October 27 Readings- Burkhart, pt. II

Utilizing a blend of Jurgen Habermas’s tenets of social-sphere theory, NSM (New Social Movement Theory), aspects of post-industrial theory, and the ideals of democratization, Burkart analyzes internet activism in the context of an increasingly fluid “Global civil-society”, assessing what forms of collective activity actually constitute the creation of a movement.

Where Burkhart is concerned, globalization could be viewed as potentially constructive, leading to greater individual agency through greater access to information and an increased potential to form “diverse amalgams” of cooperating bodies (particularly effective in this regard are NGOs).On the other hand, viewed collectively, worldwide reactions to the perceived negative consequences of globalization, such as capitalistic abuses and a culture of “perpetual surveillance”, have resulted in a proliferation of counter-cultures based around an explicitly “non-market” sociality (Benkler). This new sociality, its purest form, is devoid of material components and is focused on rectifying abusive technocratic control through bottom-up activism. Burkart describes how such movements are capitalizing on the spirit of activism emerging across the globe, exploiting their RM (resource mobilization) potential through techniques such as smart-mobbing, culture-jamming and cyber-hacking.

According to Burkart, in order for any trend to be adequately circumscribed by NSM theory, the “movement” in question should exhibit both a sense of hierarchy and institution. A true movement will usually maintain its own culture of tools, codes, ethics and aesthetics, including a “rhetorical framework”. A movement should also be “transformational” and have a strong element of norm-questioning, rendering it somehow “oppositional” in nature.

It is important to keep in mind that different groups and individuals whose activities may be considered part of cyberlibertarianism have very different political orientations and very different ideas about what type of online social world is possible and ultimately desirable. Some tend toward democratic socialism, some toward neo-liberalism, and some toward anarchy; there are even those who are neatly defined as part of the Republican party. It is easy to look at many of the issues raised in this book and think immediately of dystopia, and yet Burkart identifies a key factor of New Social Movement theory in a utopian orientation toward social possibilities. The stated goals of various activists and activist groups may not necessarily hang together. Still, Burkart makes the disclaimer that his analysis is, at the present, a discussion about whether cyberlibertarianism ultimately could pull together to become a recognizable movement, rather than whether or not it actually has. Ultimately, regardless of specifics, the activities of all of these activists are unified by a belief in a teleology leading in the direction of social justice and human rights.

Indeed, the clearest overall definition of a movement we find in this half of the text is that a movement as defined by NSM theory is “less [about] organizations of common interest and more a [about] new forms of collective identity engaged in discursive struggles that not only transform people’s self understandings but also contest the legitimacy of received cultural codes and points of view”. This is why the author argues that file sharing in itself, though it is now a distinct “new sensibility” (Marcuse), cannot qualify as a movement since the reasoning behind this activity is often more utilitarian than purely ideological.

Burkart also states that movements need not be easily discernable in order to be valid, being that they often operate clandestinely through highly developed systems of codes and “underground” networking. (Think black market, terrorist and racist sites) He also makes it clear that a cyber-movement, despite its tendency towards radicalism, need not be progressive, and can, in fact, espouse conservative-leaning ideology.

A movement and its strength can be evaluated according to two main criteria: shared identities (or the degree to which others can sympathize around a given goal); and resource mobilization (the “tactical” ability to procure concrete gains or distinguishable step towards the implementation of policy change). Burkart clarifies that NSM theory focuses on practical outcomes versus vague progress towards a certain ideological goal, or in other words, the “broader processes of cultural transformation” (Edelman 2001).

Much in the way that Attali described the commoditization of music and its use within the political economy, for the purposes of his analysis, Burkart reduces music to its symbolic utility (“message”). For Burkart, in the technological realm, music is more important in that it serves as a rallying point around which to organize counter-hegemonic activity than for its specific content. He describes how older musicological studies tended to look at the content of music and the replication of these ideologies in new contexts, (what Eyerman and Jamison call the “mobilization of tradition”). The author reiterates the concept of music as a vehicle of cultural reinforcement through the encouragement of “performative rituals”. He therefore cautions that even if music exhibits an overt political orientation, it should not automatically be viewed as a potential tool for enacting social change since it may actually be strengthening old paradigms. In defining the strategic, progressive use of music within a movement, Burkart cites Eyerman and Jamison, saying “there must… be some fit, some congruence, between the traditions carried in a particular song or piece of music and the ideas and ideals of [a new] emerging social movement…”

While Burkart shows within his writing that there is definitely proof of at least some opposition to the “celestial jukebox” and the sense of colonization, he recognizes that there is not enough substantial evidence to link instances of activism with any kind of organized social movement. However, Burkart uses Music and Cyberliberties to raise awareness to the social problems of abusive practices on the part of bureaucracies and technocracies. These practices include online surveillance, payments, and contracts. There is not only a restriction on cultural freedom but on individual privacy as well. There is a loss of pure anonymity and liberty on the part of the music fan whether apparent to them or not.

While Burkart acknowledges that file sharing cannot be a social movement in and of itself, he goes on to explain the aesthetic values in sharing as part of our new cybermusical lifeworld. He distinguishes between sharing and hoarding, both of which are done today with digital files. Hoarding was previously the center of music collecting and fandom, but when music is no longer dependent on physical packaging and can be copied instantly, the value of hoarded music has decreased. He states, "File sharing - even more than hoarding - would appear to contribute to the psychological appeal of digital-music files to music collectors. And sharing is also a means to hoarding in many online communities." If all music is instantly accessible via the Celestial Jukebox or even some other Alternative Jukebox, the access to the music becomes less valuable. It is the social act of sharing that music, exposing others to it, and promoting a specific album or artist to peers that is valuable. "The value comes in communication and in sharing cultural objects as well as ideas and information about them. Spreading the fan-club base wider through personal distribution channels becomes more important than building personal archives of records and CDs." While Burkart largely presents digital music sharing in a positive light, he does acknowledge potential downsides because of enclosures and risks to personal freedoms as previously mentioned. He also talks about local music scenes. He asks, "will local music scenes pay a price for the absence of record stores or face-to-face encounters at shows and festivals?" While he has a point that local record stores have largely disappeared (and the local scene is worse off for it), why would shows and festivals and the interactions they facilitate decrease? Is it not just as likely that local shows and festivals will become more important in the music lifeworld? Artists will be more dependent upon making money through live performances. It will be easier to listen to and familiarize ones self with the musicians playing at a show or festival before it happens through digital means. Online music will not destroy live music; they will instead be supported by one another.

Keeping all of Burkart's sensibilities in mind (and comparing/contrasting his position with the other theoretical positions we have encountered, such as those of Lawrence Lessig, David Post, Kembrew McLeod, DJ Dangermouse, Girl Talk, etc.), what are our rights and obligations as citizens, scholars, musicians and teachers towards musical networks, sampling, copyright, and fair use? Does our affiliation with the university put in place certain restrictions on our potential cyberactivism that we would not have as private citizens? When instructing students, how do we morally navigate possible conflicts between ideals of fair use and the current system of legal and academic codes in place? Can we separate the content of musical media and how it is disbursed? What is our place in fighting (or building) the celestial jukebox?

In Virtual Music, Duckworth presents an interesting ideological dichotomy while discussing The Grey Album. He states that the controversy "revolves around competing intentions: those to make make money, and those to make art" (154). Here it is argued that Danger Mouse's intentions were to create a piece of art, not a commercial album (although it is stated later that he did in fact wish that the album could have been a "regular, commercial release" (155)). Therefore, the album as a creative piece of art should be allowed to stand on its own without fear of legal action against its creator. A problem would arise in this type of analysis if one was to base this decision on intention, since it is so difficult to ever know what a composer, author, or arranger really "intended" to do with a work. But it is helpful to remember Duckworth's overall idea when we read other articles and books, such as the Burkart. As stated by Duckworth: "when we look at music through the prism of money, art and creativity often get pushed aside" (155). The agency of the musician has been all but forgotten by Burkart, Lessig, Post, and others. Their debate centers on the conflicts between the music industry and the consumer. Possibly the answers these authors are seeking are to be found closer to the musician than either of these agents.

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