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.
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.