demands from market and state, and we can never see them quite clearly in every detail. What we can do is to accept in principle that these objective forces and structural limitations exist, and bring them into focus by reflexive moves. On a subjective level, psychoanalytical theory is a forceful tool for understanding the psychic unconscious of each unique individual’s subjectivity. This level can only be discerned through a very tight and continuous interplay between each individual and her interpreter. Between them, there will always be transferences and identificational mechanisms that can only partly be made visible. Personal relations will sometimes aid the development of deeper understanding, sometimes hamper it. Mechanisms of transference and projection can produce self-ignorance, but can also be used as an instrument for deeper insights if, for example, different researchers cooperate and analyze each other’s interactional patterns to gain new insights into the subjectivity of the informants. On a social level, there are unconscious norms and relations that function in our interactions and which may not be explicitly formulated. There is a rising degree of reflexivity concerning such social relations, which a systematic treatment of them in research can develop still further. Careful social analysis shows us hidden mechanisms, for example concerning the way we as researchers take part in the concrete interactional patterns of the groups. On a cultural level, all symbolic systems have rules that are only to a small extent more than intuitively known by those who use these systems in their communicative actions. Systematic semiotic analysis and interpretation is needed to disclose the forces, structures and processes at work here. Such analysis can show, for example, the differences between the languages used by the researchers and the adolescents they study. Everyday language and theoretical language cannot be translated directly into each other, even though there are bridges between them. We can connect these discourses to each other, but never make them the same. On all these levels, the unconscious is a complex hidden network of connections that can be made more intelligible and manageable by interpretative strategies. Were reality transparent, no interpretative acts and certainly no research would be needed. In intersubjective communication through which interpretations are evolved, the young people we studied got new chances of development, and so did we.12 We were sometimes ascribed almost magical qualities in a mutual narcissistic mirroring relation with the groups. It seemed almost as if we had created them. Our relations were somewhat similar to the complex play of transference and countertransference between psychoanalyst and analysand, as when the youngsters expressed almost paranoid thoughts about us as all-seeing or a wish to live up to our expectations of them as good objects of study. Karl: In one way I think it feels stupid that we almost have finished playing, since you spent so much time following us. As long as you did that, it was like a kick for us to continue for a while more and to try.


We obviously did not vanish without a trace. But we cannot rule out that other actors had been given our roles when we were not there. Perhaps some teacher, parent or other adult, a friend or older sibling, or the group itself had then taken over some of our functions. The way our interpretations were accepted and used by the young people we studied does of course run the risk of making them self-fulfilling. They respected our authority as adult representatives of knowledge, and might have taken for granted that what we had written was ‘true’, and then acted in such a way that it (apparently?) became true. But it is also important to remember that they were not just passive objects for our manipulation, just as they are not passive objects in their acts of media reception. Transferences and counter-transferences between us and them were often unconscious for both parties, but they still remained active subjects in these processes, rather than mere innocent victims of our interpretations. What they accepted of our analyses, and of media images in general, was that which was able to interact fruitfully with their inner subjectivity and social position, both developed in a complex life history, where our particular influence was after all only one component. The influence of media is more continuous and extensive, but each media image is likewise relativized by accumulated everyday life experiences and subject structures. It is therefore not really true that our perspective was always the dominating one. We too are intersected and surrounded by forces of which we are unconscious. We too were tools in one way or another; governed by institutional, social, cultural and psychic rules that we only partly knew of. To a certain extent we had even been unconsciously governed by the intentions and acts of the teenagers we studied. We might have helped them to keep going, but in several ways they also helped in forming the image of them that we chose to believe in and present in our book. Who really wrote our texts is therefore an open question. Dialogues through media The reflexive use of texts and of ‘others’ are interwoven with patterns of dominance. Some protested against our analytical power, others submitted to it, still others took a relativistic position of negotiation: Karl: When reading your conclusions and observations one might think that some things don’t fit. This actually doesn’t matter, since it is the way you and others outside [of the group] experience it, and then it’s correct in itself, isn’t it? Our intervention was a special example of what Thomas Ziehe (Ziehe and Stubenrauch, 1982) has called cultural expropriation—an offer of external images and identity ideals that one has to relate to, in one way or another. All the time, the media offer images of youth, gender, class, ethnicity and local cultures—images that press individuals and groups into definitions and frames imposed from outside. Our teenagers were forced to reflect on themselves through such imposed images and


languages, and this is a more complex effort in late modernity, owing to the processes of individualization and medialization. Our activities functioned in some ways like media do: our stories, interpretations and concepts framed our informants and invaded their own inner worlds of imagination. After our book, their self-definitions had, in one way or another, to be tinged by what we had written. In some cases (as mostly with Chans) this was accepted and used in the formation of a personal identity; in other cases (as often in Lam Gam) it provoked resistance in the form of passive defense mechanisms, evasion and a refusal to read; in still other cases (OH provides the best examples) it enabled an active counter-offensive to win back the preferential right of interpretation. Whatever strategy was chosen, nobody could avoid responding to the challenge of mirroring offered by us and our book. The same holds for the offers and demands put forward by the mass media: you can accept, resist or rework them, but hardly avoid them. The reactions of our groups exemplify a conflict or oscillation between a striving for intense, close, symbiotic devotion and a distancing reflexivity. This seems to have become a main cultural theme in late modernity. There is today a very active searching in both these directions, not least in rock and media use. This can be seen in subcultures like Hip Hop and House, where forgetting oneself and merging into ecstatic dancing collectives is mixed with a highly sensitive consciousness of one’s own motives, position and taste. Youth culture—not least rock and pop music—is full of media critique, as authenticity, closeness, directness, living presence and bodily vibrations are valued higher than distanced analysis and objectification. This, somewhat paradoxically, also holds for much new super-reflexive Hip Hop and sampling music, where being ‘the real thing’ is again and again used as a mark of quality, opposed to the competing ‘hypes’ of the music market. On the other hand, rock culture is also saturated with self-reflection. As Simon Frith (1986) has pointed out, even the most immediate living presentation is today a carefully planned construction using advanced technology. Youth culture is more and more imbued with media. Youthful activities and expressions are more often and quickly adopted, spread and transformed by mass media, whose presence also increases in young people’s everyday life. When defining themselves as young men or women, they cannot avoid using images and concepts of the media. And now and again local subcultures get absorbed by the music industry and spread on record and airwaves as medially reshaped pop styles. The bedroom culture of best girlfriends is mirrored by the weekly magazines they read, in a complex spiral movement: modern girls form their identities aided by reading magazines writing about girls’ friendship activities. Similarly, peer-group amateur rock-playing is mirrored by MTV, which has increased the importance of visual images and gestures for bands. In our study, all groups often referred to media phenomena. They were inspired by rock bands known to them only through certain radio or TV programs. They well knew how rock-playing, as well as their own age, class and gender position, was usually depicted in various types of programs and articles. They defined their cultural positions by expressing taste values for and against different media channels and genres, reflected as related to social, gender and ethnic positions.13 And they used media creatively to present themselves to others, in their own demo-tapes,


singles, fanzines and amateur video productions. Our writing was therefore just an intensified and subjectivized moment in a continuous self-mirroring process. Media use is a tool for implicit self-mirroring, sometimes sharpened to active selfreflection. Objectivizing, subjectivizing, normative and aesthetic reflexivity can all be unconsciously acted out or consciously cultivated, depending on which level of identity is thematized. Discursive modes like those of confession, theorizing, interrogation, narration and play are found in every dialogue with parents or teachers, or between the peers on their own. They are all relevant in the interaction around and about media too. The use of media itself also activates a widening range of discursive modes, for example, in video-watching or computer games. Various tactics are used in media-induced discourses. For example, some use a tactics of suspicion, being mainly sceptical about what media offer and always trying counter-readings against the ones preferred or implied by the media texts. Others use a tactics of affiliation, affirming and trusting strong authorities for protection and safety. A tactics of silence can be used to keep painful images at a distance. A tactics of conquest tries to negotiate with and get control over powerful concepts in order to test their use values and their power. A tactics of flexibility is used to throw oneself into the enjoyable games offered by texts of pleasure. It is important to see the difference between the colonization of the life world, medialization and reflexivity. The first occurs when bureaucratization and commercialization let power and money supersede symbolic communication in areas where this is dysfunctional for the development of knowledge, norms and identities. Medialization refers to the (increasing) use of media in identity constructions. Reflexivity occurs when intersubjective images, symbols and discourses affect the same identity production. Colonization is only the negative side of the other two—their positive side is a growing symbolization and communicative competence that actually increases communicative rationality and the power of the life world to resist colonization. Medialization can be one important tool for a growing reflexivity, adding to direct face-to-face interaction. Getting exposed to media may increase reflexivity, but growing reflexive needs in everyday life may also induce the spread of media. A reflexive hermeneutics All this means that ethnographic cultural studies cannot anymore avoid the issue of media—and vice versa. The theme of reflexivity in late modernity gives clues to both media studies and cultural ethnography. In these converging fields an intensified sensitivity for the complexity and polydimensionality of cultural processes is today needed.14 Cultural studies need a polydimensional communication theory, a reflexive hermeneutic that unites understanding and explanation in a dynamic arch. To understand the polydimensionality of cultural phenomena such as reflexivity, dimensions have carefully to be acknowledge and separated, in order to be then rejoined in creative and non-reductive forms of interdisciplinary theoretical bricolage. The connections between media, everyday life ethnography and the dynamic construction of subjectivity ought to be rethought. Cultural studies should explore how cultural processes are produced by institutional frameworks of state and


market, structures and forces of subjectivity, social norms and relations as well as aesthetic genre rules. They must also seek to understand how cultural phenomena shape meanings that point in the same directions, so that objective structures, social relations and cultural expressions are continually given meaning and transformed, by subjects always in process, producing themselves in interaction with nature, each other and a range of symbolic forms.15 This means that semiotics needs to be inserted into a rich, critical and reflexive hermeneutics of the type that Paul Ricoeur has developed, with space for the various dimensions of human communication and culture. Our own studies of learning processes where media are used as tools of identitywork in several dimensions are meant as contributions to a different, open and searching interpretative strategy for cultural studies—a dialogic, reflexive and non-reductionist hermeneutics. We have to learn to be simultaneously the mirroring actors, the mirror images and the mirrors of polysemous identities. Notes 1 Fornäs (1987 and 1990c; also Fornäs et al., 1988 and 1990b) used the concept of late modernity as an alternative to the highly problematic concept of ‘post’—modernity. Since then it has turned up now and again in various contexts, e.g., in Willis (1990) and Giddens (1991). 2 The useful term medialization was probably introduced by the Swedish media researcher Kent Asp (1986). 3 Fornäs et al. (1988), summarized in Fornäs et al. (1990b); Fornäs et al. (1990a). Methodological issues are also considered in Fornäs (1991). Our study was strikingly similar to what Radway (1988) asks for, as a collaborative interdisciplinary effort to use the study of whole group cultures to understand the way certain media and forms of expressions functioned, instead of a priori focusing only one single activity, medium or genre. 4 Manfred Frank (1991) discusses the complicated relation between self-consciousness and self-knowledge. Compare also how Paul Ricoeur (1974), Julia Kristeva (1983/ 1987) and Jean Laplanche (1987) analyze the necessity of subjectivity to develop by detours through externalized symbolic forms, which does not reduce the subject to any mere illusionary effect of the game of sign systems. Other followers of Jacques Lacan (1966) have not managed to avoid that pitfall. 5 Jürgen Habermas (1981a and 198 1b) develops the interaction of the state and market systems with the communicative processes of the life world, while a long tradition of media research has studied the technological factors of culture. 6 This has been pointed out by psychoanalytical theorists like Peter Blos (1962) and Julia Kristeva (1990). Ziehe and Stubenrauch (1982) have developed the most interesting theory of increasing narcissistic tendencies. 7 See Beck (1986), Melucci (1989), Ziehe (1991) and Giddens (1991). 8 A rising general mirroring preparedness, caused by expanding media or other cultural trends, can give rise to more intense narcissistic tendencies in many individuals, as well as the other way around. See Fornä’s (1990a and 1990b). Hutcheon (1980) uses the concept of narcissism for meta-fictional narrative text types, that I would prefer to call reflexive, to avoid collisions with the specific psychoanalytical theory of narcissism.


9 Burgos (1988) and Ehn (1990) are narrative analyses of interviews as culturally specific ways of producing life stories. Ricoeur (1976) has inspired the following passage. 10 Hartwig (1980) formulates a relevant critique of the use of style analysis in the earlier studies of youth culture. He thinks the concept of style can lead to a reification of symbolic systems, and prefers the concept of aesthetic praxis. The intersubjective dynamics of meaning production causes us to oscillate between distance and closeness, between reductive structural analysis and active meaning reconstruction. 11 This is similar to the distortions and limitations of the ‘lads’ analyzed by Willis (1977). 12 All this is well expressed by Ricoeur (1981). 13 This reflexivity worked against a traditional ‘misrecognition’ of taste patterns. Johnny in Lam Gam could, for example, explain that he didn’t like synth-pop because ‘it is for such spoiled villa children that live in thousand square meter villas with swimming pool and where the old man has bought them a car when they are five years old’. Similar socio-cultural reflections were common in all three groups. 14 See among others Marcus and Fischer (1986), Clifford and Marcus (1986), Hannerz (1992) and journal issues like Semiotica, Vol. 30, No. 1/2 (1980) and Journal of Communication Inquiry, Vol. 13, No. 2 (1989). 15 Patrick Brantlinger (1990) thinks that a Habermas-like framework of system, life world and communicative action is more fruitful for cultural studies than was the old structuralist one. Angela McRobbie (1991) belongs to the growing number of researchers that feel uncomfortable with the reductionist dangers of postmodernism and other postisms.

References Asp, Kent (1986) Mäktiga massmedier, Stockholm: Akademilitteratur. Beck, Ulrich (1986) Risikogesellschaft. Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Blos, Peter (1962) On Adolescence. A Psychoanalytic Interpretation, New York: The Free Press. Brantlinger, Patrick (1990) Crusoe’s Footprints. Cultural Studies in Britain and America, New York: Routledge. Burgos, Martine (1988) Life Stories, Narrativity, and the Search for the Self, Jyväskylä: Publications of the Research Unit for Contemporary Culture 9. Clifford, James and Marcus, George E. (1986) editors, Writing Culture. The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Berkeley: University of California Press. Ehn, Billy (1990) ‘Migration and cultural complexity: interviewing in multi-ethnic Sweden’, in Billy Ehn et al. (1990) The Organization of Diversity in Sweden, Stockholm: Invandrarminnesarkivet. Fornäs, Johan (1987) ‘“Identity is the Crisis”. En bakgrund till kulturella uttrycksformers funktioner for ungdomar i senmoderniteten’, in Ulla Carlsson (1987) editor, Forskning om populärkultur, Göteborg: Nordicom-Sverige. ——(1990a) ‘Speglingar: Om ungas mediebruk i senmoderniteten’, in Ulf Hannerz (1990) editor, Medier och kulturer, Stockholm: Carlssons. ——(1990b) ‘Reflexivitet och mediebruk’, Nordicom-Information, 2. ——(1990c) ‘Senmoderna dimensioner’, in Johan Fornäs and Ulf Boëthius (1990) Ungdom och kulturell modernisering. FUS-rapport nr 2, Stockholm/Stehag: Symposion.


——(1991) ‘Thinking about more than one thing at a time’, in Jari Ehrnrooth and Lasse Siurala (1991) editors, Construction of Youth, Helsinki: VAPK-Publishing/Finnish Youth Research Society. Fornäs, Johan, Lindberg, Ulf and Sernhede, Ove (1988) Under rocken, Musikens roll i tre unga band, Stockholm/Stehag: Symposion (forthcoming by Routledge, 1993). ——(1990a) Speglad ungdom. Forskningsreception i tre rockband, Stockholm/Stehag: Symposion. ——(1990b) ‘Under the surface of rock—youth culture and late modernity’, Popular Music and Society, 14(3). Frank, Manfred (1991) Selbstbewu tsein und Selbsterkenntnis, Stuttgart: Reclam. Frith, Simon (1986) ‘Art versus technology: the strange case of popular music’, Media, Culture & Society, 3. Giddens, Anthony (1991) Modernity and Self-identity. Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Cambridge: Polity Press. Habermas, Jürgen (1981a/1984) The Theory of Communicative Action. Volume 1, Cambridge: Polity Press. ——(1981b/1988) The Theory of Communicative Action. Volume 2, Cambridge: Polity Press. Hannerz, Ulf (1992) Cultural Complexity. Studies in the Social Organization of Meaning, New York: Columbia University Press. Hartwig, Helmut (1980) Jugendkultur. Ästhetische Praxis in der Pubertät, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt. Hutcheon, Linda (1980/1984) Narcissistic Narrative. The Metafictional Paradox, New York: Methuen. Journal of Communication Inquiry (1989) 13(2). Kristeva, Julia (1983/1987) Tales of Love, New York: Columbia University Press. ——(1990) ‘The adolescent novel’, in John Fletcher and Andrew Benjamin (1990), editors, Abjection, Melancholia, and Love. The Work of Julia Kristeva, London: Routledge. Lacan, Jacques (1966) Écrits, Paris: Éditions du Seuil. Laplanche, Jean(1987) Nouveaux fondaments pour la psychanalyse, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. McRobbie, Angela (1991) ‘New times in cultural studies’, New Formations, 13. Marcus, George E. and Fischer, Michael M.J. (1986) Anthropology as Cultural Critique. An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Melucci, Alberto (1989) Nomads of the Present. Social Movements and Individual Needs in Contemporary Society, London: Hutchinson Radius. Radway, Janice (1988) ‘Reception study: ethnography and the problems of dispersed audiences and nomadic subjects’, Cultural Studies, 2(3). Ricoeur, Paul (1974) The Conflict of Interpretations. Essays in Hermeneutics, Evanston: Northwestern University Press. ——(1976) Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning, Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press. ——(1981) Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Semiotica (1980) 30(1/2). Willis, Paul (1977) Learning to Labour, Aldershot: Saxon House. ——(1990) Common Culture. Symbolic Work at Play in the Everyday Cultures of the Young, Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Ziehe, Thomas (1991) Zeitvergleiche. Jugend in kulturellen Modernisierungen, Weinheim/ München: Juventa.


Ziehe, Thomas and Stubenrauch, Herbert (1982) Plädoyer für ungewöhnliches Lernen, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt.


Through the 1980s, ethnographic theories and methodology have assumed increasing importance within the social sciences in general and cultural studies in particular.1 This ‘ethnographic turn’ is witnessed also in media studies focusing upon audiences and their various appropriations of the media.2 Why have ethnographic approaches gained such professional popularity within a relatively short period of time? What do ethnographic approaches bring to a politicized tradition of media research? In the following, I attempt to answer these questions by arguing that behind the current popularity of ethnography lies a concern for everyday life and everyday cultures that is as sincere as it is untheorized. What might be termed ‘the everyday’ resides as a discursive enigma of ethnographic media studies. I shall illuminate the conceptual history of the everyday and relate it to current issues in media reception thereby offering an important key to understanding the enigma, even if we may not unravel it: for as researchers we are part of the very everyday life that we also attempt to analyse. Ethnographic attractions Since cultural studies emerged in the 1970s in Britain as a distinct if never uniform voice in cultural research, ethnographic investigations have struck important notes and their results have continuously informed, but not dominated, theoretical debates also in media studies (Willis, 1977, 1980; McRobbie, 1978; Hobson, 1980). Still, these debates even today tend to limit themselves to an Anglo-American perspective (Lindlof, 1987; Brunsdon, 1989; Morley and Silverstone, 1990) that severely restricts an understanding of the wider socio-political contexts in which scientific discourses emerge and circulate. It is important to stress, therefore, that a broad interest in ethnographic approaches to media reception appeared roughly at the same time, or before, in several research milieux and in countries as diverse as Australia (Hodge and Tripp, 1986), Brazil (Leal, 1986, 1990) and Germany (Baacke et al., 1990; Rogge, 1991).3 While Anglo-American studies have been central in demonstrating how television is deeply embedded in gendered discourses and practices of the family, other ethnographic media investigations, not least in the Nordic countries, have foregrounded the often intricate relations between patterns of media reception found with specific groups and their self-styled media productions (Fornäs et al., 1988; Drotner 1989, 1991; Berkaak, 1989. But see also Willis et al., 1990). Today the ethnographic turn in media research is helping to bridge


professional gaps between media researchers trained in disciplines of the arts or social sciences, and ethnologists or social anthropologists with their long-standing experience in studying cultural traditions, an approach that often marginalizes media beyond the book (Bausinger, 1984; Löfgren, 1989; Hannerz, 1990b). The discursive popularity of ethnography must be seen within the wider ramifications of social realignments and cultural diversification, developments that have been pertinent to public agendas since the 1970s. From then on, many countries have faced new challenges of adapting themselves to becoming multicultural societies with a more international political outlook and less economic independence. Because ethnography originated as a systematic means to understand and explain cultural meanings that are unknown to the investigator, an increasing number of social and cultural researchers not unnaturally looked towards the ethnographic tradition in their attempts to analyse new and complex developments closer to home. Beyond anthropology and ethnology, the research milieux first adopting ethnographic methodologies were often those that, for better or worse, were least bound by established institutional frameworks: women’s studies, ethnic studies, studies on youth. Moreover, it could be argued that over the last twenty years, it is precisely women, ethnic groups and young people who have spearheaded more general developments within modernity towards internationalization and multiculturalism. When women, chicanos, and blacks entered the academy in larger numbers during the 1970s, their positions fundamentally served to politicize and dislocate established discursive hierarchies. So researchers, men and women of all colours and several ages, simply had to sensitize their theories and methodologies to a changing set of realities. Of more immediate importance, it seems to me, ethnographic perspectives offer an alternative to two paradigms dominating the arts and social sciences, namely the structural and the action paradigms. While British researchers in the late 1970s labelled this opposition ‘structuralism vs. culturalism’ (Hall, 1980), a similar opposition with dissimilar political inflections resonated in other quarters of research under headings such as positivism vs. Marxism, semiology vs. critical theory, micro vs. macro analysis, qualitative vs. quantitative approaches, etc. The contradictory and multifaceted social and cultural developments made such theoretical dichotomies increasingly untenable, and the turn towards ethnography may be regarded as an attempt to overcome this intellectual impasse while retaining a micro-perspective. Conversely, on a macro-level of analysis, Jürgen Habermas (1984) and Anthony Giddens (1984) have offered perhaps the most controversial theoretical innovations (for a critique, see, e.g., Mouzelis, 1991). What unites the micro- and macro-perspectives, however, is their joint heritage from the 1960s and 1970s: a concern with ethical aspects of social and cultural change that necessitates a continual scholarly self-reflexivity. It is this concern that most clearly separates them from deconstructivist attempts to evade the dichotomy of the respective paradigms of structure and action. In short, it is precisely the complexity of ethnography that makes it so popular: it seems better equipped to prise open for analysis the ambivalences of modernity in its present phase of development. In order to specify what an ethnographic approach does (and what it evades or fails to do), let us turn to its expansion within media studies.


Media ethnography Ethnographic perspectives on the media have emerged as an elaboration and a revaluation of the increasing attention paid to the receiving end of communication. From the early 1980s on, a number of so-called reception studies have analysed the various ways in which people interpret media messages within specific social contexts. While a few investigations have adopted a historical perspective (Grimm, 1977; Drotner, 1983, 1988; Moores, 1988; Barker, 1989:62–91; O’Sullivan, 1991), most reception analyses focus upon contemporary media, particularly television, and apply methods such as textual analysis and in-depth interviews (for an overview of the latter trend, see Jensen, 1991). In reception analysis, we presuppose that two processes are possible. First, that we may isolate distinct subjects and objects: interpretive communities of people exist in a pre-given social reality that they may then variously interpret and evaluate through cultural objects such as the media. Second, reception studies presuppose that it is possible for the researcher to locate and then analyse the relation between this pregiven reality and the media contents. Within reception studies a traditional semiological focus on the media text is replaced by an attention to the media context and to the relations between text and context. But substituting a multiple media context for the media text does not resolve the problem of interpretation: the substitution merely leaves us with a new text to be decoded and interpreted. Women in modernity occupy a contradictory position between public and private domains of power, a position that has made feminist researchers particularly sensitive to rules of interpretation and to discursive self-reflection. Hence, feminist media researchers are also among the first within their respective professional domains to turn their interest to the activities of reception (Hobson, 1980, 1982; Brunsdon, 1981; Modleski, 1982; Drotner, 1983; Radway, 1984; Ang, 1985; Eskola, 1989). And, not unnaturally, they are among the first to recognize and voice the problems facing reception studies.4 The American media researcher Janice Radway describes it this way: No matter how extensive the effort to dissolve the boundaries of the textual object or the audience, most recent studies of reception, including my own, continue to begin with the ‘factual’ existence of a particular kind of text which is understood to be received by some set of individuals. (Radway, 1988:363) The problem, as Radway sees it, is that the relation between text and context remains an external relation. The most radical dissolution of this split between text and audience is poststructuralism or deconstruction. Here, no concrete subjects are feasible because no fixed meanings are possible—only a range of competing discursive practices. But what do we do if we want to pursue empirical investigations of the media? Here, we do not encounter eternally fractured subjects but groups of people who talk to us, interact with one another, and live with the media irrespective of the fact that we may analyse their identities as discursively inscribed and constantly shifting. It is at this juncture that many media researchers concerned with reception processes turn to ethnography. Radway suggests:


I have begun to wonder whether our theories do not impress upon us a new object of analysis, one more difficult to analyze because it can’t be so easily pinned down—that is, the endlessly shifting, ever-evolving kaleidoscope of daily life and the way in which the media are integrated and implicated within it. (Radway, 1988:366) According to Radway, ‘ethnography may still be the most effective method for organizing such an expedition because it makes a concerted effort to note the range of daily practice and to understand how historical subjects articulate their cultural universe’ (1988:366). In a similar vein, David Morley and Roger Silverstone, pioneers in British reception analyses of television, very perceptively argue for a recontextualisation of the study of television viewing (among other uses of communication technologies)—within the broader context of a range of domestic practices. However, in acknowledging audiences as active in a range of ways as they integrate what they see and hear into their domestic lives, we should not romanticize or exaggerate the audience’s creative freedoms. There is a difference between power over a text and power over an agenda. (Morley and Silverstone, 1990:34) Morley and Silverstone stress the importance of combining the particularity of ethnographic explanation with ‘an analysis of the varieties of forms of organization of domestic space between and within cultures’ (1990:34). By emphasizing the necessity to link micro—and macro-perspectives of analysis, the authors address a classic and contested issue also in media studies, an issue that resonates with particular clarity as divisions in the current (media) ethnographic debate (Geertz, 1988; Hammersley, 1992:85–95; Corner, 1991a). According to the Dutch media researcher Ien Ang, we must develop ‘a “globalization” of the ethnographic pursuit’ and look for the concrete ways in which hegemony becomes inscribed into specific cultural forms and practices (1990:244). In her concluding chapter to Desperately Seeking the Audience, Ang expands upon her call on future media studies to apply an ‘ethnographic understanding’, i.e., ‘a form of interpretive knowing that purports to increase our sensitivity to the particular details of the ways in which actual people deal with television in their everyday lives’ (1991:165). Acknowledging the institutional constraints of television reception as Morley and Silverstone do, she tackles the problem of macro vs. micro analysis like this: [Ethnographic understandings] cannot—and should not—give rise to prescriptive and legislative solutions to established policy problems, precisely because the ironic thrust of ethnography fundamentally goes against the fixities of the institutional point of view. What it can do, however, is encourage public debate over the problems concerned, by informing critical discourses on television—as a cultural form, as a medium ever more firmly implanted in the everyday texture of modern society—that are independent


from established institutional interests. Seriously taking up the virtual standpoint of actual audiences is likely to highlight the limitations of any particular institutional arrangement of television, and can thus serve as a vital intellectual resource for the democratization of television culture (Ang, 1991:166). Radway and Ang as well as Morley and Silverstone indicate some important similarities that underly much media ethnographic debate today. The ethnographic approach is commonly defined as an extension of reception studies in two directions: first, in empirical terms the context of investigation is widened to include areas beyond the immediate situtation of reception. Thereby media researchers hope to bridge the empirical gap in reception analysis between text and audience (texts are used as part of our everyday interactions). Second, in methodological terms, participant observation and informal talks are applied in order to complement indepth interviews that form the basis of most reception studies. As an attempt to overcome the more structural approaches found in both semiology and uses-andgratifications theories, media ethnographers apply a variety of methods in order to better grasp the dynamics of mediated meaning-making (texts acquire new meanings when used—and they are used as part of everyday life).5 What finally unites this extension of the research perspective is an epistemological attention to everyday life. As already noted, Radway, for example, calls for research perspectives that prioritize the ‘endlessly shifting ever-evolving kaleidoscope of daily life’ (Radway, 1988:366), while Roger Silverstone goes so far as to claim: ‘Television is everyday life. To study the one is at the same time to study the other […] Yet it is precisely this integration into the daily lives of those who watch it which has somehow slipped through the net of academic enquiry’ (Silverstone, 1989:77). Still, when it comes to actual investigation and evaluation of the media from an ethnographic perspective, this general agreement dissolves. For example, media ethnographers come up with very different answers after studying the fan cultures that have emerged internationally around the mega-star Madonna: does she or does she not enhance her audiences’ gendered empowerment? (Fiske, 1987; Lewis, 1990; Schwichtenberg, 1993). The variety of the answers could be explained in pure empirical terms as a result of variation among the groups under investigation—they simply cannot be compared and therefore results will differ. But such an answer evades the thorny issue of reliability, an issue that faces all researchers even if it has been an explicit point of discussion mainly in interpretive studies. The variety of answers, it seems to me, point as much to media ethnographers’ often insufficient reflexivity on the theoretial and epistemological foundations of their work. More generally, media ethnography seems to repeat and even radicalize the wellknown opposition within mass-communication research between cultural pessimism and cultural optimism. Few media ethnographers have noted this opposition let alone offered an explanation for its existence. Thus, Ang exercises a well-known strategy in establishing new research agendas against existing ones: she stresses the unity of media ethnography by noting that the ‘ethnographic thrust in audience studies has functioned as a way of relativizing the gloomy tendency of an older perspective within cultural studies, namely ideological criticism’ (Ang, 1990:245). Such an approach may all too easily serve to dismiss both the actual strengths that


ideological criticism may harbour and the insights that may be gained from probing into the possible reasons behind the divisions found within media ethnography itself. In my view, an important entry into such an internal discursive archaeology is to make a closer inspection of the epistemological foundations of media ethnography. Here, we immediately encounter very divisive uses of the term ‘everyday’. To date, no media ethnographer has defined what he or she means by this concept. It seems timely, therefore, to net the concept for closer scrutiny. ‘The everyday’: outline of a conceptual history In a short article from 1978, the late Norbert Elias ruminates about the status of the everyday in academic discourse: ‘Not long ago, it was possible to apply the notion of ‘the everyday’ in an everyday fashion […] But now the concept of the everyday has assumed the status of the non-everyday [einem recht unalltäglichen Begriff]. It is loaded with the weight of theoretical reflection and has assumed a key importance in current sociological trends’ (Elias, 1978:22). And in historical and philosophical trends too, one might add. The concept of the everyday lost its innocence as part of the political radicalization that took place in a number of academic disciplines during the 1970s and that brought about a questioning of seemingly self-evident processes and relations. The everyday came to denote the more imperceptible aspects of social interactions: it has to do with informal networks and it deals with the often unrecognized minutiae of perception and action. But as Elias goes on to note, the growing popularity of the everyday across a range of disciplines was, and continues to be, united more in what is excluded or opposed than in a positive definition of what the term itself implies. This is evident also in media studies. Here, the everyday is defined by setting it against the formal structures and visible laws dominating for example school, work and politics. This implies that the everyday is often primarily linked to consumption (Radway, 1988; Willis, 1991) or to family interaction (Silverstone, 1989; Morley and Silverstone, 1990). It is within these webs of social relations that media reception is seen to be located and accorded meaning. But behind this loose framework, the concept of the everyday is conceived of in two radically opposite ways, oppositions that resonate as a relative optimism and pessimism in empirical evaluations. A classic proponent of the pessimist approach to the everyday is the French Marxist sociologist Henri Lefebvre (b. 1905) whose monumental Everyday Life in the Modern World has become a standard point of reference. The first volume appeared in 1946, the second volume in 1963, while a recent English translation from 1984 is termed ‘a digest’ of the final volume. Here, the author makes a number of important self-reflections on his initial ideas, a natural result of such a lifelong study. Even so, his basic frame of reference and his key arguments remain unaltered. Through a sweeping expose of civilization, Lefebvre shapes his main contention, namely that modernity and the everyday, or quotidian to use a philosophical term, are reciprocal aspects of the same historical development: The quotidian is what is humble and solid, what is taken for granted and that of which all the parts follow each other in such a regular, unvarying succession


that those concerned have no call to question their sequence; thus it is undated and (apparently) insignificant; though it occupies and preoccupies it is practically untellable, and it is the ethics underlying routine and the aesthetics of familiar settings. At this point it encounters the modern. This word stands for what is novel, brilliant, paradoxical and bears the imprint of technicality and worldliness; it is (apparently) daring and transitory, proclaims its initiative and is acclaimed for it. (Lefebvre, 1990:24) According to Lefebvre, the emergence of modernity implies a separation of economic production and social production (including consumption and human reproduction), a separation that equally sets up a hierarchy of social power relations (and, crucially, gender and age relations, one might add). The everyday, says Lefebvre, harbours a dialectic of routines and resources, but he finds that people’s creative resources are being crushed under the weight of an economic rationality that is increasingly institutionalized and taken over by commodification and state bureaucracy. His historical perspective serves both to direct his investigation and to legitimate its aim. In premodern societies, he contends, every aspect of life was imbued with style: In former times labours of skill were produced, whereas today we have (commercialized) products and exploitation has replaced violent oppression. Style gave significance to the slightest object, to actions and activities, to gestures; it was a concrete significance, not an abstraction taken piecemeal from a system of symbols […] That is why we must contrast style and culture, to show up the latter’s fragmentary character, its lack of unity, and why we are justified in formulating a revolutionary plan to recreate a style, resurrect the Festival and gather together culture’s scattered fragments for a transfiguration of everyday life. (Lefebvre, 1990:38) Lefebvre’s ethical base line is revealed not only through his revolutionary aims to transform everyday life, but equally in his negative evaluation of modernity: by presupposing a closer unity in the past, a unity that he does not demonstrate, he fuels his critique of the present. From this moral pessimism it is only a short step to equal the everyday with total alienation if not false consciousness. Indeed, this stance imbued a number of social scientists of the 1960s and 1970s (Leithäuser, 1976; Heller, 1981), just as it fuelled ideological criticisms of modern cultural processes including the media as noted by Ang (1990). However, it seems to me that Lefebvre merits more than historical interest to media scholars for two reasons: he makes a crucial connection between modernity and the development of the everyday, and he emphasizes that the everyday infuses all aspects of life, not merely the family or leisure. These aspects are timely reminders also to scholars of media reception who all too often fail to situate their investigations in a specific historical perspective, and whose emphasis on one mass medium tends to obscure the influence of other media. For as Morley and Silverstone remind us, ‘we must […] beware of overprivileging more “visible” media


to the neglect of others’ (1990:46). The ethnographic view of media reception as being part of social interaction serves to redress such imbalances. While Lefebvre’s cultural pessimism certainly infused a number of early reception studies and continues to resonate in warnings about the public’s limited range of power over and insight into media production, more media scholars today are influenced by the optimism of his younger follower Michel de Certeau. In The Practice of Everyday Life, the author acknowledges Lefebvre as ‘a fundamental source’ for his own work (de Certeau, 1988:205). De Certeau, in accordance with the original title of his book (Arts de faire), defines everyday practices as ‘“ways of operating” or doing things’. While Lefebvre’s strength lies in his daring historical perspective on the everyday, de Certeau’s usefulness resides in his descriptions of what governs everyday activities. In the book, he traces what he calls ‘the systems of operational combination (les combinatoires d’ope rations)’, and these systems he locates within a cultural power struggle between the producers of culture and the socalled ‘non-producers’. This power struggle, he contends, is primarily fought in the area of consumption. Centrally, he analyses the struggle as an opposition between planned strategies applied by the élite rulers and the subversive tactics of the masses. A tactic must vigilantly make use of the cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of the property powers. It poaches in them. It creates surprises in them. It can be where it is least expected. It is a guileful ruse. In short, a tactic is an art of the weak. (De Certeau, 1988:37) Unlike Lefebvre, de Certeau stresses the masses’ continued resourcefulness in everyday life. But like his predecessor, de Certeau structures his analytical framework along binary oppositions. In my view, he idealizes the tactics of everyday practices as the locus of subversion and resistance: he does so, first, by attempting to locate a certain, unified group, the masses, through their social oppression; and second, by implying that through their everyday practices they develop a popular culture that nurtures more genuine, more ingenuous social relations: the less social power, the more ‘deviousness, fantasy, or laughter’ (de Certeau, 1988:xvii). I doubt whether such carnivalesque perspectives sit well with people in need of a job, an apartment or reliable social contacts. Australian Tony Schirato has recently defended de Certeau’s theories by claiming that we have to understand them as discursive practices and interventions, not as analyses of ‘real’ instances or historical trends. With reference to Derrida, Schirato says: It is necessary for any representation of the popular to claim not only to be in the place of the other, but that they are the other; or rather that there is no other in any strict sense. Now the notion of the other is already inscribed in— one might even say that it is, to a certain extent, constitutive of—so-called scientific inquiry […] This is the kind of illogic within the logical that de Certeau points to: I must renounce otherness in order to call it up, to constitute it, to represent it. (Schirato 1993:290)


Schirato’s apologia raises more questions than it purports to answer. The most fundamental are these: what sort of ‘scientific inquiry’ does Schirato inscribe? Given that de Certeau’s theories are to be understood as discursive interventions, does this invalidate their appropriation by, for example, empirical media ethnographies? Schirato clearly operates with a positivist image of science as an ideal predicated upon distance: we either speak the popular from the empowered vantage-point of academic science, or we renounce all claims to discursive power and insight by immersing ourselves into the popular. In my view, such a dualism simply mirrors de Certeau’s idealism and romanticism at a different level. More importantly, it serves to sleight the vital discussion of scientific reflexivity that I mentioned earlier. I would agree with British sociologist Martyn Hammersley who argues for a different scientific approach. In an insightful critique of what he terms the paradigms of realism and relativism he proposes to adopt a ‘subtle realism’ (Hammersley, 1992: 50), an approach that basically serves to acknowledge that we are always and by necessity part of what we investigate, and hence academic self-reflexivity is (or should be) an integrated element in any scientific endeavour. Certainly, within media studies de Certeau’s or indeed Schirato’s eloquent discursive dichotomies are little help in understanding the more intricate processes of meaning-making that are fought over, accepted and contested in daily life. Here, we need much finer-tuned analytical instruments that capture the interface between rules and ruptures of media reception without losing sight of its everyday inscriptions. Such interfaces are theorized by Alfred Schutz (1899–1959), a lesserknown pioneer of everyday theory that seems to me analytically eye-opening to ethnographic media studies because he evades the familiar dichotomies (élitemasses, acceptance-resistance). He does so not by investigating the media but by exploring the basics of social life and social investigation: time, space and interpersonal relations. Of these aspects, I want to draw attention to his pragmatic understanding of social interaction and to his notion of time. Influenced by Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological theory of the life world (Lebenswelt), and in opposition to Alfred Weber’s attempts to construct objective social types, Schutz aims to describe and interpret the intersubjective dimension of social action: What are the principles that accord our day-to-day social activities with meaning? As is evident already in his major work, Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt (1932), Schutz opposes the essentialism found in traditional phenomenology by stressing that life consists not of one but of ‘multiple realities’ whose main elements are those of everyday life, science, the arts, dream and religion. Among these, he defines everyday life as a paramount reality in the sense that it fundamentally colours other forms of understanding and interaction.6 Schutz takes as his basic frame of reference the self-evidence of the everyday: it is as easy to recognize as it is difficult to define. We operate in and on everyday life from a basic assumption that the world exists as we ourselves see it: As long as the once established scheme of reference, the system of our and other people’s warranted experiences works, as long as the actions and operations performed under its guidance yield the desired results, we trust these experiences […] It needs a special motivation, such as the irruption of a


‘strange’ experience not subsumable under the stock of knowledge at hand or inconsistent with it, to make us revise our former beliefs. (Schutz, 1973:228) Everyday life is self-evident and everyday interactions are pragmatic. Everything is interpreted and accorded meaning within this framework of familiarity that at once serves to define and delimit the everyday. Hence, the everyday is transformed through the unfamiliar, or more precisely through instances that can be recognized as ‘strange’, as Schutz says, without being overlooked or ignored as incomprehensible. We are not totally locked in routines and repetition, but neither are we totally unbounded by rules and regulations. The everyday is a malleable mode of existence. Schutz anchors this everyday interaction in space and time. Inspired by the philosopher Henri Bergson, he is one of the first social scientists to theorize spatio-temporal relations. His point of departure is interpersonal communication with its simultaneity of time and its mutual location in space. This shared presence serves to combine each individual’s notion of ‘inner time’ (what Bergson terms durée) with the actual communication process happening in the measurable time of the outer world. Interpersonal communication thus transforms both ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ notions of time into what Schutz calls a vivid present in which each participant exists as an ‘undivided total self (Schutz, 1973:216). Now, mass communication is of course precisely defined (among other aspects) by its dislocation of such time-space relations. But it is Schutz’s fundamental point that other forms of communication, including the media, when seen from the aspect of interpretation, originate in the shared Vivid present’ that we attempt to bring within our reach: The whole system thus extended over all the different strata of the social world shows altogether all the shades originating in the perspectives of sociality such as intimacy and anonymity, strangeness and familiarity, social proximity and social distance, etc. which govern my relations with consociates, contemporaries, predecessors, and successors. (Schutz, 1973: 225–6) Following Schutz, the media, too, are interpreted within the joint processes of recognition and rejection, repetition and innovation, that shape the everyday. His theories are very general and cannot be directly transferred to actual instances of media reception, just as they lack every notion of wider relations of institutional power or historical specificity (Schutz, for example, misses Lefebvre’s fundamental point that it is modernity that brings about the fixing of time as chronological time). Even taken on phenomenology’s own terms, Schutz’s analysis may seem as self-evident as the everyday life he attempts to systematize. But then what is basic is often banal.7 What in my view commends Schutz’s treatment of the everyday in relation to media reception is precisely his combination of empirical simplicity and conceptual complexity. First, Schutz focuses on basic elements of social relations, space and time, the last being emphasized by a number of media researchers as a crucial aspect to a nuanced understanding of how mediated meaning is constituted today (Hobson,


1982; Bryce, 1987; Morley and Silverstone, 1990). Second, he treats these basic elements as complex processes of interaction rather than as structures of acceptance or opposition, and such an approach goes well with ethnographic media analysis. Third, like Lefebvre, Schutz emphasizes that the everyday is everywhere: it is a view upon and within the world rather than a sphere of life. But while Lefebvre notes and deplores the self-evidence and repetitiveness of everyday life, Schutz actually takes this as a basic point of conceptual reference: how is meaning created, sustained and changed within the framework of self-evidence? This view sits equally well with an ethnographic perspective that operates across a range of social sites and through a variety of means. Furthering Lefebvre’s and Schutz’s own arguments, we might reach the conclusion that in our everyday lives we try to make sense in a modern society without truths. Everyday life is a means to create some certainty in a world of ambivalence. And the media are part of that process. Despite convergent elements between theories of everyday life and ethnography, the everyday as a theoretical concept is not immediately applicable to media studies. As we have seen, the concept is developed by philosphers and sociologists with little experience or interest in mass communication. Should media researchers then just abandon a conceptual interest in the everyday and go on treating it as a loose framework for a range of empirical practices? Should we rather speak concretely about relations within the family, leisure or work? I do not think so. First of all, I do not think that media ethnography is a panacea to all issues in media or cultural studies, and so not all researchers need to nurture a professional awareness of everyday life. Secondly, for those of us who do engage in media ethnography, it is vital to conceptualize the everyday and to sensitize it to theoretically informed empirical studies. In my view, we need to specify much more directly what Ang discusses in general terms when she urges media researchers to unravel ‘the intricate intersections of the diverse and the homogeneous’ (Ang, 1990:251). By way of conclusion I would like to outline some key points of relevance for future empirical media ethnographies. Everyday media If it is true that the everyday is characterized by its self-evidence, and if it is also true that media reception is lodged within an everyday framework that bases meaningmaking on the intepersonal processes of communication, then media reception may be analysed as attempts to select and combine those textual aspects that bring us closest to a sense of being in the flow of the moment, ‘the vivid present’ in Schutz’s terms. Such an approach merits closer consideration of two key elements in the signification processes of the everyday, namely repetition and recognition. Repetition has to do with the social dimension of reception, i.e. time and space relations in a familiar framework. Recognition is linked to what we (can) perceive, that is the textual dimension of reception. As Brunsdon (1989) and others have rightly remarked, textual analysis is all too often marginalized in ethnographic analyses in favour of a central concern with processes of interaction. So let me stress that the elements of repetition and recognition are heuristic devices that allow us to specify both the textual and social dimensions of everyday reception.


Within the textual dimension, then, we could analyse the recognition process of reception as a meandering between elements that are so familiar that they seem insignificant, and then elements that lie so far beyond the flexible borders of familiarity that they seem so strange as to be incomprehensible. How soon do we recognize a sitcom, for example? How do we approach news of foreign affairs? Which aspects of the news do we incorporate because they resemble our own knowledge? Which aspects are ignored or labelled exotic? Do we sometimes see what we cannot recognize? As may be seen, the elements that we thus select and combine may range from bits of music or a well-known voice, to larger textual segments, layouts, or types of programme in the visual flow of television. As for the social dimension of reception, we could further the attention already being paid in reception analysis to repetition, that is the rules applied to the when and the where of reception: what are the routines surrounding people’s media use? Do they switch on the radio or the video the minute they enter the room? Is the day structured according to certain programmes? What does it take to create a pleasurable evening in front of the box? What is the space accorded various media in people’s day-to-day interactions? In my own empirical work on young people’s visual media cultures, notions such as these have helped advance my understanding of the relations shaped between video reception and video production: precisely because the participants bracketed off the production of videos as processes beyond the everyday, something extraordinary, non-repetitive and futile, they were able to come to terms with the ordinary and the familiar. Through this perspective they approached the everyday in new ways including new ways of understanding and using ‘ordinary’ film and videos. On a textual level this bridging of the extraordinary and the familiar surfaced in genre negotiations between action elements, favoured by the boys, and emotional elements, preferred by the girls. The resulting video production stressed humour that was the genre everybody could agree upon (Drotner, 1989, 1991). I have described these very general aspects of everyday media reception on a synchronous level. But the perspective may be applied equally to a diachronic media ethnography. For by combining the aspects of repetition and recognition, we may follow how reception develops over time and through space: for example, genres may be regarded as results of a constant manoeuvring in which the aspect of recognition plays an important role: recognizing a genre is precisely a moving between the poles of insignificance and incomprehension. What lies in between constitutes a meaningful, even enjoyable, field of interpretation. Equally, memory is rooted in attempts to repeat past events by fixing them in time and locating them in space. The diachronic perspective is central to an understanding of media reception that reaches beyond the here and now. Our present mediated meanings are always coloured by our memories of situated media events and by our anticipations of what we may expect in the future. Hopefully, this brief sketch of synchronic and diachronic perspectives of reception processes may serve to highlight that the concept of the everyday is fruitful for a nuanced media ethnography. While ethnography naturally covers only part of the media picture, it seems to me that it covers a part that our future communicative environment may force even closer to the centre of attention. For by approaching the media from people’s everyday lives, the breadth of ethnography facilitates two vital forms of analysis. First, we get attuned to recognizing


intertextualities that are becoming more and more evident aspects of media output on a number of levels ranging from cross-selling on MTV to genre hybridization. Second, ethnography may enhance our understanding of how an increasingly global media production is differentiated by being appropriated and located in people’s everyday lives. This everyday life, as I have attempted to demonstrate, is everywhere, it is a view upon the world, a way of acting in the world, that crosses social registers of private and public space. For better or worse, the media development itself makes sure that we come to realize that this is also the case. Notes For perceptive comments on an earlier draft of this paper, I would like to thank David Morley, Goldsmiths’ College, London, as well as Ib Bondebjerg, Torben Grodal, Stig Hjarvard and Klaus Bruhn Jensen, Department of Film and Media Studies, University of Copenhagen. I am grateful to Birte Bech-Jørgensen, Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen, for sustaining continual and critical discussions about the everyday—conducted within the everyday. Where not otherwise indicated, translations are made by the author. 1 Clifford and Marcus (1986), Smith (1987), Alexander and Seidman (1990), Willis et al. (1990), Willis (1991). 2 Hobson (1980), Morley (1986), Walkerdine (1986), Lindlof (1987), Fornäs et al. (1988), Lull (1988), Rogge (1991), Drotner (1991), Gray (1992). 3 Naturally, publication dates in English are no reliable guide to discursive dissemination on a national level. Because English is an academic meta-discourse, it serves to purport a closed circuit of theoretical inclusion and exclusion. 4 The feminist importance in the formation of reception studies is repeatedly underscored (Lull, 1990; Jensen, 1991). Routine references to Ang’s and Radway’s work without an active engagement with their feminist theories merely serve to highlight the fact that the growing academic acceptance of reception analysis is inversely proportional to an acknowledgement of its broad feminist legacy (Drotner, 1993). 5 In Drotner (1993) I offer a critique of the common definition of media ethnography as an extension of reception study. 6 In ethnography, the concept of multiple realities has sometimes been taken to indicate cultural relativism in the sense that different cultures harbour different ‘views of the world’ (Hammersley, 1992:46). As may be seen, this is not the way I apply the term. 7 Certainly, Schutz’s theories have profoundly influenced sociologists and philosophers working on everyday life, but they are also discernible in more general theorizings such as Giddens’s notion of time and his distinction between discursive consciousness, practical consciousness and unconsciousness (Giddens, 1984:49).

References Alexander, J.C. and Seidman, S. (1990) editors, Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Ang, I. (1985) Watching Dallas: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination, London, New York: Methuen. ——(1990) ‘Culture and communication: towards an ethnographic critique of media consumption in the transnational media system, European Journal of Communication, 5 (2–3):239–60. ——(1991) Desperately Seeking the Audience London, New York: Routledge. Baacke, D. et al., (1990) Lebenswelten sind Medienwelten: Medienwelten Jugend licher, vol. 1; Lebensgeschichten sind Mediengeschichten: Medienwelten Jugend licher, vol. 2 , Leverkusen: Leske Sc Budrich. Barker, M. (1989) Comics: Ideology, Power and the Critics, Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press. Bausinger, H. (1984) ‘Media, technology and daily life’, Media, Culture and Society, No. 4: 343–51. Berkaak, O.A. (1989) Erfaringer fra risikosonen: opplevelse, utforming og traderingsmønster i rock and roll, Oslo: Institute of Social Anthropology. Brunsdon, C. (1981) ‘Crossroads: notes on soap opera’, Screen, No. 22:32–77. ——(1989) ‘Text and audience’, in Seiter et al. ( 1991):116–29. Bryce, J. (1987) ‘Family time and TV use’, in Lindlof ( 1987):121–38. Burgin, V. et al. (1986) editors, Formations of Fantasy, London: Methuen. Clifford, J. and Marcus, G. (1986) editors, Writing Culture: the Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Corner, J. (1991a) ‘Meaning, genre and context: the problematics of “Public Knowledge” in the new audience studies’ in J.Curran and M.Gurevitch (1991) editors, Mass Media and Society, London, New York, Melbourne, Auckland: Edward Arnold: 267–84. ——(1991b) editor, Popular Television in Britain, London: British Film Institute. de Certeau, M. (1988) The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Trans. S.Rendall. Drotner, K. (1983) ‘Schoolgirls, madcaps, and air aces: English girls and their magazine reading between the wars’, Feminist Studies, No. 1:33–52. ——(1988) English Children and Their Magazines, 1751–1945 London, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ——(1989) ‘Girl meets boy: aesthetic production, reception and gender identity’, Cultural Studies, No. 2:208–25. ——(1991) At skabe sig—selv: Ungdom, æstetik, pædagogik, Copenhagen: Gyldendal. ——(1993) ‘Media ethnography: an Other story?’ in U.Carlsson (1993) editor, Nordisk furskning om kvinnor och medien (Nordic Research on Women and Media), Gothenburg: Nordicom. Elias, N. (1978) ‘Zum Begriff des Alltags’, Kolner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, No. 20:22–9. Eskola, K. (1989) ‘Reading life through literature, literature through life: reading strategies of some Finnish occupational groups’, in Vainikkala and Eskola ( 1989):180–201. Fiske, J. (1987) Television Culture, London, New York: Routledge. Fornäs, J. et al. (1988) Under rocken: musikens roll i tre unga band, Stockholm, Stehag: Symposion. Geertz, C. (1988) Works and Lives: the Anthropologist as Author, Cambridge, Polity Press. Giddens, A. (1984) The Constitution of Society, Cambridge: Polity Press. Gray, A. (1992) Video Playtime: the Gendering of a Leisure Technology, London, Routledge, Comedia.


Grimm, G. (1977) Rezeptionsgeschichte: Grundlegung einer Theorie mit Analysen und Bibliographie, Munich: Fink. Habermas, J. (1984) The Theory of Communicative Action Vol. 1. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. Orig. 1981. Hall, S. (1980) ‘Cultural studies: two paradigms’, Media, Culture and Society, No. 2:57–72. Hall, S. et al. (1980) editors, Culture, Media, Language London: Hutchinson. Hammersley, M. (1992) What’s Wrong with Ethnography? London, New York: Routledge. Hannerz, U. (1990a) editor, Medier och kulturer, Stockholm: Carlssons. ——(1990b) ‘Genomsyrade av medier: kulturer, samhällen och medvetanden i dag’, in Hannerz ( 1990a):7–28. Heller, A. (1981) Das Alltagsleben: Versuch einer Erklärung der individuellen Reproduktion, Suhrkamp: Frankfurt/M. Hobson, D. (1980) ‘Housewives and the mass media’, in Hall et al ( 1980):105–14. ——(1982) Crossroads: the Drama of a Soap Opera London: Methuen. Hodge, R. and Tripp, D. (1986) Children and Television, Cambridge: Polity Press. Jensen, K.B. (1991) ‘Reception analysis: mass communication as the social production of meaning’, in Jensen, K.B. and Jankowski, N.W. ( 1991):135–48. Jensen, K.B. and Jankowski, N.W. (1991) editors, A Handbook of Qualitative Methodologies for Mass Communication Research, London, New York: Routledge. Leal, O.F. (1986) A Leitura Social da Novela das Oito , Petropolis: Vozes. ——(1990) ‘Popular taste and erudite repertoire: the place and space of television in Brazil’ Cultural Studies, No. 1:19–29. Lefebvre, H. (1990) Everyday Life in the Modern World, New Brunswick, London: Transaction Publishers, trans. S.Rabinovitch and introd. P.Wander, Vol. 1, orig. 1946. Leithäuser, T. (1976) Formen des Alltagsbewusstseins, Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp. Lewis, L. (1990) editor, The Adoring Audience, Boston: Unwin Hyman. Lindlof, T. (1987) editor, Natural Audiences: Qualitative Research and Media Uses and Effects, Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Co. Lull, J. (1988) editor, World Families Watch Television, Newbury Park, CA: Sage. ——(1990) Inside Family Viewing: Ethnographic Research on Television’s Audiences, London, New York: Comedia/Routledge. Löfgren, O. (1989) ‘The nationalization of culture’, Ethnologia Europea, No. 19:5– 24. McRobbie, A. (1978) ‘Working-class girls and the culture of femininity’, in Women’s Studies Group ( 1978):96–108. Modleski, T. (1982) Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women, New York: Methuen. Moores, S. (1988) ‘The box on the dresser: memories of early radio and everyday life’, Media, Culture and Society No. 1:25–40. Morley, D. (1986) Family Television: Cultural Power and Domestic Leisure, London: Comedia. Morley, D. and Silverstone, R. (1990) ‘Domestic communication: technologies and meanings’, Media, Culture and Society, No. 1:31–55. Mouzelis, N.P. (1991) Back to Sociological Theory: the Construction of Social Orders, London: Macmillan. O’Sullivan, T. (1991) ‘Television memories and cultures of viewing, 1950–60’, in Corner ( 1991b):159–81. Radway, J. (1984) Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.


——(1988) ‘Reception study: ethnography and the problems of dispersed audiences and nomadic subjects’, Cultural Studies, No. 3:359–76. Rogge, J.-U. (1991) ‘The media in everyday family life: some biographical and typological aspects’, in Seiter et al. ( 1991):168–79. Schirato, T. (1993) ‘My space or yours? De Certeau, Frow and the meaning of popular culture’, Cultural Studies 2(3):282–91. Schutz, A. (1973) Collected Papers 1: the Problem of Social Reality, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Ed. and introd. M.Natanson. Schwichtenberg, C. (1993) editor, The Madonna Connection: Representational Politics, Subcultural Identities, and Cultural Theory, Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press. Seiter, E. et al. (1991) editors, Remote Control: Television, Audiences and Cultural Power, London, New York: Routledge, orig. 1989. Silverstone, R. (1989) ‘Let us then return to the murmuring of everyday practices’, Media, Culture and Society, No. 1:77–94. Smith, D. (1987) The Everyday World as Problematic: a Feminist Sociology, Boston: New England University Press. Vainikkala, E. and Eskola, K. (1989) editors, Literature as Communication, Jyväskylä: Research Unit for Contemporary Culture, University of Jyväskylä. Walkerdine, V. (1986) ‘Video replay: families, films and fantasy’, in Burgin et al. ( 1986): 167–99. Willis, P. (1977) Learning to Labour: How Working-Class Kids Get Working-Class Jobs, Farnborough: Saxon House. ——(1980) ‘Notes on method’, in Hall et al. ( 1980):88–95. Willis, P. et al. (1990) Common Culture: Symbolic Work at Play in the Everyday Cultures of the Young, Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Willis, S. (1991) A Primer for Daily Life, London, New York: Routledge. Women’s Studies Group (1978) Women Take Issue: Aspects of Women’s Subordi nation, London: Hutchinson/CCCS.



■ Pertti Alasuutari, Karen Armstrong, and Juha Kytömäki, Reality and Fiction in Finnish TV Viewing (Helsinki: Finnish Broadcasting Company, Research Report 3/1991) 93pp., Pbk. ■ Helge Rønning and Knut Lundby (eds) Media and Communication. Readings in Methodology, History and Culture (Oslo: Norwegian University Press, 1991) 382pp., Pbk. ■ Michael Skovmand and Kim Christian Schrøder (eds) Media Cultures. Reappraising Transnational Media (London and New York: Routledge, 1992) 222pp., Pbk. Research on television has, during the last decade, put special emphasis on the competence of the audience. The viewer is no longer seen as passive but, instead, active, free to choose what he/she wants to see, and competent to read televisual texts and construct his/her own meanings. This optimism has marked a clear shift in critical communication studies. Whereas the ‘old’ critical tradition of the 1960s and 1970s seemed to emphasize the topdown power of media institutions, or ‘culture industries’, the ‘new’ flagship of the critical school, cultural studies of the 1980s, has preached a new doctrine of bottomup resistance by the audience.1 This shift has, indeed, also appeared in the Nordic countries, together with a revival of ethnographic research methods. In Norway and Denmark, the impetus to textual and, later, reception analysis was provided by the humanities; the academic departments involved were, for example, literature, film or English studies. In Sweden and Finland, for their part, it was mostly within media studies or sociology that the new interest in cultural studies first appeared. The three books at hand illustrate the state of cultural studies on popular media in three Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Norway and Finland, documenting as well the ethos of pluralist voluntarism, propagated perhaps most clearly by John Fiske (especially Fiske, 1987), as well as the new, politically more concerned ‘revisionist movement’ (see Curran, 1990) that has challenged the cultural relativism typical of the recent mainstream of cultural studies. As far as the optimistic bottom-up approach is concerned, it is elegantly expressed by Kim Christian Schrøder and Michael Skovmand in their ‘Introduction’ to Media Cultures. Their aim is to ‘promote a less prejudiced understanding of our


audio-visual culture’ (p. 1). Indeed, the book with its ten essays tries to shake down the typical European middle-class/intellectual panic over all the easy thrills and general Americanization of popular media. Unfortunately, the results too often appear to be too obvious. And what is even more surprising, approaches ranging from historical to textual analysis don’t include reception studies, although Schrøder, for example, is known for his work on the pleasures of Dynasty (see, e.g., Schrøder, 1988). A reception perspective, I believe, is necessary for the antiprejudiced ethos of the volume. Michael Skovmand, for example, compares different nationally syndicated adaptations of the American game show Wheels of Fortune. According to him, the Danish version Lykkehjulet, is very game-orientated and participatory, and with a ‘genuine sense of constituency’ (p. 98), which could explain the programme’s exceptional popularity in Denmark compared to the success of a more consumerist German version, called Glückrad, among its home audience. After a careful analysis of the structural elements of the programme in four different countries, it is somewhat disappointing to find Skovmand’s scant conclusion that ‘popular television is not a stable entity, geographically or over time’ (p. 100). Indeed, here it would have been illuminating to hear the voice of the viewers and to learn something about the meanings and pleasures inspired by the game show. Textual analysis, clearly, is not enough. In his comparison between the newscasts of CNN and the Norwegian Broadcasting Company NRK during the Persian Gulf War, Peter Larsen seems to point to some fundamental differences between the two channels. While the viewers of CNN are ‘placed in a position similar to that of the reporters, i.e., they are confronted with an unstructured mass of information and statements’ (p. 135), the NRK audience is mostly addressed by an organizing, uniting and mediating ‘master discourse’ (p. 132). While the viewers of the NRK newscasts are ‘participating in a daily ritual through which they reaffirm their position as members of the national community’ (p. 132), the CNN audience ‘consists of individuals connected by the fact that they are television viewers tuned in to this particular channel’ (p. 132). This sounds reasonable, but here again, analysis of reception would have brought the essay beyond mere, although sophisticated, speculation. We are still looking forward to a qualitative empirical analysis of businessmen watching CNN in their hotel rooms or conference hall lobbies! In the concluding lines of his essay Professor Larsen predicts that the drive for high audience shares will force even the public service companies to adjust themselves to the international pattern of ‘more headline news, updates, visual entertainment’ in their news services. As a more reasonable solution, he presents an alternative pattern: ‘To meet competition by concentrating on reports, background material, analyses, and so on, i.e., by emphasizing precisely those forms of presentation which are the backbone of the traditional public-service programmes’ (p. 141). And Larsen is not alone in his ‘anti-relativism’; he is well accompanied by Graham Murdock and David Morley, who both avoid the paternalism of the ‘old’ radical top-down criticism but, at the same time, point to important (media) policy questions and social tasks of the media as purveyors of citizenship. This reflects the inner family connection between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ approaches within the critical school of communications studies.


The thin volume Reality and Fiction in Finnish TV Viewing approaches television in the family context. The three approaches employed are anthropological, sociological and social psychological, but the general organizing methodology is provided by qualitative audience analysis and the frame of discourse by cultural studies. The three essays of the collection are all based on the same empirical data, interviews of 89 families in Tampere, an industrial town in Southern Finland. The general finding, proposed especially by Karen Armstrong and Pertti Alasuutari, is that the Finns are very ‘realistic’ in their TV viewing: they may even rationalize watching a foreign-language soap opera by claiming to do it ‘in order to improve their skills in the language’, as Armstrong remarks (p. 18). Alasuutari, who analyses the Finnish ‘value hierarchy’ of TV programmes, goes even further. Although what people say to an interviewer does not necessarily correspond to their actual behaviour, it seems that ‘the most highly valued types of TV programme in Finland are represented by news and documentaries, while at the bottom of the hierarchy we have American soap operas’ (p. 38). For example, it was the soap operas that received almost all ‘moral references’ in viewers’ own explanations of their viewing habits. Alasuutari notes also the gender difference: of seven programme categories used, soap operas took second place on women’s list of preferences. However, Alasuutari concludes, it is not fiction or entertainment as such that is seen as demoralizing by the Finns. Rather, it is ‘the risk of losing one’s sense of reality, the ability to see the difference between real life and the imaginary world of TV programs’ (p. 52) that is the cause for this specific TV morality, which is called by Alasuutari ethical realism, 2 proclaiming that ‘TV programs should not give an overly romantic picture of life’ and that ‘fictional stories should not lead us into believing that life is too easy’ (p. 58). Indeed, could there be better evidence for the argument that the TV audience is not a duped bunch of ‘couch potatoes’ but instead highly competent actors drawing on an extensive stock of practical knowledge! In his analysis of family-internal rules of TV viewing, Juha Kytömäki provides extra support for this position. Although there seem to be almost no explicit rules for children’s television habits in Finnish homes, this does not mean, according to Kytömäki, that there would not be any control or parental mediation. Instead, the lack of restrictions in fact revealed that ‘children’s behaviour is consistent with parents’ expectations as children have largely internalized their parents’ norms’ (p. 82). The results of Alasuutari and Kytömäki suggest that people do control and rationalize very competently their relationship with television. However, as I see it, the results also question to some degree the claims of a general cultural relativism, the emphasis on a ‘free choice of meanings’ and the ‘cultural connoisseurship of viewers’ and instead reflect the continuing strength of the ideology of mass culture within people’s heads. The (mostly) Norwegian volume of Media and Communication is a good example of a liberal multidisciplinarity, which is one of the marks of the new and revised approach. The book itself, with its 23 essays, is too heterogenous to carry a common message, but many of its contributions do illustrate a convergence between different traditions in media studies. Svennik Høyer’s (to whom the whole book is dedicated) contribution is no exception. He specifies blind-spots as well as common grounds of different schools


in an illuminating way. ‘Top-down theories often end up in contradictory concepts of a passive, yet intelligent audience, or they describe the audience as a market in a terminology well removed from the imagery of audience research. On the other hand, bottom-up theories give only a foggy view of media institutions’, he claims (p. 39). Selecting pieces from here and there, from behaviourists as well as functionalists, from humanists as well as political economists, Høyer is searching for a more holistic view of the communication process in a cultural setting and thus trying to ‘“rescue” mass communication as a coherent and socially active phenomenon’ (p. 48). Obviously, his intention is good. However, it is not easy to comprehend how it is possible to actually include all phases of communication process in one single holistic study—or does Professor Høyer just have a broadminded borrowing of concepts and angles across scholarly traditions in mind? Trine Syvertsen’s essay on the structural changes of Norwegian public broadcasting from ‘culture’ to ‘business’ connects historical analysis to the critical textual analysis of documents on broadcasting policy. It is an encouraging attempt to bring institutional analysis and policy questions like ‘public service vs. market’, largely neglected by the recent viewer-centred mainstream of cultural studies, back into the foreground in the analysis of popular media.3 Another blind-spot of cultural studies is the question of quality, which was, in a way, put aside when the political aesthetic of paternalism gave way to the popular aesthetic of relativism. However, whereas Jostein Gripsrud in Media and Communication emphasizes that analyses of quality should be based on the text and measured against standards specific to its genre, Kim Christian Schrøder in Media Cultures prefers a reception-based approach, because ‘from a taste perspective, “quality” can no longer be seen as a concept with universal application, but always as quality for someone’ (p. 211; emphasis omitted). These two opposite positions show that the new revisionist movement in cultural studies is not one and uniform. There are several approaches on a multidimensional scale, each having a varying number of links with the others. This divergence may also point to the very fact that whatever we are analysing, one approach is seldom enough. A decision about quality, for example, can be definitely resolved neither by reception nor textual analysis; we should be receptive to both of them. Moreover, it points to the even more important fact that methodological choices carry with them, often unintentionally, political choices. Or to overstate it: emphasizing textual analysis may imply a paternalist position, whereas reception analysis may promote a populist position. Although I feel no sympathy for the élitist-hierarchical definitions of good and bad, I must admit that Gripsrud is right on target when reminding us that ‘if no criteria for evaluating the cultural significance or importance of texts across media can be found, it may in fact be advisable that commercialism should rule practically unrestrained’ (p. 229). Notes 1 This shift from top-down to bottom-up approach has been presented, for example, by Ang (1990).


2 This refers to Ien Ang’s (1985) notion of ‘emotional realism’. 3 More profoundly this is done in Ang (1991).

References Ang, Ien (1985) Watching Dallas, London: Methuen. ——(1990) ‘Culture and communication: towards an ethnographic critique of media consumption in the transnational media system’, European Journal of Communication, 5 (2–3):239–60. ——(1991) Desperately Seeking the Audience, London and New York: Routledge. Curran, James (1990) ‘The new revisionism in mass communication research: a reappraisal’, European Journal of Communication, 5(2–3):135–64. Fiske, John (1987) Television Culture, London and New York: Methuen. Schrøder, Kim Christian (1988) ‘The pleasure of Dynasty: the weekly reconstruction of selfconfidence’, in P.Drummond and R.Paterson (1988) editors, Television and its audience. International Research Perspectives, London: British Film Institute: 61–82.


■ Jukka Sihvonen, Exceeding the Limit. On the Poetics and Politics of Audiovisuality (Turku: SETS, 1991). In the mind characterized by a radical will, limits always exist to be somehow overcome. They must be pointed out, that is the first thing, and then transgressed, subverted or challenged through various means of counter-strategies. According to this way of thinking, limits are the burden of man, who in modern times has been thought of as an unconscious bearer and emitter of forceful cultural processes, molded into shape by social history; a way of thinking that in the domain of film studies has been with us since the early days of ideological critique. In those early days, the critical stance taken was that of detecting the origins of the delimiting forces and exposing their symptoms for the sake of revealing a more ‘true’ cinema— an other cinema, glimpses of which could be detected in a few directors’ works and in some modernist or avant-garde strategies, located outside the mainstream film. Poststructuralism, it seems to me, is a prolongation of this radical stance, which basically is born out of the philosophy of emancipation. However, poststructuralism has presented another and more nihilistic version: man (and cinema) is a product of the work of the Signifier, so entirely separated from reality that alienation becomes the basic condition; a condition ascribed to him the very instant he looks in the mirror or says ‘I’. The radicalism prompted by this ‘theory of alienation’ is either to take things to the roots of their signification, that is, the body, desire and the drives, or to push them ‘beyond’ signification, towards some sublime notion of ‘a something’ that cannot be signified because it belongs to the very process itself. As a dynamic force, the play of the Signifier becomes more ‘true’ than the outcome of this play. Baudrillard’s ‘seduction’, and Roland Barthes’s ‘third meaning’ and ‘punctum’, have been some of the key notions in this radicalism. Grounded in this way of thinking, Jukka Sihvonen takes us even further in Exceeding the Limits because, here, he is in search of a cinema that barely exists. ‘Audiovisuality’ is the name given to this cinema, snippets of which can be detected in the work of Pasolini and Godard, two of the most supreme radicalists cinema has ever come up with; and furthermore, Sihvonen finds a potential of audiovisuality in the electronic media, due to their ‘energetic mode’, so to speak—‘energy’ is Sihvonen’s key metaphor for delineating this potential in the ‘electronic space’.


This cinema cannot be described or explicated by the ‘normal’ standard of academic work, where you describe what is given and establish a rigid metalanguage. Rather, it must be enlightened, one could say. The means to do so is an act of reading that penetrates the writings of the directors in question (Pasolini and Godard were ‘theorists’ in their own right); and along with analysis of some of their works, Sihvonen relates their statements and visions to a host of other thinkers— especially surrealist writers, but also to philosophers and theoreticians of differing orientations. The result is itself an act of ‘writing’, with all the connotations postmodern thinkers have brought to bear on this term. Sihvonen describes his project as ‘an attempt to interpenetrate through a few “hinges”—concepts, Pasolini’s texts, Godard’s videotape, the notion of electronics’ (p. 215)—and his way of carrying out this project brings the best to the style of the radical will: namely a positive attitude concerning the media and its possibilities; a ‘belief’ (no religious slur is intended here) that the poetics of cinema and video still has a force of its own which Sihvonen’s own work, then, offers a vision of so that it can be further explored. The extreme emancipatory drive behind the radicalism is sensed in passages like this about the electronic media: ‘What I am searching for in the electronic space is a possibility to metamorphose (i.e., to duplicate and problematize) the entire field of aesthetics as a masochistic, language-and-narrative-oriented, repetitively violent handiwork’ (p. 181) (the hand is one of the ‘figures’ Sihvonen explores, therefore, ‘handiwork’). And the enlightening aspect of the project is brought about in the final description of ‘audiovisuality’: it ‘offers up energy to set the fields of fantasy in motion again and against; to switch on the lights in the dark hallways of imagination, to set something (white) against something else (black)’ (p. 219). This is really a fine instance of writing, and Exceeding the Limit contains passages, I think, that are patched with brilliance; especially the chapters on Godard. Nevertheless, however clever the ‘writing’ is, I must admit that I cannot completely escape the impression that obscurity reigns supreme in poststructural radicalism. Extensive use of metaphors and mere playing with words turns otherwise interesting observations into some postulated conclusions, the validation of which seems to be a product of the theory itself. Concerning the staging of the reading process, I find it difficult to figure out whether the texts Sihvonen ‘reads into’ the other texts are choices made solely on firmly grounded assumptions of relevance, or if they are chosen as they spring from Sihvonen’s private encyclopedia of preferred writers. Too much depends on whether you are devoted to the philosophical orientation Sihvonen here advocates; if you are, everything is roses; otherwise you are lost, not even offered the opportunity to disagree. Much more ought to be said about this, because it has to do with the basic principles of conducting theoretical investigations concerning film. But let me limit [sic] myself to giving an example of debatable argumentation, based on playing with words and metaphors. Take this passage early in the book, where Sihvonen discusses the figure of the hand. Referring to Carl-Johan Malmberg’s essay on Bresson, from which this quotation stems, ‘We have called thinking the handicraft par exellance’. Sihvonen continues: ‘Hence, when one says that the creator “has a hand” in the film-bodychild, it means that he or she has thought to become audiovisual material, images


and sounds’. First, this generalization is obscure, because even though I recognize the phrase ‘has a hand’ from everyday language, I don’t recognize the use of the phrase in connection with ‘the film-body-child’ and the rest, which are born out of the theory at work. This mix of relations doesn’t make sense; it seems like we are being manipulated into apprehending the ‘film-body-notion’ from this by relating it to common language, where it definitely doesn’t belong. Besides this, let us consider the hand metaphor that somehow stands out clearly. The idea, I believe, is to relate the hand to body, production and creativity, envisioned as a flow of interconnected relations and, as such, it is a good metaphor. However, Sihvonen then goes on to correct Malmberg: [W]hat Malmberg fails to emphasize is the ‘excessively obvious’ fact that we as human beings do not have just one but, instead, two hands and, succeedingly, audiovisual thinking seems to require both of these two hands. From this point of view we can understand the quotation from Edmond Jabés with which Derrida ends his collection of texts in Writing and Difference: ‘Tomorrow is the shadow and reflexibility of our hands’. (p. 15) First the metaphor is taken for granted, then it is taken literally, through the manipulation of its basic constituent, with the inevitable result that it ceases to exist as metaphor. A new metaphor is built up from this manipulation, that of the ‘twohands’. This metaphor might function well on its own terms, but as a new metaphor it doesn’t really have anything to do with the first one. In Danish, we have a proverb—at have en finger med i spillet—that in a literal translation says: ‘to have a finger in the game’. It means that a careful examination of something would reveal that you have been somewhat involved; this something (it could be a crime or a work of art) bears the traces of you having been there. Imagine this ‘finger metaphor’ under the pen of an early auteur critic: the author-director, swallowed up by the clichés and formulas of the commercial system. However, the critic would reveal that even mutilation of a true craftman’s work cannot expel the personality, that the director has had a finger in the game. What good fortune that Sihvonen—or Jabés or Derrida—didn’t come across this proverb; they would have spun a web of associations connected to the finger, stressing the fact that the finger leaves a print, enabling them to land upon their own assumption that the personality can be envisioned as a trace. Then the correction would follow: people do not have only one finger; normally, they have ten, five on each hand, where they sit, mirroring one another, through acts of repetition, similarity and differentation. And we could go through stages of breakdowns and rebuildings: the fingers sit on a hand, positioned on an arm that is related to the body on top of which we find a head, to which we can ascribe thinking, and so on. Anything goes, when everything is considered to be found in the writing. And this isn’t necessarily the case. Here, limit belongs to the theory.


■ Ulf Hannerz Cultural Complexity. Studies In the Social Organization of Meaning (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993) 347 pp., $17.50 Pbk. The mode of description and analysis in anthropology has been the subject of a long and hectic discussion. What are we describing and what really is the object of our study? Culture and/or society, of course. The tropes used in the description of both have greatly changed during the history of the discipline and have been many times demonstrated not only to describe but to define as well. Accordingly, the culture/ society of anthropology was universal in the beginning, when Edward Tylor declared not to have any interest in the culture of nations and tribes, but in culture in general, followed by a time when culture/society were found in minuscule islands like Tikopia. At present different versions of world system theory are attacking the universal/particular problem and analyzing the globalization of culture. In his complex book Ulf Hannerz tries to attack some of the conventions of the discipline. In the present world, culture cannot be found in any place, he claims, and then defines the basic concept conventionally as ‘meanings which people create, and which create people, as members of societies’. These meanings are externalized and made public in a variety of forms which have a very uneven distribution among the populations of the globe. Thus, instead of meanings, his main attention is directed towards ‘production’ and ‘distribution’, and this focus solves some of the problems Hannerz tries to solve but creates a number of new ones. Thus, he claims, culture is not ‘shared’, but it can be received in a flow which has many directions, and everybody does not get the same share of the flow. The notion of ‘shared’ culture Hannerz sees as a result of the inability of the field-workers to see, amongst the unfamiliar people they are studying, any ‘variations in their interests, or values, or belief, or knowledge’. This inability, Hannerz claims, leads to the tendency to let one single informant stand for the entire community, or in any case to replace the plurality of the voices heard in the field with the authorial voice of the totalizing ethnographic text. This could be a minor point, just compulsory rhetorical criticism of conventional wisdom before the eternal truth is revealed by the author himself. Unfortunately it does not seem to be so. Hannerz seems to be as unaware of the force by which the conflicting notions and variations of interpretations overwhelm the field-worker in a


distant community as he is unaware of the consequences of his own interpretive position. Instead of the village green of the small-scale society, Hannerz has done his fieldwork in the cities; he has not been living in the mud huts with his ‘consociates’. The problems of urban anthropology and the consequences of field-work done in the cities, living in hotels and participating in the consumption of the available cultural inventory, reinforces the tendency to see culture as a product and as a commodity. Interestingly, Hannerz sees this commodity character in very fashionable terms as the fashion: it is produced and distributed, but in a very complex way, controlled by shifting centres where nobody knows what will sell during the next season. The producers and distributors of the cultural meanings are at the mercy of the consumers who are at the mercy of the producers. So Hannerz comes very far from his original notion of culture as meanings which people create and which create people. Hannerz owes very much to classical modernization theories. His notions about the urban global ecumene make interesting reading but leave a feeling of déjà vu. Even his discussion about the role of intellectuals is very familiar but at the same time also illuminating. In the context of the control of cultural flow, Hannerz assigns special importance to intellectuals. He also gives a special controlling role to the cosmopolitans, who also sound very familiar in his description. According to Hannerz, the cosmopolitan is characterized by a meta-cultural position from which he is able to make his way to many cultures without really being at home in any of these. He/she has an expanded understanding which produces an ability to cross cultural borders and create new mixtures of the global cultural flow. After all, here Hannerz makes his own position clear. His description of cosmopolitans corresponds to the stereotypical image of the anthropologist in the field: the meta-cultural position, the ability to enter and make one’s way in other cultures, etc. Hannerz’s concept of culture gives here, however, a totally new content to this traditional anthropological competence. Really the meta-cultural position of the cosmopolitan does not now result from the jungle and mud hut, having ‘been there’ is no longer enough. One has to demonstrate that one has been everywhere. As a cosmopolitan he tries to secure himself a prominent position in the control of the cultural flow. Instead of describing his entry in the field and the field site, Hannerz gives in his preface a complete list of the universities where he has given papers, and of seminars in which he has participated; he really ‘has been there’. Understanding has transformed itself into competence which produces the ability to control. Ulf Hannerz’s book is a stimulating book to read. It has great insights into the cultural complexity of the present world. At the same time it is, however, very irritating to read. It is an important contribution to the present discussion, although I would not recommend it as ‘an introduction to the anthropology of contemporary complex cultures’ as the dustcover defines the book. It requires selective and critical reading but so do most good books.

Notes on contributors

KIRSTEN DROTNER is Associate Professor at the Department of Film and Media Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark…KATARINA ESKOLA is Director of the Research Unit for Contemporary Culture at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland…JOHAN FORNÄS is Associate Professor at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication, University of Stockholm, Sweden… JOSTEIN GRIPSRUD is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Bergen, Norway…MARIANNE GULLESTAD is Senior Researcher at The Norwegian Centre for Child Research, University of Trondheim…ULF HANNERZ is Professor at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Stockholm, Sweden…STIG HJARVARD is a Research Fellow at the Department of Film and Media Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark…KLAUS BRUHN JENSEN is Associate Professor at the Department of Film and Media Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark…ANDERS JOHANSEN is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Bergen, Norway…KIMMO JOKINEN is a Junior Fellow of the Academy of Finland, working at the Research Unit for Contemporary Culture, University of Jyväskylä…LISBETH LARSSON is Lecturer at the Department of Literature, University of Lund, Sweden… ZORVAR LÖFGREN is Professor at the Department of European Ethnology, University of Lund, Sweden…ERKKI VAINIKKALA is Researcher at the Research Unit for Contemporary Culture, University of Jyväskylä, Finland… ANNI VILKKO is a Research Associate of the Academy of Finland, working at the Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki…HEIKKI HELLMAN is the editor of the cultural section of Helsingin Sanomat, and a Ph.D. student at the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Tampere, Finland…STEEN SALOMONSEN, Ph.D., works for the Danish Television… JUKKA SIIKALA is Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at the Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki, Finland.

Books Received from Publishers Summer-Fall 1993

Gilroy, Paul (1993) The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Harvard University Press. Lankshear, Colin and McLaren, Peter L. (1993) editors, Critical Literacy: Politics, Praxis, and the Postmodern, SUNY Press. Latour, Bruno (1993) We Have Never Been Modern, Harvard University Press. Redhead, Steve (1993) editor, Passion and the Fashion: Football Fandom in New Europe, Avebury. Redhead, Steve (1993) Rave Off: Politics and Deviance in Contemporary Youth Culture, Avebury.

The fifth edition of The Iowa Guide: Scholarly Journals in Mass Communi cation and Related Fields is now available for US$12.00 (US$10.00 if ten or more copies are ordered) from the Iowa Center for Communication Study, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, 52242.

Other journals in the field of cultural studies

There has been a rapid increase in the number of journals operating both in the field of cultural studies and in overlapping areas of interest. Cultural Studies wants to keep its readers informed of the work being done by these journals. After all, cultural studies is a collective project. BORDER/LINES (The Orient Building, 183 Bathurst Street, Suite No. 301, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 2R7. Tel: (416) 360–5249. Fax: (416) 360–0781) Issue 28, 1993 Editorial: Stan Fogel, Joe Galbo & Sophie Thomas Junctures: Alex Ferentzy Schizophrenia and Family Values Excursions: Jeremy Stolow Multiculturalism in the ESL Bureaucracy; Joe Galbo & Miriam Jones Rethinking Rethinking Marxism; Nicholas Pack wood Browsing The Apparatus. Articles: Robyn Gillam Australian Cultural Theory; Laura Millard, Jo Anna Isaak & Mary Bryson Images of Canada: Canadian Bank Notes; Suzanne de Castell What’s To Be Done?; Celia Haig-Brown Gender Equity/Gender Treachery. Reviews: Jim Ellis On Male Subjectivity At The Margins; Jean-Francois Coté On The Limits of Interpretation; Sophie Thomas On Semiotext(e)/ Architecture; Richard Ashby On The Culture of Nature. PUBLIC (192 Spadina Avenue, Suite 307, Toronto, Canada, M5T 2C2. Tel & Fax: (416) 868–1161) Contents: Marc deGuerre & Kathleen Pirrie Adams The Ethics of Enactment; David Freedberg Iconoclasts and Their Motives; Frank Graziano Rosa de Lima and the Tropes of Sanctity; Avital Ronell A Note on the Failure of Man’s Custodianship: AIDS Update; Moe Meyer Unveiling the Word: Science and Narrative in Transsexual Striptease; Ronald Jones 16 Isarstrasse; Beth Seaton The Depth Inscribed on Surfaces; Andrea Liss Contours of Naming: The Identity Card Project and the Tower of Faces at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Danny Tisdale Rodney King Police Beating, 1991 Disaster Series; Jack Ben-Levi From Euphoria to Sobriety, From Reverie to Reverence: David Wojnarowicz and the Scenes of AIDS Activism; Sue Golding Sexual Manners; Will Straw The Booth, The Floor and The


Wall: Dance Music and the Fear of Falling; Terri Kapsalis Public ‘Privates’ and the Gynecological Image. REPRESENTATIONS (University of California Press, Journal Division, 2120 Berkeley Way, Berkeley CA94720, USA. Tel: (510) 642–4191. Fax: (510) 643–7127) Issue 43, Summer 1993 Contents: Jerry Herron Homer Simpson’s Eyes and the Culture of Late Nostalgia; Luise White Cars Out of Place: Vampires, Technology, and Labor in East and Central Africa; P. Gabrielle Foreman ‘This Promiscuous Housekeeping’: Death, Transgression, and Homoeroticism in Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Irene Gorak Enter Beadle with Whips: Pauline Smith’s The Beadle and the Afrikaner as Fetish; Jeffrey T.Schnapp 18 BL: Fascist Mass Spectacle; Martin Procháska Prisoner’s Predicament: Public Privacy in Havel’s Letters to Olga. JOURNAL OF COMMUNICATION INQUIRY (205 Communications Center University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242, USA. Tel: (319) 335–5821) Issue 17(2) Summer 1993 Contents: Chike Anyaegbunam Editorial—Bolekaja in the Construction of Africa in Intellectual Discourse; Jo Ellen Fair War, Famine, and Poverty: Race in the Construction of Africa’s Media Image; Festus Eribo & Stephen Vaughn Politics and Media in Russian-Sub-Saharan African Relations: An Historical Perspective; Arnold S.deBeer Censorship of Terror and the Struggle for Freedom: A South African Case Study; Ngure wa Mwachofi Un-masking President de Klerk’s Obfuscating Rhetoric: International ‘Impression Management’ Through Myth-Creation; Louise M.Bourgault Press Freedom in Africa: A Cultural Analysis; Monica Downer Clandestine Radio in African Revolutionary Movements: A Study of the Eritrean Struggle for Self-Determination; Robert Agunga & Joseph Osei Review Essay—Tedros Kiros’ Moral Philosophy and Development: The Human Condition in Africa. COLLEGE LITERATURE (West Chester University, 554 New Main, West Chester PA 19383, USA. Tel: (215) 436–2901. Fax: (215) 436–3150) General Issue 20. 2, June 1993 Contents: Cary Nelson Facts Have No Meaning: Writing Literary History in the Shadow of Poststructuralism; Henry A.Giroux Disturbing the Peace: Writing in the Cultural Studies Classroom; Erin Mackie Lady Credit and the Strange Case of the Hoop-Petticoat; Joel Haefner (De)Forming the Romantic Canon: The Case of Women Writers; Michael Cohen Empowering the Sister: Female Rescue and Authorial Resistance in The Heart of Midlothian; Susan K.Harris Vicious Binaries: Gender and Authorial Paranoia in Dreiser’s ‘Second Choice’, Howells’ ‘Editha’, and Hemingway’s ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber’; Patrick McHugh Metaphysics and Sexual Politics in Lawrence’s Novels; Joline Blais Qui est Lá: Displaced Subjects in Wide Sargasso Sea and Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein; Arlene Fish Wilner The Jewish-American Woman as Artist: Cynthia Ozick and the ‘Paleface’ Tradition; Brenda Carr ‘A Woman Speaks…I am Woman and Not White’: Politics of Voice, Tactical Essentialism, and Cultural Intervention in Audre Lorde’s Activist Poetics and Practice; Alan Nadel Replacing the Waste Land: James Merrill’s Quest for Transcendent Authority; Martin Padget An Iconography of


Difference: Internal Colonialism, Photography, and the Crofters of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Notes and Comments: Shelia Post-Lauria Canonical Texts and Context: The Example of Herman Melville’s ‘Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street’; Stan Goldman The Problem of the Two Testaments: Pedagogical Motives for Shifting from ‘Old Testament’ to ‘Hebrew Bible’. Review Essay: Catherine Rainwater ‘Wait Till 2050’: Native Americans Recovering the Future. Review of Laura Coltelli, Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak, and Will Roscoe, The Zuni Man-Woman. Book Reviews: Peter Baker Charles Bernstein, A Poetics; Harold Barratt Veit Erlmann, African Stars: Studies in Black South African Performance; Maurizia Boscagli Suzanne Clark, Sentimental Modernism: Women Writers and the Revolution of the World; Patrick Colm Hogan Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities; David H. J.Larmour Jane McIntosh Snyder, The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers in Classical Greece and Rome; Joyce Green MacDonald Lesley Aers and Nigel Wheale, eds., Shakespeare in the Changing Curriculum; Jeffrey Williams David Lehman, Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man; Daniel Zins Terrence Des Pres, Writing Into the World: Essays 1973–1987. PUBLIC CULTURE (Society for Transnational Cultural Studies, 1010 East 59th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA. Tel: (312) 702–0814. Fax: (312) 702–9861) Issue 5(3), Spring 1993 Controversies: Steven Kemper The Nation Consumed: Buying and Believing in Sri Lanka; Lauren Berlant The Theory of Infantile Citizenship; Arjun Appadurai Patriotism and Its Futures; Don Handelman and Lea Shamgar- Handelman Aesthetics Versus Ideology in National Symbolism: The Creation of the Emblem of Israel; Virginia R.Dominguez Visual Nationalism: On Looking at ‘National Symbols’; Don Handelman and Lea Shamgar-Handelman National Images and the Blind Hegemony of Discourse: Rejoinder to Dominguez. Screening Politics in a World of Nations: (Lila Abu-Lughod Guest Editor); Lila Abu-Lughod Editorial Comment: On Screening Politics in a World of Nations; Purnima Mankekar Television Tales and a Woman’s Rage: A Nationalist Recasting of Draupadi’s ‘Disrobing’; Lila Abu-Lughod Finding a Place for Islam: Egyptian Television Serials and the National Interest; Annette Hamilton Video Crackdown, or The Sacrificial Pirate: Censorship and Cultural Consequences in Thailand; Nancy Sullivan Film and Television Production in Papua New Guinea: How Media Become the Message; Faye Ginsburg Aboriginal Media and the Australian Imaginary; Patricia Aufderheide Latin American Grassroots Video: Beyond Television; Carol ine S.Tauxe The Spirit of Christmas: Television and Commodity Hunger in a Brazilian Election. Peregrinations: Terri Castaneda Beyond the Trocadero: Mickey’s Wild West Show and More; Sherry Millner and Ernest Larsen Misrecognized Identities: Key Moments in the Development of Remotely Controlled Subjects; Meena Alexander Piecemeal Shelter: Writing, Ethnicity, Violence.


Coming Attractions Fall 1993: The Ins and Outs of Theory Special feature: Discussion of Aijaz Ahmad’s book In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures by Talal Asad, Partha Chatterjee, Vivek Dhareshwar, Marjorie Howes, Marjorie Levinson, Nivedita Menon, Andrew Parker, Michael Sprinker, and Peter van der Veer with a response by Aijaz Ahmad. Spring 1994: The Black Public Sphere in the Reagan-Bush Era Special feature with essays by Regina Austin, Houston Baker, John Brenkman, Manthia Diawara, Carla Kaplan and others. Call for Papers on ‘Electronic Publics’ Public Culture invites submissions for a special feature on electronic publics, dealing with the role of the electronic media (such as computer bulletin boards, television, video and interactive laser and video technologies) in the formation of new publics—whether partial publics, counterpublics or aspects of the dominant public sphere. Topics might include electronic media and religion, sexuality, reproductive politics or diasporic politics in their national and/or transnational dimensions. Essays might also focus on the diffuse constituencies of electronic publics. DISCOURSE (Center for Twentieth Century Studies, University of WisconsinMilwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201, USA. Tel: (414)229–4141) Issue 15(3), Spring 1993 Contents: Kaja Silverman What Is a Camera?, or: History in the Field of Vision; Harun Farocki and Kaja Silverman To Love to Work and to Work to Love—A Conversation about Passion, Harun Farocki (Peter Wilson, trans.) The Industrialization of Thought; Harun Farocki Commentary from the Film Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges (Images of the World and Inscription of the War); Christopher Lane Managing ‘The White Man’s Burden’: The Racial Imaginary of Forster’s Colonial Narratives; Bernard Gendron Moldy Figs and Modernists: Jazz at War (1942–1946); Fran Bartkowski Travelers v. Ethnics: Discourses of Displacement. Book Reviews: Elena del Río The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely by Anthony Vidler; Stanley Fogel Travel as Metaphor: From Montaigne to Rousseau by Georges Van Den Abbeele; Ruth Hottell To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema by Sandy Flitterman-Lewis. CALL FOR PAPERS Southern Review In 1994, Southern Review will move from three issues a year to four. This fourth issue will be edited and produced by an editorial committee at the University of Central Queensland under the editorship of Professor David Birch. UCQ’s first issue (Vol. 27 No. 3) will be devoted to the problematics of: ‘Teaching the Postmodern’. Brenda Marshall argues that the postmodern moment ‘demands an awareness of (a) being-within a way of thinking’ and that this ‘disallows the speaker (the subject) the comfort of absolutely naming the terms of that moment.’ Institutional, disciplinary and pedagogical demands for the comfort of a well taught and


knowledge-measured student counterpoint the impossibility of naming this postmodern moment. This counterpoint generates tensions in the classroom, in research and in the community regarding teaching the postmodern. These tensions have been further complicated by recent transitions from colleges of advanced education and polytechnics to universities particularly in Australia and Britain. Southern Review calls for papers which explore these tensions by focusing not just on the postmodern but on its teaching. Contributions should by submitted on Mac or IBM disk (if possible on Microsoft Word) with hard copy, preferably using MLA Style Manual (1988), using the ‘works cited’ form of documentation. Discursive notes should be avoided. Full details of editorial policy are available on request. Contributions may range from short exploratory pieces up to full length articles (max. 4000 words). New and radical kinds of discourse are encouraged. Deadline for papers is 31 March 1994. Enquiries: Professor David Birch (079) 309403; email: [email protected]. Contributions should be sent to: Professor David Birch, Southern Review, Faculty of Arts, University of Central Queensland, Rockhampton MC Queensland 4702, Australia.