The agency of things!

                                               The willard Hotel in D.C.   The ‘agency’ of things? This is the Willard Hotel in Washington; if you look closely you can see it is on a famous street, and I walked past it when I was at a conference recently. Nothing remarkable, I know…but then I saw a placard on the wall (indeed there were at least six of them) and it changed both my view of, and reaction to this building. Lincoln stayed there just prior to his inauguration and Martin Luther king wrote, or at least finalised, his ‘I have a dream’ speech whilst staying here. (And, because I counted, I can tell you that it takes almost exactly 15 minutes to walk from the front door of this hotel to the very spot King stood -in front of the Lincoln memorial – to deliver that highly consequential speech).  A President with the name of the Ulysses spent much time in the bars of the hotel and, allegedly, it became the place to meet and influence him – hence the term lobbyist as it was in the hotel lobby that such advocacy often took place. (This is rather odd because Ulysses, the book, is the story of a single day – 16th June 1904 – the same day, some 105 years later, that I wrote this little think piece!!

Taxing consumer acts: Connecting us to civic society?

   Richard visiting Jefferson in Washington 09 Richard visiting his distant relative in Washington 09   Tax systems shape how we think about consumption “Taxes class themselves readily according to the basis on which they rest. 1. Capital. 2. Income.        3. Consumption. ……………A government may select either of these bases for the establishment of its system of taxation, and so frame it as to reach the faculties of every member of the society, and to draw from him his equal proportion of the public contributions; and, if this be correctly obtained, it is the perfection of the function of taxation. ……  ….But when once a government has assumed its basis, to select and tax special articles from either of the other classes, is double taxation. …….It is an aggrievance on the citizens who use these articles in exoneration of those who do not, contrary to the most sacred of the duties of a government, to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.”        Thomas Jefferson: Note to Destutt de Tracy’s “Political Economy,” This view, expressed by one of the founders of the American constitution, leads to questions about the consequences, for the character of our culture, of focussing tax on income or consumption. Perhaps the tax regime sends subtle messages about what is most valued? Is there grater untapped potential for the taxation system to shape future consumption patterns? How can we get the act of taxpaying to be a celebration of civic society?

Looking forward to the new iPhone 3G.

iphoneannounce I’ve just been reading Bauman’s relentlessly depressing The Individualized Society.  There is a short essay on instant gratification that deals in part with the way our ability to either locate ourselves in any grand narrative of progress, or to defer gratification for a later time (or life) is lost and replaced with individualised consumer experiences of history and progress (This seems a lot like Turner’s move from Limial ritual to liminoid by the way, so it’s a recurring concern for sociologists). The result is that it is now in the market where we may find the sorts of progress and meaning that are denied us elsewhere. Of course these are all ersatz. The launch of a ‘eagerly awaited new’ iPhone 3GS would seem a good example of Bauman’s concern. See this report  on the queues to be the first to own one and which also tells us that: ‘Apple also addressed user desires, adding a 3-megapixel digital camera with autofocus’. Or this one. Or this one with a review by the BBC that seems to illustrate just how superficial most of the new features actually are (it even comes with an electronic compass). At some point these small product changes became news and became something to hope for, to get excited by, and to want to be ‘part of’. Those queuing to buy the first one’s no doubt feel that in a small way they are part of something historic. We can see this in the ‘unboxing’ videos posted to Youtube. They are making history instantly, with no more effort that a queue in the sunshine with likeminded Apple fans and the entry of a credit card pin.  This instant gratification is fleeting though. At best it will last until the next new Apple product, but in reality it’s likely to have worn off tomorrow (the unboxing might even have been the pinnacle). At that point the desiring consumer must seek another commodity, the promise of which will sustain a sense of purposeful future that is absent in trivialised labour and social lives.


Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University