What’s new in the International Journal of Cultural Policy? The IJCP’s special book review issue

A classic cover of Raymond Williams' classic study, Culture and Society 1780-1950.

The first issue of the International Journal of Cultural Policy for 2010 is a refreshing departure from its more typical, research-0based fare: an issue of book reviews by some of the leading thinkers in the field – many of whom I’ve discussed on this blog.

So, for instance, there is Jeremy Ahearne on Michael de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life,  Franco Bianchini on Peter Hall’s Cities in Civilisation, Bennett himself on Raymond Williams’ classic Culture and Society, and Eleonora Belfiore on  Janet Minihan’s The Nationalization of Culture: the development of state subsidies to the arts in Great Britain. Interestingly, given the strident debate that has developed about the “neo-liberalism” of the creative industries school, Stuart Cunningham has opted to review that capitalist classic, Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.

Editor Oliver Bennett writes that:

This special issue gathers together some personal reflections on the intellectual influences of many of those that have contributed to the development of cultural policy as a field of academic enquiry. Each contributor was invited to write a short review essay on one book that had influenced his/her thinking and which s/he would want new students of cultural policy to read.

The collection thus serves a twofold purpose: it offers a fascinating insight into the intellectual force fields within which the study of cultural policy has grown up; at the same time, it provides a valuable resource for teachers of cultural policy, their students and all those with a general interest in the field.

For breadth and diversity, it’s one of the best issues of the IJCP for some time.

Martha Nussbaum on the shallowness of academic “impact”

In the New Republic, Martha Nussbaum (who knows a thing or two about … well, everything) has a short but flawless obituary of Sir Kenneth Dover, the noted British classics scholar whose book Greek Homosexuality “influenced all subsequent work on this topic, not least that of Michel Foucault.”

Dover’s mastery of classical scholarship impresses even Nussbaum, which is a little scary for someone like myself:

Sir Kenneth Dover, who died on March 9 just days short of his 90th birthday, was a scholar unsurpassed in his mastery of ancient Greek language, culture, and thought. What Dover could do without effort, most scholars could not do even with the most painstaking labor. When his autobiography, Marginal Comment, first appeared in 1994, I was visiting Dover and his wife Audrey at their home in St. Andrews. With a mischievous smile, he dashed into his study—to emerge a short time later with an inscribed copy. On the flyleaf was a Greek elegiac couplet in which Dover had managed (1) to use in an apposite and humorous way a Greek word whose meaning we had discussed in a co-authored article, disputing its translation with John Finnis; (2) to express pleasure at the collaboration; and (3) to compare the “daring” outspokenness of our article to that of his own memoir—all with not only impeccable meter and style, but also graciousness, wit, and elegance. This in ten minutes, from a man who wrote that he spent twenty hours preparing every hour-long undergraduate lecture he gave—so you can imagine how much knowledge those lucky students had lavished upon them.

But Nussbaum wonders whether the modern, impact-quantified research university can accommodate scholars of Dover’s ilk.

In Britain today there is a new government program called the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Under the REF, scholars in all fields will be rated, and fully twenty-five percent of each person’s rating will be assigned for the “impact” of their work—not including its impact on other scholars or on people who like to think, but only including the crasser forms such “impact” might take. (Paradigmatic examples are “improved health outcomes or growth in business revenue.”) “Impact” must be immediate and short-term, and it must be brought about by the scholar’s own efforts, not by the way in which another generation might find their world enlivened by a book the scholar has produced. Britain’s assault on the love of truth for its own sake is particularly explicit, but such pernicious trends can be found in every country.

Dover would do poorly in the REF: even his widely influential ideas were not “marketed” by him, but were simply put out there to be picked up by others, a process that may take many years. And yet they changed our understanding of human sexuality. While the world mourns a towering figure (and while I mourn a man of the highest sort of daring, whom I am lucky to have known as a friend), let us not mourn the passing of the type of scholarship he loved. Let us fight for it, because it may still survive. If it does not, our nations and our individual spirits will be the poorer. The pursuit of short-term profit is death to the life of the mind.

When your publication record disappears

Economists generally love the idea of incentives: little nudges to our behaviour that reward or punish us for beneficial or detrimental actions.

In academia, the incentives have generally been of the negative kind: “publish or perish”, as the saying goes.

But the Australian Research Council is currently undertaking a giant, systematic exercise in creating incentives in the higher education research system in Australia. Called the “Excellence in Research Australia” process, or simply the ERA, it is currently attempting to catalogue and rank essentially every academic journal of note. The result will be a master list of international academic journals, which will allow researchers from all fields to quantitatively judge and rank each other according to the merit of their publication record – much as the scientists already do through their various “impact factor” indices.

The outcome will be crucial to the future career prospects of academic researchers in this country, so it’s no surprise that many of us have been on tenterhooks as the ERA rankings have worked their way through the system. Nerves have not been soothed by the wild gyrations in various journal rankings: some journals have gone from the top rank (“A*”) to the bottom rank (“C”) in their passage from draft to draft.

And some journals have disappeared altogether, including one of Australia’s more noteworthy literary non-fiction journals, Meanjin. Previously ranked highly with an “A”, Meanjin has a long and noble history of publishing scholarly (though not necessarily peer-reviewed – which was probably the rub) non-fiction about Australian arts, letters and culture.

This matters for my publication record. For instance, I had two significant articles published in Meanjin last year. Both featured substantial primary research, including over 20 hours of interviews with more than 15 subjects in one article. Now, neither can be counted towards my academic publication record. Meanwhile, another journal in which I published has gone from an “A*” to a “C” ranking. At the click of a mouse, my publication record has gone from cutting-edge to mediocre.

It’s an interesting exercise in what some cultural studies academics would call “the production of research.” After all, in days gone by, most humanities scholars judged their peers on the monographs they published. But monographs have yet to even make it into the ERA process properly. I wonder how historians who have mainly published books feel at the moment? And this doesn’t even get around to the problem faced in all strongly-coded incentive systems, which is the overwhelming incentive to “bilk” or “game” the system.

Ther are certainly echoes here of the problems Louis Menand refers to in his recent book on the American universityt system – an excellent review of which you can find over at The New Republic.

As for me, I’m figuring out how I can turn those Meanjin articles into some kind of peer-reviewed “research”.

The Australia Council turns its back on contemporary culture … again

The Australia Council has just released a major new piece of audience research. Entitled More than bums on seats: Australian participation in the arts, it’s a weighty and significant contribution to the field which features statistically significant market research surveys of more than 3,000 ordinary Australians.

Unfortunately, it suffers from some of the typical prejudices and problems of so much Australia Council policy and research.

Most notable is the definition of “the arts.” Perhaps for reasons of funding, or perhaps for political reasons, the research has defined “the arts” in a very narrow sense, essentially confining “the arts” to music, writing, visual arts and performance. Film and television – according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the most popularly consumed form of culture – are ignored, and, astonishingly, so are the digital arts and cultural expressions, like gaming.

It’s hard to believe that after all the debate and criticism of  the Australia Council’s recent history by people like Keith Gallasch, Marcus Westbury and myself, when it comes to the most significant piece of audience research by the agency in a decade, vast swathes of Australia cultural participation are simply ignored. But it’s happened. Again.

Here is the relevant paragraph, on page 13 of the report:

The focus of the study is upon the art forms that are supported by the Australia Council (visual arts and crafts, music, dance, theatre, literature). The definitions were agreed after a thorough consultation within the Australia Council and with key stakeholders.

So there you go: “the arts” are what the Australia Council funds. Unfortunately, this not only leaves out the most important cultural expression of the 20th century (cinema), it also ignores many of the important emerging cultural expressions of the 21st (gaming and digital culture). Sure, there are some cursory reference to “digital/video art” in the visual arts section, but you won’t actually find the words “games” or “gaming” anywhere in the report. Gobsmacking.

Moreover, it seems like a step back from recent well-intentioned efforts by OzCo to address digital culture. After looking at today’s  effort, one has to ask why the Australia Council even bothers with its “Arts Content for the Digital Era” strategy if it’s not going to bother to measure the most important forms of interactive digital culture.

It’s not that this isn’t a highly informative piece of research. Like the last such exercise, the Saatchi research report from the early 2000s, More than bums on seats represents important new data on the state of cultural participation in this country. I”ll be delving into it in more detail this week.

Still, it’s another piece of evidence of the ostrich-headed policy direction of the Australia Council under Kathy Keele. More than bums on seats is rather less than the full picture of cultural participation. What a shame.

The philosopher in the business school

Alladi Venkatesh. Source: Paul Merage School of Business.

One of the supplest minds I’ve yet encountered in my cultural research is Alladi Venkatesh (not to be confused with his more famous name-sake, the sociologist Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, author of the justly celebrated Gang Leader for a Day). Venkatesh’s research ranges across many of the fields I blog about here, including cultural economics, cultural studies, aesthetics and even semiotics. His breadth of reading is constantly surprising, typically bringing insights from many different academic traditions to bear on the questions he researches.

And yet he’s not a philosopher or cultural sociologist. He’s a Professor of Marketing at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. He’s also Associate Director of CRITO – the Center for Research on Information Technology in Organizations – and the principal investigator of Project Noah. As his bio records, his research focus is on the impact of new media and information technologies on consumers/households. But that doesn’;’t begin to scratch the surface of his work, which pokes its nose into all sorts of fascinating areas.

Today we’re going to take a look at one of Venkatesh’s recent publications in the journal Marketing Theory. Entitled “Arts and aesthetics: Marketing and cultural production”, and co-authored with Laurie Meamber, it’s nothing less than a wide-ranging review of the literature in many of the fields we cover in this blog – all from the perspective of marketing.

As the paper’s introduction explains,

The purpose of this article is to discuss the notion of cultural production within the context of marketing. The position taken is that aesthetic meanings associated with cultural practices are related to the way in which individuals and organizations negotiate commerce and consumer culture. The main contribution of the research is to enlarge our understanding of the cultural production processes as they pertain to marketing and consumption of aesthetics. In this context, we also examine how emerging developments in postmodern aesthetics and posthumanism have augmented new ways of thinking about related issues.

The broad research question underlying the article is: Is it possible to view marketing as providing both a context and an institutional framework for the cultural production system in the contemporary postmodern world? If so, what does it entail in terms of our conceptualization of the elements of the cultural production system and their specific relationship to the institution of marketing?
Specifically, the following research questions will be addressed:
1. What is cultural production and who are the actors involved in it?
2. What are the current approaches within the field of marketing for the study of the cultural production system?
3. What are the significant developments in the area of cultural production that marketing should be concerned with in considering cultural products?
4. What is the role of aesthetics in the cultural production processes?
5. How do the new epistemologies based on postmodernism and posthumanism influence the cultural production processes?
6. What, finally, are the implications of the cultural production processes for individuals, organizations, and consumer culture?
The paper lives up to all of these aims, and in the process delivers a tour-de-force introduction to this fascinating intersection of fields. Recommended.

Posner on Keynes

John Maynard Keynes in 1940. Image: Corbis / Guardian

One of this year’s most fascinating intellectual developments has been the dawning realisation that much of contemporary academic macro-economics is simply wrong.  Wrong in the quite literal sense that it just doesn’t accord with reality – which, as it turns out, should not surprise us, because much of it is based on assumptions that turn out to be flawed.

In the US, this point has been made with devastating effect by Paul Krugman. In Australia, the forthcoming book by John Quiggin looks set to be the best explanation of the “zombie ideas” that continue to haunt the profession.

But one set of ideas – associated with the British thinker, policy-maker and economist John Maynard Keynes – are back with a vengeance. There have been many who have written about the return to prominence of Keynesianism, including the undisputed expert on the man himself, Robert Skidelsky.

But, so far, the best short discussion of the renewed importance of Keynes’ economic ideas is by eminent US legal scholar Richard Posner:

We have learned since September that the present generation of economists has not figured out how the economy works. The vast majority of them were blindsided by the housing bubble and the ensuing banking crisis; and misjudged the gravity of the economic downturn that resulted; and were perplexed by the inability of orthodox monetary policy administered by the Federal Reserve to prevent such a steep downturn; and could not agree on what, if anything, the government should do to halt it and put the economy on the road to recovery. By now a majority of economists are in general agreement with the Obama administration’s exceedingly Keynesian strategy for digging the economy out of its deep hole. Some say the government is not doing enough and is too cozy with the bankers, and others say that it is doing too much, heedless of long-term consequences. There is no professional consensus on the details of what should be done to arrest the downturn, speed recovery, and prevent (so far as possible) a recurrence. Not having believed that what has happened could happen, the profession had not thought carefully about what should be done if it did happen.

Baffled by the profession’s disarray, I decided I had better read The General Theory. Having done so, I have concluded that, despite its antiquity, it is the best guide we have to the crisis.

Read the rest here.

What’s new in the International Journal of Arts Management: Jennifer Radbourne on audience metrics

In the IJAM, a team led by Jennifer Radbourne reports the findings of a fascinating study entitled “The Audience Experience: Measuring Quality in the Performing Arts.” 

We propose that the “quality” of an artistic performance can be defined by the individual audience member’s personal definition of quality based on her or his experience of the performance.

The Audience Experience:
Measuring Quality
in the Performing Arts

There’s some highly valuable insights from the group of focus groups that they conducted. For instance, Radbourne’s team probes the idea of knowledge and risk in watching a performance:

Non-attender A: “I was amazed the audience [was] raptured at the end . . . and I thought, what for? . . . I heard some people, when . . . we were in the queue going in, talking about him, so he’s obviously renowned. Clearly, I missed that.”

Non-attender B: “It’s just that thing of everyone sitting down and . . . that’s why I find live performance quite difficult. . . . When people started laughing . . . it’s, like, are they in the know? . . . Did they know the people, did they know stuff about the play? I mean, I don’t know anything about it . . . I didn’t know he wrote plays.” 

On risk:

Non-attender A: “You pay $50 [for a theatre ticket] – that’s a big night out for me . . . If I’m outlaying a lot of money, I want a guaranteed good night, and if it’s a band, then . . . that’s going to be a guarantee, but generally I wouldn’t take a punt on it for that amount of money.”

Non-attender B: “But that’s what live performance or theatre is. It’s not free – it’s a gamble.”

There’s plenty of other insights in the piece, which is published in the current edition of IJAM, with the following citation:

Jennifer Radbourne, Katya Johanson, Hilary Glow, Tabitha White (2009) The Audience Experience: Measuring Quality in the Performing Arts. International Journal of Arts Management 11(3), Spring 2009: 16-29

What’s new in Cultural Trends? Finkel finds Hotellings Law at work in British arts festivals

Rebecca Finkel has published a fantastic new paper in the first 2009 issue of Cultural Trends (Vol. 18, No. 1, March 2009, 3–21) entitled “A picture of the contemporary combined arts festival landscape.” 

Finkel surveyed 66 “combined” (in order words, mulit-artform) arts festials across the UK using an established UK survey methodology; she also conducted in-depth interviews with the directors of 18 festivals including Edinburgh International Festival’s  Jonathan Mills (an Australian).

The paper contains a wealth of information about this part of the UK festivals sector and builds on Finkel’s PhD thesis which obviously included an extensive investigation of this sector.

Finkel finds that because of an uncertain funding environment, enhanced competition and the pressures of the box office, many arts festivals are consciously mimicking each other’s programming (a phenomenon also apparent to the observer of capital-city arts festivals in Australia).  “Although there are now more combined arts festivals than ever before in the nation’s history,” she concludes, “most of the ones researched are near ‘carbon copies’ of each other.”

Is this another example of Hotelling’s Model in the cultural industries? Finkel doesn’t say, and we should of course be cautious about describing programming convergence in this way, but I think there may be grounds to think so.

Williams and Currid’s “2 Cities, 5 Industries”

CORRECTION: In the initial version of this post, I wrongly confused Sarah Williams and Ezliabeth Currid’s paper “2 Cities, 5 Industries” with their “Geography of Buzz” paper. Thanks to Elaine for pointing out my error.

With that in mind, this post is about Williams and Currid’s new paper “Two Cities, Five Industries: Similarities and Differences Within and Between Cultural Industries in New York and Los Angeles” is marked “Do Not Cite Without the Permission of the Authors”, but as it is online and as Sarah Williams was interviewed by the New York Times today, I think it’s worth a look.

Currid and Williams drill down literally to street level to examine diaggregated data about the cultural industries in New York and Los Angeles. In doing so, they are able to generate a far more fine-grained analysis of cultural industries location and co-location that previous analyses: Continue reading

The First ISA Forum of Sociology in Barcelona: some interesting abstracts in the sociology of the arts

Last September saw the first International Sociological Forum of Sociology held in Barcelona.

It’s a sobering excercise to examine the 8Mb PDF that contains the many hundreds of abstracts presented at he conference. It must have been a weighty tome when printed.

But contained in this document are a number of fascinating abstracts in the sociology of the arts.  Below the fold, I’ve reproduce just a few that caught my eye:


Continue reading