www.nettime.org
Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Blowing Bubbles: Post-Crash Creative Industries and the Wither
Danny Butt on Tue, 10 Dec 2002 14:56:27 +0100 (CET)


[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Blowing Bubbles: Post-Crash Creative Industries and the Witheringof Political Critique in Cultural Studies


Hi

We thought that some Nettimers might be interested in this paper from the
Cultural Studies conference that compares the "Queensland Ideology" and the
rise of the Creative Industries with the dotcom bubble.

Given the remarks at the conference a few things need to be mentioned up
front:

1) This is a joint paper, delivered in two halves. I wouldn't word my
concerns in quite the way Ned does. He wouldn't in the way I do. But in a
*general* sense it's a shared argument. Caution should be given in
attributing this material to us as people at too fine a level of detail. (I
know that sounds defensive, but you wouldn't believe some of the post-paper
comments)

2) This paper is compressed to fit in 15 minutes, and designed for oral
presentation. A written version of this will be published in a much longer
form. We only sketch some of the argument.

3) Please do not forward without this header, or quote or cite without
permission. Comments are welcomed, on or off-list.

Thanks and regards,

Danny
-- 
http://www.dannybutt.net

----------------------------------------------------

Cultural Studies Association of Australia Conference 2002
Ute Culture: The Utility of Culture and the Uses of Cultural Studies
5-7 December, 2002, Melbourne
http://www.english.unimelb.edu.au/events/csaa2002/csaa-2002.html

'Blowing Bubbles: Post-Crash Creative Industries and the Withering of
Political Critique in Cultural Studies'

Danny Butt, Media Arts, Waikato Institute of Technology <db {AT} dannybutt.net>
and Ned Rossiter, Communications, Monash University
<Ned.Rossiter {AT} arts.monash.edu.au>

ABSTRACT

'I reckon there's never been a better time to be a cultural studies
academic... What makes this a good time for cultural studies, in Australia
just as much as anywhere else, is the development of the new economy'.

(John Hartley, following his return to Australia as Dean of Arts, QUT,
2000), http://www.staff.vu.edu.au/CSAA/newsletter00-2.html#har

As recently as two years ago John Hartley was able to portray a very rosy
outlook for Cultural Studies as a beneficiary of the exponential growth in
the new economy - or at least the NASDAQ index. In this view, the terrain of
cultural studies was led by a 'morally neutral' knowledge economy
constructed through privately owned technological apparatuses; and the
challenge for cultural studies was to get with the program and support the
better-financed realpolitik of "cultural studies" being undertaken by the
commercial content industries.

 From a post-crash perspective, numerous questions have emerged about the
sustainability of this approach, which we have termed "The Queensland
Ideology". Far from being 'too commercially focussed', we argue that the
Queensland Ideology suffers from a lack of critical attention to the new
economic regimes underpinning the contemporary cultural field. Issues of
uneven development, Intellectual Property Regimes, and the capacity for
universities to compete effectively with corporations need to be attended to
in considering the role of the humanities within informational economies.

There are many signs that the Queensland Ideology will be facing tough times
after the bubble has burst. By failing to attend to broader social and
economic contexts, the Queensland Ideology has hitched the value of academic
labour to the value of the market, leaving Cultural Studies in a responsive
mode, with little leverage to shape the overall forces determining cultural
production. We argue that in the light of the changing market conditions in
educational and cultural production, cultural studies must acknowledge the
fact that the "new economy" is not a universally shared opportunity or
condition, but a field of tension that is uneven in its effects and in need
of reflexive critique and practice. And if Cultural Studies can no longer
provide this, who will?

[Danny]

Introduction

Kia ora. As is customary I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of
the land. I've been thinking a lot about what they'd be saying about some of
the discussions over the last few days. I assume you've all read the
abstract and we don't need to go over it again. I grew up on the Gold Coast,
so it's been interesting to spend some time thinking about the Queensland
Ideology. The idea came from reading the CSAA newsletter in 2000 where
Cunningham, Hartley and McKee encourage cultural studies practitioners to
throw off their academic shackles and support the *Realpolitik* of "cultural
studies" being undertaken by the commercial content industries in a "morally
neutral" knowledge economy.

About the time that was published, which I think was about a month before
the crash, I wasn't that interested in Cultural Studies debates. I was
actually sitting in the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, discussing a
dotcom business plan with a former boss turned venture capitalist. It seems
like a different era. Reflecting on what was important for me at that time
brought up some questions about discourses of the new economy. I'll start
with a few of my thoughts on the Queensland bubble, then hand over to Ned.
There are some personal pronouns here, but this is a joint paper.

Of course we've taken idea of the Queensland Ideology from Barbrook and
Cameron's critique of Internet boosterism in 'The Californian Ideology' [1].
In particular, we use the idea of the settler frontier as a historical
experience that unites the Queensland and Californian ideologies. Writing in
the 1920s, Frederick Turner noted that the key ideals of the frontier in the
US were:

1.    Conquest ­ the pioneer was both a fighter, and a finder, an inventor
of new ways; 

2.    Flexibility ­ the pioneer rebelled against the conventional, was a
nonconformist;

3.    Democracy ­one man was as good as any other, and conditions were
simple and free; and

4.    Individuality ­ the pioneer prized personal development, free of
social and government restraint. [2]

Framed in this way, settler culture is a useful tool for analysing the
Queensland Ideology and the new economy generally. Bolton and Waterson
remark that 'there has been a long and profitless debate among historians
about whether Queensland is different', with some historians 'contending
that Queensland simply reproduces traditional Australian characteristics to
a heightened degree' with others 'stressing the influence of environmental
and climatic differences'[3]. We won't add to that, but simply note that in
the post Bjelke-Petersen era, Queensland is surely the new frontier in the
cultural expansion of the "chattering classes", and the Queensland Ideology
is exemplary in its promotion of Turner's ideals.

As a white Australian the settler ideals of the Queensland Ideology are
implicitly my values as well. So while I don't necessarily disagree with
much in the Queensland line, I would like to add some reflexivity that takes
into account structural conditions of exclusion that have underpin our
society. We are concerned that much of the work focussing on the development
of the "new economy", the "knowledge economy", or the "creative economy"
celebrates the libratory *potential* of these economies without serious
analysis of this growing exclusion. We are concerned here with what Scott
Lash calls 'the constitutive rules without which the regulative rules are
inoperative'.[4] We would like to ask, what are the conditions of entry into
the new economy?

The Creative Industries

The rise of the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT is one of the most
heavily promoted and discussed aspects of the Queensland Ideology. I should
note that I have professional links with  QUT, and am generally impressed by
the overall quality of the teaching and research there. And lest I be
accused of double standards, I also strongly support key aspects of the
Creative Industries phenomenon, including recognition of the links between
areas of practice grouped under the Creative Industries, as well as their
engagement with commercial and policy issues and their sense of
responsiveness to what producers, consumers and legislators actually do and
value.

However, it's hard not to notice that some of the 'missing elements' in
QUT's specific appropriation and promotion of the Creative Industries
framework are disarmingly similar to those in the "new economy" rhetoric of
the late 90s. 

Firstly, assertions of the "democratisation of culture" in the new economy
are rarely tested in any empirical way, and certainly not around any of the
structural variables of race, gender, and class that continue to show
meaningful differences in economic opportunity. I'm concerned here about the
fading of lower socio-economic groups from explicit consideration in the Qld
framework, and wonder whether the institutional and demographic location of
the practitioners might be affecting the Queensland agenda.

Secondly, even Creative Class boosters like Richard Florida acknowledge that
the rise of the Creative Industries is correlated with increasing economic
inequality across capitalist economies, which calls into question the
possibility for "cultural democracy" through the rise of the creative
industries, (even if we appreciate that it keeps Cultural Studies scholars
like us in a job). But the uneven distribution of money receives close to
zero attention within any Queensland literature ­ whether between large and
small players within creative industries sectors, let alone between people
within national and global knowledge economies.

Traditional Marxist critique has tended to ignore consumption and focus on
the economics of production, preferably production by large-scale
multinational corporations who are found guilty until proven innocent.
Clearly, the limitations of this approach have become evident. Instead, we'd
like to see more research that *integrates socio-economic analysis of
production and consumption*. And rather than the usual British white male
creative industries suspects, my view is that Angela McRobbie is the most
useful and central figure to understand the creative industries, and we'd
further her call to disaggregate the languages, methodologies, and objects
of study in the creative economy. [5]

For example, McRobbie notes that the overwhelming majority of the UK
employment activity in fashion is in low-paid part-time retail work.
Meanwhile, women of colour make up the bulk of actual fashion manufacturing.
Considering this, what is a sustainable fashion sector going to look like as
a whole? What ancillary social services might be required to support an
expanded fashion sector's unstable, low-wage employment environment? Fairly
simply, what is the vision for a new, creative economy, *including* those
who have little capital at their disposal, whether economic, social,
creative, or otherwise? These are questions that I would like us to place on
the research agenda.

Let me make a musical proposition: I reckon Creative Industries is the
progressive house of cultural studies. I'm not just talking about the loud
whistles, happy drugs, and endless succession of ecstatic climaxes that
characterises the genre. I also see it as a strangely synthetic, pragmatic
field of practice. It guarantees a good time, it's easily palatable by
yuppies with disposable incomes, it's dominated by white male producers from
the UK, and it's guaranteed to offend music snobs of all varieties. There's
no need to worry about the poor because they won't come to the club,
partially because they can't afford to spend 100 bucks on a night out,
partially because they'd never get past the door-person who'll say "private
party, sorry", but mostly because they'd rather be down the pub listening to
classic rock. Nothing wrong with that, and I like a good night's dancing
among happy, beautiful people as much as anyone. But while we can appreciate
the democracy of the dance-floor, we still need to stumble bleary-eyed into
the morning, and be confronted with the rest of the world heading off to
their non-portfolio jobs. My question is, what are we going to say to them?

Now I'll hand over to Ned.

[NR]

Reflexivity and the role of Academia and the University

We argue that specific methodological approaches in academia have not been
rendered obsolete by the rise of the Creative Industries or the knowledge
economy. The new economy bubble was characterised by its resistance to
traditional forms of economic measurement, accountability and value. We
should ask advocates of the current Creative Industries bubble to be
specific about their methodologies and acknowledge their limitations.

Without such a reflexive move, not only does the Creative Industries
rationale contradict some of its own points of conceptual reference to Lash
and Urry's work on aesthetic and self-reflexivity within information
economies, but it also begins to mirror the institutional practices of
dotcoms, Enron and the like that have undergone disastrous collapses since
the tech-wreck of 2000.

Surely proponents of Creative Industries do not intend to adopt the dotom
motto, as noted by Geert Lovink in his recent book Dark Fiber, of: 'catch
the youngsters, squeeze the creativity out of them, turn the team into a
slavery project until you ship, float - and sell out'.[6]

Given the success of sociological and ethnographic research methods over the
past century in influencing policy outcomes, we could also ask why there's
been so little of this research done on the new economy as it impacts upon
the creative industries? If such research isn't important, we need to find
out why.[7] 

After the crash, business literature itself is encouraging organisations to
"stick to their knitting", remain focused on traditional strengths, and not
allow short term gains to distract from long-term sustainability. The
University sector is no different, and needs to build on its traditional
strengths of depth and breadth of knowledge, instead of trying to enter new
markets and operational modes better handled by the commercial sector, who
are perfectly capable of calling for industry development on their own.

Here, we are thinking in one instance of the considerable distinctions
between the role of journalism and the role of academia. While John Hartley
claims that 'public policy formation is handled better by journalists (a
2000-word article on time) than by academics (a 2000-page report in two
years)', we wouldn't mind hearing about exactly which journalists have made
significant long-term contributions to policy and the agenda of public life.
Certainly ex-journalists such as Charles Leadbeater have exerted
considerable policy influence, with his book Living on Thin Air: the New
Economy underpinning much of Blair government's conceptualisation of
Creative Industries.[8] But there are considerable spatio-temporal
differences at both institutional and publishing levels between a consultant
working in Blair's cashed-up Demos think-tank, and a journalist working to
just-in-time newspaper deadlines.

Policy formation on internet time, like dotcom academia, is an innovation of
questionable value when the policy product cycle tends to be measured in
decades. This is a time-scale that the academic institution is uniquely
prepared to work in. Content industries boosterism is cheap, and we would
suggest that Universities and academics pursuing the Queensland Ideology may
find that their ability to "add value" to advocacy projects is not greatly
enhanced by their expensive research infrastructure, leading to a flight by
businesses and government to cheaper advocacy models during periods of
economic downturn. Arguably, the long-term survival of the university
requires it to situate itself as a sovereign actor within informational
economies, and thus an interventionist rather than advocacy role is vital
for sustainability.

Intellectual Property Regimes and the Transformation of the State

Even though the definition of Creative Industries revolves around
intellectual property, the Queensland Ideology notes, but rarely
investigates, the bi-modal nature of Intellectual Property distribution in
the content industries. In these industries IP tends to be held in large,
transnational corporations with vertically integrated production and
distribution regimes, or small IP producers who scrabble for distribution
and commercialisation opportunities.

We can agree that Stuart Cunningham is correct in asserting that both the
nation-building era of cultural policy is over, and a new approach to
cultural policy is required that takes into account what content the
population as a whole actually consumes; certainly this involves an active
engagement with the commercial sector. But we can also ask questions here:
On whose terms does this engagement takes place, and what are the fields of
tension that underscore the competing interests at stake?

Furthermore, the role of the nation-state within informational economies
should not be overlooked too hastily. The state form remains an important
one in the process of democracy formation, and it is a mistake to see the
state as obsolete within globalised informational economies. Indeed, the
discursive figure of the nation-state is built in to member obligations of
the WTO's TRIPS Agreement in 1995 as a key administrative, legal and
political actor. 

Given that much of the economic capacity of Creative Industries is dependent
on the 'generation and exploitation of intellectual property',[9] it strikes
us as sensible for academics to re-engage the state with IP issues as they
pertain to cultural and social policy. Again, this is a question to do with
the terms of engagement deployed by proponents of the Creative Industries.
Content industries within a new media paradigm of network societies have yet
to demonstrate sustainable economic returns. In this regard, negotiating
intellectual property rights for informational labourers needs to be placed
at the forefront of establishing equitable standards for all actors both
within and outside informational economies. Here, it might also prove
beneficial to be engaging with the union sector.

We call, for example, for an extension of analysis of US-owned transnational
media productions hosted in the region, and a clear analysis of their role
in creating valuable intellectual property in the local setting. These
productions are probably not in themselves a source of lasting economic
value since they depend to a large degree on the Australian currency
retaining a relatively low exchange rate. Instead, such productions
primarily function as professional development for the local industry,
preparing it to launch projects of cultural and aesthetic specificity that
are distinctive in the global information economy. As we seek sustainable
economic development in the global knowledge economy, however, culture is
one of the few sources of value that can't easily move offshore.


Conclusion

Historical attention to the structural forces shaping the new world of
knowledge-work indicates that many important political questions hover in
the background. While many key players de-emphasise issues of structural
reproduction in the "new economy", the need for diverse, politicised
critique of institutional and disciplinary practices is stronger than ever.


Notes

1 Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, 'The Californian Ideology',
  http://cci.wmin.ac.uk/HRC/ci/calif5.html

2 Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History (New
York: Dover Publications, 1996;1920), quoted in Virginia Eubanks, 'The
Mythography of the "New" Frontier',
http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/papers/eubanks.html

3 Helen Irving (ed), 'The Centenary Companion to Australian Federation',
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 94. quoted in Beverly
Kingston, 'My adventures in Queensland history', Journal of Australian
Studies, Sept 2001 p37(14)

4 Scott Lash, Critique of Information (London: Sage, 2002), 198.

5 Angela McRobbie, 'Feminism, Fashion, and Consumption', in In the
Culture Society: Art, Fashion and Popular Music (London: Routledge,
1999), 41.

6 Geert Lovink, Dark Fiber: Tracking Critical Internet Culture
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 235.

7 For critical accounts of the institutional cultures of the new
economy as it unravelled in the US in the 90s, see Paulina Borsook,
Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp through the Terribly Libertarian World
of High-Tech (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2001); Thomas
Frank, One Market under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and
the End of Economic Democracy (New York: Anchor Books, 2000); Doug
Henwood, Wall Street: How It Works and for Whom (New York: Verso,
1997).

8 Charles Leadbeater, Living on Thin Air: the New Economy (London:
Penguin, 1999).

9 CITF (Creative Industries Task Force), Mapping Document (1998,
2001), http:www.culture.gov.uk/creative/mapping.html



#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net