Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Tsing points out something that we often forget, especially when enmeshed in a discipline such as Modern Culture and Media. Friction reminds us that there is a physical world. All too often I realize after the fact that the theorists we read and the discussions we have in class/section (I am of course myself guilty of this just as much as anyone else) forget about the practical, the particular, the physical. We talk about the universals of network theory sociologically, psychologically, technologically, but we often disregard the physical workings that underlie these more mental processes. There is a network of servers driving the internet, there is a GUI and computations underlying how we interact on social media platforms, there are biological processes that give rise to emotions and passions, there are political/social/economic apparatuses that define the structure of suffering or humanitarianism... Throughout this semester we have thankfully pointed out many (though I'm sure not all) of the workings (and inconsistencies) between the physical and the theoretical.

Tsing shows us the intersection of the world we love to live in and the world we forget about (but actually live in) again and again in great detail and clarity. Compared to many of the other readings we have been assigned in this course, Friction was surprisingly accessible... and I would like to contribute that fact to Tsing's use of her own paradigm: a combination of universals and particulars. She makes us think about the universals she is discussing (prosperity, knowledge, and --- are the section title of the book) and apply them to a particular setting within a regional context that she attempts to explain thoroughly. She gives us the background and has us connect the theory to the practice. She nicely utilizes her own theory in the structure of her work. What are some moments in which she fails to realize her own objectives in the structure of her writing? I'll have to think on this some more.

What I would like to question though is: what is new about Tsing's argument? We are told 'in order to understand the large scale picture we must look at how it interacts with the small scale.' Okay, I knew that already, but what is new which is making me realize the importance of this interaction... why does Tsing seem to be pointing out something novel when really isn't this how we all know the world really works? Things don't happen in the physical world simply because we have grand ideas - there must also be actions to back them up... this is a generally accepted idea, right? So why when I was reading Friction did I find her theory new even though she could have been just stating facts? I really don't know the answer to this yet, but I promise I'm still thinking.

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