The cultural quasi-economy of esteem transactions is underpinned and permeated by the real economy of financial transactions

This is the approximate text of a short talk I was invited to give at the Cultural Value Scoping Workshop organised by Patrycja Kaczyńska at Edinburgh College of Art on 18 January 2017

I’ve been asked to talk about what we’ve learnt about the ‘transactions’ underpinning ‘cultural ecosystems’ as part of this discusion on whether scholarship on cultural value has been advancing. I’m really glad about that – especially about the word ‘transaction’, because one of the principal things that I think we’ve learnt is that, while the metaphor of ‘ecology’ can be useful, the reality of cultural production in our society is fundamentally economic.

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Online networks and the production of value in electronic music

Daniel Allington, Anna Jordanous, Byron Dueck

[Cross-posted from https://culturalvalueproject.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/dr-daniel-allington-dr-anna-jordanous-and-dr-byron-dueck-online-networks-and-the-production-of-value-in-electronic-music/]

This project began with Pierre Bourdieu’s argument that cultural value is a form of belief. Drawing on Marcel Mauss’s work in the anthropology of religions, Bourdieu (1993 [1980]) argued that a painting or a poem is a sort of fetish: that is, a ‘magical’ artefact whose special status derives from the fact that believers hold it to be magical. So, for Bourdieu, cultural production involves not only the production of artefacts, but also the production of belief in the value of those artefacts. It’s easy to see how this would apply to what Bourdieu called the ‘field of large scale production’, i.e. the commercial culture industries: big businesses such as major record labels and Hollywood film studios invest both in the production of what is now called ‘content’ and in advertising and other forms of publicity through which to generate demand for that content. But what most interested Bourdieu was what he called the ‘field of restricted production’ or the ‘field of art and literature’, which puts little emphasis on the audience, is embarrassed by excessive commercial success, and appears to operate on the principle of ‘art for art’s sake’.

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Exploring genre on SoundCloud, part II

[Cross-posted from http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/vem/2014/06/exploring-genre-on-soundcloud-part-ii/]

In my previous post on this topic, I introduced a problem – how to understand the work that explicit genre categorisations are made to do by people uploading tracks to the SoundCloud audio-sharing website – and a potential solution – identifying the three categories most frequently used by each individual in a sample and studying regularities in the ways in which pairs of categories tend to pop up within the same group of three. I also presented some partial and preliminary findings in the form of a matrix comparing co-occurrences of the five genre categories most frequently used by people within an initial sample. And I either glossed over or left unmentioned a slew of problems, some of which we’ve been more successful in addressing than others at present (because these are only blog posts, and we haven’t finished the research yet). The biggest problem is the sample itself: the analysis was done on the basis of a snowball sample, when a random sample would be more appropriate. Hence the provisionality of all this. The analysis will be redone soon on the basis of a sample that will enable us to make more robust claims, but in the meantime I wanted to share our thought processes and working methods with the world because – quite apart from anything else – I’m excited about the patterns that are emerging.

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Livetweets from ‘Cultural work and cultural value’

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend Mark Banks’s AHRC-funded seminar, ‘Cultural work and cultural value‘. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, missing most of Daniel Ashton’s talk (which was shaping up to be very interesting by the time I had to run off) and all of Kate Oakley’s (which was guaranteed to be interesting, but which I missed every second of). So there was one fewer tweeter for their contributions. But there was a lot of tweeting overall, indicating the excitement and enthusiasm of the event. See below; that’s the point of this post. You will, I hope, find some hints of what was said by Mark himself on the value of work, Calvin Taylor on the history of the economic/aesthetic/ethical value trichotomy, Christina Hughes on valuing in the campaign to save Birmingham’s jewellery quarter, David Hesmondhalgh on the neo-Aristotelian conception of aesthetic/cultural value, and the aforementioned Kate Oakley and Daniel Ashton on, respectively, cultural policy and the training of cultural producers.

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Cultural capital, social capital, symbolic capital: what do we gain from an economic metaphor?

In an essay written in response to Colin Mills’s (2013) critique of Bourdieu’s use of the terms ‘cultural capital’ and ‘social capital’, I discussed the use of the word ‘capital’ as a metaphor for forms of resource other than capital in its literal sense (Allington, 2013a). As I argue in that piece, such usage is by no means as unorthodox as some of Bourdieu’s critics have implied, since it dates back to the early 19th century and has entered common parlance. But it should be admitted that there is a difference between loosely figurative senses of ‘capital’, such as are to be found within the 19th century examples I drew from the Oxford English Dictionary, and the more tightly defined (but still metaphorical) sense of the word as used by some social scientists in recent decades.

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Announcement: ‘Online networks and the production of value in electronic music’

Investigators: Daniel Allington (Open University), Anna Jordanous (King’s College London), Byron Dueck (Open University)
Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council [1]
Duration: 3 Feb to 31 July 2014

Cultural value is one of those areas in which (as the saying goes) perceptions are also realities. Thus, sociologists have argued that the production of cultural value is actually the production of a form of belief. Although popular accounts of how art gets made tend to focus on brilliant individual creators, research has highlighted over and over again that their work typically emerges from a creative milieu, in which value (or belief in value) comes into existence. This highlights the complex relationship between professional, semi-professional, and amateur cultural production, and may explain why so many cultural producers create work primarily for appreciation by their peers.

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Capital as metaphor: a few notes on usage and history

There’s a new piece on Colin Mills’s Oxford Sociology blog on the terms ‘cultural capital’ and ‘social capital’ (Mills, 2013a). These terms and others like them – such as ‘linguistic capital’ – were influentially used by Pierre Bourdieu (1984 [1979]) to describe intangible resources conferring social and often economic advantage upon those who possess them in greater measure. It seems that Prof. Mills has been attacking these terms, apparently with such devastating ferocity that those who still cling to their use have been reduced to a state of desperation. ‘One desperate last move that their defenders try to deploy,’ he writes, ‘is the old “its only a metaphor” ploy, as though that was some kind of answer.’ (Mills 2013a, parag. 1) Mills is very good at picking questionable interpretations of data apart – his open letter (Mills, 2012) to the authors of The spirit level was a thing of beauty, for example – so perhaps those of us who persist in muttering the term ‘cultural capital’ from time to time ought to be scared. But I’m not sure he’s on such strong ground here – and by an interesting coincidence, the ‘ploy’ he decries bears a distant resemblance to something I said a couple of weeks ago, in a discussion occasioned by an essay I had written on the topic of ‘cultural value’ (Allington, 2013):
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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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