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21 APRIL 2012

The Family: warts-and-all portrait of working-class 1970s Britain

"Modelled on the 13–part observational series, An American Family (US, d. Craig Gilbert, 1972), producer Paul Watson's 12–part The Family (BBC, 1974) is credited with creating the concept of the 'fly–on–the–wall' documentary in Britain. Regardless, Watson's cinema verité–style, warts–and–all portrait of the working–class Wilkins family certainly popularised an 'observational' style still seen as the defining characteristic of British documentary some twenty–five years later.

The Family follows the daily lives of Terry and Margaret Wilkins, their children and their partners, as they all struggle to live together in a small flat in Reading. The series sets out to reveal to viewers the reality of family life in Britain as never shown before. "No TV family ever has dirty pots and pans," says Margaret in episode one, and the Wilkins demonstrate a remarkable candour in their on–camera conversations with one another.

Watson and his small crew spent two months with the Wilkins prior to filming. After this the team filmed the family eighteen hours a day for three months. The result was an extraordinary portrait of family life: honest, hilarious and painful, an instant classic the impact and influence of which (on both fiction and non–fiction television) it would be difficult to overestimate.

The Family divided critics and viewers alike, and the Wilkins were villified by the tabloid press for all manner of imagined transgressions: their 'acting' for the camera or their 'real' behaviour in front of it, their use of bad language and public airing of previously taboo subjects. Watson explained that he "wanted to make a film about the kind of people who never got on to television," and clearly the sight of a powerful and opinionated woman like Margaret Wilkins, or the challenge of daughter Heather to the casual racism of 1970s middle–England, was shocking to a certain section of the British public (Mary Whitehouse was among those who called for the series to be banned, lest this 'representative' family be seen as a model to imitate)."

(Joe Sieder, BFI Screenonline)

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TAGS

1970s1974 • acting for the camera • An American FamilyBBCBritainBritish documentary • candour • casual racismcinema veritecultural signalsdirect cinemadocumentaryfamilyfamily lifefly-on-the-wallFranc Roddam • honest • Margaret Wilkins • Mary Whitehouse • non-fiction televisionobservational seriesobservational style • on-camera conversations • Paul Watsonportraitportrait of a familyportrait of family life • Reading (city) • real behaviourreality television • small flat • social changesocial classsocial constructionismsocial realitysocial stratificationsocietysocio-economictaboo subjectstelevisiontelevision documentarytelevision series • Terry Wilkins • The FamilyThe Family (television)TVUK • warts-and-all • working class

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
23 MAY 2010

The Tailenders: missionary activity and global capitalism

"The Tailenders explores the connections between missionary activity and global capitalism. The Tailenders examines a missionary organization's use of ultra–low–tech audio devices to evangelize indigenous communities facing crises caused by global economic forces.

Joy Ridderhoff founded Gospel Recordings in 1939 in Los Angeles. She remembered how crowds had gathered around gramophones in the Honduran villages where she had worked as a missionary, and decided that rather than compete with this medium, she would use it to preach. The organization that she founded has now produced audio recordings of Bible stories in over 5,000 languages, and aims to record in every language on earth. They distribute these recordings along with hand–wind players in regions with limited access to electricity and media. The Bible stories played by the missionaries are sometimes the first encounter community members have had with recorded sound, and, even more frequently, the first time they have heard their own language recorded. Gospel Recordings calls their target audience 'the Tailenders' because they are the last to be reached by global evangelism.

The missionaries target communities in crisis because they have found that displaced and desperate people are especially receptive to the evangelical recordings. When uprooted from one's home, as in the case of Mexican migrant workers, the sound of one's own language is a comfort. And the audio players are appealing media gadgets. Audiences who might not otherwise be interested in the missionaries' message will listen to the recordings. The Tailenders focuses on how the media objects and messages introduced by the missionaries play a role in larger socioeconomic transformations, such as the move away from subsistence economies toward cash economies based on agricultural and industrial labor.

The film raises questions about how people who receive the recordings understand them. Gospel Recording's project is premised on a belief in the transparency of language to transmit a divinely inspired message. But because the missionaries don't speak the languages, they must enlist bilingual native speakers as translators. There is ample opportunity for mistakes, selectivity, and resistance in the translation. The film explores how meaning changes as it crosses language and culture."

(Adele Horne)

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TAGS

19392006accessible design • Adele Horne • Biblecapitalismcardboard • cardboard record player • Cardtalk • Cardtalk player • Christiancommunities in crisiscommunitycultural insensitivitycultural signalsdisplacementdocumentaryeconomyemotive manipulationethics • evangelism • first encounter • First Nationsgadget • Global Recordings Network • globalisation • Gospel Recordings • gramophone • GRN • hand operated device • hand-wound • HondurasideologyIndiaIndigenousIndigenous communities • Joy Ridderhoff • languagelow-tech • media objects • Mexicomigrant workersmissionary • proselytisation • recordingreligionresponsibilitysocial changesocio-economicsociologySolomon Islandstechnology • The Tailenders (2005) • transformationultra-low-techvillagervoice

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
08 MARCH 2010

Otto Neurath and the Vienna Method of Picture Statistics

"The Vienna method of picture statistics represents a remarkable episode in the history of statistical graphics. It was an organized attempt to use graphical design for the purpose of achieving changes in society, primarily through visual education of the masses, and especially by presenting basic socio–economic facts in a readily comprehensible form. ... One of the leading ideas of the Vienna circle was that nature, as well as history, economy and society, could be described by the same methods. These should produce valid statements about space–time relationships that would lead to predictions which in turn could influence the course of events [6].

A characteristic of picture statistics according to Neurath's Vienna method is that numbers are represented by a series of identical pictorial elements or signs, each of them representing a defined quantity... . The discrete character, the attractiveness and expressiveness of the picture elements are essential aspects of picture statistics. They can be transformed back into numbers by counting picture elements. This contrasts with the practice of present–day bar charts or histograms in which numbers are translated into lengths of continuous line segments, and in which the numbers are reconstructed from readings on a numerically divided scale.

Neurath vigorously rejected histograms with numerical scales, pie charts and graded symbols, as much as he disapproved of continuous line charts. He strictly adhered to counting of recognizable and suggestive signs."

(Paul J. Lewi, 2006)

[6] Otto Neurath, Empirische Sociologie, 1931. Otto Neurath, Foundations of the Social Sciences. 1944.

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TAGS

2006Austriachartcommunicationdatadesigndiagram • graded symbols • graphicacyhistograminformation designinformation graphics • line charts • numerical scalesOtto Neurath • pictorial elements • pictorial representation • pictorial signs • picture statisticspie chartssocio-economicstatistical graphicsVienna CircleVienna Method • Vienna Method of Picture Statistics • visual communicationvisual designvisual educationvisual information designvisual languagevisualisation

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
26 NOVEMBER 2009

Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France

"Historians of consumption have generally followed social theorists in emphasizing two different aspects of modernity. While social scientists emphasize long term processes of 'modernization,' such as urbanization and industrialization, cultural historians and literary critics define modernity in terms of consciousness, stressing in particular the development of a reflexive self and a heightened awareness of one's present age as new and set off from the past.(4) Both understandings of modernity underpin current historical literature on eighteenth–century Western European consumption. Highlighting socioeconomic processes of commercialization, historians argue that eighteenth–century Western Europe experienced a 'consumer revolution' as men and women freed themselves from the grip of scarcity to initiate a buying spree of historic proportions. Although its geography and periodization remain highly controversial, such a revolution is commonly represented as a step toward modern consumer society.(5) At the same time, the study of consumption, especially French consumption, has taken a cultural turn, opening new doors between the Enlightenment and late modernity. (6) Daniel Roche, whose work has defined the field, argues that the birth of consumption was an integral part of a larger cultural change in which the traditional values of a stationary Christian economy gradually gave way to the egalitarianism and individualism of modern commodity culture. For Roche, the story is principally one of emancipation: 'It is important to recognize that . . . commodities did not necessarily foster alienation; in fact, they generally meant liberation.'(7) The diffusion of fashion led to 'a new state of mind, more individualistic, more hedonistic, in any case more egalitarian and more free.'(8) Less optimistic than Roche but equally intent on establishing a connection between Enlightenment consumption and modernity, Jennifer Jones contends that the late–eighteenth–century discourse on fashion helped to produce modern, essentialized definitions of gender. As social differentiation faded from fashion commentary, gender differentiation took its place.(9)"

(Michael Kwass, p.633, The American Historical Review, 111.3)

Fig.1 FRONTISPIECE: Wigs. Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonnée des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Recueil de planches, sur les sciences, les arts libéraux, et les arts méchaniques, avec leur explication, 11 vols. (Paris, 1762–1772), s.v. "Perruquier."

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TAGS

changecollaborationcommercialisationconsciousness • consumer revolution • consumer societyconsumerismconsumptioncostume design • cultural historian • Daniel Roche • egalitarianism • emancipationEuropean EnlightenmentfashionFrancegender differentiationgeographyhairhedonismhistoryindividualismindustrialisation • Jennifer Jones • late modernityliterary criticmodernisationmodernityperiodisation • reflexive self • social change • social constructionist • social differentiationsocietysocio-economictraditiontransformationurbanisation • Western Europe • wig

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
30 DECEMBER 2008

Understanding the social relations operating within Indigenous communities key to economic development

"Regulation theory has emerged from the conflict between the modernisation and dependency perspectives discussed by Anderson (2002) and Anderson et al. (2005). Regulation theory emphasises the importance of economic and extra–economic institutions in economic development (Skrypietz, 2003), with the accumulation of capital being influenced by state and non–state institutions, and interactions between agents within the economic system (Dana, 2005). Value is placed not only on the economic aspects, but also on understanding the social relations and interactions within industrial economies. The objective of this approach is to develop diverse strategies that are suited to respective societal structure and consequently lead to a maximising of economic development for both distinctive economies as well as the general economy. The modes of development that emerge can reflect the history, values and cultural aspects, and the objectives of the people involved (Anderson, 2002). This suggests that the objective of Maoris, and indeed all indigenous groups, is to develop a diverse range of strategies suited to the unique characteristics of their economy as well as the cultural aspects in which they live, to achieve maximum results not only for themselves but for the economy as a whole."
(Stephen Buckingham and Leo Paul Dana, pp. 178–187, 178 Int. J. Entrepreneurship and Small Business, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2005)

Anderson, R. (2002) 'Entrepreneurship and aboriginal Canadians: a case study in economic
development', Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp.45–65.

Anderson, R.B., Camp II, R., Dana, L.P., Honig, B., Nkongolo–Bakenda, J–M. and Peredo, A.M.
(2005) 'Indigenous land rights in Canada: the foundation for development?',
Int. J. Entrepreneurship and Small Business, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp.104–133.

Skrypietz, I. (2003) 'Regulation theory and the crisis of capitalism', Book review, Capital and
Class, Spring.

Dana, L.P. (2005) When Economies Change Hands: A Survey of Entrepreneurship in the Emerging
Markets of Europe from the Balkans to the Baltic States, International Business Press,
Binghamton.

TAGS

agencyagreementAotearoa New Zealandautonomyculture • dependency • economic developmententrepreneurship • grievance • IndigenousiwilandMaorimodernisationregulation • regulation theory • settlementsocial changesocietysocio-economicSouth IslandTe Tiriti o WaitangitransformationTreaty of Waitangitribevalues

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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