What’s new in the journal Cultural Studies: Toby Miller on why “not all industries are cultural, and no industries are creative”

In this January’s issue of Cultural Studies, Toby Miller, one of the heavy-hitters of the field, weighs in on the debate about “cultural industries” versus “creative industries.”

Miller’s essay, entitled “From Cultural to Creative Industries” [Cultural Studies, 23(1): 88 — 99] is in response to an essay by Daniel Mato in the same edition, in which Mato argues that all industries are to some extent creative:

Mato rightly associates the idea of the cultural industries with Adorno and Horkeimer’s critique, and he is correct to point out that their concerns we much to do with standardized reception as industrialized production. Their critique of mass culture bought into the same anxieties as the right exhibited about the advent of public literacy  in many ways, the real concern lay in the word “mass” rather than the word “industry.” In part, this is to do with a longstanding issue of management  how to control populations. So the emergence of private, silent reading in the ninth century was criticized as an invitation to idleness. The extension through societies of the capacity to read had as its corollary the possibility of a public forming beyond a group of people physically gathered together. In the eighteenth century, Denis Diderot asked “who shall be the master? The writer or the reader?” With mass literacy came industrial turmoil.

Miller then embarks on a brief excursion through the history of the development of industrialised culture, taking a pssingg side-swipe at Adorno and Horkheimer’s suspicion of mass taste, to argue, contra Mato, that just because all industries create consumption goods and that consumption goods are fetishized objects of mass culture, doesn’t therefore mean that the car industry is inherently creative.  He then flips the argument on its heead to examine the industrial value of culture:

What eventually became the creative industries as a discourse began in the
1960s with Ronald Reagan’s neo-liberal opposition to welfare and European
attempts to create a new, practical humanities, in response to charges of
irrelevancy, conservatism, and light-headedness. The West recognized 40
years ago that its economic future lay in post-industrial activities  not food or
manufactures, but finance and ideology. Today, the Global South similarly
seeks secure streams of revenue from intellectual property rather than minerals
or masses. Between 1980 and 1998, annual world exchange of print, film,
radio, photography, art, and music grew from US$95 billion to US$388 billion
(McChesney & Schiller 2002).

What eventually became the creative industries as a discourse began in the 1960s with Ronald Reagan’s neo-liberal opposition to welfare and European attempts to create a new, practical humanities, in response to charges of irrelevancy, conservatism, and light-headedness. The West recognized 40 years ago that its economic future lay in post-industrial activities  not food or manufactures, but finance and ideology. Today, the Global South similarly seeks secure streams of revenue from intellectual property rather than minerals or masses. Between 1980 and 1998, annual world exchange of print, film, radio, photography, art, and music grew from US$95 billion to US$388 billion.

This then allows Miller to make some hilarious and telling criticisms of Richard Florida and the QUT school:

This has offered humanities intellectuals already interested in cultural policy - often for reasons of cultural nationalism - the opportunity to go still closer to the heart of power, shifting their discourse to a comprehensively copyright-inflected one that focuses on the language of comparative advantage and competition. The neo-liberal bequest of creativity has succeeded the oldschool patrimony of culture, because economic transformations have comprehensively challenged the idea of the humanities as removed from industry. Rather than working with the progressive goals of social democracy that uses the state in a leftist march of the institutions, this new development favors neo-liberalism. Consider (Richard) Floridians, riding around on their bicycles to spy on ballet-loving, gay-friendly, multicultural computer geeks who have moved to de-industrialized, freezing rust/rusting freeze belts; true believer creationists in Australia who find even cultural-policy studies too residually socialistic and textual for their taste; and endlessly sprouting Brussels bureaucrats offering blueprints to cities eager to be made over by culture and tolerance in search of affluence. They think many industries are cultural, and the way they mobilize that insight is through the neo-classical shibboleth of unlocking creativity through individual human capital.

ouch! Miller then runs through a laundry list of the major criticisms of the creative industries school, including Richard Florida’s equivocal data, the apparent failure of the vairous European Cities of Culture to generate long-term growth, the questionable assertion that creative places reallly do spur business investment, and some more funny insults of Stuart Cunningham and John Hartley. Whether or not you agree with him, I think he concludes by making some very valid points:

It makes sense to track the clever work that the propagandists of the creative industries undertake as part of their desire for power. It makes sense to see how intellectual property operates. It makes sense to acknowledge the cultural components of consumption and hence of many economic sectors. But to believe the rhetoric? The last country to do that was the US when it bought into Reagan’s ‘creative society,’ starting four decades ago and peaking in the years since 1980. What has been the outcome of a fully-evolved fantasy about small business and everyday creativity as the motors of economic growth? Come on down and take your pick of crumbling bridges, dangerous freeways, deinstitutionalized street people, inadequate schooling, and 50 million folks without healthcare. And politics run by pharmaceutical firms, health insurers, tort lawyers, finance capitalists, arms manufacturers, and gun owners  all of whom make many creative inputs, I have no doubt. As for the cultural industries, they remain under the control of media conglomerates and communications firms.

I thoroughl;y enjoyed this article. It’s a trenchant, bracing riposte. It may not be entirely fair to those it attacks, but I suspect Toby Miller won’t be too concerned about that.

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2 thoughts on “What’s new in the journal Cultural Studies: Toby Miller on why “not all industries are cultural, and no industries are creative”

  1. Pingback: How “neoliberal” are the creative industries? « A Cultural Policy Blog

  2. Pingback: Some thoughts on cultural innovation and cultural policy, via the Victorian election « A Cultural Policy Blog

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