Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman

by

Du Gay, Hall, Janes, Mackay, and Negus’ Doing Cultural Studies is a text about examining the taken for granted knowledge and assumptions we have about the world and its’ objects and using that knowledge for methodology.  The authors examine the Sony Walkman as a case study to make their argument.  The authors wrestle with two definitions of culture, the first meaning “as a ‘whole way of life’” and the second as “’the production and circulation of meaning.’”  They go on to explain that these meanings are debates that have not been resolved.

The authors provide a basic explanation of representation and signification and how these in turn shape identity or how they try to shape identity.  An overview of the many ways that the Sony Walkman has been represented is provided by the authors.

Products are created by people and by companies.  The book provides excellent analysis of the people integral to the Walkman’s design and production as well as Sony, the company responsible for its production.

The book then provides the reader with a sense of the design of the Walkman as it becomes more personalized for the consumer.  This personalization of the Walkman allowed it to be marketed to wide varieties of targeted consumers.  The authors note the tension of an originally Japanese company becoming a global firm.

The authors then shift their focus to consumption of the Walkman.  A quick overview of culture industry is provided in respect to views promoted by Horkheimer and Adorno.  The Walkman provided the public easy ways to consume popular music.  This led some to worry about the pollution of culture and the more traditional or “higher” values of culture by “mass culture.”  Mass culture was seen as a standardized way of viewing the world that would turn individuals into mindless consumers.  Notions of power are introduced by the authors noting that advertisers are hidden persuaders and then offer a product to satisfy consumers’ desires.

The Walkman also created a problem by blurring the lines of public and private spheres.  The Walkman allowed individuals to “privately” consume music in “public.”  This led some to accuse the Walkman of being anti-social, a problem that Sony would try to remedy.

Finally, this book provides a different methodology paradigm and forces us to consider how objects become culturally embedded, their impact on culture, and the meaning that we give to these objects.

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