Néstor García Canclini, a celebrated Mexican cultural studies thinker, weaves together divergent strands of critical theories, to reflect on the present moment in which social networks, algorithmic decision-making and digital technologies deepen the crises of capitalism, as the capacities of citizens, state institutions and social movements become redefined.
A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.
In this article, which has been published, in Toby Miller’s translation, in Open Cultural Studies on November 20, 2018, Néstor Canclini, a distinguished professor at the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico City, offers a critique of neo-liberal capitalism that links economic accumulation to citizen dispossession. In doing so, Canclini performs a qualitative, anthropological analysis of traditional and digital communication media as open to influences and instrumentalization by political and economic agents for their respective ends, especially in recent years. As João Leal in his 2009 article on cultural hybridity suggests, Canclini’s critical standpoint derives from his communitarian perspective on the transition from modernity to post-modernity.
Likewise, Canclini has been exploring the political implications of the mass media, such as television, ever since the 1990s, e.g., in his 1998 essay on cultural mediation between economic globalization and local articulations of cultural hybridity. Similarly, Canclini has been addressing the interrelations between culture and capitalism, such as in his contribution to a collection of essays on cultural recycling edited by Jean Klucinskas and Walter Moser in 2004. This informs his present analysis of the digital mechanisms that extract knowledge, information and value from services offered to individuals by Facebook, Google and other large Internet-based companies as instruments for the perpetuation of hegemonic social relations.
While Canclini points to the overcoming of binary oppositions as a possible avenue for the counter-hegemonic modification of asymmetric relations of power, the digital, neo-liberal and post-modern commodification of individual agency in its biopolitical forms, such as an increasingly immaterial, algorithmically replaceable labor force, apparently points to a dystopic scenario of disaffected citizens, de-democratized politics and dehumanized capitalism.
This examination of the digital dynamics of capitalism points to the concomitant crisis of political representation, as universal citizenship erodes, to give way to minority and interest group politics. According to Canclini, deepening inequalities also seem to be accompanied by the post-modern denaturalization of traditional gender, cultural and social distinctions. As Serge Guilbaut suggests in his 2015 paper, this could be an unexpected effect of the post-modern valorization of superficiality under the influence of cultural, social and economic globalization.
While in the present moment the differences between the traditional world and the modernity seem to be blurred, not least under the impact of global capitalism, power shifts and digital networks, which Adam Nobis investigates in his 2017 article on China’s revival of the Silk Road, Canclini avers that the breakdown of social, economic and cultural mechanisms associated with modernity also ushers in the radicalization of capitalist inequalities, post-democratic tendencies, and political fragmentation.
By Pablo Markin
Featured Image Credits: Occupy Oakland Move In Day (23 of 31), Central Oakland, Oakland, California, USA, January 28, 2012 | © Courtesy of Glenn Halog/Flickr.