Archive | December 2014

Presentation at RESCON14

Today I presented at Birmingham City University’s annual research conference, RESCON. I presented the slides I talked about in my previous post but since that last entry I’ve decided not to pursue the work of Butler further, which I had to explain in my presentation. Further engagement highlighted criticisms of Butler’s approach to performativity, notably the lack of attention to reflexivity and personal agency (Nelson, 2010). Instead I’m looking more into Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis, and particularly his work with Bob Jessop, whose cultural political economy approach is one I am seriously considering.

This post is not to flesh that out however, as I still need to engage further. The purpose of this post is to flag up my first conference presentation, and to share some pictures kindly taken by my colleagues Ian McDonald and Rachel Marsden, who also talks a little bit about my presentation on her blog. Thanks to you both!

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Presentation of research and change in focus

This month I’m presenting my research three times, here I’ve embedded the ‘extended’ version. In this post I’ll talk through the slides, because they also tell a story about a recent change in focus of my research questions and approach.

Slide 2

This image serves as a talking point about the nature of social media and mobile technology use for most people; it’s certainly my own experience sometimes. However, this image also acts as a jump off point to explain where my interest in the subject stems from – an interest in how people use social media.

Slide 3

I feel it’s necessary to define for the purposes of this presentation an indication of what I mean by creative industries, which has been up for debate since the late 1990s, which saw a shift of the term ‘cultural industries’ to ‘creative industries’ and a wave of policy interest. . As O’Connor (2013) argues, the current definition of the creative industries is not helpful, and he proposes looking at the industries as the “economisation of culture” (p.2). Such cultural occupations are up for debate, but to use as examples for this presentation could include art, performing arts, design (such as fashion, furniture, print) and digital (such as web design and gaming). There are many more occupations which would fall into this definition but that would take another paper to discuss and unpack. The classification of the creative industries is under consultation by the government as we speak.

Slide 4

Now for the change in research focus. My original research question was:

What is the nature of social media use among creative workers and to what extent can it inform understanding of creative communities?

My initial focus was concerned with social media’s role in networking for creative industries workers, and what an analysis of social media use among creative workers could tell us about the workings of creative communities. I initially thought about approaching this via Bourdieu’s capitals, particularly social capital which I had read a lot about previously. I also wanted to look at labour and precarity, and how social media use played out with this. However, I wasn’t sure how to link the two things together, and I also wasn’t sure how I could relate these issues to the wider context of the creative industries.

After reading more literature and exploring different potential approaches, my awareness of more current themes and issues led me to changing my focus.

Slide 5

One of the themes was expertise. The article by Russell Prince (2010) on expertise in the UK creative industries was particularly helpful for thinking more about the subject and raising points for further investigation, such as performativity of expertise on social media. It’s easy to say on social media that you’re an expert in any subject, and only people that know you would question it. If you get retweeted and your profile becomes seen by strangers, why would they question who you say you are? (As long as the rest of your internet presence aligns with your claims).

Of course, I’m not claiming that everyone who says they’re an expert isn’t, but the performativity of expertise online is an area in need of further exploration in the context of the creative industries, where being an ‘expert’ and having a good reputation is important for securing work in precarious conditions (Bilton, 2014).  My reading around cultural intermediaries (particularly this piece by Calvin Taylor, 2013) suggests that this is also an area to be investigated, as intermediaries position themselves as experts and align themselves with government to attempt to influence policy.

Slide 6

The approach of cultural-political economy is potentially useful for me to relate the above points to the wider context of the creative economy. I’ll expand on this further later on (slide 9).

In addition, I still think the issues of labour and precarity are important to consider, especially in relation to digital labour and its role in creative industries work. Arvidsson (cited in Taylor) raises some important questions about the labour of users of social media, and the potential exploitation of this by larger corporations.

Slide 7

So now, my focus has shifted slightly and these are my new research questions:

  • What is the nature of social media use in the everyday lives of creative and cultural workers?
  • How is expertise performed on Twitter?
  • What can both of these tell us about the workings of the creative economy?

I’m still focusing on Birmingham as a case study city for now, but this could always change. The nature of social media and other mediated communication such as e-mail calls into question the importance and role of place in creative work. I have chosen Birmingham for now because, as mentioned before, of its social media ‘scene’, and its interest for cultural policymakers. I’m focusing on Twitter rather than any other social media platforms because it is easier to access and contains a lot of rich content for analysis including pictures and video as well as tweets.

Slide 8

lit review diagram

This diagram outlines my literature survey and the themes I’m going to focus on. It shows what I need to flesh out for when I start writing up the literature review. The areas I particularly need to engage with are the work of Judith Butler, social network markets, and cultural intermediaries because I am less familiar with them. This diagram is subject to change, a lot.

Slide 9

A few weeks ago I was thinking more about which approach to take, particularly interactionism (and the work of Goffman) for looking at Twitter, and Bourdieusian approaches for situating my work within the wider creative industries. After reading more of Bourdieu’s work (particularly Distinction) and others who have utilised those concepts, I realised that the focus on class and taste would not be as helpful for addressing my research questions as a more discursive approach. Butler’s concepts of performativity have been used when looking at a performance of professionalisation and expertise by Hodgson (2005) which I found helpful and this has encouraged me to engage with Butler further.

I think discourse analysis (particularly Fairclough’s model of Critical Discourse Analysis) can help me to be more systematic when looking at content on Twitter than the interactionist approach, which I have decided to put to one side after considering social media and interaction. Social media is not necessarily a site for ‘interaction’ – rather, it is a medium for communication (and/or a medium for ‘performance’) and I think it is important for me to bear this in mind when looking at how creative workers use it.

I still want to carry out qualitative interviews with workers, but rather than focusing on their perception of social media use, which I think can be limiting, I want to ask them about the role of social media in their lives to address the questions of labour and blurring of personal and professional life.

For situating the work within the wider context of the creative industries, I’m considering cultural-political economy (Jessop, 2005). Cultural-political economy comprises of the two frameworks of the Marxian political economy approach and the ‘cultural turn’ of intellectual enquiry. Calvin Taylor (2013) claims this approach can provide a more nuanced understanding of how the creative industries works. I still need to read much more into this area but I think it is potentially very useful, which I’ll explain further in the next slide.

Slide 10

This slide is pretty self-explanatory; from what I’ve been reading so far I think cultural-political economy is useful for thinking about the role of cultural intermediaries, who tend to position themselves as experts within the creative economy in the UK. The current work I’ve been reading about the creative economy, particularly the work of Taylor (2013) and Justin O’Connor (2013) has made me realise the importance of considering the wider creative economy and how it has changed (and continues to change) since the coining of the ‘creative industries’ by New Labour in the late 1990s.

The Cultural-political economy approach mentioned before is positioned as a departure from the ‘weak and strong ties’ of Granovetter and Bourdieu’s cultural sociology of taste and class, providing a more comprehensive understanding of the workings of the creative industries.

Slide 11

Finally, the contribution to knowledge that this work will make. It will provide a unique insight into how creative and cultural workers use social media and its relation to certain aspects of their lives (such as personal/professional balance). My approach to social media study provides an opportunity to be innovative with method too, as Ruppert, Law and Savage (2011) argue, methods themselves are both representative of reality and performative of the social, and need to be allowed to shift and evolve especially, as they mention, in the context of “the digitisation of everyday life” (p.7).

Now I’m clearer about the direction I’m going in and the work I need to engage further with. There may not be another post for a while, as I’m now drafting my assignments for January.