The Image: Reinforcing Social Hierarchies?

In Jill Rettberg’s “Seeing Ourselves Through Technology” she discusses, in great detail, the affordances that come with living in a world so invested in digital and online technologies as a means of social communication. The way in which Jill discusses these affordances is very, in my opinion, optimistic. She takes a more historical approach and describes the ways in which various forms of technology or technology driven forms of representation have always battled with affordances, whether they are cultural, genre, or aesthetically related. In the example Jill uses, the initial racial injustices that resulted from the advent of analog film, she cites the racially complex nature of the first film developed. This affordance of the early stages of analog photography and its racial ignorance points to the cyclical and reoccurring process in which humans ignorantly or unknowingly interact with technology before overcoming these sorts of hurdles.

These affordances, as discussed in the reading, can be associated with the inherent structural qualities present in the technological device and the response of the individual. What is of equal interest to me is the way in which various cultures or communities react to technological advancements in the way they perceive and interact with or use certain devices. A very present topic of discussion is the image, as an all-accessible tool and how its accessibility is affecting cultural and industrial hierarchies in the Western world. Since all individuals have been empowered with the ability to take and edit a photo to have it appear to be on a professional level, it’s exciting to predict the various ways in which sectors of capitalist America and Europe, that are heavily reliant on the image and its social power, will respond. Since the image has become almost entirely democratized, how will companies assert their social power and dominance? I believe that the image is a very powerful political tool, along with its increased use and accessibility it can empower marginalized people and deter injustice.

But, as I said in an earlier post, the world’s inability to properly read photographs can be understood as a factor that reinsures this uneven balance of capitalist power and still allows the image to become a symbol of power and social hierarchy. The power dynamic has only become more subtle.

2 thoughts on “The Image: Reinforcing Social Hierarchies?

  1. d. o.

    Has “the image” truly been democratized? While it’s definitely true that more people than ever have the ability to create, edit, and distribute photos/videos/other representations of self, certain individuals’ images have more value than others. (For instance, compare the images of a YouTuber with 1,000,000 subscribers and a YouTuber with 100 subscribers. Which one is more economically and symbolically valuable?) These differences in prestige necessarily create structural hierarchies among individual users.

  2. snmarquez

    While agree that the potential use of technology can empower otherwise marginalized groups, and that taking back the power of the dominant image away from corporations is important, I think it will be interesting to see how companies with vested interests will use the shifting use of the image to further capitalize on their markets. This can already been seen with the “fake” youtubers that work for Target or makeup brands.

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