Earlier scholarship

Amazing how nearly a month passes while the blog lies dormant. As usual, end of semester rush and the holidays were a serious distraction from my distraction. The nice thing about the extended Christmas break is the time to return full-fledged to my own writing and scholarship. To finish a draft of the book manuscript is my main goal.

In the process - both for one of my chapters and for my SCMS paper - I've been revisiting, this time more in depth, the writing from the Chicago school of sociology - mostly writing from the 1920s. What's amazing is how well written it is - not that it's especially literary or fluid in its style or even a great approach to popularizing in the C. Wright Mills vein, but the scholars nonetheless tend to write expository prose with an enviable clarity. Moreover, it feels modern. I don't know much of what scholarship was like before WWI, but from the 1920s on, you can pick up some writers and read a familiar language with a familiar understanding of what specialized, academic argumentation means.

I don't know how much the Chicago School is useful to film and media scholars, since their ideas are often available second hand in later work. But I'd recommend Herbert Blumer's essay, "Moulding of Mass Behavior Through the Motion Picture" (Publications of the American Sociological Society, Aug. 1935). The title might indicate a reductive media effects approach - and there is some of that - but if we can step beyond a kneejerk rendering of early sociological approaches to mass media as intellectual bad objects (or as mere historical discourse, which is much the same thing), we can see that Blumer is addressing something interesting. His comments on the relationship between the closeup and social distance are interesting. Moreover, his statement that "there is an intimate relation between reverie, awakened disposition, and basic taste" phrases better than I could some of the connections I am hoping to draw between film theory, thematic-ideological reading, and the sociology of taste. Beyond the writing, the ideas strattle antiquated and thoroughly modern.


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