The attack on Russell Davies

Russell_davies_1 Oh, f*ck.  Some nit wit has driven Russell Davies off his blog.  The attack came in the form of satire, someone adopting Mr. Davies’ style in order to ridicule it.

Here’s the anthropological take. 

This kind of satire depends upon noticing the structural characteristics, the cultural form, of the target (in this case Davies’ blogging style). 

Now for the unsophisticated cultural observer (or bad anthropologist), the act of noticing carries a certain charge.  It produces a secret glee.  Noticing persuades the satirist that they have punctured a veil of secrecy.  They are claiming to "get" what is "really" going on.  As in, "You thought you were going to get away with this one, but we see exactly what you’re doing." 

What’s odd about this, anthropologically speaking, is that the UCO (aka BA) is giving him/herself credit for an ordinary act of noticing. Sophisticated cultural actors (or good anthropologists) engage in noticing all the time.  It is part of the pleasure of reading.  When ordinary noticing produces a secret glee and when this glee is made public in an effort to inflict social injury, well, we are given a noticing opportunity of our own.  The satirist is punching above his or her intellectual weight.  Or to put this more exactly, those who snicker when noticing tell us that they notice neither often nor well.

But there’s more.  Noticing of the kind we discussing here means to be quietly accusatory.  Look, it says, we have discovered you, Mr. Davies, using self revelation for the purposes of self aggrandizement.  More specifically, the charge against Mr. Davies is that he reveals things about his social life, family life and emotional life.  His satirist is saying, effectively, Mr. Davies uses private matters for metapragmatic purposes, to craft a certain public impression of himself. 

There is Britishness at work here.  Self revelation on one’s blog!  In the U.S., this is not an accusation but a statement of the obvious.  My friend Debbie Millman will not mind me saying that self revelation is the very grammar of her engagement with the blogging world.  But certain kinds of self revelation are prohibited in United Kingdom, still.  Here, too compactly, is the way it works: we are locked into a social world where certain social and cultural capitals are in exceedingly short supply.  Someone may make a bid for these capitals through the deployment of a social strategy, but it is up to the rest of us to call him out.  What keeps Britain from turning into a Hollywood scramble for self aggrandizement is the biting comment, the satiric slam.  (Is my criticism here apt?  I would bet a large sum of money that the author of the satire is British.) 

Four points here: 

One, Britain’s social world is no longer zero sum. 

Two, the world of planning is zero sum in a very narrow sense, but when people like Mr. Davies make planning a more vivid part of the intellectual world, all boats, even the satirist’s, rise with the tide. 

Three, the world of blogging is, for the moment anyhow, in a moment of absolute expansion.  My admiration for Mr. Davies’ blogging does not give to him or take from me. 

Four, we are looking at the emergence of a world of plenitude obliges us to ask whether "zero sum" is any longer the signature calculation of the cultures of capitalism. 

Here’s what I like about Russell Davies’ blog (and I don’t like everything).  He is experimental in form and content.  I am getting weary of blogs that come from a book, an agency, a paradigm, and never ever rise above these origins.  They are always about the book, the agency or the paradigm.  They are promotional vehicles when the point of the exercise is surely to try things out.  If there is one way of recognizing the corporations, agency, planners and consultants who have a chance of surviving the new bouleversement of the marketplace, this is it.  They try things out. 

In fact, Wednesday, when I was writing about cloudiness as the new structural form, I thought about Russell Davies as a case in point.  He might be the cloudiest guy I know.  He has lots of interests and engagements.  And he has let slip the boundaries that used to keep some things in the life out of play.  He is prepared to take up and abandon assumptions, as he goes.  This is to say that the personal matters that Mr. Davies exposes on his blog are something more than ordinary self revelation.  They are notes from an experiment.   

Conflict of Interest declaration

I have met Russell Davies on two occasions, once in London, once in New York City.  I have participated as a "visiting professor" on two occasions in his Account Planning School of the Web.  We have not worked together otherwise. 


Davies, Russell.  2007.  Bugger.  Russell Davies.  here.

McCracken, Grant.  2007.  Cloudiness: of selves, groups, networks and ideas.  This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics. January 31, 2007.  here.   

1 thought on “The attack on Russell Davies

  1. My ID

    Man, in a post secondary context of time, people, and perspectives I am at this very moment of post-social wheourmantics 2.0 ashamed to be a fellow anthropologist.
    (Dated today and in the non-whimsical sense of not being related to my freelance qual ad-land work; circa 2003 – present; UK, US, France, Bulgaria)

    I guess to cut the schmooze (and in a serious script), your attempts to play down your IQ in the name of a ghost PR campaign in this raw ‘new, new’ evolving brandsphere, is well, ummmm a tad sad. Even upsetting.

    Whilst I and many others – dare I say yourself – are all for the experimentation and evolution of anthropology and it’s somewhat dated / elitist methodology’s, let’s forget the brand IP of a future conference/ book supporting blag/blog for the ‘lesser mortals, and try to so this, the right way.

    Please, drop the ad schmooze and funding of false knowledge and hit the library/ journals and give us what you were once great for. Please.

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