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The cinematic network society: ethical confrontations with new proximities to human suffering in the information age

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Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
This dissertation examines the global “network society” as a social formation with ethical implications for Western subjectivity by scrutinizing how twenty first century “global network” cinema maps the network’s democratizing and exploitative possibilities. Popular discourses have long provided a terrain in which new social and geographical proximities to the other, and new ethical responsibilities, can be negotiated as changing material conditions transform everyday life. Theoretically, this study draws upon Lacan’s notion of the symbolic order, Jameson’s notion of the imaginary social totality, and Foucault’s arguably incompatible concept of the dispositif or “apparatus” of discourses that render the social order intelligible and modes of conduct acceptable. Cinematic depictions of the network society represent efforts to signify (symbolizations); they present viewers with the rough parameters of intangible relations (cognitive maps); and their stars’ off-screen humanitarian pursuits and on-screen responses to human suffering envision idealized ethical modes of conduct (self-government). More than promoting celebrity adoration or ideological allegiance, these films depict their central agents experiencing mastery (plenitude) as well as impotence (lack) in the midst of the complex networks they inhabit. Methodologically, this thesis draws upon semiological and discursive analyses of twelve post-2000 “global network films”; celebrity humanitarian discourses; promotional-critical discourses accompanying the reception of each film; and fieldwork at film festivals and panels in North America and the UK. The emerging “cinematic network society” these films signify in fact comprises off-screen linkages between the filmmakers, advocacy groups, and the invisible sites of trauma these interests aim to publicize. But even this liberal Hollywood movement envisions the practice of global citizenship in somewhat conservative terms: as a series of ethical private responses to suffering that are continuous with the neoliberal project. This contradiction is central to wider political negotiations of new ethical relations with the other in an age when everyone is connected.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: McCarron, Gary
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