(un)common ground

a commonplace book

The Non-communication of Commonplaces

When you transmit a ‘received idea,’ it’s as if everything is set, and the problem solves itself. … The exchange of commonplaces is communication with no content other than the fact of communication itself.

Pierre Bourdieu, On Television (1996)


This on demagoguery and commentary in the news.

For the record, a demagogue can be defined as “a political leader [or more broadly, thinker] who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.”

Here is the context for “received ideas” in the above statement:

And one of the major problems posed by television is that question of the relationships between time and speed. Is it possible to think fast? By giving the floor to thinkers who are considered able to think at high speed, isn’t television doomed to never have anything but fast-thinkers…? …

The answer, it seems to me, is that they think in cliches, in the “received ideas” that Flaubert talks about–banal, conventional, common ideas that are received generally. By the time they reach you, these ideas have already been received by everybody else, so reception is never a problem.


This claim would seem to interpret demagogic commentary and talk shows within a realm of communication that references the internal rather than the external; rather than talking about some concrete external topic, the effect of transmitting received ideas serves to reinforce internal knowledge, knowledge of, for and about the group itself. The exchange of commonplaces invokes the image of the echo chamber: the viewer of such a program may learn nothing new about the external world, but rather participates in or reinforces his/her own already-established relation to the discursive and content-less ideological framework of the speaker.

Indeed, it seems entirely implausible for, say, an ideologically conservative consumer to volunteer his/her attention to an ideologically liberal demagogue or commentator; rather, the consumer volunteers his/her attention to the conservative-leaning speaker. The motivation itself, then, for watching such programs seems less (if at all) about “learning” or acquiring new information. This can be evidenced if questioning the consumer later does not produce facts or data in argument, but rather talking points: not premises, only claims.


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This entry was posted on November 20, 2015 by and tagged , , .
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