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Response: Reproducing Boundaries(?) in Shove et al.’s “Reproducing Photography”

Shove et al.’s “Reproducing Digital Photography” studies the practices of amateur digital photographers to illustrate “how technologies configure and are domesticated not only by individual users, but…by and in relation to the practices of which they are a part” (70). The term practice they use helps unfold the dynamic interplay of convention/newness and society/technology. Practice, as language theorist Alastair Pennycook contends, focuses attention to “an activity rather than a structure; (to) something we do rather than a system we draw on to; (to) a material part of social and cultural life rather than an abstract entity (my emphases, 2). Shove et al. derive similar findings from their research, and their discussion is topical considering the surge of conversation surrounding ‘practice,’ ‘everyday lives,’ and the ‘local;’ however, I find some their points problematic and undertheorized.

The writers suggest that digital photography has challenged the traditional notions of competence and disrupted the boundaries like amateurism/professionalism and art/craft. True, cameras are more widely distributed today than ever before, and the added values to modify, manage, and distribute pictures have obviated the old-school idea of professionalism. However, with the economic divide, the competence divide also persists. Not everyone can afford sophisticated cameras with added features or software; and even if they do, the purpose, content, and presentation of their photography will recreate the difference, as they themselves suggest, drawing on Bourdieu.

The point about boundaries collapsing is contradicted by their mention of Bourdieu’s contention that people of a particular social class reproduce the class by what they do in terms of “taste.” This somewhat deterministic view denies the possibility that people born into a ‘low culture’ can acquire the cultural codes of a ‘high culture.’ There’s no room for resistance and contestation in this claim. Some accounts of amateur photographers challenging the traditional identity boundaries, for example, could strengthen their argument. This could also lay bare the arbitrariness of the idea of artistic/professional/ competent invented and perpetuated by the dominant.

The same thing acquires a new meaning when put in a different context, changing the very context simultaneously. “We cannot step the same river twice,” as Heraclitus famously remarked. Even if things repeat, they incarnate new meanings, e.g. memes. Creativity can also be defined in a similar light—that repetition does not deny creativity. More discussion on the dynamic relationship between repetition, difference, and creativity wouldn’t hurt their argument.

Works Cited

Pennycook, Alastair.  Language as a local practice. London/NY: Routledge. 2010. Print.

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


One thought on “Response: Reproducing Boundaries(?) in Shove et al.’s “Reproducing Photography”

  1. Damn, I changed a word in the original post this morning, and the update changes the original post date as well. Didn’t know that.

    Posted by Dhruba n | March 9, 2013, 2:21 pm

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