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Re: <nettime> Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic
Brian Holmes on Thu, 13 Nov 2008 14:14:09 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic


Discussing Michael Lind's thesis of technologically driven change, Ted 
Byfield wrote:

> The introductions of these 
> technologies benefited some regions or demographics at the expense of
> others, and one could generally argue that those who lost out tended to
> remain fixated *to varying degrees* on nostalgic images of ther pre-
> technologized pasts. Put simply, different areas and populations of
> the US inhabit different periods to different degrees and in different
> ways: technically, econonomically, culturally, socially, etc. And this
> phenomenon isn't only or entirely "imaginary." In some cases it is,
> for example, poor whites in the Appalachian and Ozark regions who see
> elections through the lens of Reconstruction, or underemployed Rust
> Belt workers who are clinging to a long-lost post-WW2 "prosperity." 
> Those are the easy examples, and especially relevant in this election
> because of race issues; but in other cases -- say, Sun Belt retiree
> enclaves, waning independent farmers, second- and third-generation
> "immigrant" populations, and so on -- it's much messier. These dynamics 
> are unbelievably complicated, which is why polling tied to political 
> analysis has become such a crucial part of US electoral politics.

That's absolutely fascinating commentary, Ted, I would be interested to 
hear more about how you read the changing regional picture of US public 
opinion. What you are looking at is a fully social "imaginary" which, as 
a writer like Halbwachs described it, is inseparable from the material 
culture that forms its outward dimension. (Halbwachs is, by the way, the 
great theorist of nostalgia, check it out.) In France, for example, the 
desire from one part of the population to cling to the post-WWII social 
order is really impressive, only it is not so much about sheer 
prosperity as about social security and a sense of working-class 
entitlement; it's as much about political agency and participation as it 
is about guaranteed salaries, health care, retirement benefits, etc. 
Historical experiences like the Depression, the 36 Popular Front and the 
construction of a social state after the war do not necessarily 
disappear from people's minds, even when the material constructions that 
accompanied them are slowly torn down or repurposed. Having a 
sensitivity to such collective orientations generally doesn't cut any 
mustard with people in a hurry to proclaim their latest universal 
economic theory, but actually, it can tell you quite a lot about why the 
person you happen to be talking with, or even fighting with, holds 
beliefs that appear illogical to you, but that clearly anchor him or her 
in some kind of language and sensibility shared by many others, and also 
expressed politically. I would be curious to hear more about that in US 
terms, in my (slight) experience, it is almost never discussed. Maybe 
there is an American Halbwachs? Maybe there is good writing on this kind 
of subject? Certainly the election maps are eloquent in themselves: 
there are deep geographical divides in US mentalities, you can see them 
written in red and blue. But the election maps show only two colors. The 
picture you paint, in just a short paragraph, seems to involve a wider 
spectrum.

best, Brian


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