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Creative Labour Process Group at Goldsmiths

On January 13th I went to Goldsmiths for a symposium on creative labour called ‘Concepts and Methods in a Cross-Sectoral Frame‘. This was the second event by the Creative Labour Process Group which is organised by Angela McRobbie and colleagues at Goldsmiths. The symposium was well attended by academics in the field and there was some stimulating discussion throughout the afternoon.

The focus on methods and concepts is particularly timely for me as I am currently working on my methodology in my PhD. I was disappointed to hear that Georgina Born’s keynote was cancelled at short notice but her replacement, Don Slater from LSE, was excellent. In his project with Jo Entwistle and Mona Sloan, called configuring light, the aim is to integrate the social within lighting design practices. They are working with Derby Council on lighting in its town centre, and the argument of Don and the project team is that social knowledge is crucial for design. He talked briefly about expertise, especially the reliance on scientific knowledge for legitimising expertise and knowledge in lighting design practices, which overlooks the importance of social factors too. Expertise is an important part of my PhD, and it was interesting to see expertise being questioned and unpicked in other work, which needs to be done more often.

Angela McRobbie talked earlier in the day about methodological issues in her research on the fashion industry. She talked about how she ‘abandoned theory in the pursuit of research’ when she interviewed fashion designers in London and Berlin, but pointed out problems with accessing participants, and the impact of technology on the proliferation of secondary research material. She used the example of the film ‘Dior and I’ as an example of a rich ethnography that an academic researcher would not be able to produce. It provides insights that make interviews look thin. She likened Dior and I to Howard Becker’s Art Worlds, as it highlights the collaborative nature of the fashion industry. However, while the film does provide a rich insight, it comes with the editorial constraints of the film industry. She finished by suggesting that researchers in the cultural industries can mitigate the problems and constraints of access by carrying out more collaborative work.

This was a feature of Carolina Bandinelli’s PhD research on social and cultural entrepreneurs in London and Milan. She carried out an 18 month ethnography and highlighted her problems too with the uncertainty of the field of social and cultural entrepreneurs, and how collaborating with a participant meant that she was becoming a participant in her own research. I think in research the position of the researcher is crucial, and it is important that this is acknowledged in any discussion of method. Carolina became a practitioner too in the field she is studying, which is similar to my own position as a social media practitioner studying social media and this is something I’m thinking through at the moment as I write my method.

Earlier in the day Keith Negus presented his research on musicians. He didn’t have any concrete insights yet, but he found there is a great deal of mutual support between musicians, which is an emerging theme in my own research on artists. This was followed by three papers on data-related research. First, Nicola Searle talked about IP in the creative industries and issues with researching it. Cath Sleeman from NESTA discussed their work on data visualisations, with a particularly interesting example of the ‘off-screen talent network‘ at the BBC. Finally Mark Taylor presented initial insights from the Panic! social mobility in the arts project. While the analysis is in the very early stages, there are suggestions from the research that there is an ‘ideology of talent’ among those in good jobs, who believe that career progression is meritocratic, whereas those still working their way up believe that success in the creative industries also depends on ‘who you know’.

It was an interesting symposium overall with much food for thought, and it was useful that many of the methodological questions and problems in my own research were also discussed here.

Research update

Whilst presenting at conferences and co-writing a paper with my colleague Annette, I’ve also been carrying out interviews with participants. I’m conducting interviews to find out about the role of social media in artistic practice and cultural labour, which is one focus of my PhD (the other being the performance of expertise on social media).

So far I have interviewed 14 people (including my pilot study) and have two more in the diary before Christmas. I’ll stop there for now in terms of recruiting participants, because I also need to gather samples of their social media posts, so I will have a lot of research material.

I’m going to take time over the festive period to transcribe the interviews, collect the social media posts and analyse what I have, because I’ve dived straight into recruiting participants and interviewing them without really taking a step back. I found my participants by looking on regional arts directories such as New Art West Midlands and Art in Liverpool, I identified artists who were quite prolific on social media, and contacted them directly. The response rate was great and I must thank everyone who has taken the time to speak to me so far.

My participants include fine artists, photographers, writers, craftspeople and musicians. The interviews mostly took place over phone and Skype, and I asked them about their work and their background, how they use social media, what they think of it, how it has helped them in their career, and so on. This was to really get a sense of the role of social media in their artistic practice, and subsequently their personal lives (because most of them do not separate their work from personal life).

What I’ve been presenting at conferences so far is the performance of expertise element of my PhD which has been based on my pilot study. This has proved  to be really insightful and I’m looking forward to building on it when I come to analyse the other participants’ social media posts properly. However,  I’ve found that interviews are crucial if you want to find out how social media is used and its role in people’s lives.

One thing in particular that social media analysis doesn’t pick up is the amount of time people spend looking at it, what they’re looking at, and why. This is often called ‘lurking’ but I prefer to use Kate Crawford’s (2009) concept of ‘listening’, which:

invokes the more dynamic process of online attention, and suggests that it is an embedded part of networked engagement – a necessary corollary to having a ‘voice’. If we reconceptualize lurking as listening, it reframes a set of behaviours once seen as vacant and empty into receptive and reciprocal practices.

(Crawford, 2009:527)

Interviews reveal this process of ‘listening’ and the context in which it occurs. In my interviews, I’ve found that listening is an important part of my participants’ artistic practice – they look on social media for inspiration, to keep up with events and opportunities, and to generally ‘see what’s going on’ in their networks and specialist areas. And for most of them it’s a habit, they do it during ‘downtime’ when they’re having a coffee or waiting for a bus. This type of activity and context is not visible on social media, but is potentially important when thinking about social media and its role in cultural labour.

These are some very pithy initial observations of course, and there is much more to be drawn from the interviews when I revisit them. I do feel however they have added a valuable dimension to my research, and I’m going to present these initial thoughts at my University’s upcoming research conference, RESCON. The presentation is part of an ethnography panel organised by Birmingham ethnography coffee group.

So over the next month or so I’ll finish the remaining interviews and start to gather social media posts. I’ll also take time to reflect, not only on what I’ve gathered but also the research process and my own position as both a researcher and social media practitioner, and implications this may have for my interpretation.

 

Methodology

I’ve completed a full first draft of the literature review, and now my attention is on methodology and the actual fieldwork for this thesis. I do talk about method in my literature review – I have a chapter dedicated to social media methods and in this post I’ll talk a little bit about that, and think out loud about which methods to use to answer my research questions.

To recap, my research questions are:

  • What is the role of social media in the everyday lives of creative and cultural workers?
  • How is expertise performed on social media?
  • What insights can both of these questions provide about the nature of contemporary creative and cultural work?

In my literature review I identified that practice theory and the philosophy of expertise are useful for conceptualising those first two questions respectively, and this is covered in my previous blog posts. My main argument from the literature review is that there is little work about the nature of contemporary creative work which explicitly considers social media use. In addition, social media offers opportunities for people to perform their expertise publicly, and in creative and cultural work where being known as an expert is more important than ever in a saturated and incredibly competitive job market, how do creative and cultural workers negotiate this on social media? What are the implications for their work/life balance and boundaries between personal and professional life?

A multi-method approach is required in order to answer these questions. For looking at the performance of expertise on social media, I have talked before about using the signalling expertise framework of Candace Jones for analysing social media posts and I think this can be helpful, as my pilot study has shown. Capturing the role of social media in the everyday lives of creative workers however is more complex. In taking a practices oriented approach I need to consider the various procedures and practices of these creative workers, not only in their social media practice but also their creative practice, and how it all interleaves together. Observation is the obvious route to take when looking at environments and institutions, but individuals? Won’t they be very aware of the researcher’s presence, and won’t they be a little self-conscious with the entire focus being on them?

This is where more creative methods are needed, in fact any research which looks at contemporary social worlds should be more experimental and reflexive, as argued by Law, Ruppert and Savage (2011) when talking about the social life of methods. They argue that our research methods are not only constituted by our social world, but also constitute it. This, as I mentioned in my previous post, could also be said of social media. People use social media to create things, perform expertise, express their views and opinions, etc. It takes work, time and effort. Yet people also use social media to catch up with friends, read news, watch videos, etc. They are experiencing aspects of the world through social media. So shouldn’t social media, somehow, also be used in the methods for exploring social media?

This doesn’t mean data mining or even analysing social media using frameworks such as signalling expertise. To truly consider the role of social media in the everyday, social media should be used, and I’m currently thinking through possible ways of doing this. How can this be done effectively, without being a waste of time for the researcher or extra work for the participants?

Comments and suggestions welcome, send me an email or a tweet.

Methodology and literature review outline

I’ve been concentrating on my methodology, and I’ve been thinking carefully about paradigms and intellectual traditions, and which is best for me to approach my research question. There are two in particular:

  • Interactionism is concerned with understanding the individual and their interactions with other humans. Goffman, George Herbert Mead, among others, influenced this tradition. I’m looking at social media usage, so this approach potentially lends itself to the study of social media. A few have done this already (Murthy, 2012Rui and Stefanone, 2012, and I’m sure there are many others), and I remember citing Fernback’s (2007) symbolic interactionist perspective in my undergraduate dissertation about online communities. I’ve been reading Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and I’ll talk more about my thoughts on this later.
  • However, I am also looking to situate this within the wider context of communities and networks. In terms of new media and the internet, the work of Castells (2011) is particularly influential. Bourdieusian approaches are often utilised for looking at the creative industries (Wright, 2005; Hesmondalgh, 2006; Scott, 2012; Randle, Forson and Calverley, 2014) but I haven’t engaged much with this work yet. So I’m not sure of my approach at the moment, but I do think it is important for me to situate the micro-level of interaction within the wider context of the creative industries, especially as my original issue of debate is concerned with tensions between government rhetoric/policy, and the fluidity of the creative industries (Bilton, 2007).

From what I’ve read in and around my field so far, people have tended to ‘stick’ with one paradigm and use that on their object of study. I think having social media as my object of study gives scope for me to be more innovative in my approach because the platforms are constantly changing for various reasons (this in itself is an important consideration regarding medium, which I’ll come back to later). As mentioned in a previous post, not allowing methods to shift makes it difficult to “know differently, to shape new realities, or to imagine different ‘methods assemblages’ or modes of knowing” (Law, Ruppert, and Savage, 2011, p.13). Van Dijck (2013) draws upon actor-network theory and politicial economy perspective to look at the culture of connectivity, so it’s being done, and in this context.

As mentioned by Ruppert, Law and Savage (2013) methods themselves are of theoretical interest, and the authors argue that the lively nature of social media data gives us the potential to rethink theoretical and methodological assumptions in social science research. I agree, and the aim of my research is to contribute to this debate, which is why discussions of method will be prominent in my literature survey. Below is a draft outline:

Draft literature review outline

Cultural Work

  • Policy context – clusters, the problem of disconnect between policy and workers (Oakley, Pratt)
  • Labour and precarity (Hesmondalgh, Banks, Gill, Ross) – nature of work and labour in the creative industries, reputation, sociality, expertise
  • Creative industries and digital (Gregg, Crawford (circuits of labour)) – digital labour too (Ardvisson etc). Also challenging digital discourses in policy

Networks

  • Sociality of the creative industries, expertise and reputation (Kong, McRobbie, Banks, Comunian).
  • Network sociality (Castells, Wellman) – what networks look like, how they operate, theories and approaches
  • Theorising creative industries networks – Social Network Markets, Bourdieusian approaches (field), pragmatic approaches by Bilton

Social Media

  • Social media and connectivity – Baym, boyd, Turkle, etc
  • Social media and performativity – Rui and Stefanone, Goffman and Butler inspired approaches, performing expertise
  • Social media methods – current and potential new methods

I work better when I have a list in my head; the above could well change but at least I now have a basis to work from.

Cultural intermediaries

One thing I haven’t mentioned so far are cultural intermediaries (my supervisor is involved in an important project on this at the moment). While I won’t be looking at them specifically, it’s crucial for me to acknowledge this area of work because of the potentially valuable insights it can offer into the workings of the creative industries. For example, Calvin Taylor’s (2013) cultural-political economy perspective in looking at cultural intermediation provides a nuanced understanding of the nature of cultural intermediation and its role in the creative economy. Taylor’s points about the ‘associationalist economy’ and ‘value based on association’ are important too and provide a starting point for further work in looking more closely at the intermediary agents themselves and the nature of their networks and associations.

Goffman

Goffman’s approach is of interest to me because of it’s usage already in some work on Twitter, such as by Murthy and Rui & Stefanone, which I have talked about in a previous post. The idea of people being actively aware of their audience when presenting themselves could indeed be applied to social media usage, and it has been. Of course Goffman’s dramaturgical framework is highly dependent on the presence of two or more people and the instantaneous interaction taking place at that moment, and social media doesn’t really function in this way. For this reason, sticking faithfully to this approach will not help but I do believe that there are elements which can be of value, particularly in relation to awareness of the audience and also maintaining “definitions of the situation”. In social media terms this could include fashioning a coherent and professional profile on Twitter and making sure you don’t tweet anything which contradicts what you say about yourself (both onliine and offline).

Next I’m going to look further into Bourdieusian approaches to theorising the creative industries, and unpick why they have been used.

Expertise and method

I’ve been reading more into different areas which could be worth exploring in my research, as I start thinking in more depth about a theoretical framework. In the past couple of weeks I’ve taken a break from re-visiting what I’ve read already and took a look at two more concepts – complexity theory and expertise.

Complexity theory

I’ve only read one piece on complexity theory, Comunian’s Rethinking the Creative City (2011). She uses complexity theory to look at the connection between urban space and the systems of local cultural production and consumption. Comunian emphasises the importance of micro interactions and networks between creative practitioners, the cultural sector and the cultural infrastructure of a city. Like me, she argues that not enough attention is given to the nature of interactions between creative workers. While complexity theory may have some uses for this, there are many challenges with multi-level interpretation of data, and the theory overall doesn’t quite seem to ‘fit’ with measuring micro level human interaction. I won’t proceed any further with my exploration into complexity theory, but this piece was particularly useful in raising important questions about methodology, which I will talk about again later.

Expertise

In searching for literature around expertise and the creative industries I came across Tulloch’s Performing Culture (1999). Tulloch talks about the tensions between the everyday and expertise, and argues that the distinctions between the two are blurred. I see paralells in this between what I’ve been reading about technology and labour, notably Melissa Gregg’s work on performing professionalism. Tulloch acknowledges some of the performance theory I’m going to look at such as Goffman and Butler, however the ideas of Ien Ang (1996) and Terry Threadgold’s (1997) emphasis on reflexive storytelling and performance are the basis for his approach. He looks at several aspects of performing culture and performing expertise – from academics to theatre performers – to support his argument that both everyday and expert knowledge are stories that are told and performed, and that academic ‘expertise’ in the field of cultural studies should be questioned. He argues that people actively construct their own identities and tell their own stories by utilising a combination of lay and expert knowledge.

A lot of the book was concerned with contributing to an understanding of media production and consumption. Nowadays there is little or no separation between production and consumption thanks to social media and mobile technology, so for the blurring of distinctions which Tulloch often refers to in relation to agency/structure, high/popular culture and expertise/everyday, production/consumption can be added to that list.  ‘Expertise’ in itself is not explored in any great depth; it’s assumed that the performers, producers and academics possess the ‘expert’ knowledge. Again, distinctions here (particularly in the creative industries), could be blurred and may be worth exploring in my research. For example, if someone says they’re an ‘expert’ of a particular field on their Twitter bio, what entitles them to say that?

Though I found much of the book will not be useful for me because it deals a lot with media production, it reminded me of much of the core media theory which I am going to revisit, such as the work of Raymond Williams and de Saussre, because starting from the core theory will be valuable in helping me to define my theoretical framework.

Prince (2010) has looked at expertise in the UK creative industries and how it came to prominence within government assemblages. He mentions how new technologies have enabled marginalised groups to engage with and influence government assemblages. It’s a good starting point for the concept of expert power within a certain structure. It would have been useful to tease out the experts’ perception of their own expertise in the interviews, and the author acknowledges that further work should be carried out in this area. I will continue to look at literature around expertise, because the link between performance, performativity and expertise is worth looking at for my research.

Prince’s discussion was strictly within the context of government assemblages and it would be useful to explore this concept within other structures outside of government.

Methodology

Assemblages are also talked about in something else I’ve been reading around methodologies – The Double Social Life of Methods by Law, Ruppert and Savage (2011). The piece is a thoughtful discussion about how research methods are both constituted by, and constitute, the social world they research. The authors argue that current methods do not allow us to discover new realities or try new methodological assemblages. The application of complexity theory to creative industries systems is an example of this. Even though this was worth trying and some insights were provided, the method was incompatible in many ways. This concern of ill-fitting methodologies was raised when I went to the Researching Social Media conference last year – how the nature of social media doesn’t lend itself to being researched using traditional research methods, and new ways need to be explored. For me the method will be a part of my literature survey, because I will be looking to adapt or create a method for this research and as argued by Law et al, this requires some thinking about what methods actually do and the assumptions embedded within them.

I’m going to concentrate on reading further within the themes discussed in this post, because whilst some of what I’ve read may not be useful, it has signposted me to topics and debates which could be more relevant to my research than areas such as capital, which I’ve already spent a lot of time on.