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Documenting the Marginal

While trying to understand Cohen and Higonnet’s essay “Complex Culture” I found very interesting their comments on marginal movements/ culture.  They argue that there must be a change in attitude in the studies of cultural phenomena concerning marginal movements.  Scholastic investigators must move away from the tendency to study and or document counter cultural cultural movements simply because they are marginal.  they claim “No phenomenon is historically significant simply because it is marginal (pg. 22)”. I, for one, believe that the obsession with studying and supporting the movements that find themselves in outer peripheries of the accepted social and cultural hegemony is the obsession with progress.  The never-ending interest in progress is absolutely sure that 1) progress must occur (even though progress for the sake of progress surely isn’t progress at all) and 2) Progress is defined by change. If it weren’t it would be stagnation.

Though I do agree the statement made on page 22, I’m not completely convinced that the writers completely agree.  They state that “Power lies neither at the center or at the margin, but as systematic relationships (page 22)”.  However, on the next section of the essay titled “Edges”, the authors claim that scholars of culture will need to pay attention to the edges.  Following that they argue that the edges are where the systems change.  These edges indeed are the marginal, just perhaps not in the way that they envision it (the marginal).  This is perhaps due the trend of rapid cultural changes.

A society that focuses on individualism, progress, and transient schools of thought allows the marginal (counter-cultures and sub-cultures) to be perfectly acceptable leaving it really at the center of culture as pioneers for change.  Traditionalism is really what is being pushed out to the peripheries.  This must be studied.  The new culture produces, as has been seen, a need among minorities, and the academically/scholastically ostracized to develop several stems of fundamentalism which seriously do threaten the progressive culture.

Moving on, it is interesting to be able to study the visual culture of these minorities, of the sub-altern.  As was made an example of in Wilson’s essay “Visual Culture”, the historian can easily analyze the manner in which Victorian popular culture portrayed Jew, Gypsies, Asians, and Africans by studying their visual depictions, and then of course relying on documents that offer an explication of such depictions.  But what I am interested in is the study of the visual documentation made the subaltern.  I am reminded of Charles Taze Russell’s (founder of the International Bible students, now Jehovah’s Witnesses) “Photodrama of Creation” produced in 1912.  By the 20th century Christian Milenialism was very much forsaken by most (save the bible students and Adventists) and Modernism was the absolute bee’s knees.  The photo-drama, however, becomes a perfect example of a marginal movement taking advantage of the culture’s new visual culture and using it to promote itself, to push itself away from the periphery and into the center.

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~ by S.E. Herran on February 8, 2011.

One Response to “Documenting the Marginal”

  1. Stephen,
    There are so many things I might respond to in this post. I’m really interested in the various ways you are engaging with the materials and questions of visual culture as a discipline.

    I’ll limit my response to asking for more clarification about the following: “Traditionalism is really what is being pushed out to the peripheries. This must be studied. The new culture produces, as has been seen, a need among minorities, and the academically/scholastically ostracized to develop several stems of fundamentalism which seriously do threaten the progressive culture.” What are you thinking of when you use the term “traditionalism”? What “stems” (strains?) of fundamentalism are you envisioning? I would love to engage with these questions but need just a bit more from you by way of an example or two.

    Lastly, though we won’t be reading much from Part 7 of the Visual Culture Reader, based on the interests you express in this post, you should certainly explore that section on your own at some point. (Also see chapter 37 on baby photo albums–very interesting piece.)

    Thank you for this first contribution.

    (4/4)

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