Adam Fish has posted an interview with Dutch anthropologist Dorien Zandbergen on Savage Minds. The topic is "New Edge," a Californian fusion of high-tech geek and New Age spirituality. I find myself wondering to what degree it contributed to shaping the ethos of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Alternatively, I wonder how much "New Edge" itself has been shaped by the fusion of radical individualism, science and fantasy formerly embodied in, for example, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction, whose connection with Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, and similar games is evident. 

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Comment by William Naish on January 7, 2012 at 10:26pm

My impression is that what the OWS and the Burning Man festival have in common is an extremely vague discourse. They centre around 'neoliberal' attitudes that only prescribe self-determination and freedom from dysfunctional power structures. Beyond resisting the current socio-political structure, neither movement has a unified program for what is to replace it. So, as well as remembering that New Yorkers and Californians have disparate cultural backgrounds, we mustn't forget the variety of socio-economic backgrounds and even political positions of the participants of each movement.

I wonder whether the stylistic and 'ideological' (such as it is) similarities are merely indicative of 'empty' cultural repertoires that only define themselves in terms of resisting or inverting features of their common host society (in terms of economic structures, the public/private divide etc). What gives them their supposed commonality is their common resistance to their host society (the US), and NOT so much a common ethos.

Comment by John McCreery on December 23, 2011 at 4:01am

Francine, what you say is really interesting, too. Over on Savage Minds, Adam Fish has made a similar remark about West Coast OWS people versus the New Edge/Burning Man crowd. Dorien Zandbergen, however, thinks that there is something to the similarity I suggest. Theoretically speaking, I find this all fascinating. My working assumption would be that there are both similarities and differences, and the ethnographic challenge is to sort them out, noting the variations of emphasis within common structures and themes.

When I used to have students, I taught them that cultural phenomena are like the wedding dress described as "Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue." I especially like that "blue," which I read in the same sense as "the blues." Whether its art, music, kinship or social movements, there is always someone unhappy with what is going on. That's what drives borrowing and innovation.

Comment by Francine Barone on December 22, 2011 at 5:40pm

It's interesting, because OWS is rooted in NYC, culturally distinct in many ways from the New Agey West Coast hipsters. Even as OWS spreads to other American cities it evolves for the culture of each one. There are links between the neoliberal attitudes that fuel both the ethos of OWS and this New Edge movement. However, the strongly spiritual/religious side is much more "California" and while ideal for silicon valley's technologically innovative output, I venture it's less suited to the pragmatic realism of NYC and its own hacker culture.


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