Intrinsically cultural value: a sociological perspective

Cross-posted from the #culturalvalue Initiative. [EDIT 13 Dec 2013:] Reposted by request on the London School of Economics Impact of Social Sciences blog on 13 December under the heading, ‘”Intrinsic value” understood as a dynamic social process offers a productive alternative to defensive instrumentalism’.

[EDIT 13 Dec 2013:] [Introduction to the Impact of Social Sciences re-posting]: Drawing from Pierre Bourdieu’s work on symbolic capital, wider network analysis frameworks and his own research into the production of cultural value, Daniel Allington outlines how the value of a cultural form is ultimately and fundamentally a social process. While this piece was originally written to engage with cultural policy research and practice communities, a sociological perspective on the production, transmission and propagation of ‘intrinsic value’ demonstrates the complexity of impact and the interdisciplinary potential of understanding these social relationships.

This originally appeared on The #culturalvalue Initiative under the title of ‘Intrinsically cultural value: a sociological perspective’ and is reposted with permission.

[Introduction by Eleonora Belfiore to the original #culturalvalue version]: The #culturalvalue initiative has been exploring the form of the mini-essay for those contributors who want to contribute a longer, more complex or elaborate set of reflections to the debate around cultural value. The mini-essay has proved a popular format and it especially lends itself – I would argue – to guest posts such as this one, kindly contributed by Daniel Allington of the Open University, which aim to bring new methodological perspectives to the debate. Daniel’s piece combines a set of premises derived from Bourdieu on what symbolic capital is and how it works to then merge it with insights from network analysis. These are two set of sociological approaches that do not always mix, and therefore there is a very exciting, experimental flavour to Daniel’s argument. Part of the excitement is also that these sociological insights are still relatively unexplored by my own ‘cultural value research community’, which is that broad and variegated area of research that goes under the label ‘cultural policy studies’. And yet, there is much in this post that is of relevance to the cultural policy research and practice communities, and this is why it’s very exciting to be able to encourage a wider disciplinary exchange on a topic of shared interest.

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Livetweets from ‘Placing cultural work: (new) intersections of location, craft, and creativity’

It’s a couple of weeks since Mark Banks and Susan Luckman’s CRESC-supported ‘Placing cultural work: (new) intersections of location, craft, and creativity’ symposium in Camden (click here for details). It was a fantastic event with a sizeable and highly engaged audience and all invited speakers, hence a remarkable degree of interconnection between presentations despite a wide thematic range (from Susan Luckman’s analysis of how craftspeople present themselves and their homes on Etsy to Ruth Bridgstock’s quantitative study of creative subject graduates’ career pathways in Australia to Nicola Thomas’s history of regional craft guilds in southwest England – not forgetting studies of boutique festivals by Marjana Johansson, the gendering of artistic identity by Stephanie Taylor, and Newcastle’s leftwing Amber film collective by Robert Hollands, plus Julia Bennett and Julie Brown’s account of new initiatives involving the Crafts Council). As for myself, I presented the first output from my ongoing ethnographic research in Hackney Wick. Here are the livetweets as a partial record of what was said.

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Social networks and the production of cultural value: forthcoming from Poetics at last

Well, at last it seems that my article on using social network analysis to study the production of cultural value is going to appear in Poetics: Journal of Empirical Research on Culture, the Media, and the Arts. The peer review process took a while, but it has been exceptionally useful and constructive. I’ve got a couple of last tweaks to apply, and I’ve got no idea when the thing will actually see print, but forthcoming it is, and I cannot tell you how good that feels. (And by the way: yes, Poetics is an Elsevier publication. It also happens to be a truly outstanding journal whose articles have for years played a huge part in my intellectual development. If you want to know why I am not going to feel guilty about publishing in one of my absolute favourite journals, read here and here. If you’ve got no idea why some people might have a problem with that, congratulations.)

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Open access in the UK

Last Sunday, I published an essay on this blog setting out what I saw as the problems with arguments for open access and with the specific form of open access that is now official policy in the UK (Allington, 2013). Despite the fact that it mis-read Paul Fyfe’s (2012) critique of certain tendencies as an endorsement, it received some lovely comments, and I was deeply honoured to have my arithmetic corrected by the co-creator of CWEB (Levy, 2013). However, it has been pointed out that the essay was rather long (people were kind enough not to say ‘rambling’). Here’s a shorter (although still not exactly short) version, which focuses on what’s happening now in the UK. If you’re not in the UK, I hope you’ll still find it of interest as a discussion of what you might want to try to prevent from happening where you are. The open access movement appeals to many different interests, and once a specific form of open access becomes official policy, at least some of those interests are bound to be disappointed. Casey Brienza has analysed the movement much more incisively than I did in my blog essay, so rather than reprise my arguments I shall simply quote hers before moving to a consideration of UK policy:
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On open access, and why it’s not the answer

0. Preamble

In the last two or three years, open access to academic journal articles has gone from being something that noisy idealists were unrealistically demanding to something that’s going to happen whether we like it or not – at least in the UK, and probably elsewhere as well. Not so long ago, I was in favour of it and doing what I could to put it into practice with regard to my own work. Now, it’s just another of those things that I must pragmatically accept, like the vice-chancellor’s high level appointments. I feel like a man with a beard in a country where shaving has just been banned.

And all this has made me reflect. On open access: what’s it for? What did its advocates (me, for example) think it was going to facilitate? And now that it’s become mainstream, does it look as if it’s going to facilitate that thing we had in mind, or something else entirely? Quite recently, it would have been almost dangerous to think in such terms, because people were getting so cross – perhaps inevitably, as the conversation was largely taking place online, and it’s been argued that social media disseminate anger more effectively than any other emotion (Fan et al, 2013). But now that there’s no point in anyone’s getting cross – now that it’s all happening anyway, regardless of who’s in the vanguard and who’s a bourgeois reactionary – perhaps it’s becoming possible to see things a little more clearly. I must admit that I backed the wrong team: I was a supporter of one kind of open access, but it looks as if the argument for the other has carried the day. And now that the arguing is by-the-by, it all feels so different. The more I look back, the more I realise that open access had been proposed as the solution to a range of problems some of which had very little to do with one another. The more I look forward, the more I realise that among those problems were some that might actually be exacerbated by the form of open access that has become official policy in the UK – and others that were never likely to be addressed by any form of open access (including the one in which I believed).

Be careful what you wish for, the saying goes. As a sort of penance, I have chosen to think the issues through not in an academic journal article but in an essay on this blog. Not quite the use for which I originally intended the latter, but a symbolically apt use just the same.

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Livetweets from my talk on social network analysis, interactive fiction, and cultural value (because I just can’t get over the novelty)

Last month at the Open University, I not-quite-livetweeted Tim Hutchings’s excellent talk on digital bibles. Last week at King’s College London, I found myself – for the first time ever! – being livetweeted (actually livetweeted, no time delays). I’d been liveblogged before, but this was different. So forgive my gauche enthusiasm, but I can’t get over the novelty. It also formed a tidy little record of what I spoke about – as opposed to what I thought I might speak about, or what I promised to speak about. Thanks are due to everyone, but especially to Simon Rowberry.

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‘CyberBibles’: notes from a seminar by Tim Hutchings

Last Thursday, I attended Tim Hutchings’s ‘CyberBibles’ seminar, organised by Francesca Benatti for the Digital Humanities Research Network at the Open University (this is the same seminar series within which Ann Hewings and I spoke about the teaching of corpus linguistics a couple of months ago; like Ann and I, Tim is more of a social scientist than a humanist, but nobody seems to have complained so far about this dilution of things digitally humanistic). If you weren’t there, you missed a treat. On one level, this was an extraordinarily in-depth study of electronic reading and its differences from the reading of print, using a highly specific case study. On another level, the Bible will always be at the same time one of the most interesting possible case studies in textual culture and something rather more than a case study, regardless of whether you’re interested in the digital, print, or manuscript eras. On yet another level… no, this is just silly. I don’t have to say why it was an interesting topic; that should be obvious. And in any case, the current introductory preamble is in danger of overwhelming this entire blog article. Just read the rest, it won’t take long. It’s mostly tweets!

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Forthcoming symposium: ‘Placing cultural work: (new) intersections of location, craft, and creativity’

Time, date, location

The Open University, Hawley Crescent, Camden Campus, London, NW1

Friday November 15, 2013

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Forthcoming seminar: ‘Network analytic approaches to the production and propagation of literary and artistic value’

I’ve just received details of my forthcoming seminar, ‘Network analytic approaches to the production and propagation of literary and artistic value’, at the Centre for e-Research (CeRch) at King’s College London. It will take place at 6.15pm on Tuesday 1 October in the Anatomy Museum Space on the 6th floor of the King’s Building at the main KCL campus on the Strand. As you can see from the abstract, the focus will be on methodology and its theoretical implications (my approach emerges from Bourdieu’s sociology but employs social network analysis: two things that are often assumed to be in opposition). However, I’ll be illustrating everything with details from my empirical research on interactive fiction and a couple of other ongoing projects where I also look at relationships between cultural producers (early 20th century authors probably; contemporary visual artists possibly; maybe also something on electronic musicians). I may find time to talk about the specific digital tools that I’ve been using (for those who care about such things: Python 2.7, NetworkX, PyGraphviz).

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Twitter conversations, and why it’s just nicer to use the ‘reply’ and ‘retweet’ buttons

Replying, retweeting, and the acknowledgement of other people’s contributions to a conversation

I recently got involved in a discussion about the best way to acknowledge other people’s tweets while interacting on Twitter. It turned out that neither I nor the person I was talking to was absolutely sure of the implications of each of the various options available, and that while guidelines were available from Twitter itself (short version: use the buttons we made for you!), no-one seemed to have written an explanation of what each option might do to help or hinder a Twitter user in understanding and joining in a conversation that hasn’t involved him or her from the beginning. There are guides that recommend the opposite of what I – having looked into this weighty matter – consider to be the best approach, but I have no time for a flamewar right now (does anybody ever have time for a flamewar?), so I will just go ahead and explain what I think is right without attempting to refute the arguments of unnamed people who have (in my humblest of opinions) got it all wrong. The nub of the matter is twofold: the question of whether it is better to reply to a tweet by clicking the ‘Reply’ button or to reply to it by cleverly typing the tweeter’s screen name at the start of a new tweet, and the related question of whether it is better to re-distribute another person’s tweet to one’s followers by clicking the ‘Retweet’ button or by cleverly typing the letters ‘RT’ or ‘MT’ into a new tweet, adding the screen name of the original tweeter, and then copy-pasting the text of the tweet (or at least some of it) into whatever’s left of your 140-character allowance. There is then the secondary question of what difference it makes to add an additional character (conventionally a dot) to the beginning of a tweet before a person’s screen name, and whether it makes the same difference to do so after clicking ‘Reply’.

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