Things we like
I will talk about material culture of which domestic media is a part.
What then might we mean by material culture?
material culture - material –stuff
i) the evolved form of everyday practices and shared values
ii) among definable groups eg. social classes; ethnic group etc. within a population
iii) (usually conformable with, though sometimes antagonistic to the practices and values of groups in the rest of the population.)
material culture is the stuff we use
which produces and reproduces the everyday practices and shared values,
and thereby the groups within which we exist.
the washing machine is clearly a useful machine for doing an undesirable task.
This usefulness tends encourages the everyday practice of using the washing machine,
which then becomes a common practice - ie a reproduced practice
which in turn will become an expectation of its availability (a commonly held value)
The value aspect shows up when a household doesn't have a washing machine
It is an assumed value - a taken for granted part of everyday living - part of the way we live now.
To have a washing machine reproduces our status in society, or our status in our road.
The value of having material culture is for humans to have value in their culture.
Domestic media are values which bespeak our participation in a common culture of today.
But it was not always so.
Domestic appliances have a history - a forgotten history
Bowden and Offer, if nothing else, through their statistics have offered use a recovery position, a set of data by which we can grasp the increasing diffusion and thereby normalcy of having domestic appliances across british and US culture.
They distinguish time saving from time using devices
they explore the lag between take up of the former from the latter
they ascribe this to the marginal utility of discretionary time:
they claim people value the time they can use for entertainment higher than
the time saved by using time saving appliances.
People value the quality of time over the quantity of time.
This tends to explain why tv's, radios, hi-fi etc saturated households far more swiftly than vacuum cleaners and the like.
Bowden/Offer suggest that in terms of status, time savers rate lower than time users.
This and my earlier argument that goods become material cultural values when they are commonly used - are embedded as normal,
Suggests that time using goods are status sensitive in as much as there is competition for the latest version of a good, - the tv with the bigger screen etc.. or are sensitive while a new type of good is a novelty,
Fred Hirsch, in his Limits to Growth, called this a positional good - you have what most others don’t have.
B&O, I think, rely too much on analysing the demand for Tv's and the like in terms of personal arousal - the stimulation of the self - ie. enjoyment, and do not consider sufficiently the power of status and keeping up with the Jones's.
As we have seen they do acknowledge status, they just don’t acknowledge it enough –
they do not look for sufficiently social and cultural explanations.
If we measure demand in terms of strength of stimulation if it is hard to explain the rapid take up of radio.
We need to understand how radio ownership was promoted by a public culture of radio as a tool of nation building, education, entertainment, information was nurtured in government, parliament, newspapers, magazines and so forth.
To understand the success of artefacts of material culture…
we need a more elaborate structural and institutional explanation
than simply one of perceived individual satisfaction.
I have wanted to draw out some preliminary observations about…
the relation between culture and material culture,
and the need to think of popular culture in terms of mass culture,
what it comprises of,
and that real people and the material stuff they buy, are involved.