Last week I had my final review for my PhD, which is the formal meeting at my University to ensure I am on track and ready to submit by this September. At that meeting I presented my research in five minutes, and I wondered how on earth I could condense my thesis into such a short space. In order to gain some distance and ‘see the wood for the trees’ I borrowed Annette Naudin’s idea to write about your thesis as if someone else is quoting you in their literature review. I found it strange at first but ultimately very useful for presenting three years of work in a few minutes.
So below is my attempt at gaining some distance from my own work. I changed it back to first person for my final review, but this first iteration was crucial for helping me get there in the first place.
Patel (2017) explores expertise in cultural work in greater depth, specifically how cultural workers signal expertise on social media. Her thesis, titled ‘The Politics of Expertise in Cultural Work’, highlights the contemporary relevance of expertise debates in political and popular culture, and uses this context to demonstrate the necessity of individual, everyday expertise in mitigating the risks of an unstable and volatile economic, social and political climate in the West. Focusing on the everyday expertise of cultural workers, including writers, painters, sculptors, composers and craftspeople, Patel provides a novel and timely account of the everyday skills, mastery and technique practised by cultural workers and how their expertise is presented, mediated and negotiated on social media platforms.
She offers a methodological framework for analysing how expertise is signalled on social media, drawing on the signalling expertise framework of Candace Jones (2002) and adapted for a qualitative analysis of expertise on social media. In her research Patel highlights the implications of signalling expertise on social media for cultural labour – such as its role in cultural workers’ everyday practice, how cultural workers negotiate their presentation of self and their expertise on social media, and gendered strategies for signalling expertise.
Patel offers a general definition of expertise which is: “the possession of specialised knowledge or skill, which is recognised by others as legitimate, and accumulated, mobilised and signalled within a particular social context.” Patel also acknowledges the specific forms of expertise required in cultural work, most notably, aesthetic expertise. Drawing on the history of aesthetics as outlined by Martha Woodmansee (1994) and Paul Oskar Kristeller (1951; 1952), she proposes that aesthetic expertise comprises knowledge of aesthetic codes and classifications, and skill in mastering the tools and techniques to produce a work of aesthetic value. Patel demonstrates how aesthetic expertise can be signalled on social media by cultural workers who confidently reveal aspects of the artistic process and discuss it in detail, whilst effectively managing their relationship with their online audience at the same time. A cultural workers’ ability to demonstrate and describe their process and techniques can be enhanced through the affordances of social media platforms by providing work in progress, creating tutorials, or interacting with the audience to produce testimonials and positive feedback which add to their profile.
Some of the implications revealed through the analysis include the pressure cultural workers experience to maintain an online presence, which for some punctuates and adds to daily work pressures. Cultural workers also need to negotiate what to reveal, and what not to, on social media in order to balance the maintenance of their presence with managing the imagined audience. Rather than just promoting their work, Patel reveals that the women cultural workers engaged with other women online more, sharing work and collaborating to attempt to facilitate a wider raising of visibility, which is a much more relational strategy for signalling expertise than the more one-way, promotional tactic of the men.
Patel raises questions about cultural value on social media – as cultural production online is increasingly motivated by engagement and getting the online attention of users. What could a preoccupation with numbers mean for cultural value? While social media platforms present positive possibilities for wider engagement and lowering barriers to access to cultural production, Patel argues that the democratising potential of social media is misleading – those who really want to make a living from cultural work still need the social, cultural and economic capital to make that happen, and social media will not change that. Overall, Patel provides useful insights into the individual experiences of cultural workers, and the politics of expertise in contemporary cultural work.
The distance really helped me to reflect on the key take-away points of the thesis, and of course its contributions to knowledge. It will be interesting to see how much it changes between now and the viva.
Last week (11 December) I presented at Birmingham City University’s annual research conference, RESCON15. I was a part of an Ethnography panel organised by Jerome Turner of BCMCR so the focus here was on methods.
I talked about social media methods and argued for the value of more qualitative methods in social media research. I revealed some early insights from my interviews and the added insight they have brought to my social media research, and I also talked about the importance of considering platforms and their owners in any social media research.
The talk was kindly recorded and edited by Dylan Line of Multimedia Services at Birmingham City University, and my slides are embedded below the video.
I should also mention that I won 2nd prize in the poster competition, in which I presented a reworked version of my expertise poster. Thanks to everyone who voted for me!
So far in my PhD I’ve been referring to my potential participants as creative and cultural workers. This has been a ‘catch all’ way for me to give a rough indication of who I’m looking at, without committing to either creative or cultural workers. This is because, as I’ll discuss in this post, of the definitional ambiguities and confusion surrounding the terms ‘creative industries’ and ‘cultural industries’, which has implications for how I conceptualise ‘creative workers’ or ‘cultural workers’.
In a discussion of creative and cultural work, it is first neccessary to situate these terms within their wider context of ‘creative’ and ‘cultural’ industries, so i’ll begin with a brief history of both terms, including differences and criticisms, before a discussion of ‘cultural ecologies’ which I think could be a helpful way of conceptualising contemporary cultural work.
The term ‘Cultural Industry’ is most associated with Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of the mass production and mass consumption of cultural goods in the early 20th Century, and the absorption of culture into the economy (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1979). They argued that the ‘Culture Industry’ was a tool of the ruling class and the state over the masses. This industrialisation of culture partly arose from the technological advances of the early 20th century, and the autonomy of art was seemingly under threat. According to them, this led to resistance in the form of ‘bohemian’ lifestyle choices and ‘art for arts sake’. For me, this struggle between art and capitalism appears to have parallels with the notions of self-actualisation and aspiration for ‘meaningful work’ apparent in contemporary work (McRobbie, 1999; Boltanski and Chiapello, 2005), and for artists, the tensions between art (art for arts sake) and commerce (making a living), persist (Hesmondhalgh, 2007).
As highlighted by scholars such as Sennett (1998) and Beck (2000) the emphasis on the ‘individual’ in modern work grew during the 1980s and 1990s as the decentralisation of work, which began with the Thatcher government, led to a proliferation of SMEs and freelancers. This also happened in the cultural industries, which became a particular object of policy during this time (Garnham, 1990). Reflexivity and entrepreneurship became important values in contemporary work, none more so than in the cultural industries. Lash and Urry (1994) pointed out how cultural workers possessed some of the traits which were valuable to the corporate sector, such ‘aesthetic reflexivity’ and an intuitive grasp of cultural trends. The inherent traits of cultural workers, particularly ‘creativity’, became more and more desirable in many sectors of work outside of the cultural industries (Ross, 2003) and this continues today with the encouragement of artistic interventions with businesses (Sköldberg, Woodilla and Antal, 2015). This emphasis on the artistic mentality and creativity took centre stage in UK cultural policy in the late 1990s.
The creation of the ‘creative industries’ as a policy object by New Labour in 1997 is what spawned much academic debate, centred around criticism of the term’s ambiguity, the emphasis on the knowledge economy and exploitation of intellectual property (Garnham, 2005) and the inclusion of software programming, video gaming, among many other industries not traditionally considered ‘cultural’ into classifications of the new ‘creative industries’, causing definitional confusion and slippages around culture, the economy and technology (Hesmondhalgh, 2007). These criticisms are usefully summarised by Galloway and Dunlop (2007), who argue that the ‘creative industries’ as a policy object obscures the distinctive aspects of cultural work, particularly the communication of symbolic ideas and meanings (p.27).
Many alternatives have been proposed since, a useful summary of which can be found in pages 22-25 UNESCO’s 2013 Creative Economy report. David Throsby (2001) proposed a model of the ‘core’ cultural industries (comprising of the more traditional arts) which extends to other cultural industries (including film and TV) and then to creative industries (advertising, marketing, PR). A similar model was proposed by the European Commission (2006). O’Connor (2010) argues that these models fail to take into account the complex processes and interdependencies within the cultural sector, “and evades some of the real tensions between creative labour and the conditions in which is it put to work” (p.57).
Such criticisms and debates are the reason why I’ve waited until I can dig more into the literature before working out what I mean by ‘creative and cultural workers’. In terms of choosing my participants, my instinct has always been towards people who work in what Throsby calls the traditional, ‘core’ cultural industries: “music, dance, theatre, literature, the visual arts, the crafts” (p.112) and so far these are the types of workers I have been approaching to participate in my research. This is because, in traditional terms, the creative practice which takes place within these categorisations doesn’t neccessarily involve digital technology and the internet as much as other, supposedly ‘non-traditional’ (as described by Throsby) cultural industries may do. So, for now I am referring to them as ‘cultural workers’ and the work they do ‘cultural work’. However, in order to avoid the separatist tendencies of the models described above, I’ve found John Holden’s idea of ‘Cultural Ecologies’ particularly helpful for conceptualising cultural work in a wider context.
John Holden’s (2015) concept of cultural ecology is based on Ann Markussen’s (2011:10) definition of the ecology of culture:
The complex interdependencies that shape the demand for and production of arts and cultural offerings.
The cultural ecology concentrates on relationships; between people, commercial and non-commercial organisations, professionals, amateurs, as well as the flows of ideas and money. It characterises cultural work as an activity only sometimes undertaken for profit, effectively accounting for consumer/amateur cultural production which has proliferated through digital and social media (Holden, 2015:12):
Cultural endeavour involves the making of meaning and the construction of social lives as well as (sometimes) the pursuit of profit. If culture is treated as an ecology, then the analytical approach becomes one of identifying cultural value, by taking into account the multifaceted and pluralistic value of culture beyond, as well as including, the economic.
Social media, the internet and mobile technology allow increasing opportunities for cultural production, co-production, self-branding, networking, and most of the work which goes into these activities is unpaid, what Terranova (2000) calls ‘free labour’. The increased capability of co-production and perceived blurring of distinctions between producer and consumer have led to what Andrew Keen (2007) and John Hartley (2009) have argued as an erosion of expertise in cultural life (as argued by Keen) and media work (argued by Hartley). This, however, needs much further investigation and interrogation and is a primary focus of my research in relation to expertise and how it is performed on social media. A talk yesterday by my supervisor Paul Long prompted further thinking about amateur cultural production and co-production which is emerging as an important theme in my research.
At the beginning of year two of my PhD, my research questions and focus have been refined since the outline I provided a year ago, so here is an up to date description of my research.
PhD title: The social media use of creative and cultural workers
Primary research questions:
- 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?
The conditions of creative and cultural work have long been a subject of critique and debate in creative industries scholarship, with concerns such as the precarious working patterns (Gill and Pratt, 2008), blurring between personal and professional life (McRobbie, 2002), and self-exploitation and labour (Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2009) dominating these discussions. Similar concerns are being voiced around digital media use, including blurring between personal and professional life (Gregg, 2014) and digital labour and self-exploitation (Arvidsson, 2008). For creative workers using social media, are these extra concerns for them in addition to the pressures of creative and cultural work? How does social media use fit in with their everyday lives, and creative practice? How do they negotiate the potential tensions of social media use and their creative practice?
In the creative industries, being known as an expert is the goal in order to gain regular work; in the context of a growing ‘expert system’ in the UK creative industries (Prince, 2010) and with social media offering increased opportunities to promote yourself and your work, how does this manifest for creative industries workers? How is social media used by them to communicate and display their expertise?
My research will also contribute to knowledge and innovate in social media methodology. I am looking to use a multi-method approach, using interviews, social media analysis and a collaborative platform to capture social media and its role in everyday creative practice.
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?
Since the last post I’ve been focusing much more on literature on expertise in the creative industries. Before I proceed with that however I should restate why I am looking at expertise.
One of the main research questions for my PhD is How is expertise performed on social media? Expertise, as I will demonstrate in my discussion in this blog post, is essential in order to progress and develop a career in the creative industries. Reputations are built on the expertise one has (or appears to have) and it is reputation that leads to more work. On social media, there are multiple opportunities for self-branding and self-promotion, and expertise, and the performance of expertise on social media, is yet to be explored among creative industries workers. What insights can this bring about social media in the life of the creative worker? What new insights can this bring about creative work?
Social network markets, expertise in the creative industries and reputation
In reading more around expertise in the creative industries, I’ve been led to the concept of social network markets, which I think could be a useful way of conceptualising the ideas of reputation and expertise and relating them to the wider context of the creative industries. According to Potts (2011):
“A social network market emerges when consumer choice shifts attention away from price information and toward observations of other agents’ choices as a rational reaction to uncertainties about product quality arising from novelty or complexity” (p.80).
The concept of social network markets has been used to look at the creative industries from a market-based perspective (Potts et al, 2008) and user co-creation online (Hartley, 2007; Banks 2009).
Banks (2009) looked at co creative expertise and the complexity of interrelations between “traditional expertise and emergent community knowledge structures” (p. 13). He proposes the analytical framework of social network markets to try and work through this complexity:
“This model of social network markets is based on the notion that this problem of co-creative expertise is neither an economic nor a cultural phenomenon in itself, but rather the outcome of a co-evolutionary dynamic between both economic and cultural considerations.” (p.13)
The framework of social network markets picks up on the economic and social aspects of the creative industries, which is useful for looking at ideas of reputation and expertise and relating it to the wider context of the creative industries. In Art Worlds, Becker (2008) articulates this social aspect in more depth in relation to the value of reputation in the creative industries. According to Becker, the term ‘Art World’ is used:
“To denote the network of people whose cooperative activity, organized via their joint knowledge of conventional means of doing things, produces the kind of art works that art world is noted for.” (xxiv).
Becker claims that reputation as a social process, and argues against the common tendency in policy discourse to emphasise the genius individual with a unique and rare talent (Bilton, 2010). Other people have as much to do with the value and reputation of a person or work of art, and it is this idea which is the base argument of Art Worlds. Becker emphasises the importance of consensus among peers and consumers, as well as the role of production and distribution systems, in forging a reputation. Becker’s account was written before social media and the internet, and so some of what he talks about with regards to distribution systems could be problematised in this context, for example:
“That writers do not achieve major reputations does not mean that no one is doing work that would, by the standards of those worlds, deserve such reputations, only that the world’s distribution system does not let participants know what they need to to make the comparisons that would allow credible judgments.” (p.363).
The internet and social media have made production and distribution of creative work much easier to do. Though it is still very difficult to gain the mass exposure that the larger media companies can generate, it is slightly easier to gain at least some form of exposure on sites such as YouTube. One also still has to rely on social networks (and a form of consensus) in order for their work to reach many people, and this aspect remains the same from Becker’s original account.
So even though anyone can now create something and publish it online, people still need to see it. This is where the importance of signalling expertise comes in, for getting one’s work noticed.
Expertise and signalling
Signalling is a way of communicating one’s expertise and building reputation, which leads to other forms of value, as Potts (2011) outlines:
“Credible signalling builds reputation, and reputation is social capital; a capital that is then fungible over future market and non-market contexts. Creative production occurs in a social context that gives rise to arbitrage opportunities over market and non-market spaces. The currency through which these transactions occur is not always monetary; indeed as often it is reputational, in the sense of being an investment in the wealth of a credible signal” (p.81).
Again, the internet and social media are worth considering in this context. How does the performance of expertise on social media play out here? Social media appears to be a ‘social context’ in which opportunities for creative production and distribution occur. What form does ‘signalling’ take here?
Candace Jones (2002) talks about signalling of expertise in the creative industries, utilising the work of Goffman to put together a theoretical framework to conceptualise signalling strategies. Again, there are ideas here which could be worth further exploration in a social media context. Jones talks about signalling content which consists of knowing why (identity), knowing how (performance) and knowing whom (relationships) (p.213) all of which are aspects of the online presence which I aim to explore in my own work (particularly performance).
She then talks about signalling strategies which are vitally important for reputation building. Reputation building strategies involve the types of relations someone pursues, and Jones talks about this using some of the terminology from Mark Granovetter’s strong and weak ties, claiming that strong ties dampen negative and amplify positive signals (and weak ties are more likely to invert that, i.e. amplifying negative signals). She also talks about reputation and self-presentation in terms of the audience and picking up ‘clues’ (using Goffman’s terminology) to best manage an impression. Again, these are ideas which are worth looking at on social media. A lot of work has been done on self-presentation online using Goffman’s framework, but not in terms of signalling of expertise.
Another interesting aspect which Jones mentions signalling as expertise – i.e. being an expert in signalling. Again, this is an idea which is worth exploring for my research in terms of social media usage. If you are highly competent, or expert, at using social media, does that make you appear more of an ‘expert’ in your creative field, because you are able to communicate it effectively online? What does this mean for peers who may not be so ‘expert’ at using social media? Jones claims that this practice of signalling as expertise involves analysis and intuition; intuition in particular is honed through experience. This idea of intuition has paralells with the ‘everydayness’ of expertise as talked about in my previous post.
If performance of expertise on social media becomes intuitive and natural for a practitioner, does that mean they are experts at social media, or experts in their field? What bearing does one have on the other in terms of time and effort invested into it?
Jones could have unpacked this idea of signalling as expertise further, however this is where I could pick up and explore in the context of social media use, particularly in treating it as a medium for communication and a part of creative workers’ everyday practice.
Banks, J. (2009). Co-creative expertise: Auran Games and Fury – A case study. Media International Australia, 130(February), pp. 77–89.
Becker, H. (2008) Art Worlds: 25th Anniversary Edition, updated and expanded. University of California Press.
Hartley, J. (2007). The evolution of the creative industries – Creative clusters , creative citizens and social network markets. Keynote address to Creative Industries Conference, Asia-Pacific Weeks, Berlin, September 2007.
Jones, C (2002) ‘Signaling expertise: how signals shape careers in the creative industries’ in M. Peiperl, M. Arthur and N. Anand, Eds Creativity: Explorations in the remaking of work. Oxford University Press, pp. 209-228.
Potts, J (2011) Creative industries and economic evolution. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Potts, J., Cunningham, S., Hartley, J., & Ormerod, P. (2008). Social network markets: a new definition of the creative industries. Journal of Cultural Economics, 32(3), pp. 167–18