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Summary: Shove et. al’s “Reproducing Digital Photography”

In “Reproducing Digital Photography” Shove et al. discuss the findings of their studies of the digital photographic practices of everyday amateur photographers. Drawing on Lator, they identity problems with the social sciences’ understating the role material artifacts play in our lives and the popular discourses’ overstating it (70). Turning to the practice (which they define as a “relatively enduring, relatively recognizable entity” 71) approach, they seem to contend, helps us avoid the classical debate between technology and society and the new and the old, and instead focus on how these categories mutually shape and inform each other, as well as see the dynamic interplay between them.

Shove et al. argue that terms like “domestication” and “configuration” cannot adequately represent the dynamic interplay between the amateur photographers’ “previous skills, arrangements and routines” and their active renegotiation with new emergences, the way they adjust those repertoires with the changes in technology and the personal, social needs and demands (79, 76). Their study suggests that digital technologies do not only “configure” users, they also set practices and create expectations for the users. Likewise, digital technologies are not “domesticated” by users alone; they are defined by practices and conventions, by the genre of photography, in this case (92). In terms of what has changed and what hasn’t, respondents find their “going digital”-expedience (and the ability to produce, manipulate, share, and organize images) a radical and transformative one, but they also find that certain things, such as the artistic and familial conventions of visual representations, have remained fairly stable.

The writers introduce Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of “the distinction of taste” to argue that photographers cannot act against their “habitus,” the way they are trained to act within the purview of their class and culture. That is, taste marks our social stratum and sets the boundary for what we can/cannot do as a member of a social class. When applied to photography, this means that when we do photography we do more than photography—we reproduce social difference and maintain social class. That’s why identical cameras can produce different photographs representing different things depending on the photographer’s social class and cultural background (74). This discussion encourages us to see, how, as in any other field, digital photography has us reflect on the material, social, and cultural aspects of photography. In closing, as any other field, photography is constituted by norms and conventions, and a reconfiguration necessitates knowing the existing norms an conventions.

Work Cited

Shove, Elizabeth, Matthew Watson, Martin Hand, and Jack Ingram. “Representing Digital Photography.” The Design of Everyday Life. Oxford: Berg, 2007. 69-92. Print.

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