Urban, Greg. Metaculture: How Cultures Move through the World


In this text, Urban uses the framework of circulation to investigate the ways in which culture is socially transmitted.  Urban is especially interested in the role that self-reflexivity plays in the definition and the transmission of culture.  In other words, he is interested in the role that metaculture plays in the acceleration of culture and the creation of new culture in capitalist societies.   As such, he demonstrates that culture does not just move through replication or what he identifies as existential or habitual inertia.  Culture is also made possible by two modes of circulation:  acceleration and deceleration > dissemination. As Urban explains, through acceleration, old cultural elements are fused into new cultural expressions, which form new wholes (32).  Urban argue that what drives acceleration is actually metaculture, either via emphasis on tradition or newness (38).



Key Questions: 

  • What makes culture move and reshapes social space?  Existential and habitual inertia (culture sensu lato) harnessed by accelerative  and deeclerative culture that stimulates novel production, in which new entities that resemble past ones manifest through assemblance.   Culture survives not just because of inertia.  It survives because it is able to overcome the [entropic and competitive] forces of deceleration that act upon inertia [and accelerate] (17-18). 
  • What is relationship between metaculture and culture?  Reciprocity.


Key concepts:


Metaculture:  culture about culture; provides ways of seeing continuities and disconuities in all social processes; includes judgments made about culture that form “the normative core for the creation of community and reproduction of culture (xi); a form of self-reflexivity that frames semiosis; supplemant to culture (4); as interpretation, it is a force in the world of perceptible things, not just an arbitrary conscious representation of things construed as indifferent to their representation (37). Guides future movement of culture-208; set of cultural elements and objects, such as discourse, with the ability to represent or portray or refer to cultural elements and objects—carries idea bout culture; maintains physical shapes of immaterial culture as it is reoroduced over time; idea imparts a force to the culture it is about- 224-5; carries forth interest in object without direct access to object- 226; its  second layer of circulation that constitutes force of culture-226;


Pierce—rhetoric is the process by which “signs give birth to other signs” (xi).


Culture:  social learning accumulated through space and time; something abstract and immaterial moving through time and across space -203


Key Quotes: 


The interpretation of culture that is intrinsic to metaculture, immaterial as it is, focuses attention on the culture al thing, helps to make it an object of interest, and, hence, facilitates its circulation (4).


The movement of culture takes place in ghost-like fashion, with [novel entity] incarnating various aspects of different kinds of prior expressions, yet seeming to be new (6).


Modernity propels culture in a different manner than does “tradition” but that, even under and explicit metaculture of modernity, the linear movement is still detectable through probing fine details.  The kind of movement that modernity stimulates—the movement of a system of relationships through us—is crucial to the reproduction of culture in what Walter Benjamin (1969) called “the age of mechanical reproduction” (6). 


Social spaces is reconfigured, however incrementally or radically, by the motion associated with specific cultural objects (24).


Cultural elements communicate a sense of shared participation in a single space, and these elements, which must be widely circulated, make hegemony possible (25). 


Structure is not prior to movement; it is a derivative of movement.  Structure is a consequence of the way in which cultural elements move through space and time.  It is the result of combination of the inertial and accelerative properties of culture (32).


Culture and metaculture are dynamically interconnected through representation, which does not reflect what something is but rather affects change of that something (38).


Culture is motion…and physical manifestations such as cultural objects make culture as motion possible (42). Cultural objects are vehicles for the dissemination of culture (42).   Dissemination is the externalization or making public or intersubjectively accessible; internalization is the making the physical abstract—the dynamic interrelation between these two processes as manifested in dissemination and replication make culture move through time and space (43).

Externalization> internalization > reexternaliztion > internaliztion > rexternalization (etc).


Various pathways of motion make this movement possible.  Material culture, as physical manifestations of cultural learning, is one such pathway.  Immaterial culture is carried through material culture (45).  Yet transmission of the fullest measure of immateriacl culture contained win the thing can only be had  by close observation and interaction with with the actual producer(s) of the thing..during the course of its production (45).  Greatest quantity of immaterial cultures is transmitted through propinquity, that is, through spatio-temporal proximity of the producer(or externalizer) and the internalizer  (or future replicator) (45). 


Dissemination, as a social pathway or network, is made possible by social learning (via socially learned patterns) (48). 


We need to look at at the motion of culture through the world as it is replicated, ie. at sites of replication (55). 


Metaculture of modernity is what enables or facilitates the motion of the new disseminated cultural element into previously uncharted territory (58).  Metaculture of modernity is the value of newness over oldness; of dissemination over replication; of experiencing newness (64). 


Culture of dissemination: valuing lateral motion of material items, not replication; valuing of newness (novel production of cultural expression); goal is spatial spread of culture, not just temporal (66). 


***The purpose of a metaculture of modernity is to assist in the establishment of new social pathways of dissemination (67).  New social pathways are created in confrontation between old and new (69).  Capitalism as we know it is a product of the movement of culture driven by a metaculture of newness (74). 


Question:  What role does rhetoric play in the replication of disseminable culture?  What role does the metaculture of conservation and/or sustainability play in the motion of U.S. culture? 


Who are “we”?  The consciousness embedded in the answer…accelerates culture, propelling it through space and time, shapting he course of civliztion as it moves every onward—into the fog (92) 


Cultural transmission is achieved through synthesis of distinct strands resulting from the challenging of prior elements or the attempt to produce elements that are “better” (171).


Motion in culture of modernity is driven by acceleration which is driven by resistence to imperatives within narratives and emphasis on production of new cultural elements (176).


Innovators plays a key role in cultural motion; the innovator is an intersection between two lines motion: the historical motion of consciousness from person to person to over time and space and the movement of something from the world into the consciousness that beholds it (184). 


Vertical passage takes place between two planes or layers of circulation:  culture and metaculture, which is passage between thing in world and consciousness of it as encoded in thing (185).


Value of cultural object determined by its link with tradition and newness; newness determined through comparison of with other similar objects mediated through third object and determined by public response (metaculture) (196). Determined thus by dialogic between other object and response (198).


Metaculture maps the movement of culture across time and space; genre is device for tracking cross-temporal connections (202).


Cultural motion demands death of old object and rebirth of new object—metamorphisis (208)


Cultural object of tradition demands no investigation of intention where as new objects do because replication is not transparent -214  new cultural objects also demand investigation of truth and appropriateness of context in metaculture of modernity since it can carry new claims and thus in part is factor determining wide circulation (218-220)


Cultural motion demands response from public –222  pathway of motion is cultural object > metacultural response > new cultural object – 240


Metaculture of tradition demands replication; newness dissemination


Movement of culture takes place between layers of circulation: culture and metaculture -227


Think of this motion as tides; metacultural tides; cylical in nature between tradition and modern; cultural elements ebb back and forth between replication and dissemination; objects participate in microcyclicity, as the absence of the prior thing provides the motivation to reproduce it- 229-230


As the tide of newness spreads, as it enters the flood stage, it reorganizes not only the motion of culture though the world…but also the social relations of the people among whom culture moves; an ideas is a world-making – 244


Too pervasive of metaculture of newness produces feelings of loss that motivate desire to stabalize sensivle world, give it an air of permanence, through traditional replication –232  result is phantasmagorical succession of sensible objects that lacks the feel of continuity and stability of a olid, orderly world.  Consequently, is widespread proliferation as metaculture calls up a force that counteracts it—the feeling of instability that engenders a desire for tradition in the form of replication – 232  at same time, feelings of boredom arise which create desire for newness and entrepreneurs come to the rescue– 232


Classification of taste of objects drives metaculture of newness; spawns competion and classification of people – 234


Cultural objects are a once and future thing—predicting or foreseeing futre objets ,and contributing to the metacultural framework—the precipitated past-through which those future objects will be judged – 236


The public sphere—as critical reflection on culture by ordinary people– results from the mediation of cultural motion by metaculture – 242


Assessment of new objects drive culture of newness; assesement requires critical orientation to culture; thus matacutlural production becomes specialized and public turns over responsibility for judging cultural objects to specialized people and thus become consumers rather than producers of metaculture – 245


Metacultural creates guidelines for the production of new cultural objets, strands through which culture flows – 247; strands reflect consistent, shred segmetnations, derving fromteh interation between the attept to produce a new object and th metacultrual method through which new objects are assessed- 247


Value of new object determined by past and future circulation’



Nation constituted by people with share affinity to cultural objects; cultural objects engeneder loyalty. This persuasive or rhetorical power of objects propels them through space along existing pathways of dissemination.  It also helsms them to penetrate uncharted territory, where thy must cute their own new paths, being in these, world-making.  Perhsuasive power als sercures the persistence in time of the objects, which become venerated.  The objects instill in indifiduals  sdieire to preserve them and also to insure their cintiued high esteem.  256  THIS SHEDS LIGHT ON HOW CULTURAL OBJECTS PLAY A ROLE IN NATION BUILDING!


Replication is based on spatial and temporal contiguity of the participant in the trasmission process…There are always incipient spatial distinction is the prominence of disseminated cultural objects.  – 258


Nation simultaneously broadens the sphere of the local and narrows the sphere of the global – 259


The very culture on which you and I might reflect to find essences is itself continuosly changing shape.  Its mercuriality and ephemerality defy essentialization – 260


Culture cannot do without things—those things are its manifestations in the material realm.  By fixing its manifesttins, culture converst iself into tconsisten material shapes; it becomes recognizable to the senses and to the intellect. Yet culture is only moving through those material shapes, invisibly, silently.  It is only disclosing itself to us, giving us an inkling of its awesome force 261  THIS EXPLAINS WHY CULTURAL OBJECTS ARE MEDIATORS.


My job is to trace immaterial cultural patterns manifested in the material world ; these patterns are concealed in the phantasmagoria of the material (264).


The producer controls the shapes of the disseminated object, but the receiver controls the demand for that object’s dissemination. The result is that conscious accelerative forces that could be used to change the direction of the cultural motion is typically used to maintain it.  …culture harnesses consciousness for the purposes of reproducing itself as abstract, immaterial form by insisting on changes in its sensible appearance- 265


Movement of metaculture produces a  a tracking of the movement of culture, and it produces a cumulative understanding of it.  the restless metaculture itself that makes contact with objects, that directs attention to their discrete facets, that reveals their truth, their continuities and discontinuities of the past – 268


Need to study the corportation that produces a new object – 270  the corporation carries the metaculture for making the object and for foreseeing how well it will work at the cultural plane- 270


Producers of culture cannot simulataneously be receiver of cultural object produced to want to disguise the continuity of the idea that is carried in the object formt he phyxial appearance of the objects itself.  – 271


Matter > meaning> matter








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2 responses to “Urban, Greg. Metaculture: How Cultures Move through the World

  1. Pingback: final fashion » the metaculture loop

  2. Pingback: final fashion » the metaculture spiral

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