[iDC] Some comments on "Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace"

Alf Rehn alfrehn at mac.com
Tue Jun 26 01:04:32 EDT 2007

danah, group,

> I've been trying to write an essay for a while about the class  
> dynamics around Facebook and MySpace.  I finally gave up and  
> realized that I didn't have the proper words for talking about this  
> issue so I wrote an essay with caveats.  I offer it to you to tear  
> to shreds in the hopes that maybe some good can come out of it.  (I  
> didn't include the full text here because it's long - i hope the  
> link doesn't discourage folks from checking it out.)  Feedback is  
> *very* welcome.
> Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace
> http://www.danah.org/papers/essays/ClassDivisions.html

I read the essay with great interest, and can conclude the following:

a) The overall argument is well formed and quite interesting.

b) The class-argument bothers me.

I don't think there's much wrong with saying that the old class- 
notion, building on socio-economic standing and historic (not  
necessarily materialistic) subjectification processes can be utilized  
to analyze contemporary social behaviors. However, the way in which  
the essay has been written makes it all too easy to see the division  
suggested as entrenched and embedded in a greater class context --  
and this is bothersome.

To begin, the labels of "hegemonic" and "subaltern" are not very good  
(as danah suggests). Subalternity is normally understood as a truly  
abject state, one where having access (not to mention the time and  
inclination) to online social networks is not a given. Sure, more and  
more people have access, but using the term subaltern for all the  
"geeks" hanging out at MySpace could be seen as insulting to people  
who are actually are subaltern (if one insists one sticking to an US- 
centric view, think Appalachian poor, otherwise I have some Ukrainian  
streetkids you can meet). Also, "hegemonic" suggests a state of semi- 
permanent control and status, and I wonder if it suits the movements  
danah is trying to map.

Instead, what we may be seeing is a splintering of the middle-classes  
into the "aspiring" and the "desparing", those who see their role as  
one of "becoming hegemonic" (in the sense of permanently trying to  
become -- a Deleuzian becoming if you will) and those who embrace  
their self-ascribed outsidership. This move, which almost certainly  
will be played out on e.g. social networks, is highly interesting  
from a class perspective, and very elegantly argued in the essay.

Another thing (and now I'm really showing my geek roots -- I taught  
value and class theory at one point, and realize that this prattling  
on about class makes me sound closer to 65 than my biological 35), is  
that the essay seems to be channeling some ideas about the  
Lumpenproletariat that may be a tad dangerous. Yes, the "Latino/ 
Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, "burnouts," "alternative kids," "art  
fags," punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids" may be a grouping  
that can be clumped together under the heading "outsiders", but do we  
really want to ascribe to them this notion of them sharing a class  
subjectivity, becoming what Marx labeled a "dangerous class"? I am  
fully aware that some kids in this group would absolutely love that,  
but such a grouping should build on a shared sense of subject- 
positions, not on the ways in which different people try to form  
their own images.

In other words, maybe it would be best not to bring out the "biggest  
guns" of class theory -- hegemony, subalternity, the Lumpen -- in  
order to analyze this, but instead look at the more subtle shifts in  
allegiances and subjectifications in contemporary society. Beyond  
this caveat, I believe there is much to be said for exactly the kind  
of analysis presented here by danah.

Professor Alf Rehn
Chair of Management and Organization (Åbo Akademi University)
SSES Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Royal Institute of  

Åbo Akademi University
Department of Business Studies
Henriksgatan 7
20500 Åbo, FINLAND

Royal Institute of Technology
Department of Industrial Economics and Management
10044 Stockholm, SWEDEN

alf at abo.fi, alf at kth.se

"Velox, vilis, immunda"

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