I learned about Google’s N-gram viewer from reading Eli Pariser’s book The Filter Bubble. The tool queries a “database spanning the entire contents of over five hundred years’ worth of books — 5.2 million books in total… [Pariser].” So you can see how often different phrases have been used in print, over many years.
I was just wondering whether an N-gram viewer search might seem to support my claim in What’s wrong with activism? — that activism as we conceive of it is a pretty new thing. What’s wrong with activism, I argue, is how it has become such a thing unto itself — such a specialized identity — that “non-activists” can easily be inoculated against; how it extricates active politics from the fabric of everyday life.
Here’s what comes up searching the word “activist” 1912-2012 in N-gram viewer:
Usage of the term takes a dramatic upturn in the 1960s and continues to climb steadily up until the turn of the millenium. It’s declined a little since then. Does this mean anything? All sorts of phrases come and go all the time, but that this coincides with the cultural trends of specialization and self-selection in U.S. society (discussed by folks like Ronald Inglehart, Bill Bishop, Robert Putnam, etc.) is interesting.
Messaging (/symbolic contestation) for populist alignment: very rough notes, pieces of the puzzle, for future exploration…
- Messages and memes (i.e. carriers of messages) must be potent enough to penetrate the meaning-making processes of existing social aggregations (aka “groups”).
- Proximate groups are the primary spaces where meanings are processed, judged, opinions shaped, etc. (A “proximate” group is an immediately-experiencable, graspable in size, often-local group. Proximate, as opposed to abstract or imagined, the latter referring to a society, nation, class, religion, etc.)
- Explicate the modern dis-integration/dispersal of proximate groups; a society of divided selves; identities dispersed across several circles / groups of identity, etc.
- Explore the “script” and pressure within groups to avoid internal friction, especially subversive challenge; to extricate the political into a distinct group unto itself (e.g. “activism”), and thus to minimize antagonisms within the proximate group, its life and functions.
- In eras of identity dispersal and unrootedness—and the shrinking of the “tradition-directed” groups and character structures—the opening to frame more potent abstract “groups” (aka imagined communities). The technologies of the mass media (first print, through the novel and national newspapers) enabled these new publics to emerge. The idea of society itself became more imaginable. (See Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities)
- The imagined public is still processed, understood, and judged within proximate groups, whose identities are also shaped by their understanding and interaction to the larger social abstraction. The way it seems to look and the way it should look are a projection of values, rituals, understandings, experiences, etc. derived from proximate group experiences and culture.
- Continue reading