18 09 06

Critique of Creative Industries

A Workshop in Kiasma Museum, Helsinki, 31.8. – 1.9. 2006

Monika Mokre

The workshop provided an interesting and inspiring overview of critical positions towards the Creative Industries (CI). Papers were devoted (1) to general problems of the concept of Creative Industries, and (2) to national and supranational case studies. This short report is a subjective summary of the main points of the presentations and discussions.


  1. General Problems

Using the provocative header “Creative Industries as Mass Deception” Gerald Raunig asked for the timeliness of Adorno/Horkheimer’s thought on the cultural industries. While Adorno/Horkheimer focussed on mass culture (produced by huge industrial complexes) and their impact on the audience, Raunig argued that contemporary CI can be understood as a form of self-deception of the producers working in CI. Both forms of subjectivation use the desire of the subject in order to integrate her in the economic system. Since 1944, when “Dialectics of Enlightenment” was published several transitions took place: from Fordism to Post-Fordism, from Liberalism to Neo-Liberalism, from dependence as employee to dependence as entrepreneur and self-precarisation. Still Adorno/Horkheimer’s analysis of constant promise and constant deception as a way of disciplining can be made fruitful for our thought on the CI. However, Adorno and Horkheimer do not provide us with a convincing alternative – Adorno’s retreat to exclusive and assumedly more progressive art forms not presenting a satisfying solution. Based on Michel Foucault’s concept of governmentality, Paolo Virno's book Grammar of the Multitude and Isabell Lorey's essay "Governmentality and Self-Prcarization" Raunig therefore asked for ways of institutional critique including one’s own position within these institutions.

Matteo Pasquinelli described concepts of the CI as a mixture of a new economic concept brought forward most prominently by Richard Florida and older European concepts of the role of intellectuals in society. Cognitive capitalism can, thus, be understood as the neo-liberal turn-around of the concept of the general intellect as e.g. proposed by Operaism. While the European left has focused on the representative part of cognitive work, Florida emphasizes its productive part. The traditional definition of the Bohemian as a person with high education and low income is transformed into an economic development programme by Florida. However, it seems questionable if Florida’s analysis is sound out of an economic point of view. Maybe, instead of cities becoming affluent due to their creativity, creatives go to affluent cities.

Esther Leslie argued that parallel to the economisation and privatization of culture and creativity, culture has been subjected to government and state intervention by cultural policies. She brought forward the argument (highly contested within the workshop) that this subjection has been supported by cultural studies. Cultural studies in their focus on symbolic values have neglected conditions of production and, thereby, furthered late capitalist modes of subsumption and not least the success of the creative industries.

More concretely, Aku Alanen analysed the use of the term “Creative Industries” in statistics and, consequently, in cultural politics and called for a rejection of the concept as, due to its fuzziness and all-inclusiveness, it obfuscates the structures of different sectors included under this header. In this vein, he analysed statistical data on the constant growth of the CI and thereby showed that, in fact, software industries are growing while the cultural sector is declining.

Out from a different perspective, Ulf Wuggenig deconstructed contemporary interpretations of creativity focussing thereby on conceptualizations of art history. By emphasizing the role of arts dealers in 19th century art sociologists like Harrison and Cynthia White have promoted an understanding of “the dealer as genius” claiming that the role of art dealers was crucial for the success of artists such as Monet. By looking more concretely at stories of artistic success Wuggenig makes plausible that this interpretation is rather due to contemporary paradigms than to historical accurateness.

Finally Tere Vadén deconstructed the notion of the creative commons as a generally desirable alternative to the CI. Due to the different affluence and access to technology in different parts of the world, creative commons are nearly exclusively developed in the USA and Europe as can be seen in the geographical position of developers of GNU and Linux. Furthermore, commonly developed contents like Wikipedia further promote the use of English as a lingua franca and, consequently, reduce multilingualism. Thus, Vadén defines the impact of the creative commons as a new form of colonialism.

  1. Case Studies

All case studies shared the observation of an increasing neo-liberal orientation of cultural policies. Raimund Minichbauer analysed the policy strategies of the European Commission as part of EUropean neo-liberal politics. Programmes supporting the political or social function of culture are weak and becoming continuously less ambitious as a comparison between “Culture 2007” and “Culture 2000” shows. Mainly, cultural policy is understood as competition and employment policy while the latter usually neglects the quality of employment. Copyright questions based on the concept of economic competition in the production of content play a crucial role.

The question of copyright was taken up by Branka Ćurčić with regard to the post-communist countries. For capitalism, the importance of property has led to the historical spread of this concept to ever new sectors - from the property of land to the property of means of production to the property of information. In Communist countries, copyright played a completely different role; it did not have much importance as a legal entitlement but was, on the one hand, part of the social support system and, on the other hand, a means of censorship. Thus, the capitalist copyright system means a radical change for these countries. This rupture is intensified by EU regulations, above all the Copyright Directive that combines the hardest legal measures of all Member States and, e.g., allows house searches and the freezing of accounts in cases of alleged copyright infringements. In the debates on copyright cultural producers question certain dimensions of property rights in this field but not the concept of property in general.

The Finnish and Austrian contributions focussed on concrete developments in national cultural politics and their impact on the cultural sector. For Finland, Marita Muukkonen described the development of Finnish cultural politics in three phases – nation building from the end of the 19th century to the 1960s, welfare ideology from the 1960s to the 1990s and an increasing economic orientation since then. This economic orientation goes hand in hand with a growing emphasis on national culture that became obvious when, in summer 2006, a media debate on “Finnishness” developed focusing above all on the claim that immigrants have to become acquainted with Finnish culture. The combination of economic and national orientation becomes obvious in the fact that the Finnish arts-exchange-programme has been renamed “programme for cultural exportation”. Marketta Seppälä added to this description some further facts pointing to a similar direction: Finland ends its “artists-in-residence”-programme and the Nordic Council for the Arts closes down the Forum for Contemporary Arts in Helsinki while the Nordic Innovation Centre has developed a programme for cultural economics.

Monika Mokre described traditional Austrian cultural politics as a mixture of patronizing politics towards culture and the arts, mostly focussing on the cultural heritage, and a strong and well developed welfare state. The concept of the creative industries does not fit into this scheme and, consequently, Austrian political measures in this regard are characterised by helplessness and ineffectiveness. Still, the creative industries play an increasing role in Austria due to creatives taking up this concept as part of their self-understanding.

Two further contributions dealt with the ways in which cultural workers oppose the neo-liberal paradigm. Maria Lind described artistic practices aiming at gaining economic and political autonomy, e.g. the New York City based initiative “16 Beaver” that owns a house in Lower Manhattan and uses income from rents for artistic projects, or the Berlin bookshop “pro qm” understanding itself as a place for debating alternative spaces for cultural productions and, at the same time, as a practical example of such an alternative space. In a different way, the Manifesto Club in London aims at developing niches from hegemonic paradigms by claiming for a “strategic separatism” of the arts. Similarly, the project “Opacity” of the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art” claimed the right of artistic institutions to renounce transparency in order to be able to experiment.

Maurizio Lazzarato focussed in his speech on the French movement of the “intermittants du spectacle”, people who are temporarily employed in cultural projects and, between these phases, live from unemployment benefits. The French cultural sector encompasses three, structurally different, sub-sectors: the public sector, the creative industries (above all TV/cinema) and the independent sector. People working for culture are either continuously employed or intermittants and their incomes differ widely. From the 400.000 people working in the French cultural sector, 100.000 are intermittants. The movement of the intermittans was started by the poorest intermittants working outside of the creative industries. It was a protest against a change of unemployment insurance: in the future, the number of days for which benefits are paid should depend on one’s own payments into unemployment insurance. This does not only mean a deterioration for concrete living conditions but also a paradigmatic change in the understanding of unemployment insurance - from a collective to an individual investment. The intermittants see themselves as permanently working in the cultural sector while only temporarily employed and understand this form of living as opposed both to permanent employment and to entrepreneurship. This  form of organizing one’s life is endangered by the new regulation.

Altogether, a wide variety of important issues for a critique of the Creative Industries was brought up during the workshop leading in many cases to more open questions than convincing answers - which is, as we know, a characteristic of most intellectually fruitful engagements.

Monika Mokre