On the Idiocy of Corporate Scholarship

Office culture by Gillian Tett (via Anne). Is the author talking about Cultural Studies? No. It seems that social anthropologists are quite happy to be culture mechanics for multinational companies. Whatever. People can use their PhDs as sex aids for radiated penguins for all I care, but one quote in this article made me angrier and sadder with the world than I already was:

Ken Anderson: “When I was at grad school my supervisor did not want me to do anything applied – that was not considered the right track. The key point to realise is that a consumer can always say no to anything that a corporation comes up with, so what we are doing is not like colonialism.”

Just say ‘no’? Yeah, right. How deluded is this guy? ‘Applied’ translates as “territorialised by capital and plugged into its machineries of desire”. Yeah. Let’s chop some fuckin sense into this bollock. Keywords for this battle are ‘consumer’, ‘no’, and ‘corporate colonialism’.

First, he is utterly subsumed by the consumerist society of the spectacle. Hmm, I will add to this later.

Second, he does not understand that power does not come from saying ‘no’. Either ‘no’ is said as a function of ‘distinction’ and thus implicated in the reproduction of social stratifications through politico-aesthetic differentiation or ‘no’ is said as a form of refusal by the powerless because it is the last act, or should I say, gesture of agency that such people have. On what register is the ‘no’ being enacted? No to a cheesburger or hamburger in the burger joint? No to burgers or fried chicken joint in the franchise fast-food establishment? No to fast-food or home-made food for dinner? No to the fact that such choices — not exactly like them, but nevertheless similar — are faced by EVERYONE? Power comes from enacting change, not refusing it. Desires for healthier fast food has forced McDonald’s to offer Subway-style rolls. Burgers were not being refused. Macca’s just wanted to tap into a flow of desire by capturing it in a circuit of consumption. Great. But how do people say ‘no’ to the very existence of places like McDonald’s? That is, to say ‘no’ to the very existence of the ‘corporation’ itself? Or, better, is it possible to refuse the ‘choice’ before one is implicated in the proposition of the decision? There is only interpellation in refusing the ‘choice’ itself, because you cannot refuse a question without giving an answer. Choice, bro. Hence, the absolute tyranny of consumer choice…

Third, colonisation should not be thought of as a process in relation to any specific State or structural power. As briefly sketched below in an extract from Marc Augé’s argument in An Anthropology for Contemporaneous Worlds:

“We can go a little further and say that a prophetic movements as such constitute an anticipation, if not a prophecy, of what is today a situation we all share — the internationalisation of the planet. Colonised peoples were the first to have this experience because they were were the first to suffer it. The colonisers, more or less impregnated with the evolutionist model and, before that, the belief that they were the carriers of a universal civilisation, saw in otherness a primitive and deformed version of their own identity. The fact of having come into relation with multiplicity and difference did not subvert their way of thinking or their relation to the world. Theirs were only regional, peripheral adventures; their relation to universality never involved a real experience of multiplicity. The colonised, in contrast, underwent — most often painfully — the threefold experience that comes with discovery of the other, an experience we now all share. I am referring, of course, to the acceleration of history, the shinking of space, and the individualising of destinies.” (101)