The Public Library as Instigator of a Modern Public Sphere

The digitalization of information has been a hot topic ever since the arrival of the computer. The internet must be the world’s biggest library by now. Never before the enormous amount of information that can be found on the web has been accessible from one spot. The biggest argument for maintaining the printed word has always been the discomfort of reading from a computer screen. With the arrival of digital reading technologies such as e-readers this problem is about to be overcome. The Kindle, the amazon E-reader was sold out in five and a half hours after it’s introduction in 2007. The e-book is definitely becoming more and more popular.

I started thinking about this topic again after reading an article in a Dutch magazine called Vrij Nederland about the new public library in Amsterdam. The article is called zoeken naar betekenis, which means: searching for meaning [1]. The article is about the role of the library in our modern age. With the above mentioned advance of the e-book and other digital information recourses the classical role of the library is becoming old fashioned and maybe even redundant. The reading-room and lending desk, the definitions of a classic library, are becoming less important to the visitors. What elements of a public library can still draw people to a library?

Adaption to the needs of the modern individual is the key. Frank Huysmans (in zoeken naar betekenis) claims libraries need to present themselves as information experts. There should be intelligent meta information systems, which include every kind of information about a subject. For example: a person is searching for music by The Doors, when searching inside the system he or she will find cd’s, but also movies, documentaries and books about The Doors. Why would this be better than searching on the internet? According to Huysmans libraries can offer more complete and better balanced information, because the information has been verified and isn’t driven by commercial interests.

This sounds promising, but people are becoming more and more accustomed to searching for information on the Internet on their personal computers, the information presented in a library might be slightly better, but is this reason enough to get you out of your house and into a library? The creators of the new public library in Amsterdam also seemed to have their doubts, because they allocated all sorts of other entertaining (and commercial) elements inside the library. Inside the library there’s a fancy Italian restaurant, a high profile coffeebar and lunchroom. Also the library organises readings, exhibitions and so on. A public library with all these elements is way more than a simple collection of information, the library is starting to become a social meeting point.

The question is: is this a bad thing? I tend to think it isn’t. Of course all of the above mentioned changes mean a decrease in the amount of books for loan. This means a loss of the classical intellectual vibe which comes to mind when thinking about a public library. The possibility to stroll trough a wood of bookshelves in complete silence is becoming history. This is a shame, but is also a necessary deficiency. There’s simply no need for such a wood of physical books anymore. Instead the library is becoming a meeting point and not just an ordinary meeting point! It’s a (to some extent) non- commercial meeting point which combines the possibility of a social get together with an enormous amount of information.

This is where the public sphere comes in. Jurgen Habermas introduced the notion of the public sphere in his book: the structural transformation of the public sphere in 1962[2].

In the culture characterized by Öffentlichkeit (public sphere), there occurred a public space outside of the control by the state. Inside this public sphere individuals exchanged views and knowledge. In Habermas’s view, the growth in newspapers, journals, reading clubs, Masonic lodges, and coffee-houses in 18th century Europe, all in different ways, marked the gradual replacement of “representational” culture with Öffentlichkeit culture. Before the emergence of the public sphere European culture had been dominated by a “representational” culture, where one party sought to represent itself on its audience by overwhelming its subjects The public sphere offered an opportunity for non restricted discussion and deliberation. As noted before the public sphere relied on physical places where people could socially encounter in the discussion of politics and knowledge.

In our modern individualistic society, the importance of the public sphere is decayed. According to Habermas this is due to the growth of commercial mass media, which turned the critical public into a passive following herd, and to the rise of the welfare state, which ‘merged the state with society so thoroughly that the public sphere was squeezed out’.

When thinking about the modern public library I keep on thinking about the 18th century coffee houses, Habermas speeks so highly about. The combination of a social meeting point and the huge amount of information on offer, sounds like a perfect combination to re-instigate the discussion of politics and knowledge as a basis for a modern public sphere. The only problem is the libraries strong ties with the government, which according to Habermas have been a public sphere killer. Still I think a modern library is a perfect starting point for instigating the public debate on a more intellectual level. I don’t now whether it can be considered a starting point for a modern public sphere, but a modern library sure sound like a perfect place for the exchange of views and knowledge.


[1] Kaan, M (2009) Zoeken naar betekenis. Vrij Nederland. Nr 31 pp 56-59

 

[2] Habermas, Jürgen (1962 trans 1989) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a category of Bourgeois Society, Polity, Cambridge.

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The Complexity of the Online Self

Cyberspace can both be considered a communication medium for “real” people and a place for people to take on different roles, for experimenting with different ways of behaviour, maybe even different identities. This possible online identity experimentation could change the way people think about the concept of identity. Sherry Turkle[1] considers the Internet as an element of computer culture which has contributed to the thinking of identity as a plural phenomenon. The Internet is used to experiment with the different sides of an identity. Virtual identities inspire to think about your own ‘real’ identity because the creation of an online role takes introspection. In the modern digital age it is impossible to speak of just one definite identity. The concept of identity must both personally and culturally not be considered as a definite fact.

Identity in cyberspace is an ambiguous notion. In real life an identity is mostly considered singular, belonging to a single body. In a virtual world, body and identity can be separated. This realization brings along a lot of new opportunities for experimenting with identity. Still it doesn’t really matter how many online identities one creates, because they all belong to the same body and mind sitting in front of the computer screen[2]. From this point of view identity is still considered singular and the internet is a tool to further develop this single identity. This notion doesn’t seem to stroke with Turkle’s idea of the plural identity. It’s interesting to give this contradiction a moment’s thought.

Anthony Giddens[3] claims that the late modernity (the time we live in right now according to Giddens) confused the way we think about identity. This confusion appears to give us the opportunity to create a new own identity. Because of the twentieth century increased individualism people started to consciously search for their own identity. Only when someone is aware of his/her present identity it’s possible to further develop this identity to the desired identity. To clearly define the road to the desired identity there’s a need for introspection and self reflection. Self reflection offers the opportunity for the fragmented late modern identity to re-shape itself, or at least some part of it. In this late modernity people are (being made) aware of their need for a clear identity. Because of this awareness they employ a continuous mode of self reflection concerning the own identity and its representation. According to Gidden’s theory the creation of an identity is a personal choice, people create their own identity. In my opinion Giddens puts to much emphasis on the individual. Giddens theory supports the theory of contra-essentialism, which is the idea of identity as a social construct, an decentralised identity. Contra-essentialism is opposed to essentialism, which is the idea of an established identity. Giddens talks about identity as a project under development, which clearly is opposed to the theory of essentialism, but he doesn’t say much about the social influences on that project, he concentrates on the inner processes of the individual. Another academic supporting the idea of contra-essentialism is Stuart Hall[4]. According to Hall the modern view on identity is one of constructionism, mobility and multiplexity. He claims identity isn’t an established objective fact, but a process shaped by subjective impulses, which originate from a persons discursive activities. A persons environment and context have a big influence on identity construction. Hall says “We are defined by who we are not”, identity originates from being different then the other and because of that is determined by others. Introspection concerning an individuals own identity creates a need for thinking about other individuals.

The idea of contra-essentialism and its constructionist approach to identity gives the concept of identity an interesting meaning in our digital age. As said before, the Internet is a great platform for experimenting with identity. When we adopt Gidden’s and Hall’s ideas the internet can be very helpful for creating the desired identity. The continuous need for analysing and developing the current identity fits perfectly inside the online worlds possibilities for identity building and experimenting. SNS sites, online communities and other internet applications based on social contact have proven to be playgrounds for self presentation. The online interaction also gives opportunity to define the own identity through the identity of others, which according to Hall is important for identity construction. This enormous opportunity for potential identity development takes us back to the question concerning Turkle’s plural identity. Could experimentation with different kinds of self presentation be an argument to speak about a plural identity. Is it possible for someone to have more than one identity? It could be said it is easy to have several different identities in different online environments, but are these identities really different? The notion that these different identities come from the same mind, makes me think they are just part of one reigning identity. An “online identity” might simply be a way of self presentation, not really an entire personality comprising identity. When thinking about identity from a constructionist view, it is hard to think of identity as possibly plural. I’m inclined to think of the internet as an enormous stimulus for identity development, but not as giving opportunity to employ multiple identities.


[1] Turkle, S. (1995) Life on the screen: identity in the age of the  Internet. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster

[2] Donath, J. (1999) Identity and deception in the virtual world. In Kollock, P. & Smith, A. (1999) Communities in cyberspace. London; New York: Routledge

[3] Giddens, A (1991) Modernity and self identity; Self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity press

[4] Hall, S. (1995) in Bell, D. (2001) An introduction to cybercultures. New York, NY: Routledge

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Twitter: Exposing the Idols

Twitter is a perfect tool for getting an insight in peoples daily lives. It encourages the following of public figures as well as “ordinary people”, who might be interesting to you. Besides the role of a follower, you also get the possibility to share your own daily life with the rest of the world. This online exposure marks twitter as a true online identity constructor. Your twitter identity is not only defined by what you tweet but also by who you follow. In this blog post I want to focus on what twitter could mean in the case of role models. Lots of celebrities and other kinds of public figures put their lives on twitter, open to see and follow for everyone. That a lot of people actually want to follow the lives of public figures on twitter was proven last April when Ashton Kutcher beat CNN breaking news in a battle to acquire one million followers on twitter[1].  When you look at the twitter statistics to see who’s got the most followers, you will see that eight out of the top ten are public figures. This proofs the public figures popularity, but what does it mean on the subject of public role models?

A role model can be defined as a cognitive construction, based on the attributes of a person in a social role, to whom an individual thinks to be equal and desires to increase this equality by striving for those same attributes[2].The term “role model” is derived from two theoretical concepts”

–         The concept of role and the urge of individuals to identify with people in important social roles

–         The concept of modelling, the psychological matching of cognitive skills and patterns of behaviour between a person and an observing individual

The first concept is based on the role identification theories, which presumes that individuals are attracted to people they consider equal in terms of attitude, behaviour and/or goals, or desire the same status as these people. The individual is motivated to increase equality through observation and/or imitation. The second concept is based on the social learning theory, which presumes that individuals look at models because it is helpful for acquiring new skills, tasks and norms. The identification theories emphasizes on the inspirational and self – defining aspects of role models, where the social learning theory focuses more on the learning process[2].

It could be discussed whether it is possible for an individual to consider a so called public person, a person often portrayed in the media, as a role model, because for a lot of people, these public figures only exist in the media. They are not close enough to really get to know them. Because of this distance it could be hard to identify with them or to match their skills and behaviour, which are criteria for considering someone as a role model. Still I think it is possible to have a public figure as a role model. Giddens[3] argues that the search for our own identity is a feature of our modern western society. He claims that the modern individual is constantly reflecting on him/herself to see what he/she has to change to reach the desired identity. People are constantly working on the development of their own identity. The identity develops through the choices the individual makes. These choices will eventually lead to a lifestyle, which determines the identity. The presence of role models is an important factor in the choice of a lifestyle. people use role models to develop their identity. Within the modern individual there’s a need for role models.

The uses & gratification approach claims that peoples media use depends on their needs. People use the media to fulfil their needs. They are selective in the messages they receive. They only give attention to those that match their needs. Because role models are considered a need in the search for identity, I argue people select those messages within the media which could help them find a role model. According to Fiske[4] the meaning of the message a person decides to receive depends on the position of the receiver regarding the subject of the message at the moment of receiving. The receiver determines the way the message is interpreted. This means a media message concerning a public figure could be interpreted by the receiver in a way that fits his or her needs in the search for a role model. This subjective interpretation makes it easier for a person to find a desired identity in a public figure and to identify with that public figure. A requirement for being able to identify with a public figure, and to mention this public figure as a role model is a sufficient amount of media exposure of that figure. There must be enough media exposure of the public figure to satisfy the needs of the identifying person. The mass media of course are very present in western societies, supplying enormous amounts of information about the lives of public figures, so it looks like the needs for information about possible public role models can easily be fulfilled. On the other hand, a lot of this information is second hand information, created by others than the actual public figure and thereby not a true insight in the life and the mind of the public figure. This could be considered a problem when regarding public figures as possible role models. The rise of Twitter is a very interesting phenomenon when thinking about this. On twitter people can actually read what the public figure thinks about on a daily basis. Twitter can give you an insight about what’s on the mind of a public figure. This is very useful for a person who considers a public figure as his or her role model. When trying to identify with and trying to become more equal through matching of skills and behaviour Twitter looks like a very helpful device for acquiring the wanted information. More than any other information source Twitter provides first hand information. Only a personal blog could be considered as personal as Twitter, but people tend to put their spontaneous thoughts on twitter before they process them in an extensive blog post. Besides that there’s the possibility to read both the personal blog and the tweets of a public person so twitter simply provides extra information instead of creating a conflict between different sources of information. Twitter’s offering of up to date first hand personal information about public figures seems to increase the possibility of having a public figure as a role model.


[1] http://www.dutchcowboys.nl/twitter/16762

[2] Gibson, D (2004) Role models in career development: New directions for theory and research. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 65 134 -156

[3] Giddens, A (1991) Modernity and self identity; Self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity press

[4] Fiske, J.(1987) Television Culture. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.

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Wikipedia And Its Contradictory Open System

Wikipedia is a frequently discussed Internet website. Some people are lyrical about it’s possibilities and future, where others seriously doubt Wikipedia’s credibility and its open “everybody is allowed to contribute” system. Even in the scientific world opinions differ strongly. In this post I will discuss Wikipedia’s open system and try to explain why this system in time could become very successful.

Recently I created my first Wikipedia article. Before this experience I always looked at Wikipedia from a user’s perspective, simply searching for information inside this online encyclopedia. Of course I was always a bit critical about the reliability of the information I found, because there always seems to be a chance a voluntary Wikipedia contributor is wrong about something. This particular remark seems to be the main point of critique on Wikipedia. How does Wikipedia maintain a high level of credibility? The openness of the Wikipedia system is both its strongest and weakest feature. The content of virtually every page can be edited by anyone, with those changes immediately visible to subsequent visitors. This participation model has resulted in a highly popular site with a large amount of content. Furthermore, much of the content is of surprisingly high quality, although vandalism, inaccuracies, user disputes, and other quality issues do continue to plague the site[1]. As Thomas Chesney (2006) says: ‘Its popularity has never been questioned, although some have speculated about its authority. By its own admission, Wikipedia contains errors’[2].

My fresh experience as a Wikipedia writer showed me Wikipedia does the best it can do to maintain a high level within their articles. They have very strict protocols concerning acknowledgements, linguistic usage, authorship and so on. As I personally experienced they also check every new entry. The reason I did not link to my Wikipedia entry at the beginning of this blog post, is that I just discovered my entry was deleted an hour after I wrote it. The reason for this somewhat harsh measure was an apparently wrong way of referring to the original author of a part of the text. I’m still working on fixing that. Unless this slight dent in my ego it shows the people behind Wikipedia do as much as they can to maintain a high level of credibility. Still it is possible for biased, out of date or incorrect information to be posted on Wikipedia. But as proponents of the website claim: “because so many people are contributing, the content will become more reliable as time passes[2]”. Chesney’s research shows us that the accuracy of Wikipedia is high. However this doesn’t say Wikipedia can be considered a totally reliable source, according to the experts, back in 2006 thirteen percent of the articles contain mistakes[1].

The statement that the collective contribution of many people will make Wikipedia’s content more reliable in time is an interesting one. It’s a confirmation of trust in Wikipedia’s collective wisdom. When a lot of people work on the same thing their collaboration will create a collective product, which can be the highest achievable outcome of their shared knowledge. Of course this collective contribution can also lead to conflicts on the more or less indefinable subjects about which opinions may vary. Kitur et al’s1 research shows that these conflicts are a big part of the Wikipedia activities. Although the social collaborative knowledge system grows, relatively less strain is being put in the creation of new articles, but more in indirect activities like discussion, editing and maintenance. Although online conflicts are often viewed in a negative context, it can also lead to positive benefits such as resolving disagreements, establishing consensus, clarifying issues, and strengthening common values[3]. From this perspective even conflicts resulting from collective contribution will boost the level of Wikipedia’s content. As we’ve seen before, according to Kitur et al’s research, users put a lot of effort in optimising Wikipedia’s existing content. So theoretically, due to its open system, Wikipedia could become the best possible source of information in the world. But for now there’s definitely still some collective work to do to convince everybody of Wikipedia’s great potential.


[1] Kitur, A. Suh, B. Pendleton, B. & Chi, E. (2007) He says, she says: conflict and coordination in Wikipedia. Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems

[2] Chesney, T. (2006) An empirical examination of Wikipedia’s credibility. First Monday, 11(11)

[3] Franco, V. Piirto, R. Hu, H. Y. Lewenstein, B. V. Underwood, R., & Vidal, N. K. (1995) Anatomy of a flame: conflict and community building on the Internet. in Kitur, A. Suh, B. Pendleton, B. & Chi, E. (2007) He says, she says: conflict and coordination in Wikipedia. Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems

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Social Networking Sites: to type oneself into being

Profiles are unique pages where one can “type oneself into being[1]. “Typing oneself into being” sounds like a great way to summarize a person’s motive for online exposure. When you’re not online, you seem to be nowhere at all. Creating an online profile on a social networking site is an easy way to develop an online identity. This online profile is the basis for creating an online network. Social networking sites show enormous potential for their users to meet new people, but according to Boyd[2] social networking site users don’t really try to meet new people online, they rather use the websites to articulate and make visible their social networks. The online networks are being used to confirm already existing offline connections. At this moment most of the online networks within social networking sites are a prolongation of people’s offline lives. They don’t seem to be autonomous networks standing on their own.

But there are signs of a kind of correlation between the online and offline networks. In some examples online networks are being used to try and stimulate and expand the offline networks. An interesting example can be found in this (Dutch) article. It’s about an interactive divine service organized by a protestant priest from Amsterdam. According to the priest it is the first LinkedIn divine service ever. It will be the first time all the people who are part of the online protestant LinkedIn network are able to meet in real life. Besides that, for the people who can’t make it to the meeting there’s the alternative to contribute to the meeting through the showing of their live messages on LinkedIn and twitter on a big screen. This is a good example of an online network giving an impulse to an offline network. The protestant church is using the new medium to support their offline community. Online social networks clearly can be used as a tool for support of their offline counterpart.  On a more individual level, the creation of a personal online network also seems to be supportive for a person’s offline network. Adding an offline contact as an online “friend” to your network is a very easy way to not forget about that person and by that is a perfect motivation to keep in touch. For instance Lampe, Ellison and Steinfield[3] found that Facebook users engage in searching for people with whom they have an offline connection more than they “browse” for complete strangers. Boyd[2] also argues that Myspace and Facebook enable U.S. youth to socialize with their friends even when they are unable to gather in unmediated situations, she argues that social networking sites are “networked publics” that support sociability, just as unmediated spaces do.

Looking at it from this perspective, individual online networks can give a strong impulse to a person’s offline network. But because of that, the online network could also be considered as a  simple tool to support someone’s offline social life. When considering this supporting role of online networks I started wondering whether it is really necessary to “type oneself into being”. An online identity doesn’t necessarily lead to a new or bigger network, so why would you put in the effort to construct one? Of course the motivation can be found in the increasing digitalization of society. The online and offline networks seem to be highly intertwined and maintaining each other. In this digital age a large amount of our time is spend surfing the web and using all kinds of other Internet applications. Social networking sites give us the opportunity to expand our social activities to our online world and because of that give us the opportunity to spend more time maintaining our social relationships. Social networking sites are really helpful in keeping in touch with everyone you know and deepening your relationships with new people you meet. Despite this valid motivation for using social networking websites as an extension of our offline social lives, it would be interesting to see whether it is possible to create a valuable social network inside a social networking site totally depending on online contacts, without a direct link to offline life. Right now this doesn’t seem to be the case, but with the increasing digitalization of society it might become a real possibility in the future.


[1] Sundén, 2003, in Boyd, D. (2007) Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 13(1)

[2] Boyd, D. (2007)Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 13(1)

[3] Lampe, Ellison and Steinfield, 2006. in Boyd, D. (2007) Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 13(1)


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A Review of: Self-Organisation/Counter Economic Strategies – Superflex

This book is an initiative by the Danish artists group: Superflex. Superflex has been working on a series of projects related to economic forces, democratic production conditions and Self-organisation since 1993. Most of their initiatives seem to question the existing economic structures. The initiatives aren’t necessarily opposed to the existing economical systems, but they do try to make people think of alternative options and other ways of structuring the world and its economics. Every Superflex initiative is presented as some form of art. Some of them, like their burning car movie clearly are artistic expressions. But some initiatives lean strongly towards developmental aid projects and need a thorough analysis before you get the artistic value. But all of the Superflex initiatives should be considered as tools. It are proposals that invite people to actively participate in and communicate the development of experimental models that alter the prevailing economic production conditions. So is this book.

Self-organisation / Counter economic strategies is not very surprisingly a book about self-organisation and counter economic strategies. Self-organisation as put to use in this book is referring to an organisational system within groups that are independent of institutional or corporate structures, are non hierarchical, open and operate participatory decision-making processes. The counter economic strategies could be considered as alternatives to classical capitalist economic organisations that originate from existing economic systems. The book is a collection of ten different essays and a number of single examples of self- organisation and counter economic strategies. The essays are a collection made by Superflex, the writers of the essays aren’t necessarily a part of Superflex.

The book is not about Superflex itself but “It is about the many approaches to the creation, dissemination and maintenance of alternative models for social and economic organisation, and the practical and theoretical implications, consequences and possibilities of these self-organised structures. The counter-economic strategies presented here are alternatives to classical capitalist economic organisation that exploit, or have been produced by, the existing global economic system” (superflex.net).

This is a very good summary of the theme of the book. The essays have very different subjects, ranging from fan fiction to a philosophical approach, to self-organisation and the civil society, to the MST, an organisation in Brazil fighting for the rights of the land-less. But although the essays deal with very different subjects, they all give us a little insight in how the world could also be organised in the 21th century. This could be by analysing the acts of a civil society consisting of Brasilian farmers, or by means of discussing the consequences of digitalisation of information in our modern age. All essays try to make the reader think about alternatives. Also the number of examples of self- organisation and counter economic strategies anywhere in the book are very insightful and sometimes even helpful to link some of the information in the essays to real life. Some of the reserved examples are so original, I have to share them. First there is the Free Beer, an initiative where freedom of knowledge is put to a profitable use. Another one is Seastead, a project in which people are developing floating self-sufficent ocean cities. The last one I cannot keep to myself is an organisation called Raging Grannies. A collaboration of older women to get some public attention for issues they think are important.

This book is a very interesting experience because it doesn’t only question the way societies are structured in the world today, but it actually shows some alternatives, which to me is very refreshing. The book can be considered an accusation to modern dominant social, political and economic systems, but then again it isn’t that critical. More in the line of the Superflex philosophy it’s a tool to make people think about alternatives. The book doesn’t really tell you what or who is good or bad. Although they clearly support the suppressed, but who doesn’t? I can’t blame them telling us some Cinderella stories come true from all over the world to show us that change in the way of thinking and structuring of society is actually possible.

But besides the feeling of change this book is providing, I must admit being a bit sceptical. Although the book definitely shares some very interesting insights and success stories, it all seems to be a little small scaled. The book shows us the possibility of change but it definitely doesn’t show us a real change in the way people are thinking, only some changes on a very small scale. Also some of the essays dealing with the digital age and the revolutionary potential of digital information and the Internet seem to employ the utopian way of thinking which is so common in academic writing today. From my point of view this kind of writing could be considered as overly positive about the new opportunities of digitalisation. The book does actually show us some examples of how the possibilities of the Internet can be implemented to for instance close the information gap. The essay by Martha Wallner and Will Bradley called Independent media and self-organised culture in the US: Situations and strategies shows us a couple of self-organised media projects which use the Internet to make a change. But also in these examples it becomes evident everything is still very small scaled. For example, in most of the cases the initiatives are still struggling to finance their projects, which shows us it’s hard to make a successful change, even on the Internet.

But then again, the book doesn’t want to tell us there is going to be a revolution of some sort. The book should be considered as a tool. It’s a proposal to reconsider the way we think about organising the society, on its social, political and economical level. To me the book is definitely interesting and insightful enough to make a person think about the alternatives and maybe even motivate to try and change things him- or herself.

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Men Are Pigs?

Back in 2008 I did a semiotic analysis on a Trojan condom commercial. The commercial was provoking a lot of reactions on the subject of gender discrimination. In this case the reason wasn’t the all so familiar sexualisation of women, but instead it was the men who were offended. The main point of critique seemed to be the commercial turning men into beasts. Well, there’s no doubt about that because men are being projected as actual pigs in this commercial.

Check it out:

After seeing this commercial from a man’s perspective, you might be offended, but more likely you’ll be amused. At least I couldn’t suppress a little smile. To me the extreme generalisation is rather funny and I don’t feel like somebody is actually telling me I’m a pig. Everybody knows guys can be kind of rude and pig-like in daily life. I’d say it’s an accepted stereotype in these modern days. Why would you be offended when someone’s using it to make a point, promote safe sex and earn some money during the process? Still the fact is, a lot of people were offended by it. So there must be something there which is offending to a lot of people. This is exactly what I tried to figure out with my semiotic analysis, which you can find here

Unfortunately the paper is written in Dutch, so for the interested non-dutch reader it’s impossible to understand the entire paper. For them I’ll try to summarize my most important findings in English. The main thing I found out is the fact that people weren’t really offended by the men being portrayed as pigs, instead they were offended by the social balance in the commercial. The ladies in the commercial obviously don’t really appreciate the presence of the pigs at the bar, but the pigs are craving for there attention. You could say the women are in the most powerful position. But, when a pig gets a condom and turns into a true man, this powerbalance changes. The man suddenly becomes interesting. So according to this commercial, a man who takes his responsibilities is an attractive man. But looking at it from a gender/power- balance perspective, why would the man have to take all the responsibilities? What we see here is that even when a man takes his responsibilities there is still an uneven division of power. The girl in the commercial is only showing a little more interest, he’s not there yet. This power division in favour of the women seems to be the main obstacle for the offended people. It’s not the pigs themselves that are offending, it’s the weak social position of the pigs which is making people uncomfortable.

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