How “neoliberal” are the creative industries?

Above: "Creativity" proved an attractive label for the business press in the mid-2000s. Source: Fast Company

Today I’m having a look an important recent paper by Stuart Cunningham and Terry Flew, entitled “Creative Industries after the First Decade of Debate” (it’s a paper published this year in the journal The Information Society 26: 1–11, 2010).

There’s no doubt that the “creative industries” debate is one of the most prominent in the cultural policy sphere. You might remember that in September last year I had a look at Toby Miller’s paper, “From Cultural to Creative Industries” [Cultural Studies, 23(1): 88 — 99]. In that paper, Miller examines the academic claims and policy rhetoric  of the various proponents of the creative industries idea, like Richard Florida and the QUT school, and attacks them for their “neo-liberal” ethos:

[The creative industries discourse] 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.

Flew and Cunningham’s paper can be read as a direct riposte to this attack. Continue reading

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What’s new in the journal Cultural Science: Terry Flew on the “cultural economy moment”

From the cover of the current edition of the journal Cultural Science

I’ve always considered QUT researcher Terry Flew to be one of Australia’s sharpest thinkers on culture and its industrial manifestations.

Now he’s published an excellent review article that traces the intellectual history and surveys the current field of ideas around the “cultural economy.” It’s in the current edition of the journal Cultural Science and you can read the full text here:

The Cultural Economy Moment?
The term “cultural economy” has gained considerable intellectual currency over the course of the 2000s.We have seen edited collections on cultural economy (du Gay and Pryke, 2002), a reader on the subject (Amin and Thrift, 2004), and the launch of the Journal of Cultural Economy. Such developments arise in part out of a growing interest among both academics and policy-makers in the creative industries (Hartley, 2005) and the associated notion of a creative economy (Venturelli, 2005; Scott, 2008a; UNCTAD, 2008). The growing international interest in creative cities and global city-regions can be connected to such developments (Scott et. al., 2001; Florida, 2002, 2008; Scott, 2008b), as can the rise of hybrid fields such as cultural-economic geography (James et. al., 2008). Such developments are also reflective of shifts in cultural policy towards conceiving of culture as a resource (Yúdice, 2003), and the rise of economic discourses within arts and cultural policy which, in cultural economist David Throsby’s account, see cultural policy ‘rescued from its primordial past and catapulted to the forefront of the modern forward-looking policy agenda, an essential component in any respectable economic policy-maker’s development strategy’ (Throsby, 2008: 228). Throsby associates this with a reframing of the arts, which are now seen as ‘part of a wider and more dynamic sphere of economic activity, with links through to the information and knowledge economies, fostering creativity, embracing new technologies, and feeding innovation’ (Throsby, 2008: 229).

Flew goes on to survey the development of the academic literature in this field, drawing on work from the fields of communication studies, cultural economics, the sociology of culture and the cultural political economy. For the academic readers of this bog, you’ll notice all the important names in the field: Towse, Throsby, Lash and Urry, Garnham, Bordieu, Scott, Hesmondhalgh and so on. There’s also a fascinating discussion of the term “neo-liberalism” as a term of abuse amongst cultural theorists against the creative industries movement (remember Toby Miller?)

This is probably the best  short review of the field extant.

Terry Flew blogs the recent UQ symposium on cultural studies

For those of us who weren’t able to attend UQ’s Cultural Studies Symposium: Past, Present and Future, Terry Flew has helpfully taken  notes about the conference and blogged them.

Flew writes up Chris Rojek’s discussion of the life-cycle of the now-closed Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies thus:

What “the project” of CCCS was about was:

  • class consciousness
  • struggles over ideology
  • Western Marxism (esp. Gramsci and Althusser)
  • how to move the state towards meeting popular demands.

What CCCS did not deal with:

  • feminism
  • Michel Foucault
  • what corporations actually do
  • cultural citizenship (what can be done?)
  • what a future society might look like?

Achievements of Birmingham School:

  1. Rigorous insistence upon the importance of popular culture (fashion, youth culture , pop music, television etc.);
  2. Linking culture to politics in a sophisticated way (now largely absent from the field);
  3. Made idea of resistance legitimate;
  4. Developing an alternatvie publishing stream in face of publishers’ indifference – appeared “cutting edge” and alternative;
  5. Creating jobs in cultural studies – a new establishment.

Defects of Birmingham School:

  1. Backed the wrong horse in embracing tradition of Western Marxism, which led it to overly focus upon the white working class and the state, and slow to understand identity politics or corporate capitalism. It made it less receptive to globalization, and exaggerated the importance of the nation-state;
  2. Insistence on relevance promoted a need to be an expert on what is happening now, which gets in the way of better grounding its own approach and developing a string disciplinary base – leads to a recurring tendency to “reinvent the wheel” intellectually;
  3. Tendency to produce cultural relativism – failed to develop an adequate position on cultural value – “everything is important”;
  4. Never linked its intellectual work to a viable form of politics – resistance, protest and challenging privileged over organisation and leadership – proposes an “unlikely rainbow coalition to deliver the goods” that avoids the nitty-gritty of political work.