In his examination of the process of industrialisation, Herbert Blumer argues that is often easier to detect one set of social process that are at play in a public situation than it is to detect others. For example, and according to Blumer, “it is easier to detect an increase in the division of labour than it is to detect the secularisation of values or the generation of impersonal relations.” This is despite the potential that both of the latter processes may drive change in more significant ways than the former. Blumer points out that just because there is a “high generality” to the social process that is active, it does not follow that the “perception of the process at work in empirical instances” is itself easy to identify and plot. Blumer goes on the note, moreover, that the difficulty of identification of the process usually leads to “uncertainty as to whether the process is, in fact, in operation in empirical instances.” In other words, and as Blumer contends, if we are to be certain that a social process is in operation, then we have to examine if it while simultaneously checking that it “actually has the characteristics that are attributed to it” (Blumer, 1990, p. 41).
For Blumer, and the overall symbolic interactionist methodology, it is vital to remind ourselves that when we undertake any study of social change, that we remain open to a reflexive questioning of the basis on which we are attempting to secure empirical validation of the process that we are suggesting is driving that change. This is because what we perceive to be the guiding social processes, when seen from a surface or a face-value point of view, may not be what is actually propelling change forward with most vigour. There are social undercurrents that are not easily visible to the naked eye, so simply mapping the boats on the surface of the water will not be sufficient if we are to gain an understanding of the deeper tidal forces at play.
It is for this reason that Blumer argues that empirical validation cannot be secured from the immediate signs and indicators of change, and that we should seek, instead, to understand how the hidden processes that are in play will often remain tacit and uncertain. According to Blumer, unless we refunction our explanatory concepts to suit the deeper rooted empirical evidence that we wish to illuminate, then we should be wary of ascribing our surface preconceptions to any supposed generalised forces that might offer an otherwise plausible explanation. In other words, we will fail to understand the multidimensionality of social change, because we are only attuned to the symptoms or expressions of social change that break into the cultural domain. In doing so we will miss the deeper forces that shape our social world. As Blumer reiterates in relation to the industrialisation process,
“To be realistic and workable in scholarly use, the conception of industrialisation as an agent of social change must be cast in terms or features that can be identified and traced at work in the collective life of the group” (Blumer, 1990, p. 42).
And so, it is the tracing of the driving principles of social change, in relation to the collective life of community media, that an adaptation of Blumer can be useful.
The challenge here, in relation to a renewed sense of understanding of community media, suggests that social changes can be mapped in the collective expression of our group lives. This is where we will find the features from which the new topography of dynamic social relationships and the expressions of socialmeaning can be drawn. They will be found in our lived experience and in the tacit, emergent and developmental forms of social life that are presently marginal to settled view of empirical description. Blumer identified nine “lines of such contact and entry,” along which he was able to demonstrate, in regard to industrialisation, that processes of social change are induced. According to Blumer, “these nine dimensions may be thought of as a framework inside which group life must fit” (Blumer, 1990, p. 42). They are:
- “A structure of occupations and positions…
- The filling of occupations, jobs and positions…
- A new ecological arrangement…
- A regime of industrial work…
- A new structure of social relations…
- New interests and new interest groups…
- Monetary and contractual relations…
- Good produced by the manufacturing process…
- Patterns of income of industrial personnel” (Blumer, 1990, pp. 42-46).
In proposing this framework, Blumer was able to demonstrate how a sense of localised and grounded experience could be defined, not only in the systems and beliefs that are at play, but also in the identities and meaningful relationship patterns that are also at play. The social framework provides the space and the landscape to support some forms of relationship and not others; and to give opportunities for some forms of growth and development, but not others. The structure of the social dynamic field allows some patterns of meaningful social behaviour to affix themselves and not others. As identified in the previous section, what we witness when we see different forms of identity, or individual and collective examples of creative expression, and the artefacts that culturally produced and circulated, is simply the visible evidence of the field of socialmeaning.
To use an analogy, we can only get so far with a Newtonian view of the interrelationship between different objects scattered in this cosmological space, but we get further when we also consider this space from an alternative standpoint, that of Einsteinian relativity. Let’s consider this briefly in the form of a truism. The myth surrounding Newton’s genius in gathering the strands and contradictory views of interacting matter in the heliocentric view of the universe is often related in the tale of the apple falling from the tree. In Newtonian terms, the apple falls from a tree because a superior force is acting on it, i.e. gravity. However, when considered from a relativistic point of view, the apple falls from the tree and hits the ground because it has nowhere else to go. According to Einstein, the apple is following the curvature of spacetime, and unless it is influenced by a superior force, as Newton identified, it will continue to follow the topography of the spacetime field in which it is situated. Newtonian physics, then, can be said to be highly functional to a point.
Likewise, Einstein’s theories of relativity can be said to be highly functional up to a point (although we don’t yet know what that point is). They both, however, serve a practical purpose in helping us to understand the mechanics of the universe. They both enable us to adapt and change our technological interventions in ways that have never previously been imaginable. We have gone from reading our fate in the stars to being able to predict the fate of stars. We have shifted our thinking in which man is the centre of the universe, prior to the time of Copernicus, to our present day understanding that the universe is unimaginably large, and is both a cosmos in which the macroscopically large and the microscopically small are governed by both certain and uncertain forces. These principles certainty and uncertainty are what govern our actions. They shape the world that we see around us, though this is increasingly multidimensional. if we are attuned or equipped with the right kind of maps and instruments to detect and evaluate them, we can work with these additional dimensions. As Arnold Toynbee notes, “The Copernican astronomy, which has replaced the Ptolemaic system, presents, in far simpler geometrical terms, and equally coherent explanation of a vastly wider range of movement of the heavenly bodies” (Toynbee, 1946, p. 198).
Thinking relationally, then, and in socialmeaning terms, suggests that we have to try to comprehend the dynamic and symbolic processes at play that shape the field of social practice in which we operate, and which in turn shapes social relations. These dynamic processes are not fixed and immutable, they vary in different circumstances, depending on how meanings are shaped, enforced and revealed in the power-field in which they operate. The processes go beyond the contractual and the transactional. They offer more than cause and effect models suggest. They are symbolic and archetypal. They are deeply rooted in the collective psyche that resonates through our times, and which provides shape to our collective unconscious. This is where an integration of the ideas and work of Blumer and Jung may prove to be fruitful. Among the many ideas that Carl Jung is associated with, none is more radical than the suggestion that we share a collective unconscious.
Jung’s view of the collective unconscious is that it is a layer in the deep psyche that can trace its roots back in our evolutionary history. The collective unconscious ties us to one another in ways that are played out across the eons, in distant times, places and cultures. Jung’s great insight is that these patterns of behaviour, attitudes and orientations recur according to their archetypal and founding disposition in the collective unconscious. These recurring archetypal phenomena are put into play by agents acting within a culture that shares many of the same root concerns. As Carl Jung points out, when we start to look at the roots of our present problems, we are “confronted with the underlying human psyche which, unlike consciousness, hardly changes at all in the course of many centuries” (Jung, 1968, p. 476).
Our relationship with our unconscious is of primary concern for Jung, which I believe mirrors Blumer’s concern for the social. For it is by attuning ourselves to both, that we are able to judge the whole extent of our self-knowledge gained from the slither of light that we cast forth into the depths. Generally, our perceptions are attuned to that which is in front of us, or which are close to the surface. The careful examination of the social patterns of association, and the psychic processes that drive them, will allow us to focus past the surface and peer deeper into the less easily charted areas of our being. Jung cautioned against the superficial view of human nature, because he recognised that
“An inflated consciousness is always egocentric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It is incapable of learning from the past, incapable of understanding contemporary events, and incapable of drawing right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotised by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead” (Jung, 1968, p. 480).
Jung was also keen to stress the difference between the ego and the collective unconscious, and that we should be weary of ascribing the content of the ego-personality with that of the none-ego, for otherwise, we run the risk of personalities that are subject to a “threatening inflation” (Jung, 1968, p. 481). Conversely, if we only allow ourselves to be governed by our collective responses, and we fail to heed the call of our individuated personalities, then we can be overwhelmed by our inconsequential position in relation to the collective worldview. We are left bobbing along with the tide like a piece of flotsam and jetsam. Jung warned that “no doubts can exist in the herd;” and that “the bigger the crowd the better the truth – and the greater the catastrophe” (Jung, 1968, p. 481).
Jung’s psychological practice was based on the recognition that we each have a capacity for creative expression, joy and love that goes beyond our functional needs and wants. This is what Thomas Singer notes a the great “democratisation of the psyche,” which will be founded on the recognition that we don’t just have physiological and cultural differences, but that we also have psychological, cognitive and spiritual differences to attend to as well (Singer, 2020). We have the ability as individuals and collectively, according to both Jung and Blumer, to reflect on our own presence in the cosmos, and to make adjustments that support the development of our sense of individual or social self. This process of development, when practiced and experienced truthfully, will, according to Jung, aid the development of the ego, the persona and wider psyche in the journey of individuation.
Individuation happens when we recognise that we have an archetypal path to follow and a role to play that is most meaningful to us. Individuation is the process of learning to manage, adapt, heal, treasure and transcend that role. As Murry Stein explains, however,
“One should add that this may also happen if a person has not previously formed a suitably adapted psychosocial persona, so that out of compensatory needs a persona would be created out of grandiose archetypal images such as the hero, the saviour, the devil, etc…. If a person succumbs to this temptation, the result is a psychological inflation (a state of grandiosity named by Jung the ‘mana personality’). One becomes convinced that one is a prophet or a sage, a culture hero or a demon lover, as Great Mother or Father, or some other myth-sized figure and an identity is created from a psychological content that is archetypal” (Stein, 2006, p. 15).
Furthermore, Jung suggests that where there is an archetype there is a role. According to Jung, “for every archetype, at its first appearance and so long as it remains unconscious, takes possession of the whole man and impels him to play a corresponding role” (Jung, 1968, p. 478). We are playing out these social roles to a greater or lesser degree. We are affixing them in patterns of behaviour that transcends individual wants and needs. The collective and social perspective enables us to understand that while we have individual, and individuated roles to play, these roles can only be cast within an established repertoire of archetypal roles. In sociological terms can practice becoming more attuned to the recurring patterns and associations that define our social interaction within the structure of our lived experience. Either in what Bourdieu describes as the habitus, or what Oakeshott described as the communitas. One takes an organic and emergent manner, i.e. as a set of civil associations, while the other takes the forms of socialisation that exist through culture (Bourdieu, 1977, 1984, 1998; Oakeshott, 1975). Where we can make further inroads, then, is in adding the additional dimension of the archetypal recurrences held in the collective unconscious, and which are experienced in the persistent roles and social complexes that are defined by their patterns of affective, or felt, engagement (Sparks, 2017; Stein, 1998).
What, then, are the archetypal roles that recur in community media? What are the patterns of relationships, the lines of entry, that occur in the life-world settings of community media? How can we come to terms with the recurring and emerging meanings that are both established and intersectional in this field of meanings? What is the symbolic importance of the practices and roles associated with community media? How can we best express and identify what those roles might be and where they are occurring and reoccurring? How can we attend, as Blumer implores us to do, to the “process of formation” of these roles, relationships and practices (Blumer, 1990, p. 142)?
To consider an analogy, when we view the solar system in which the Earth is placed, we can assume that it exists as the result of discreate and purposeful laws of nature. However, we might also consider that we are placed within the solar system is purely speculative and random, and simply the result of chances that have occurred over billions of years. Either way, we, as seekers of meaning, are left wondering how it works and what its purpose is? We can’t escape our present role. We are discovering and learning to use what is before us. We are engaged in a long, slow process of description and evaluation, in order that we can harness the power that is inherent in our world. The question we continually may as, however, is for what purpose and for whose benefit we might apply this understanding?