We need to talk about ... economics
I want to take up the “economies” part of the conference’s theme, “Materialities: Economies, Empiricism and Things”, and engage with those critics of the creative industries position within media, cultural and communication studies. There’s certainly been a bit of (symbolic) attempted patricide on the creative industries side, but there has been an even stronger disavowal of parentage, even a bit of—always symbolic—attempted infanticide, on the other.
In responding to the broad spirit of the critics of the creative industries position, I do so with serious respect for their scholarship, and with great trepidation. Because it is an all-star cast: Andrew Ross, Andy Pratt, Kate Oakley, Nicholas Garnham, Jim McGuigan, Toby Miller, Ned Rossiter, Justin O’Connor and Graeme Turner, to name the more prominent. But I am also mindful of what Freud called the “narcissism of small differences”. The critics and I share more in common than what we disagree about, and this should be reflected in how the debates are conducted.
There are many aspects to the debate about the creative industries, but if we boil it down I think its essence is that the concept stands accused of importing neoliberal hypercapitalism into the heartland of culture, causing what Kate Oakley (2009, 412) calls a “thin” notion of cultural value.
Outside the academy—where the actually existing creative industries (not the concept about which there is so much debate) are to be found, in the creative sector, the cultural institutions, and in the policy and program-delivery bureaux whose job it is to support the sector—no one doubts the value of culture. It is a given, however much the suitability of differing forms of cultural expression and rationales for their support may be contestable. What these actors want, when it comes to accounting for culture, is measured, evidence-based accounts that work in their terms. Far from economism dominating a baleful and harassed culture, it is the lack of an economics useful for their circumstances that harass most of the people I know and work with in commercial industry, the non-government organisations/not-for-profit sector, and policy.
Stuart Cunningham is Distinguished Professor of Media and Communications, Queensland University of Technology, and Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation. His most recent books are Digital Disruption: Cinema Moves Online (edited with Dina Iordanova, St Andrews Film Studies, 2012), Key Concepts in Creative Industries (with John Hartley, Jason Potts, Terry Flew, John Banks and Michael Keane, Sage, 2013), Hidden Innovation: Policy, Industry and the Creative Sector (University of Queensland Press, 2013), and Screen Distribution Post-Hollywood: The New King Kongs of the Online World (with Jon Silver, Palgrave MacMillan, forthcoming 2013).