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September 03, 2009



Thous shalt not speaketh of The Wire until thou hast consumed the Gospel of the Fourth Season.

It is 'the bomb'.


Really good piece, and I think you can add another dimension drawing upon Politics as a Vocation.

Weber's deep-running anti-Kantianism in politics is essentially a rejection of the idealised view that rational discourse and reflection can eliminate political conflict, with all rational beings converging on the same final conclusions. Rather, Weber believes that there is an irreducible level of violence inherent in the political, and what matters is who has ultimate control over the exercise of that violence. What we need in society are not Kantian rationalists, but leaders with an ethic of responsibility:

"However, it is immensley moving when a mature man - no matter whether old or young in years - is aware of a responsibility for the consequences of his conduct and really feels such responsibility with heart and soul. He then acts by following an ethic of responsibility and somewhere he reaches the point where he says: "Here I stand; I can do no other". That is something genuinely human and moving. And everyone of us who is not spiritually dead must realize the possibility of finding himself at some time in that position. In so far as this is true, an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility are not absolute contrasts but rather supplements, which only in unison constitute a genuine man - a man who can have the 'calling for politics'."

Stirring stuff. Weber's point about an ethic of responsibility is deeply echoed in The Wire. As you're only up to Season 3 I don't want to spoil too much...but let's just say that certain politicians turn out to not to have an ethic of responsibility - despite setting out with the best of intentions; an honest desire to achieve praiseworthy "ends" (hence having an ultimate ethic of) but lacking the ethic of responsibility to constitute the true calling for politics, instead becoming what Weber called "windbags".

Yet what is fascinating about The Wire is the way it takes this and shows the interplay between Politics as a Vocation and the issues drawn out - as you point to in your piece - in Science as a Vocation and Bureaucracy. Namely, it is the bureaucratic iron cage that ends up driving politicians with the best of intentions away from an ethic of responsibility.

So The Wire isn't just amenable to a Weberian analysis, it quite possibly expands it, by showing how the modern capitalist bureacracy inhibits the development of an ethic of responsibility even in the well intentioned politician; that is, iron cages breeding windbags.


Brilliant post! As is one on Mad Men which sent me over here.

I dealt with particularly traumatic/ boring part of my PhD by applying Frederic Jameson to Life on Mars (went to cultural studies journal in the end, though maybe I should have just blogged it).

Slightly more seriously, a colleague at the Uni of Manchester (David Kirby) deals with all the "Science of..." various fiction works by sociologically studying the scientists who act as consultants for film and tv (e.g. Prof. Brian Cox and Sunshine). Although there aren't (m)any active sociological consultants, the Wire did, I believe, applying a deliberately ethnographic approach. It also interacted with a range of social experts, many of whom may have been well versed in a repertoire of social theory (one of the reasons I thought the conference on the Wire sounded tad more interesting than similar Buffy Studies projects). Similarly, I wouldn't be surprised if people working on Life on Mars had read a fair bit on postmodernism. Maybe I'm just projecting, but my point is that the causal effect of intellectual ideas in popular culture is interesting. Lit studies conventionally applies x or y theory to a particular cultural product, but arguably the cultural product got there first.

This comment isn't a criticism of your post in any way. I'm just rambling through ideas while I wait for the washing machine to finish.

Will Davies

At the risk of sounding like an old fart, Alice, I read that comment thinking "how could anyone read so much into one David Bowie song??" But I think I'm off the pace with popular culture.

Yes, I see your point. There is this weird assumption that, while film-makers and bands (and obviously novellists) can know what they're doing, TV can't, and therefore requires culture studies to come along and lend it gravitas.



Firstly :P, because I wasn't being nearly so serious as that, I was just rambling slightly incoherently at rather complex connections between social theory, social realism, cultural commentary and television while I was waiting for the washing machine. I apologise for doing so on your blog.

I think it is worth saying that most of the cultural studies people I know are quite reflexsive about various weightings of "gravitas" (or rather cultural status given to producers, audiences and critics). If anything that's what drives a lot of their work. I suppose we could argue about the differing approaches of Richard Hoggart vs Stuart Hall if we so wish, but I think the basic point that cultural studies doesn't exist simply to make TV look "ok" stands.

(and there wasn't much read into the TV show, or Bowie song for that matter, it was just a paragraph in larger paper on cultural imagery of the child with respect to pomo ideas of progress).

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