Landscapes of Global Capital
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MCI07-98In a period of intense and puzzling global transformations, transformations themselves abstractly mediated to us through electronic media, it's not always easy to get a handle on the deep changes taking place in the ways we live our lives. One way we have of locating ourselves amidst these changes comes from the mass media -- especially television. Ads contribute to the frames that enable people to construct new cosmologies that aid in making sense of intense and rapid changes.

    "Representations of space encompass all of the signs and significations, codes and knowledge, that allow [corresponding] material practices to be talked about and understood..." (Harvey, 1989: 218).

In this project we are studying representations of Space and Time, along with those of Capital, Technology and Globalization, through the lens of mainstream television advertising.

We are particularly interested here in visual metaphors of space? Do some metaphors appear more commonly than others? What can we learn from the visual clichés that dot the advertising landscape? If these representations frame our interpretations of the big picture of global capitalism, do they also become our understanding of globalization? This, of course, is a point made by Jean Baudrillard when he says that it is very difficult to distinguish the event signified from the signifier of the event

Have representations of space and time changed in contemporary ads? How do ads for companies who rely upon new technologies represent relations of time and space? What is the difference between "place" and "space" in representations of social and cultural life? Is there a relationship between the accelerated flow of imagery within advertising's cultural circuits of images and how viewers might be reconceptualizing the relations of place and space in their lives? How are sea changes in the globalization of markets and culture, along with the incessant push of new digital technologies, reshaping meanings of time, space and place?

Marc Augé's(1995) non-places drew attention to the development of a wide range of liminal public spaces which he called non-places -- e.g., airport lounges, superhighways, megastores -- all spaces through which people pass. Augé gave a new order of spaces a name -- non-places. Augé's book turned into a lament for the fixed and stable categories of a world divided into traditional and modern, a world where the organicity of place should prevail. Connected to his imagery of organic place are images of authenticity. Since Augé wrote that book other kinds of non-places have popped up that are even less material in the traditional sense -- e.g., Internet stock markets, on-line auction houses, on-line chat rooms, not to mention the surge in E-tailing --, e-Bay.

Here, we've chosen as our texts, the Sun Microsystems ads and the MCI ads (as well as others) to explore how corporations are representing such new spaces as NASDAQ or the Internet itself. These representations lace together time, agency, movement and space. Our intent is to shift the consideration of non-places by moving away from the nostalgic reasoning of folks like Marc Augé and Frederic Jameson to the works of Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, Celeste Olalquiaga, Scott Lash and David Harvey and their critiques of modernity and postmodernity.

This is a space of flows, albeit a digitized, fiberoptic flow

The designation "high-tech" industries includes networking, semiconductors, software, telecommunications, and fiber optics. These are all obviously interlinked. However the networking side is the side that we'll begin with, in part, because of Manuel Castells' (1996) The Rise of The Networked Society. Castells maintains that space organizes time in the networked society. He conceives this emergent social order as a "space of flows" which differs from the stage of modernity organized as the "space of places." How are social and cultural spaces reconceived in the networked society? What does it mean to have discursive communities which exist in non-places, but rather which exist in the "space of flows"?

The thing about the Internet is that it is hard to figure out where "here" and "there" and "where" are -- at the very least, we would admit that it constitutes a non-embodied form of interaction. What would Donna Haraway have to say about this, given the irreducible fact that knowledge is always, cannot be otherwise, the product of an embodied existence? Though the interaction has been distanced from the body, the body remains, although displaced. Even the most cynical of social theorists could not have predicted a few years ago that prior to the millennium some of the most far-fetched speculative stock values ever afforded would be found in Internet companies that were selling discursive community as their commodity. Join AOL or Geocities, E-Bay or U-Bid and become a member of a discursive community of your own choosing. This is the commodity they offer, but the revenue comes from advertisers -- from banners and the sale of 'cookies.' In this regard the Internet is modeled precisely on television, where the number one commodity has been the audience that can be delivered. Hence ratings and the fetish of ratings.

Paradoxically, space in the contemporary world becomes increasing non-locational. In many of the commercials we look at it becomes merely a trace of landscape or an emptied horizon or a serialized non-place. The montages of Capital are packed with spatial signifiers from "every corner of the globe" which are often mixed with the simulacra of cyberspace. As these signifiers blend at hyperspeeds, everywhere signifies nowhere.

Abstraction & Deterritorialization
Cultural Geography
The Architecture of Capital

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© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey