Culture and Contestation in the New Century
Cultural production as we know it has been undergoing significant restructuring. In an effort to compensate for the global decline in economic growth, governments and corporations have begun to seriously consider the creative fields as markets that can be stimulated through venture capital and regional development initiatives. Along with the neoliberalization of cultural institutions, a conservative agenda that is buttressed by a war economy confronts critics and activists with the repressive forms of state censorship and police control.
From art collectives to the US-led war on terror, from cultural contestation to neoliberal governmentality and from alter-global anti-capitalism to the creative industries, this collection of essays examines the issues and politics that have marked cultural production in the first decade of the twenty-first century. In the context of a proliferation of socially engaged art practices and the interventions of autonomous art collectives, Culture and Contestation in the New Century presents the viewpoints of leading international artists and intellectuals working in the fields of critical and cultural theory. After the impasse of a postmodern post-politics ‘beyond left and right’, what are the possibilities for a radical politicization of cultural discourse? How has oppositionality shifted away from identity and difference, as well as social constructionism, to consider the universal determinations of contemporary neoliberal capitalism? These essays present a number of untimely reflections on the conditions of contemporary cultural practice, subjectivity and political dissidence, making new connections between cultural production, politics, economics and social theory. Simply stated, the book provides an account of the current interface between art and politics.
Marc James Léger
Marc James Léger
In the last three decades of neoliberalization, the view that culture contributes to economic growth has resulted in an increased managerial corporatization of cultural work and cultural institutions. In the popular writings of Richard Florida, for example, the concept of a "creative class" has served as a mediating concept for the expansion of management techniques to hitherto unregulated and state regulated areas of life and cultural expression. While Florida's work draws attention to creativity as an aspect of all forms of productivity, his specification of a "creative sector" leaves the question of creativity with only a nominal value. At best, it reiterates traditional humanist concepts of creativity, but at worst, and as it is meant to operate, it serves as an alibi for exploitation. The term does, however, acknowledge the link between cultural labour and economic productivity, allowing for connections to be made between the rise of the "creative industries" discourse, especially as it has emerged under the Blair government in the 1990s and in the European Union in the 2000s, and the field of cultural production.
In contrast to Florida's neoliberal model, the work of intellectuals associated with post-operaismo or workerism, Hardt and Negri, Maurizio Lazzarato and Paolo Virno, among some of the more well-know, has provided critical concepts like immaterial labour, affectivity and general intellect – concepts that help cultural actors to challenge the dominant conditions of neoliberal governance. Their work, however, is also subject to criticism inasmuch as it overestimates the possibility of the self-constitution of social subjects within the economic conditions that prevail. In contrast to Florida's superficial treatment of cultural theory, the lessons of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer on the culture industries, of Pierre Bourdieu on cultural capital, and Peter Bürger on the "institution art" make for more credible accounts of the cultural economy, even if they leave something to be desired for those who see in all Marxist accounts the makings of a "white masculinist vanguardism."
In Horkheimer and Adorno's writings, the factor that makes the culture industries effective in the process of capitalist integration is their organization of free time and everyday life in accordance with capitalist abstraction, and with culture as amusement, which is itself a coping mechanism for the prolongation of the conditions of work. One major shift from the time of Dialectic of Enlightenment to our day is the shift from the postwar welfare state to post-Fordist market economy. In the decades since the end of the "golden age" of postwar prosperity, capitalist governments have relinquished their promise to protect employment and promote social equality and well-being in favour of privatization, debt reduction and the entrenchment of economic disparity. As part of the shift to neoliberal governance, cultural and intellectual work has become the focus not only of ideological efforts to discredit social democratic concepts along with professionalism but of new policies that seek to enforce the privatization of services and the commodification of culture.
Through market regulation and capital investment, the surplus of what was previously considered "legitimate culture" is today linked to the creation of new markets – the only and ultimate standard of neoliberal economics as a moral system of discipline. Beginning in the late 1970s, as part of the reaction of New Right governments to welfarism, public institutions were brutally restructured, the argument went, so they could "survive" economically in the global marketplace. Increasing the power of centralized authority, neoliberal governments oversaw a shift from manufacturing (that is, in the developed West, where labour standards increase production costs) to a service economy, creating an unstable employment structure with growth in the consumption of "immaterial" and leisure services. As a result, a flexible, skilled and educated workforce has become a permanent feature of the new service economy. Linked to this is the growth of unemployment, underemployment, part time and low-skilled service jobs. One of the costs of post-Fordist restructuring has thus been the reintroduction, following the postwar boom, of unstable working conditions. Needless to say, digitalization and capitalization have facilitated the flows of production, allowing for new forms of independence and cooperation, but they have also helped create new conditions of exploitation and self-precarization. As Isabell Lorey has argued, under conditions of biopolitical governmentality, self-precarization appears to cultural workers as a choice, a normalized "economization of life" associated with liberal ideals of individual autonomy, lifestyle choice and even deviance or freedom from institutions. Such imaginary self-relating and self-discipline masks the fact that the mass precarization of labour is "forced on people who fall out of normal labor conditions." Instead, it works to reproduce the conditions of what Michel Foucault defined in the late 1970s as neoliberal governmentality. Precarity, however, and as Angela Mitropoulos has remarked, belongs both to labour and to the new forms of capitalist production. As part of the disciplining of labour, neoliberalism needs not only to profit from production, but to govern thought. It did so in the age of Fordism, she argues, by severing the minds of workers from their bodies, and attributing knowledge and planning to management. In the age of post-Fordist capitalism, however, and with an increasingly educated population, control is managed through the productivity of desire, affect and sociality itself.
The question of creative work, then, re-emerges as we undergo significant restructuring of the institutions of cultural production. Maurizio Lazzarato argues that structural changes to the labour market, introduced primarily by the state, have today transformed artists into a hybrid of employer and employee and thus into "human capital" that contributes to a new cultural market. He argues that neoliberalism does not merely indicate a shift away from public sector funding and granting toward privatization, but a change in the mode of governing behaviour that emphasizes competition among individuals in a context of inequality that must be cultivated, regulated and maintained. He writes,
"Only inequality has the capacity to create a dynamics that stimulates the desires, instincts and brains of individuals and incites them to compete with one another. In the specific case that we are analyzing, the cultural market has to be constructed and imposed by mobilizing the multiplicity of dispositives [administrative institutions] and the heterogeneity of subjectivities that we have evoked in this breakdown, according to the logic of competition."
Neoliberalism, however, the ideological force behind the shift away from state planning and toward "free market" economics, has proven to be a far more reckless form of capitalist adventurism than postwar Keynesian reformism, resulting in less economic growth in all regions of the global economy and greater concentration of surplus capital in the hands of the few. There is no question that we are today witness to some of the most authoritarian excesses of liberal ideology to date and the attempted restoration of class power. Because of this, contemporary cultural workers are having to accommodate the new patterning of work, the privatization of work relations and the silencing of critical thought, in particular, in the form of class analysis and the critique of capitalist relations.
1. See Alain Badiou, The Century, trans. Alberto Toscano, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2007.
2. Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, New York, Basic Books, 2002.
3. The phrase is used by Benj Gerdes in Benj Gerdes, Gavin Grindon and Rodrigo Nunes, 'Protest Past and Protest Futures: A Critical Conversation about the State of Protest and Cultural Composition', Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, 7 (2010), available at http://www.journalofaestheticsandprotest.org/. See Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectics of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming, New York, Continuum,  1972; Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice, Harvard University Press,  1984; Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Michael Shaw, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press,  1984.
4. J.M. Bernstein, 'Introduction', in Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, New York, Routledge, 1991, pp. 1-25.
5. Kevin Walsh, 'Post-modern societies I [and] II', in his The Representation of the Past: Museums and Heritage in the Post-Modern World, London, Routledge, 1992, pp. 39-69.
6. Isabell Lorey, 'Governmentality and Self-Precarization: On the Normalization of Cultural Producers', Transversal, (January 2006), available at http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/1106/lorey/en.
7. Angela Mitropulos, 'Precari-Us?', Republicart, (March 2005), available at http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/0305. See also Emma Dowling, Rodrigo Nunes and Ben Trott, 'Immaterial and Affective Labour: Explored', Ephemera, (February 2007), available at http://ephemeraweb.org/journal/7-1/7-1editorial.pdf.
8. Maurizio Lazzarato, 'Construction of Cultural Labour Market', Framework, 6 (January 2007): http://www.framework.fi/6_2007/locating/artikkelit/lazzarato.html.
9. Lazzarato, 'Construction of Cultural Labour Market'.
10. See David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.