issue 37, Spring/Summer 2010
Radical Change In Culture / Manifesto
On bullshit in cultural policy practice & research
According to Harry G. Frankfurts best-selling book On Bullshit1, there are two central aspects to the notion of bullshit: mindlessness, or a complete lack of concern with the truth on the part of the bullshitter, and the fact that behind any production of bullshit lies a bullshitter who is intentionally misleading their interlocutors so as to pursue their own interests and purposes. The concept of bullshit, and related notions of humbug, mumbo-jumbo, hot air, gobbledygook, claptrap and balderdash, have all been observed to dominate the modern public domain2. However, my focus here is on the prevalence of justifications for public subsidy of the arts and the cultural sector which rely on the rhetoric that has developed around the alleged transformative powers of the arts and their consequent (presumed) positive social impacts.
Not your usual best-seller
Academic publishing does not, usually, attract the reading masses. Even more unusual is for the best-selling book in question to be a tome (albeit a slim one) written by a moral philosopher. The popular acclaim that welcomed Frankfurts On Bullshit is, therefore, an interesting publishing case. The first thing that catches the readers attention no point in denying it is the books title. Unsurprisingly, the New York Times refused to publish it in its entirety in its bestsellers list, referring to it as On Bull. Yet attributing the books popularity to its potentially controversial title would be undoubtedly simplistic and would not suffice to explain the 175,000 copies of the book sold in the US alone, and the fact that in just a few months the book had already reached its tenth reprint3.
Whilst its commercial success testifies to the books capacity to respond to an intellectual curiosity much alive amongst todays reading public, the essay, from which the book takes its title, was not in fact written in response to the spin and mumbo-jumbo of contemporary public life. On Bullshit first appeared in 1986 in the Raritan Review, and was eventually included in a collection of essays entitled The Importance of What We Care About (1988), which brings together some of Frankfurts most influential writings on free will, moral responsibility, and ethical action. Although unfair to say that the essay went completely unnoticed when first published, it certainly did not generate the level of interest of the 2005 reprint. The fact that Princeton University Press decided to re-publish the treatise almost twenty years after it was first penned, testifies to its editors belief in the saliency of Frankfurts conceptual investigation to contemporary culture and society. Indeed, as the essays opening lines explain, our society seems to have developed an increasing acceptance of bullshit:
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. [ ] But we tend to take the situation for granted. [ ] In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves.
Frankfurts theoretical understanding of bullshit
An important element in Frankfurts conceptual analysis of bullshit is its distinction, in ontological and ethical terms, between lying and bullshitting. Frankfurt concurs with most writers on matters of lying and deception; that intentionality is central to any definition of lying, as well as bullshitting. As Sissela Bok explains in her influential book Lying: Moral choice in public and private life4, a false person is not merely one that happens to make statements that are found to be wrong, mistaken or incorrect; rather, the label of false is deserved whenever somebody is intentionally deceitful. However, as Chisholm and Feehan show5, the intention to deceive and a lie are not identical, and should not be confused. They also argue that different types of deception carry different types of moral weight. In other words, not all types of intentional and voluntary deception constitute a violation of a moral rule as grave as that represented by an outright lie. This concept is clarified by Adler, through his reference to the little insincerities and misleading statements that make up every-day polite conversation:
Intentional deception is a constituent of many acceptable forms of everyday social life, such as tact, politeness, excuses, reticence, avoidance, or evasion, which are ways to protect privacy, promote social harmony, and encourage interest.6
Adler goes on to explain that a lie is a blunt instrument, easily found, promising an easy success, whereas, the deceiver takes a more circuitous route to his success, where lying is an easier and more certain way to mislead. This view seems to be shared by Frankfurt7 who, reiterating an observation that recurs often in the essay, remarks that our society seems to be prepared to treat the bullshitter with much more leniency than it does the liar.
The originality of Frankfurts thought might rest precisely in his reversal of this commonly accepted position, and in his suggestions that, from a moral perspective, bullshitting is actually more morally execrable and pernicious than outright lying, in that it reveals a disregard for truth and accuracy much more profound that than displayed by the liar. Frankfurt repeatedly maintains that, in his view, bullshit is unconnected to a concern with the truth and not germane to the enterprise of describing reality; the bullshitter therefore acts without any regard for how things really are and is characterised by mindlessness. They speak without conscientious attention to the relevant facts, and make statements without bothering to take into account at all the question of its accuracy. Hence Frankfurts conclusion: It is just this lack of connection to a concern with the truth this indifference to how things really are that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.
As a moral philosopher, Frankfurt is preoccupied with the ethical consequences that such indifference for accuracy and the resulting mindlessness might have on the quality of public life and contemporary culture. His line of reasoning starts from the observation that bullshit is closer to bluffing than it is to lying, [f]or the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. Falsity is not a prerequisite for bullshit, which although it is produced without concern with the truth, need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong.
It is precisely in the extreme carelessness for whether things are in fact true or false from which bullshit blossoms that Frankfurt identifies the moral danger. He explains that, contrary to the bullshitter, the outright liar is inescapably concerned with truth values. In order to be able to lie, one needs to see and acknowledge the difference between what is true and what is false: A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it.
However, no such consideration for what is true can be found in the bullshitter, who has no concern at all for questions of truth, or even for the difference between true and false. In Frankfurts own words:
The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides [ ] is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are. [ ] [The bullshitter] is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest with getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
Frankfurts moral concern is that, in a society which tolerates bullshitting and considers it less morally reprehensible than lying, the tendency to make whatever statement or declaration suit ones personal interests might slowly but progressively erode peoples regard for the way that things really are and, therefore, also an ethics of accuracy and conscientiousness on which a healthy public sphere thrives. It is no surprise, then, that Frankfurt should come to the conclusion that the bullshitter pays no attention to [the truth] at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
Lying & bullshitting in politics
The sphere of politics, and public life more broadly, are usually considered as a privileged domain for both bullshitting and lying. As Frankfurt puts it, [t]he realms of advertising and public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the process.
Politicians themselves have, on occasion, candidly acknowledged the need to forgo of truthfulness in the midst of political struggles. Before his time as UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair declared in no uncertain terms that [t]he truth becomes almost impossible to communicate because total frankness, relayed in the shorthand of the mass media becomes simply a weapon in the hands of opponents8. Indeed, some have gone so far as suggesting that mendacity might in fact be intrinsic to politics itself. So, for Barnes, [t]hose who spend their lives in this context [politics] become skilled at lying; it is a requirement for occupational success9. Bailey agrees, and comes to the conclusion that humbuggery and manipulation are central to the very notion of leadership, and therefore an integral part of political life, for no leader can survive as a leader without deceiving others (followers no less than opponents)10. Not only is the notion that lies and politics are coterminous quite accepted, but it has even been argued that those in power have a right to lie. The tradition in political philosophy which endorses lying and deceit for the sake of the public good is certainly very long and illustrious. Plato, in his Republic, coined the expression noble lies to refer to the kind of stories that the governing philosophers might tell in order to preserve the wellbeing of the polis and promote social harmony11. Needless to say, the rulers right to lie and to recur to the public good as a justification for their lack of sincerity has been strongly questioned12, and a growing sense of unease has spread for the perceived prevalence of spin, bullshit, and deception in political discourse. Commentators have suggested that we now live in a post-truth political environment13 in which [p]ublic statements are no longer fact based, but operational. Realities and political narratives are constructed to serve a purpose, dismantled, and the show moves on14. This seems confirmed by studies of public opinion which indicate progressively decreasing levels of trust and confidence in politicians, professionals and public institutions15. This widespread perception has moved philosopher Onora ONeill to suggest that we seem to be facing a crisis of public trust16.
However, is bullshit and political lying really on the rise? Frankfurt himself adopts a certain caution, and suggests that it is impossible to be sure that there is relatively more of it nowadays than at other times. There is more communication of all kinds in our time than ever before, but the proportion that is bullshit may not have increased17. The mass media are indeed usually considered responsible for the presumed rising levels of deception in the public sphere, if not for altogether muddling the public political debate, and for promoting the creation of bullshit and lies18.
In order to better understand contemporary political life, and the role of the communications professionals within it, it might be useful to refer to the concept of the new public elaborated by Mayhew. The idea of the new public is predicated on the observation that communication in the public sphere has become dominated by professional specialists (as well as professional politicians) who utilise techniques borrowed from advertising, market research and public relations so as to maximise the effect of political messages and minimize the possibility of their scrutiny:
Rhetoric employs adumbrated, sketchy arguments that amount to symbolic tokens of more extended arguments that the speaker purports to be able to expound if necessary. [ ] Tokens allow for strategic rhetoric that deliver suggestive cues but avoids confrontations that would require redeeming these tokens with more extensive arguments.19
The new public paradigm (like Frankfurts concept of bullshit) therefore relies heavily on a corrupted form of language that Lutz refers to as doublespeak:
What is doublespeak? Doublespeak is language which pretends to communicate but really doesnt. It is language which makes the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, the unpleasant appear attractive, or at least tolerable. It is language which avoids or shifts responsibility, language which is at variance with its real or purported meaning. It is language which conceals or prevents thought. Doublespeak is language which does not extend thought but limits it.20
This alleged corruption of the language of public discourse is not necessarily a recent phenomenon. In 1946, in an essay entitled Politics and the English Language, George Orwell had already commented on what he saw as a special connection between politics and the debasement of language21. According to Orwell, who was writing in the aftermath of WWII, politics had become predicated upon the defence of the indefensible (such as the persistence of British colonialism in India, or the deployment of nuclear weapons in Japan). This required a political language that has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness, the kind of language, in other words, necessary if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them22. Like Frankfurt and the other writers discussed here, Orwell too saw the language of political communication as characterised by sheer humbug23, and his damning conclusion prefigures the arguments of numerous contemporary political commentators: Political language ... is designed to make lies sounds truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind24.
Having ascertained that lying and mendacity have always been closely connected to the sphere of politics, it remains to be seen if the particular type of deception that Frankfurt is trying to describe through his conceptual understanding of bullshit and Mayhews notion of the new public can offer any further insight to the study of contemporary political discourse.
Bullshit in cultural policy: the UK case
Can we ascertain any evidence to support the hypothesis that a lack of connection to a concern with the truth and indifference to how things really are, a laxity which Frankfurt sees as the essence of bullshit, might be prevalent in present-day official UK cultural policy rhetoric? To answer this, the following analysis centres on public declarations of the social impacts of the arts as a basis for policy-making in the cultural sector, and the importance of their measurement25 arguably the debate around the socio-economic impacts of the arts has been the defining one of Western cultural policy over the past 10-15 years.
Since the very beginning of politicians renewed interest for the social impacts of the arts, the question of evidence has been a delicate one. In 1999, PAT 10 (one of several Policy Action Teams set up by government to ensure each department gave a full contribution to new Labours social inclusion and neighbourhood renewal agenda) commissioned a well-respected cultural consultant to produce a literature review in the area of the social impacts of the arts, with a view of assessing the quality of the research evidence available. The report concluded that it remains a fact that relative to the volume of arts activity taking place in the countrys poorest neighbourhoods, the evidence of the contribution it makes to neighbourhood renewal is paltry26. Considering that this report was commissioned by PAT10 itself as a guide to its activities, and in view of the governments explicit and firm commitment to evidence-based policy-making, one would have thought that the admission of lack of evidence would have dampened any early enthusiasm for the arts as a tool for social renewal. Yet that year also saw the publication of another report by PAT10, one that actually celebrated the beneficial impacts of the arts on disadvantaged people and neighbourhoods. In the foreword to this second report, Chris Smith, at the time Secretary of State for Culture, stated with great confidence:
This report shows that art and sport can not only make a valuable contribution to delivering key outcomes of lower long-term unemployment, less crime, better health and better qualifications, but can also help to deliver the individual pride, community spirit and capacity for responsibility that enable communities to run regeneration programmes themselves.27
That the evidence to support this was paltry as well as anecdotal and methodologically dubious, did not seem to cause much concern. In fact, Chris Smith, in his capacity of Secretary of State, became the champion of the socio-economic impacts of the arts, to which he referred numerous times in enthusiastic terms in his book Creative Britain28. The use and citation of statistics was always an important ingredient in the developments briefly charted above. In a public lecture delivered in 1998, Smith29 cited extensively some (now discredited30) statistics derived from the highly influential report Use or Ornament? 31 prepared by François Matarasso for the cultural consultancy firm Comedia, which Smith defined as compelling. The reference to the impressive-sounding numbers of Matarassos study offered the Secretary of State what must have appeared a precious means to bypass the obstacle represented by what he presumably knew to be paltry evidence of impact32. Whether those figures actually reflected reality was obviously not a primary concern here.
This is confirmed to be the case by Chris Smith himself, who spoke with uncustomary candour, for a politician, at the 2003 conference Valuing Culture. He was at that time no longer Secretary of State, which may explain the frankness of his speech, and this was one of the first public engagements he attended since being divested of his cabinet position. Smiths words offer a precious insight into the type of bullshit that, in my view, has become orthodox in much of contemporary public and policy discourse around the social impacts of the arts, and they are therefore worth quoting extensively. Looking back at his time as Culture Secretary, Smith comments:
Spare a thought, however, for the poor old Minister, faced with the daunting task of getting the increased funding out of the Treasury to start with. The Treasury wont be interested in the intrinsic merits of nurturing beauty or fostering poetry or even enhancing the quality of life. So I acknowledge unashamedly that when I was Secretary of State, going into what always seemed like a battle with the Treasury, I would try and touch the buttons that would work. I would talk about the educational value of what was being done. I would be passionate about artists working in schools. I would refer to the economic value that can be generated from creative and cultural activity. I would count the added numbers who would flock into a free museum. If it helped to get more funds flowing into the arts, the argument was worth deploying. And I still believe, passionately, that it was the right approach to take. If it hadnt been taken, the outcome would have left the arts in much poorer condition33.
Smith also readily admitted that this method of promoting the interests of the arts sector also poses some difficulties, such as the fact that any measurement of numbers, quantity, or added value by figures is necessarily going to be inadequate. Hence his advice to his audience of cultural administrators:
So, use the measurements and figures and labels that you can, when you need to, in order to convince the rest of the governmental system of the value and importance of what youre seeking to do. But recognise at the same time that this is not the whole story, that it is not enough as an understanding of cultural value.34
Smith is making a clear admission to have used the available data cunningly, so as to make his case for increased departmental funding appear stronger than it might have otherwise been. So, to this end, measurements and statistics that Smith here admits are necessarily going to be inadequate were presented as compelling in his 1998 book, and accepted as valid evidence of impact in policy making and in the process of funding allocations. Am I suggesting that, during his time as Secretary of State, Smith lied? Not necessarily; I am suggesting, however, on the basis of his own reconstruction of events, that he might have been, on occasion, bullshitting. I am also suggesting that Smiths shrewd use of dubious statistics might be a case of the phenomenon that Darrell Huff, in his still popular humorous essay How to Lie with Statistics, first published in 1954, refers to as statisticulation35, or, that form of statistical manipulation that aims at misinforming people by the use of statistical material.
Smiths passages above also seem to endorse the acceptance of fibbing for the public good examined earlier, and an adoption of a consequentialist36 ethical position whereby any bullshit that might have had to be produced and communicated is justified by its desirable outcome in terms of a favourable financial settlement from the Treasury. Questions of the truth-value of the arguments used are clearly of secondary importance to the main objective, which is, plainly, to score points with the Treasury (and, perhaps expectedly, with the audience of his delivery). To quote Frankfurt again, [h]e does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose37. Furthermore, the very fact of Smiths own frankness about his creative approach to making the case for the arts confirms Frankfurts contention that bullshitting is widely tolerated in our society, and that the moral censure that accompanies it is relatively minimal (had it not been so, Smith might have been altogether more reticent about it).
Mayhews notion of a public sphere dominated by a type of political communication that avoids scrutiny and genuine debate is also of relevance here, especially when it comes to the central place of measurement and statistics in public policy discourse. For how can one respond to such a lucid strategy of statisticulation as that described by Smithin the passage above? When value-based (and therefore value-laden) arguments are couched in the apparently politically neutral language of evidence-based policy, and when impact evaluation and performance measurement and the resulting statistics are used as ammunition38 in the political debate with little preoccupation for their origins and the rigour (or potential lack thereof) of the methods used to acquire them, what chances are there for a genuinely open political debate around matters of policy and funding?
It would be highly unfair to suggest that Chris Smith was the only Culture Secretary of State or Minister to have displayed that lack of concern with truth, the indifference to how things really are, as well as the cultivation of vested interests which Frankfurt attributes to the activity of bullshitting. What makes Smiths case interesting is that his frank post-ministerial speech makes it possible to ascertain the question of intentionality, which as we have seen, is a necessary condition for the legitimate attribution of the label of bullshit. The personal essay written by Smiths successor as Culture Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, entitled Government and the Value of Culture (2004), offers another interesting case study. Jowell had always been a stalwart supporter of the contribution of the arts and the cultural industries to the governmental socio-economic agenda. In a speech delivered at the 2002 Labour Party conference she had stated unambiguously that [i]nvestment in the arts is not only an end in itself, it is also a means of achieving our promises, our policies and our values39. But by the time her personal essay was conceived, the shortcomings of the available evidence of socioeconomic impact had become harder to ignore and the sector had been progressively lamenting an excess of instrumentality in the governments attitude to the arts. Government and the Value of Culture is interesting because its stated aim is to reject a narrow instrumental view of the arts, yet throughout the essay a number of exquisitely instrumental considerations are made on the importance, for the government, to support artistic engagement as an antidote to the poverty of aspiration afflicting disadvantaged young.
In the concluding section of the essay, Jowell maintains that we will need to keep proving that engagement with culture can improve educational attainment, and can help reduce crime40, and yet, if it had been possible to demonstrate incontrovertibly a causal link between arts participation and educational attainment or crime reduction, then, surely, there would be no pressing need to keep proving it. The problem is that as Jowell most probably knows for all the evaluation and performance measurement requirements imposed on the sector, such incontrovertible evidence of impact simply is not there. This in turn means that many of the claims contained in the essay are in fact based on very little concrete evidence. The circularity of reasoning and the numerous internal contradictions in Jowells essay make it, I would suggest, a prime example of the doublespeak lamented by Lutz41.
More recently, James Purnell, during his brief six-month stint as Culture Secretary42 provided an interesting example of the type of corrupted political language reprimanded by Orwell in his 1946 essay. In his first speech entitled World class from the grassroots up: Culture in the next ten years, delivered in the summer of 2007, Purnell declared that access is now in the bloodstream of British culture43. I take this to mean that Purnell despite current attendance data confirming that participation is still strongly linked to educational levels and class status44 is convinced that broadening access is now very firmly rooted in the work of cultural organisations in receipt of public subsidies. Why the bizarre metaphor? I am reminded of Orwells45 reproach for the staleness of imagery and the lack of precision that in his opinion are the principal symptoms of that corruption of the English language and of political communication. This corruption he saw as the result of the attitude of a writer who is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not46: By using stale metaphors, similes and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself.
Yet it was not this rather stale image that was responsible for the great interest generated by Purnells speech. The cause of the stir was a little phrase towards the end of it, and the promise of a sea-change in public cultural administration that it seemed to bring: I want to keep the passion and throw away the packaging of targetolatry47. The sector interpreted this as signalling a change in direction over Public Service Agreements targets for the arts48. Public Service Agreements (PSAs) are official documents which set out the aims and objectives of the various government departments over a three-year period; they describe how targets will be achieved and how performance against these targets will be measured49. Performance indicators and targets are at the core of the modus operandi of PSAs, and it is not at all clear how they could be thrown away, to borrow Purnells expression, without compromising the entire current functioning of government departments and the monitoring of their activities. How it could be possible to justify subtracting the cultural sector from the set of rules and regulation that are in force for the rest of the public sector is also a mystery, which Purnells sensationalist speech does not clarify. It seems possible to suggest that Purnells speech exemplifies Brandenburgs contention that political bullshit is a proactive strategic communication, meant not to hide a truth or reality, or to divert from a particular responsibility, but to create or manage an impression50. In this case, the impression that needed to be created and managed was that of a Culture Secretary sympathetic to the frustrations seething among cultural professionals resulting from the perceived excesses of performance measurement requirements. Purnells move to the Work and Pension department just a few months after the delivery of this speech obviously means that we will never know how he would have endeavoured to implement his vision of setting culture free to do what it does best51 (whatever this may be). Yet this does appear like the media-friendly, populist, still unredeemable token of a fully developed argument that Mayhew suggests dominates in the new public.
There is a broader conclusion to be drawn from this necessarily selective and incomplete examination of instances of bullshit, doublespeak and statisticulation in official cultural policy rhetoric. I would argue that what we have been looking at are, in fact, powerful examples of what policy theory refers to as the performance paradox. With this label, policy theorists refer to the unintended and often undesirable consequences that can result from the introduction of performance measurement as a means to enhance public sectors efficiency and the quality of its financial management52. The paradoxical element here lays in the fact that these unintended consequences might actually result in a situation that compounds the very problems that performance measurement was introduced to address. At the heart of the notion of performance paradox, thus, is the baffling observation that measures such as the imposition of targets, performance management, evidence-based policy-making, pressures to evaluate the extent to which arts project have the socio-economic impact that policy makers presume they do or, in other words, a whole range of measures introduced with the aim to improve transparency and accountability in the public sector might have resulted, in reality, in more bullshit being produced and injected in public discourses around policies for the cultural sector, and in opaque political messages amounting to little more than doublespeak.
If politics and public policy are a privileged arena for the production and circulation of significant amounts of bullshit, it would be, however, naïve to think that they are the only realms affected.
Beyond the realm of politics: Bullshit of the academic variety
There are two main varieties of academic bullshit relevant to the field of cultural policy. The first is represented by the intentional obscurity and impenetrability of a certain portion of academic writing, and the second is represented by instances of the very same lack of connection to a concern with the truth and indifference to how things really are that we have just witnessed in the field of politics.
My previous work on the social impacts of the arts and the question of their measurement, carried out with Oliver Bennett, has brought to light the numerous underlying, unquestioned assumptions about the arts, the effect they have on people (which are presumed to be reliably positive), the possibility of their empirical measurement, and the advantages that such measurement can provide in the subsidised cultural sectors struggle for ever-shrinking public resources.53 Despite the current rhetorical emphasis on evidence-based policy, the set of assumptions outlined above, which has so far inspired cultural policy making, finds no support in actual evidence.
It is my contention that similar assumptions have also dominated the arts impact assessment research agenda. A good example would be the aforementioned Use or Ornament? (Matarasso, 1997)54, which, despite having been criticised for methodological flaws55, can be identified as one of the key texts in this area, and as the first attempt to produce an analysis of the social impact of the arts with the aim to develop a replicable methodology for its evaluation. This is stated quite clearly in the preface to the report, which defines the aims of the project as the attempt [t]o identify evidence of the social impact of participation in the arts at amateur or community level, and to do so in a way that could provide means of assessing social impact which are helpful and workable for policymakers and those working in the arts or social fields56. The unquestioned assumption underlying Matarassos research is revealed by his intention to identify evidence of impact: this presumes that the impacts are indeed there, and so is the evidence, it is just a question of identifying it. Yet, I would argue that the existence of the type of wide-ranging social impact claimed by policy-makers is all but self-evident, and far from having been indisputably established.
I have argued elsewhere57 that one of the problems with large portions of research that has so far been carried out into the social impacts of the arts is its being marred by a profound confusion between genuine research and research for the sake of advocacy. The temptation to articulate research questions in policy- or advocacy-friendly terms is evident in this field, so that research has often focused on asking how the presumed positive social impacts of the arts might be measured or enhanced, rather than in asking whether the arts have social impacts of the sort claimed for them, if these impacts can be expected to be positive and, more generally, whether it is possible to generalise peoples experiences of the arts within art forms, across art forms, and across the very diverse population represented by those who engage with the arts.
This might appear little more than an academic disquisition over what adverb one ought to use at the beginning of ones research questions, yet I would suggest that a concern for how research questions are phrased goes beyond mere pedantry. Policy scholar Deborah Stone offers a clear example of this58. She reports that, upon being asked for their opinion on public spending on welfare, 48% of the US public interviewed responded that it ought to be cut; however, when asked about spending on programmes for children living in poverty, 47% of respondents auspicated increased funding, and only 9% still felt they wanted the funding to be cut. As Stone herself remarks: Do Americans want to enlarge or curtail welfare spending? It all depends on how the question is framed59. In matters of cultural policy too, how questions are framed will largely shape the answers reached. Until we accept the need for carefully thought-through, open-ended research questions and for a genuinely exploratory approach to the study of something of such extraordinary complexity as peoples experiences of and responses to the arts, the production of bullshit might not be avoidable.
An antidote for bullshit?
It is my belief that not only are bullshit and mindlessness not an inevitable feature of cultural policy research (or, for that matter, any other type of research), but that it is a duty of the researcher in this field, as part of their professional practice, to commit to a way of working inspired by the principle of rigour and precision advocated by Frankfurt in his essay.
A useful starting point is offered by Robert Merton, who in the early 1970s identified four principal values of science as: universalism, communalism, disinterestedness, and organized scepticism60. Whilst objectivity and neutrality from ones values and (often unconscious) intellectual prejudices might be an unattainable goal for the researcher, the notion of disinterested seems to offer a useful pointer towards a research ethos that strives to avoid mindlessness in ones professional practice. This, coupled with a healthy resistance (or skepticism, in Mertons words) for any assumption or conclusion that does not withstand close intellectual scrutiny, seems to amount to the first steps towards the development of an antidote to bullshit in the field of research.
Cultural policy studies is a relatively young discipline61, though, in many respects, it has come a long way in a very short time. Yet, in order for the discipline to continue to develop in interesting and original ways, we need to reinforce the notion of a critical research ethos in this field. Critical is today a very loaded adjective, and it thus requires some qualification. I use it to refer to research that is disinterested; that is, indifferent to the requirements of advocacy advocacy being a fully legitimate enterprise, but one completely distinct and, ideally, separate from genuinely explorative research. By explorative research, I refer to a type of research that aims to explore and illuminate complex questions about the role and condition of culture, cultural production, consumption, and administration in contemporary society. This is an enterprise that ought to be conducted by way of a research ethos based on accuracy, precision, and rigour: a research ethos, that, to borrow Frankfurts words, does not intentionally elude the demands of a disinterested and austere discipline62. The model of research I am advocating echoes what McGuigan defines as critical and reflexive cultural policy analysis which, he explains, is permitted to ask awkward questions about the conditions of culture and society in the world at large that go beyond the self-imposed limitations of management consultancy and policy-wonking63. To this I would add that this bullshit-free zone for cultural policy research would also ideally be dominated by intellectual humility. By this I refer to the acceptance that when exploring complex questions (and cultural and political questions are inescapably complex), the researcher needs to accept that it might not be possible to find easy answers that can tidily fit into a journal paper. Coming back to the impact of the arts debate, philosophers and scholars have struggled to describe and understand the way that people respond to the arts uninterruptedly since at least the times of Plato. Any simple, straightforward solution to this riddle, or any impact evaluation toolkit that promises to assess the transformative power of any form of aesthetic experience in ten easy replicable steps, thus bypassing or refusing to address such complexity, is likely to be let us be honest bullshit.
Conspicuously, from the examination of bullshit and other forms of deception, intentionality is key in distinguishing simple, incorrect information from mendacity. In this sense, the researcher will only be a bullshitter when they intentionally take intellectual shortcuts or when, moved by a voluntary carelessness for accuracy and regard for how things really are, indulge in mindless intellectual behaviour. This presumes, of course, that researchers operate in relative freedom. And yet, researchers do not operate in splendid isolation from society. Universities are not the detached ivory towers they might have once been, and the conditions in which academic researchers operate also need to be taken into consideration. Particularly in policy-sensitive areas like cultural policy (or, in fact, any other policy-related field of enquiry) where there are pressures on researchers to produce the kind of work that might have a direct influence on policy.
Already in 2000 the then Secretary of State for Education of Employment, David Blunkett, clearly expressed a commitment to include policy influence among the criteria used for assessing research excellence in the government-run Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), a formal process all UK university must undergo so that the quality of the research they produce can be assessed, and this information used as one of the elements on the basis of which public resources are allocated to them. The UK Research Councils have indeed picked up on this political commitment to enhance the policy influence of publicly funded research, and have recently announced their intention to include impact on policy, and the envisioned socio-economic impact of the proposed research project as one of the criteria used to decide on the allocation of research funding64. The implication of these developments with respect to my call for an explorative and disinterested research ethos are clear: in a climate where policy influence is considered a relevant, or even a privileged, criterion for the allocation of research funds, the type of research that is more likely to be supported is that which can provide the evidence that politicians and decision-makers obligate. This might be the kind of research, for example, that can provide appealing statistics and other data required for the statisticulation that so much political discourse is based on. Researchers working within academia might face increased pressures to provide that official certification of facts on which, according to Mayhew65, political communication relies in the new public. Undesirable (or just not immediately policy-relevant) research agendas might therefore become more difficult to pursue, irrespective of their intellectual merit or methodological rigour.
If the general climate in which the academic cultural policy researcher operates is, if not openly hostile, at the very least less than friendly to the ideal of open-ended, disinterested and rigorous research advocated here, it seems certainly true that the quality most needed in the cultural policy researcher should be a firm commitment to what Frankfurt calls the demands of a disinterested and austere discipline66. Paraphrasing what Ernest Hemingway noted about writers, I would therefore suggest that the single most crucial quality that any critical cultural policy researcher ought to possess is a built-in, shock-proof crap detector.67
‘On bullshit in cultural policy practice and research: Notes from the British case’ was originally published in the International Journal of Cultural Policy, Volume 15, Issue 3, August 2009. For further information, including an index of all the journal’s published papers, please visit: http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/10286632.asp
Remembering Brian Barry
For anyone with hands-on experience of the current political discourse of equality in the UK, and who finds in it evidence of liberal guilt, the death a year ago (March 10th 2009) of the political philosopher Brian Barry (born in 1936) must have been a colossal loss. Barry was one of a handful of British academics and public intellectuals who, sometimes belatedly, sought to rescue the public understanding of equality from bureaucratic activism and intellectual game playing.
While it would be grossly unfair to suggest that the idea of equality is still largely a matter of institutions publishing empty statements outlining their commitments to the promotion of equal opportunities, diversity, and social inclusion, it is still largely true that there are no acceptable minimum standards of what should constitute measurable equality in practice.
It seems that large sections of the British public are eager to accept that there may be a connection between the lack of presence of disabled or non-white artists in major cultural venues and prejudices among the elite of the arts professions. Nonetheless, this same public is less inclined to defend its own right of access, when for example, Gurpreet Kaur Bhattis play Behzti, critical of her own religion, was suddenly made the cause of a potential public disorder by Bhattis co-religionists. This begs the question, what constitutes the secular public interest versus sectarian communal/private interests? Equality cannot be defended without addressing this faultline. Its clear that arriving at such an understanding is always going to be very difficult.
As far as one can gauge from opinions in the popular press, admittedly not a reliable source, the British public is all in support of an egalitarian society and often blames its politicians for their less than honest defence of it. If so, what is difficult to gauge is whether the public is reconciling itself fast, or well enough, to the underlying logic of equality, especially that aspect that seeks to address racial discrimination. For, in the final analysis, this is the central issue at the heart of multiculturalism, which is the most controversial among all the headings that now frame equality in the British context. There is a general appearance of belief that the only way to address racial discrimination is to encourage the non-white orders to pursue their own whims as long as they are not an economic bother to anyone. By encouraging such beliefs, even if unintentionally, bureaucrats have become complicit in promoting a kind of sectarianism. This unfortunate reality is high among the reasons for recalling the work of Brian Barry.
It is not only that Barry goes further than most other intellectuals or recent writers on equality, but that he instructively historicises the idea of equality, while also showing how constructive changes were achieved. Barrys argument is always that any claim for equality ought not to ignore universal principles, not least those that have framed the incomplete meaning of citizenship in liberal democracy. In this sense Barry should be to Britain what Habermas is to Germany. The neglect of Barrys work by politicians, bureaucrats and anti-racists in the UK is a sign of an impoverished public discourse, and, perhaps too, a sign of the rather brittle nature of the British status quo.
A passage in Why Social Justice Matters (2005)1 reads:
In every society, the prevailing belief system has been largely created by those with the most power typically elderly males belonging to the majority ethnic and religious groups, who also run the dominant institutions of the society. It is notable, for example, that almost all religions rationalize a subordinate position for women and explain that inequalities of fortune are to be accepted as part of Gods great (if mysterious) plan. Although those who lose out may not fully accept these ideas, because they too obviously conflict with their own experience, few societies in history have ever offered a fully articulated alternative belief system. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries produced two important bases for a systematic critique of the status quo (p.27).
Exploring equality through the existing condition of social justice or the field of culture thus raises the question of the ambition of the state and ability of politicians to confront the forces that threaten our understanding of the public good. In this connection, one can talk of a hierarchy of need if genuine equality is to be achieved. The first need is the protection of social democracy, with all its inbuilt mechanisms for safeguarding the common good. As Barry argues:
Social democracy...challenges the assumption that whatever distribution of opportunities and resources arises within a framework of liberal rights is necessarily just and its implications that any departure from the inequalities thus generated must depend on the good will of the beneficiaries. One way in which social justice can be seen as an extension of liberal justice is quite simple. Liberal justice rests on the presupposition that all citizens are equal before the law (Why Social Justice Matters, p.25).
Barry saw clearly, and often demonstrated, that the language of equality as employed in the UK since 1999 is used to justify the erosion of the same principles of equality which are enshrined in the original mandate of public institutions to promote the common good. Any idea of individual responsibility or self-empowerment was for him both vacuous and meaningless given that the real danger to equality lies in the obsequiousness of politicians in government to ideology that only erodes the powers of the State as a moral arbiter. Barrys thinking and exposition are built around the vision of the State as an expression of authority capable of promoting and defending an un-fragmented form of public well-being. This is what is expressed in Culture and Equality (2001) and Why Social Justice Matters (2005), which were his last two books. For example, in one of the chapters in the former book, appropriately titled The Strategy of Privatization, Barry confronts the dogma of multiculturalism and identity politics by highlighting how the promotion of difference has also become a technique for achieving market secularisation on one hand and deepening social sectarianism on the other hand. He writes:
The fact of difference is universal and so is its social recognition. As far as that goes, there is nothing different about contemporary western societies. What is, however, true is that in these societies, differentiation tends to be more complex and to have a larger optional components than is characteristic of traditional societies. The whole concept of a lifestyle, as something that can be deliberately adopted and may demand some sort of recognition from others is indicative of a society in which the consumer ethic has spread beyond its original home.2 (p.19). Elsewhere in the same chapter, Barry also writes that:
...the politics of difference is a formula for manufacturing conflict, because it rewards the groups that can most effectively mobilize to make claims on the polity, or at any rate it rewards ethnocultural political entrepreneurs who can exploit its potential for their own ends by mobilizing a constituency around a set of sectional demands (p.21).
In Why Social Justice Matters, Barry offers an empirical analysis of how market secularism and the ideology behind it have become a source of embarrassment to governments all over the world, and especially to mature democracies such as the UK under New Labour or the US, irrespective of which of the two dominant parties is in power in these countries. Here Barry sees the gradual substitution of any idea of social justice through the workings of causal chains which run back into and from the basic structures of society.
It is worth restating that Barrys concern is always about the first principles. What is absent in his writings on equality is a reflection on the persistence of blood theory when it comes to citizenship is many Western societies that officially subscribe to universal principles. There is scope for dealing with the ambiguities of theory and legal citizenship within the various frameworks proposed by Barry, nonetheless a greater acknowledgment of the existence of the predicament would have been in order. In some ways this is the terrain which other philosophers, such as Georgio Agamben, have explored in looking back upon the historic, and now extreme, separation of the rights of man from the rights of the citizen.
While the UK has a progressive legal attitude to citizenship, which is understood to date back to the judgement in 1772 by Lord Justice Mansfield in the James Somerset Case, it is still the case that the idea of a multi-racial society may still be regarded with suspicion or cynical ambivalence. The intellectuals of multiculturalism have always drawn their ammunition from the prevalence of such cynicism. As far as the UK goes, the combative self-righteousness of multiculturalists in this country is of course to be derided for what it is blindness to the connection between reformation of citizenship and the haunting legacy of imperialism and empire. In any critical debate on culture, one must never ignore that there are three constellations worth considering: history, economics, and culture. Multiculturalists, however, tend to believe that only history and culture matter.
The absence of a more economic approach to the issues of racism is a great weakness (which the far right easily exploits) and must reflect the entrepreneurial basis of a great many immigrant communities in Britain. How else are we to explain why the evidence often relied upon by multiculturalists is based on dubious anthropology? The more they rely on such evidence, the more they segregate their so-called public the non-white immigrants from citizenship. There are too numerous examples of how the multiculturalists have become tongue-tied on genuine issues of equality affecting the non-white immigrants in todays Britain. Every episode merely reinforces the obvious that it is impossible to defend any form of sectarian rights when there is a genuine threat to progressive politics.
Barry was an admirer of George Orwell. It is therefore a fitting tribute to him to conclude here with Orwells withering attack on the liberals of the 1930s, written in 1939. It fits remarkably well with paradoxes of multicultural politics today, a political form more concerned with upward mobility than equality, and therefore increasingly difficult to disentangle from the arguments of the far right.
In a prosperous country, above all in an imperialist country, left-wing politics are always partly humbug. There can be no real reconstruction that would not lead to at least a temporary drop in the English standard of life, which is another way of saying that the majority of leftwing politicians and publicists are people who earn their living by demanding something that they dont genuinely want. They are red-hot revolutionaries as long as all goes well, but every real emergency reveals instantly that they are shamming. One threat to the Suez Canal and anti-Fascism and defence of British interests are discovered to be identical.3
1. Why Social Justice Matters, Brian Barry (2005) Polity Press.
2. Culture and Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism, Brian Barry (2001), Polity Press.
3. See, George Orwell (1939) Not Counting Niggers, Accessed April 2010, http://www.orwell.ru/library/articles/niggers/english/e_ncn
Ragip Zarakolu, owner and director of Belge publishing house, was the recipient of Turkeys Journalists Societys Press Freedom Prize in 2007, alongside the late Hrant Dink and Gülcin Cayligil. He also received the International Publishers Associations 2008 Freedom to Publish Prize for his exemplary courage in upholding freedom to publish, and has been the recipient of other awards such as the NOVIB/PEN 2003 Free Expression Award. In 2007, Ragip also participated in the 7th Biennial Meeting of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), hosted by the University of Sarajevos Institute for Research into Crimes against Humanity and International Law and received the IAGS Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Battle against Deniers of the Armenian Genocide and All Denials of Genocides.
Ragip and Belge publishing (belge meaning documents) have been subject to targeting in ongoing court cases in Turkey that clearly breach internationally recognised rights of free expression. In November 2009, for example, Ragip and writer N. Mehmet Güler, as defendants, were absurdly facing prison sentences based upon the dialogue of a character in a novel. Publisher Ragip Zarakolu stated in ... [the 19 November 2009] hearing: As the chairman of the Committee of Freedom of Expression and Publishing and as a publisher, I cannot do censorship. Zarakolu is [being] tried ... because of the book Decisions Tougher than Death (Ölümden Zor Kararlar) published by Belge Publishing in March  ... [The] defendants are facing prison sentences based on article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMY) because characters of the book are called Sıti, Sabri and iyar. Zarakolu has been chairman of the Turkey Publishers Association (TYB) Committee for Freedom of Publishing for 15 years. He stated: The novel plays in [a] historical period Turkey lived through. There are similar examples in world literature. Ernest Hemingways For Whom the Bell Tolls, for instance, deals with the Spanish civil war ... ... President Judge Zafer Bakurt reviewed the file and decided to postpone the case till 25th March 2010. Zarakolu stated that the pressure has come as far as prosecuting the heroes of a novel. ... Istanbul Public Prosecutor Hikmet Usta based his indictment of 22 May on dialogue in the novel (BIA, Erol Önderoglu, 20 November 2009).
As Vercihan Zifliolu noted in a 9th December 2009 article entitled Fictional characters from book on trial in Turkey: Fictional characters are being put on trial again in Turkey. Ölümden Zor Kararlar (Decisions Tougher than Death), a novel by N. Mehmet Güler that was published through Belge International Publishing last March, has become the focus of a criminal case ... Author Güler and publisher Zarakolu are standing trial at the Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes. The novel was added to the list of banned books in June and copies have been recalled from the market Many writers and translators have been put on trial in recent years under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The first example of imaginary characters standing trial occurred with Elif afaks novel, The Bastard of Istanbul. afak stood trial for insulting Turkishness through an Armenian character in her novel and was acquitted ... The trial turned out to be like a present for my 40th anniversary in journalism, said Zarakolu, who is a found[ing member] of a human rights association and won many national and international prizes for journalism. Over 50 cases have been opened against me..., he said. Should the writer be free in his thoughts or should he serve the principles of the state and militarism? He compared current conditions to living in the era of Sultan Abduülhamit and noted that the oppressor mentality must be overcome ....
Previously, cases were initiated against Ragip and Belge for publishing Professor Dora Sakayans Garabed Hacheryans Izmir Journal: An Armenian Doctors Experiences and George Jerjians The truth will set us free/Armenians and Turks Reconciled. As Bjorn Smith-Simonsen, Chairman of the IPA Freedom to Publish Committee, had observed at the time: Ragip Zarakolu has been subjected to a series of long, time-consuming and expensive court hearings ... The conduct of the trial in itself has begun to take the form of harassment and punishment against the defendant for daring to produce works that touch on sensitive issues (IPA/IFEX, 14 December 2007).
As BIA News noted in 2002, whole print-runs of dozens of books at Belge had previously been confiscated and in 1995 the offices of publishing house Belge, run by Ragip and the late Ayse Zarakolu, were fire-bombed: Run from a basement in Istanbul, Belge published pioneering books acknowledging the Kurds very existence and historical works on the atrocities in the early years of the twentieth century against the Ottoman Empires large Armenian minority Armenians and on the Greeks ... The publication in the early 1990s of the poems of Medhi Zana in Kurdish was enough to bring charges of separatist propaganda under the draconian anti-terrorism law. In 1997, [Belge] published in Turkish Wie teuer ist die Freiheit? (Whats the cost of freedom?), a collection of articles and reports by German journalist Lissy Schmidt, who had been killed three years earlier on assignment in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The book was banned and confiscated by the government, while [Ayse] Zarakolu and the books two translators were sent for trial ...
In 1977, [the late Ayse] and Ragip set up Belge with the mission of striking down taboos and investigating the rights of minorities ... In 1990, [Belge] published a work by Ismail Besikci, a sociologist who was the first academic to work on ... the Kurdish question and about the Kurdish people in Turkey and who was imprisoned for 15 years for his books. [Ayse] Zarakolu became the first publisher imprisoned under Turkeys 1991 anti-terror law when she was jailed for five months for printing another book by Besikci in 1993. I am here today since thought has been deemed a crime, indeed a terrorist crime, she wrote from her prison cell. Like writers, publishers are also preparing their suitcases not for new studies and works but for prison ... As long as people cannot express their identities and their views, they are not really free, she wrote just before her arrest in 1994. We believe in what we are doing. Despite fines and possible future prison sentences, we at Belge will continue to give suppressed voices a chance to be heard. If we persist, we will win.
Belge has also faced court cases for publishing Vahakn Dadrians Genocide as a Problem of National and International Law. Other published books have included: Migirdich Armens Heghnars Fountain; Franz Werfels Forty Days in Musa Dagh; Tessa Hoffmans Talaat Pasha Trials in Berlin; David Gaunts Massacres, Resistance, Protectors (Katliamlar, Direni, Koruyucular) about the Assyrian Genocide (in Turkish); Avetis Ahoranians The Fedayees; Peter Balakians Black Dog of Fate and the Turkish translation of Ambassador Morgenthaus Story. A book on the history of the Turkish Communist Party, published in 1982, was banned and later burned by the generals as a threat to social order and Ragips wife was brought to trial (BBC News, 12 April 2008). Targeting has taken on many forms: Ayse was denied a passport between 1993 and 1998 (it was returned the day after she had been due to fly to Germany to pick up an award at the Frankfurt Book Fair) (Bianet, 15 February 2002). Ragip was banned from travelling outside the country between 1971 and 1991 (Kemal Ozmen, Bianet, 18 January 2005).
As Jean Rafferty has noted with concern: Ragip Zarakolu has spent a total of two years in prison, some of it in isolation. His publishing house has been firebombed; he has had constant financial struggles, but still he carries on, not just writing his own articles but publishing [via Belge] and distributing radical literature by others In 1977, he and his wife Ayse set up a publishing house to print the works of independent thinkers. Their range included classic political theorists such as Tom Paine and John Stuart Mill In the 1980s, after the military coup by General Kenan Evren, the couple began publishing a series of works by people who had been in prison. They were writing their poetry on little pieces of paper, which they sent secretly, sewn into shirts and other things. Nearly half a million were imprisoned in five years. A generation of university students stayed there a long time. With my wife, we thought it was very important to get their voices to the outside. The military authorities thought all the younger generation were terrorists but we wanted to show their culture. We published poetry, novels, stories, reportage. Some of them won awards. And some of them were sentenced to death Ragip Zarakolu and his wife were watched the whole time, their phones tapped. Many other publishers were unable to take the pressure. They themselves closed their own publishing houses and bookshops. Some even burnt books in their own homes. But Ragip and Ayse continued to publish. He was arrested in 1982; she was arrested in 1984. She was tortured ... Ayse was a remarkable woman who was tried many times and who won many humanitarian awards in her lifetime. In 1984, she was arrested because she had given a job to a student who was wanted by the police. They tortured her to find out where he was. She refused to tell them ... She was a very courageous woman, says Ragip. She always succeeded not to go into depression or helplessness. She felt good because she could do something against power. She felt solidarity with people suffering The Kurdish question otherwise known as the genocide of ... Kurds is one of the most contentious issues in Turkey today. Both Zarakolus had spoken out openly about it and about the genocide of a million Armenians from 1915 till the establishment of the Turkish state in 1923 (Jean Rafferty, Norsk PEN Accessed at: http://www.norskpen.no/pen/Zarakkolu2.html). In 2004, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey ... for convicting publisher Ayse Nur Zarakolu for publishing a book about the murder of journalist Ferhat Tepe (Reporters Without Borders, 19 August 2007).
English PEN has confirmed that a trial against Ragip and Belge opened on 24 September 2003 under article 312 of the Penal Code for publication of the book 12 Eylul Rejimi Yargilaniyor (The Regime of 12 September on Trial), edited by Dr Gazi Çaglar. [It was] said to have referred to the activities of the Turkish forces in South Eastern Turkey as organised genocide (English PEN). Owen Bowcott (The Guardian, 13 April 2002) also noted the way in which Ayse Zarakolu was being targeted by the state even after she passed away: Two weeks after the death of this internationally renowned publisher, a letter arrived from No 1 state security court, ordering her to appear at 9am on March 21. We have opened a case against you, in absentia, the summons warned. If you do not come, you will be arrested. After her son was arrested for his funeral oration, the trial date arrived. The lawyers assumed their positions and proceedings began. It was like something out of the pages of Kafka, says her widower, Ragip Zarakolu. Everybody was there: the prosecutor, advocate, judges, correspondents, friends. Only the place of the accused was empty ... Zarakolus alleged crime involved publication of a work entitled The Song Of Liberty by Huseyin Turhali, an exiled Kurdish lawyer. She is also being summonsed from her grave to answer charges that she published The Culture Of Pontus, an anthropological study by Omer Assan examining the ancient Greek heritage of the region around Trabzon on the Black Sea ....
A joint June 2008 statement by International PEN Writers in Prison Committee and the International Publishers Association confirmed, after another trial that Ragip Zarakolu and Belge faced, that: Observers believe that Zarakolu is being singled out by the more conservative elements of the judiciary because of his decades of struggle for freedom of expression, and particularly his promotion of minority rights. Throughout his life, Ragıp Zarakolu has been subjected to a series of long, time-consuming and expensive court hearings. The conduct of the trial in itself took the form of harassment and punishment against the defendant for daring to produce works, which touch on sensitive issues such as the Armenian question, Kurdish and minority rights. The condemnation of Ragıp Zarakolu shows that the recent cosmetic change to Article 301 TPC was not enough to put an end to freedom of expression trials in Turkey. Turkish legislation ... must be amended or repealed to meet international standards, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Ragips 2008 acceptance speech for the IPA Freedom to Publish award noted the following: A deeply militarist mindset lays deep roots ... Unfortunately, since September 11, 2001, national security state anti-terror laws have been given even more power in Turkey indeed, in many countries to restrict freedom of expression. Our publishing house, Belge International Publishing, was targeted under anti-terror laws when we published books about the Kurdish Question and the Armenian genocide. Books that critiqued state terror and condemned terrorism were accused under anti-terror law. The Erdoan government reformed the anti-terror law in 2004, deleting a clause that controlled the opposition press. But in 2006 the National Security Council demanded that the clause be restored in a stricter form. Now the Kurdish and opposition publications may be silenced for a year waiting for trials to begin. Their defence lawyers rights are restricted. Jailed journalists are sent to special isolation prisons where they have fewer rights than ordinary criminals ....
The Friends of Belge Initiative
One of the aims of Friends of Belge is to raise a solidarity fund to support Belge as it continues to be targeted in the ways outlined above. As Ara Sarafian observed in 2009, Mr. Zarakolu of Belge Press, amongst other things, has been persecuted by the state for his involvement with the Armenian issue. Zarakolu is now facing considerable difficulties because of the cost of remaining active in Turkey. When you are prosecuted, your offices bombed, your books banned, or bookstore owners discouraged from carrying your books, there are inevitable consequences. Zarakolu needs financial support to remain afloat (Vincent Lima, Armenian Reporter, 1 July 2009). Bjorn Smith-Simonsen, Chairman of the IPA Freedom to Publish Committee, further confirms that Ragip Zarakolu has been subjected to a series of long, time-consuming and expensive court hearings. [One] case was postponed at least seven times since the first hearing in March 2005 (IPA/IFEX, 14 December 2007). In April 2008, four members of the European Parliament Mrs Koppa, Mr Toubon, Mr Gaubert and Mr Kasoulides sent a letter to the Turkish Minister of Justice, Mr Sahin, in order to inform him of the Unions concern about the trial developments facing Ragip Zarakolu and Belge Press. The MEPs mention[ed] that the long, costly and morally exhausting trial he faced came from judicial relentlessness. They were also worried about Mr Zarakolus physical security regarding nationalistic renewal in Turkey, especially revealed by the murder of Hrant Dink and the revelations referring to the criminal organization Ergenekon. The MEPs ask[ed] Mr Sahin to abrogate without any delay the 301 article and similar clauses of the Turkish Penal Code and other legislative and statutory texts which are effective in Turkey. They also ask[ed] for the cessation of iniquitous prosecutions [against Mr Zarakolu] (European Armenian Federation, 20 April 2008).
As Friends of Belge, we aim to provide whatever international solidarity and financial and moral support we can offer Ragip Zarakolu and Belge Press. Friends of Belge will issue regular press releases and e-bulletins to members alerting friends, concerned members of the public, human rights and freedom of expression campaigners, organisations, MPs and MEPs about the ongoing nature of court cases against Belge and other publishers in Turkey facing similar problems. We invite you to become a Friend of Belge by emailing us and informing us of your interest in becoming a member. There is no fee for membership. If you are able to contribute in any financial manner towards the solidarity fund, please contact us to do so all proceeds go to supporting Belge Press. No sums of money are diverted in any manner towards those running Friends of Belge.
For any further information, or to request becoming a Friend and/or to receive free e-mail updates, please contact us at: email@example.com or via Friends of Belge Publishing, 7 Nant Ffynnon, Nant Peris, Gwynedd, LL55 4UG.
We hope you will join and support us in this initiative.
Friends of Belge : Patrons Professor Noam Chomsky and Rosie Malek-Yonan
UPDATE: On 10th June 2010, whilst the court acquitted Ragip Zarakolu, Mehmet Güler was scandalously convicted and sentenced to imprisonment of one year and three months according to article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law "because of the fictional characters of the novel named Siti, Sabri and Şiyar ... After the court session, Güler [said]: 'We all see to what extent trials in Turkey are deteriorating. The government, talking about opening and high standard democracy, went as far as prosecuting and punishing fantasy and imagination' (BIA News, 11 June 2010)." For Bjorn Smith-Simonsen, Chair of IPA's Freedom to Publish Committee: "Through convicting N. Mehmet Güler to a prison sentence of 15 months, Turkey is in breach of its international obligations under Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union ... International PEN calls for writer Güler to be acquitted on appeal". Eugene Schoulgin, International Secretary of PEN International emphasised that "it is not only the big names attracting media attention like Elif Shafak or Orhan Pamuk, who need acquittal. The lesser-known names need acquittals too, in those freedom of expression trials. PEN International therefore joins IPA in calling for the acquittal of N. Mehmet Güler on appeal (IPA/WiPC/IFEX, 10 June 2010)." _________________________________________________
Comic & Zine reviews
When I first visited New York in the mid-1980s the Lower East Side (LES) seemed to be sporadically dotted with small street-level windows full of photos, prints, drawings, and other interesting objects. These ad hoc displays looked intriguing but it was hard to tell if they were notice boards, entrances to galleries, shops and studios, or just the creatively decorated front window of someones apartment? Having read Clayton Pattersons Front Door Book, I discovered that the storefront at 161 Essex Street was at various times a gallery, shop, studio, workshop, community notice board, and home. For 30 years its been the headquarters of artist and activist Clayton Patterson, whos tirelessly documented his neighbourhood in photographs and on video. His 3? hour videotape of the 1988 Tompkins Square Park Riot led to as much controversy in New York as the 2009 capturing of Ian Tomlinson being attacked by riot officers in the City of London did in the UK. Clayton Pattersons front door photos were a long term collective portrait of his neighbourhood. From 1985 to 2002 each week he took hundreds of photographs of local residents in front of his graffiti encrusted front door, displaying a selection of them the next week on the constantly changing Hall of Fame notice board in the front window. This large format, full colour book reproduces 300 front door photos of families, workers, teens, courting couples, bowery bums, and kids who look far too young to be out on the street on their own. Patterson also managed to charm the local tough guys and bad boys into flashing smiles for his camera. Spanning a period during which the LES, once generally considered by outsiders as a drug- and crime-ridden no go area, had been cleaned up and succumbed to the pervasive forces of gentrification and hipsterization, skyrocketing rents mean that many of the predominantly Hispanic LES locals in Clayton Pattersons photos have been displaced forever. The photos are accompanied by Pattersons extensive reminiscences of 30 years as a socially engaged LES resident, of a 1980s career as a hat designer making distinctive baseball caps embroidered all over with vibrantly coloured urban tribal symbols, and curator of tattoo and outlaw/outsider art exhibitions, together with oral history recordings and interviews with local characters like graffiti artist LA2 (who was Keith Harings mentor and collaborator for a significant period of Harings brief career and has largely gone unrecognised and unaccredited). Clayton Pattersons Front Door Book is a rare gem of a book, crammed with a wealth of information and seldom heard voices.
Robert Delford Brown (RDB) was another maverick New York artist, his provocative 1960/70s works received widespread attention at the time but have been largely forgotten since. After not selling any work from his first gallery show in 1952 he torched the lot, then hung out with painter Ed Moses and curator Walter Hopps in LA. RDB moved to New York in 1959 just as several major art movements were starting to emerge. He seems to have participated in almost every aspect of the avant-garde scene and somehow upset many of the other participants by always pushing the limits and being a little bit too extreme and out there. The scope of his work included pop art, assemblage, conceptualism, happenings, performance, fluxus, mailart, installations, appropriation, readymades and artists books. Robert Delford Brown: Meat, Maps & Militant Metaphysics is an affectionately compiled 156 page scrapbook of RDBs reminiscences, photos, articles from several notable critics, extracts from his books, press clippings and other ephemera, meticulously assembled by Mark Bloch shortly before Robert Delford Brown died in March 2009. Just a few examples illustrate how prescient RDBs work was: The Meat Show (1964) was an installation of 6,000lbs of raw meat hung against yards of sheer white fabric in a walk-in refrigerated locker, giving the effect of a butchers boudoir, admission was 75 cents and the 3 day show received international press coverage. Ideal Self Portrait (1966) was a reconstructed portrait of the artist made by a professional photo retoucher who worked from a mangled passport photo of RDB. His tinted photographs series (1965-72) were laboriously hand tinted large scale photo enlargements of Victorian pornography and photos from medical text books intended to be more shocking than Warhols Death and Disaster paintings. The First National Church Of Exquisite Panic Inc., legally founded in 1968, was his very own whatever the heck I want it to be fake religion which issued numerous goofy manifestos and doctrines and appointed its own saints. More recently he organised the collaborative collage events Sacred Action Glueings. Robert Delford Brown was too much of an iconoclast to be part of anyone elses scene or movement, he was his own happening.
Graffiti on subway cars crosses the city once or twice before being buffed off with acid and high pressure water jets. Freight train graffiti can travel across a whole continent, coast-to-coast for years, slowly being eroded by the sun and rain. Mostly True is a compendium of railroad graffiti, hobo culture and trainhopping lore, a retro-styled miscellany of over 50 years of writings, press clippings, interviews and photos, looking at traditional odd-jobbing migrant hobos and their modern day eco-punk counterparts, railwaymen who use chalk or paintsticks to embellish hundreds of wagons a day with their quickly executed flowing sketches and pseudonymous tags, aerosol brandishing upstarts, and contemporary street artists exploring the heritage and predecessors of their mark-making activities. Mostly True explores the multiple layers of freight train graffiti, which is complicated and enriched by successive generations of moniker-mongers with pennames being bequeathed and borrowed, infamous graffiti tags being re-drawn, imitated and adapted. Theres a photo album of train tagging by San Francisco artists Barry McGee and the late Margaret Kilgallen, who subtly blended their street tagging and painting styles with traditional freight train graffiti formats, plus an interview with railwayman Buz Blurr (a.k.a. Colossus of Roads) who has for 35 years sent his drawings travelling simultaneously via the railway and international postal art networks. The romance of freight train tagging and mysterious identities of some adherents is clearly what attracted Bill Daniel to the subject. Hes accumulated a wealth of source material over 25 years of research and by juxtaposing the old and new, genuine and fake materials with no clear distinction hes careful to leave some of the mystique intact for readers of this book, as it says on the cover: Mostly True.
There seems to be a new wave of printers and publishers in the London getting their inky hands on stencil printers recently Ive picked up copies of The Incidental, a daily newsletter produced during the London Design Festival, and a booklet accompanying the History Of Irritated Material Exhibition at Raven Row which were both printed using this method. Digital Stencil Printers are low-cost, good quality, high-speed, eco-friendly printers. Theyre easy to use and are particularly suited to print runs of 100-1,000. Theyre the modern descendents of the duplicators and mimeograph machines made by Roneo and Gestetner. They look like photocopiers, but inside the greige plastic exterior is a drum of liquid ink and mechanism which automatically cuts a plastic stencil and wraps it round the drum. Japanese company Riso is the market leader with their range of Risograph machines in recent years the print quality has improved substantially and range of suitable papers has increased. Knust Stencildruk in Nijmegen, Netherlands, have been the acknowledged masters of stencil printing since the 1990s. Ive printed a couple of my own books there, but for some reason Stencil Printers have taken a while to catch on in the UK. Digital Stencil Printers are relatively affordable making it possible to own the means of production. South London-based anarchists Shortfuse Press, with links to the long running 56a Infoshop, recently printed Everyone to the Streets, a booklet of texts and communiqués from the 2008 Greek Uprising. Theyve have had their Risograph for a couple of years and its great to see that theyve recently been joined by two East London groups with stencil printers Ditto Press in Dalston and Landfill/Manymono in Hackney both seem to be focused on the art, design and illustration side of things. They both offer printing services and also sell their own publications and prints. Theres been a significant increase in small press and self-publishing activity in the UK over the last 3-to-4 years, digital Stencil Printers are ideally suited to producing this type of material and Im excited to see a new wave of small print shops appearing. Ive enjoyed travelling to the Netherlands and staying to make books but the thought of being able to walk 15 minutes up the road in east London and do a small print job in an afternoon looks very attractive...
Londons first Barterama, the printed matter swap fair was a one day event that took place as part of the 2009 Radical Nature exhibition at the Barbican. I wanted to take part, but for someone who for over 15 years has made their living, in part, from selling things at bookfairs this was going to be a challenge! At bookfairs theres always a small amount of trading between stallholders, which is part of the atmosphere, but compulsory bartering with anyone and everyone was going to be interesting. I packed an assortment of books, zines and badges plus a few things I just wanted to get rid of, but left the silkscreened limited edition £65 books at home. I didnt want to come back with a big pile of junk that Id swapped for just out of politeness, so decided to mainly swap for books that I knew Id read. There were about 18 stalls in the luscious tropical Barbican Conservatory, the only bookfair Ive been to where there was a risk of getting parrot droppings on your books! There were plenty of graphic designers alongside donations from the Barbican Library and several publishers and bookshops whod had stock cupboard clearouts. It looked like a jumble sale had collided with a bookfair, with old and new books, treasure and trash all mixed up together. The selection of stalls was enlivened by the late arrival of illustrator Jane Smith who brought along a selection of old board games, brightly coloured paper ephemera and collectible Barack Obama election campaign memorabilia. Through the day different trading strategies and tactics emerged, ranging from the equitable One of mine for one of yours?, the economic value based This is worth £10, whatve you got thats worth £10, the cheeky Can I swap this book I just got at the stall over there and arent really interesting in for something much better off your table?, and the desperate Please just take some of these things away! Some of most interesting exchanges were with visitors who didnt really know what to expect but had entered into the spirit of things by grabbing a few unwanted items off their bookshelves: Yes Ill trade for the book you self-published about drawing, No I really do not want to swap for a set of The Clash cocktail coasters!, Well if you really havent got anything at all to trade with, how about a black coffee from the cafe? For those with long memories its ironic that this small attempt at establishing an alternative economy took place in the shadow of the Barbican Business Schools former location. Barterama was one of the most unique and enjoyable events of last year and has also importantly created a useful template which can be used for future exchange only events.
Village Pub Cinema by Henry Ireland is a tiny, rough-as-nails lino print book which tells a charming one sheet of paper one sentence story, and uses the foldout centrespread for a clever cinematic reveal. It looks like he was in such a hurry to make the book that he ripped up a kitchen floor tile, carved the images and text with a bread knife, and then printed it with axle grease! I may have over emphasized slightly. Hes definitely been along to the art supplies shop and he probably knows who Frans Masereel is. What drew me to this book is the rawness and sense of urgency it conveys, reminiscent of Billy Childishs early books and prints.
Creed by Kris Skellorn shares the small format and rough edged black and white aesthetic of Village Pub Cinema. On a first glance at the cover stamped with a bold black cross I wrongly assumed that Creed was a product of the abstinent Straight Edge brand of Punk. Inside the creditcard-sized booklet Kris lists his personal system of beliefs and principles in seven sections: Truth, Passion, Knowledge, Honour, Vigilance, etc. Short succinct paragraphs, each accompanied with a single hand drawn graphic: Key, Pill, Book, Samurai Sword, Hourglass. It seems eminently reasonable in tone and manages to avoid preaching or bossiness, showing careful consideration by the author. Stating your creed seems a profoundly unfashionable thing to do these days, an outdated format a bit like publishing a handbook on manners and etiquette. But in an age of vacuous corporate Mission and Vision Statements it strikes me as quite a brave act to put yourself on the line in this way I wouldnt have the courage to do it. Clayton Patterson also includes his personal credo in Front Door Book. Hmm, maybe this is a new trend thats somehow passed me by and everyones doing it these days?
Book trade labels are the small printed labels which old booksellers used to stick inside the endpapers of books that passed through their hands. Fraser Muggeridge studio have published a small foldout poster that reproduces 80 vintage book trade labels, an instant collection of these small functional embellishments which neatly combine the booksellers address and decoration all the examples are shaped like open or closed books. Printed in an appropriately old fashioned black, red and navy blue colour scheme, its essential eye candy for image junkies, graphic design geeks and antiquarians alike.
Info & orders
Clayton Pattersons Front Door Book
Robert Delford Brown: Meat, Maps & Militant Metaphysics
Village Pub Cinema
Book Trade Labels From Around The World
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Tonight I will present a critique of the theory of precarious labor that has been developed by Italian autonomist Marxists, with particular reference to the work of Antonio Negri, Paolo Virno, and also Michael Hardt. I call it a theory because the views that Negri and others have articulated go beyond the description of changes in the organization of work that have taken place in the 1980s and 1990s in conjunction with the globalization process such as the precariazation of work, the fact that work relations are becoming more discontinuous, the introduction of flexy time, and the increasing fragmentation of the work experience. Their view on precarious labor present a whole perspective on what is capitalism and what is the nature of the struggle today. It is important to add that these are not simply the ideas of a few intellectuals, but theories that have circulated widely within the Italian movement for a number of years, and have recently become more influential also in the United States, and in this sense they have become more relevant to us.
Overidentification and/or bust?
In 1987, Laibach, the musical wing of the Slovenian art collective Neue Slowenische Kunst1 (New Slovenian Art, or NSK), released a reworked version of the Queen song One Vision. Whereas the original 1985 Queen song was inspired by the groups participation in Live Aid and espoused a seemingly somewhat vague leftist message of unity and world peace, it was vastly transformed in Laibachs reworking. While lyrics about there being one race, vision and solution might easily be passed over as innocuous or not even taken notice of in the context provided by a Queen performance, the lyrics submerged obscene meaning becomes readily apparent as it is translated into German and played along in a droning, militaristic style. Laibachs version of the song, far from being a cover or simple copy, through its transformation draws out and amplifies the grotesque parallels between the pleasures of pop culture and fascist modulation of crowd emotion through propaganda and epic scale theatricality.2 But why did Laibach do this; famous for always remaining in character, are they fascists or not? Laibachs performances (as well as the work of the rest of the projects within the NSK) are premised on undercutting straightforward distinctions through the use of totalitarian aesthetics and a bastardisation of nationalist themes. Laibach and the NSK operate by displaying the imagery, the codes of fascism and state power, pushing it to its limit, recombining it with other elements, other traditions, forging connections that expose the hidden reverse of a regime or ideology.3 Laibach are, and claim to be, fascists as much as Hitler was a painter.
This approach of adopting a set of ideas, images, or politics and attacking them, not by a direct, open or straightforward critique, but rather through a rabid and obscenely exaggerated adoption of them, can be referred to as overidentification. While the concept was developed within the theoretical armory of Structuralist (Lacanian) psychoanalysis (and later further developed by thinkers such as Slavoj Zizek and various cultural and political activists), it was the NSK Collective that, through their work, forged it into a tool of cultural subversion and sabotage to be deployed within the ideologically charged context of post-Tito Yugoslavia. In this article, we examine the formation of overidentification as a strategy of cultural-political intervention uniquely formed from this context. Is overidentification useful as a strategy of political intervention for an age marked by the presence of cynical distance within cultural and social spheres? Or have the various phases of political and economic transition that have occurred since Laibachs founding in the context of the Slovenian/ex-Yugoslavian punk movement rendered such methods of subversion and deconstruction ineffective? Or is it perhaps possible to refound a critical politics and strategy of intervention drawn from the work of Laibach and the NSK, transforming their methods and ideas to the conditions of the present?
The explanation is the whip and you bleed
Apologia Laibach (1987)
Since its inception, the NSK expanded to include other activities including philosophy, planning, architecture, and many other aspects that are part of its now proclaimed status as a global state in time. In addition to the collective development of shared themes, the various collectives composing NSK emphasise the collaborative nature of the project, not crediting individual members for aspects of the work and frequently changing the composition of the members involved in any given production. As a musical project, Laibach is mainly associated with forms of industrial music (as well as neoclassical and martial styles), evolving from a very harsh and abrasive sound during the early recordings through to one at times involving multiple layers of electronics, heavy metal, compositions arranged in the form of national anthems, and most recently interpreting a series of Bachs fugues. But Laibach, and the NSK more generally, have achieved prominence, notoriety, and infamy perhaps less so for their particular aesthetic as much as the historical meanings and recontextualisations of the various properties of state ideology used in their performances and productions. Laibach itself, for instance, is the German name still associated as the one used during the fascist occupation of Ljubljana.
The work of Laibach and the NSK frequently draws upon the aesthetics of totalitarian and nationalist movements, forging a kind of totalitarian kitsch4 by fusing together elements from varying and completely incongruent political philosophies. For instance, the NSK logo is a combination of Laibachs cross logo (borrowed from Russian supremacist artist Kasimir Malevich and used as its primary public reference point during the years when using the name Laibach was banned in Yugoslavia), John Heartfields anti-fascist axe swastika, an industrial cog, and a pair of antlers (with the base of the design featuring the names of the founding collectives). Even in this small example one can see an ambiguous and strange merging of elements; the way that the anti-fascist emblem becomes transformed within a composition where the relation of the elements to each other changes the meaning contained within each of them.
Laibach/NSKs usage of historical, political, and aesthetic readymades render audible their submerged and hidden codes and contexts that directed the modes of representation, or what Zizek refers to as the hidden underside of systems and regimes. This approach to the use of borrowed historical and political elements forms the basis of what Laibach/NSK refer to as retrogardism, or the formation of the monumental Retro-Avant-Garde.5 The basic idea of this being the non-repression of troubling or undesirable elements of historical and social regimes in their work. Rather than repressing them, they are highlighted, as they argue that the traumas affecting the present and the future can only be addressed by tracing them back to and through their sources, working through and processing them. As Alexei Monroe argues in his excellent analysis of their work, it is not an approach based on constructing a new future by negating the past (which in general is the usual relation to time found within avant-garde artistic practice), but rather retrogardism attempts to free the present and change the future via the reworking of past utopianisms and historical wounds.6 The impact and effect of Laibach/NSKs work is based on the effects produced by the disjunctive synthesis of troubling historical elements and the radical ambivalence contained within this.
As has been argued by Zizek and others, socialist democracy was sustained by a set of implicit (obscene) injunctions and prohibitions and a process of socialising people into taking certain explicitly expressed norms. Tactics of overidentification, as employed by Laibach and the NSK as well as more broadly within the Slovenia punk subculture of the 1980s that gave birth to the genre of state rock, or punk music incorporating elements of the discourse of self-managed socialism as critique through overidentification work precisely by taking the stated norms of a given system or arrangement of power more seriously than the system that proclaims them itself.7 This operation occurs not through addressing the law itself, per se, or by breaking prohibitions (a more straightforward form of transgression), but rather by teasing out the obscene subtext that underpins the operation of the law and supporting social norms. A strategy of overidentification in order to be effective needs to appear total, and through that it transcends and reactivates the terror of the social field the spectral menace of totality gives the phenomenon sufficient credibility to sow doubt and disquiet.8 And this is precisely how Laibach/NSKs works function, through giving an impression of totality (by claiming the status of the nation, or the state, or of being a global state in itself) in a manner that lends a degree of credibility to the menacing and disconcerting nature of their aesthetic production.
As Susan Buck-Morrs9 explores in her work on transitions within collective imaginaries, dreamworlds become dangerous when they are used instrumentally by structures of power, which is to say as legitimation devices and discourses. Buck-Morrs argues that socialism failed because it mimicked capitalism too faithfully. Laibach and the NSK operate by turning this process of mimicry against itself, disarticulating the potency of the dreamworld and utopian promise of Communism that had become embedded within a discourse of legitimation, mixed with the lingering presence of totalitarian and authoritarian elements. Indeed, it is often that the constituted forms of power existing with state structures are based upon the ability to draw from the energies and constituent power of social movements, of utopian dreamworlds, and render them into zombified forms of state.10 NSK/Laibachs interventions were so powerful within the Yugoslav context precisely because of how they amplified and made visible this process of rendering dreamworlds into discourses of state legitimation. The interventions disconcerting effects provided ways of working through both the continued presence of authoritarianism and utopian energies, revealing how they are enmeshed in the workings of existing social imaginaries and political discourses.
Laibachs work incorporates a good deal of official Yugoslav discourse on self-management and social democracy, using at times sections of Titos speeches and audio recordings, as well as particularly resonant forms of Slovenian history (such as the images and phrases of the anti-fascist partisans, which were quite important for the role they played in state legitimation). It is this reworking of Slovenian and Yugoslav history that invested their early works with such potency, through the way these familiar ideas were made strange and even uncomfortable to audiences through their compounding and juxtaposition with other elements (for instance by fusing them together with ultra-völkisch imagery and Germanic phrasing, which was taken to be anathema to nationalist groups). Laibachs response to this, particularly in relation to the continued controversy over its use of a name which was said to dishonor the hero city of Ljubljana, was to continue to adopt a stance of complete identification with Slovenia and Slovene identity, and thus to frame controversy and rejection of Laibach as the rejection of Slovenia itself. This created a form of ambivalent identification in which Laibach both bastardised (in their critics views) Slovene identity while at the same time engaging in a quite militant assertion of that very Slovene identity (at points even declaring the German to be a subset of the Slovene). Through the politics and practices of overidentification, Laibach and the NSK hint towards the possibility of breaking the very process of identification,11 and this is why they were so disconcerting for many political actors in Slovenia in the 1980s.
Laibach/NSKs politics and practices of overidentification are displayed in unique and quite fascinating ways in their organisational practices, or at least the claims they have made about them. This shows through in their alleged structure offered by the NSK organigram from 1986, which takes the logic of alternative forms of institutionalisation to an almost absurd extreme. In the organigram, at least ten different departments in addition to a number of assemblies, councils, and organs, are all paired with or ruled over by the statement of immanent consistent spirit that covers and directs all the activity of NSK. This claiming of and overidentification with overly complex, arcane, and nearly incomprehensible state-like structures was observed by the Rough Guide to Yugoslavia to bear a striking resemblance to the diagrams used within school textbooks to explains the countrys bafflingly complex political system and structures.12 It is through this that the spectral menace of totality is activated, for in the case of the NSK it clearly is spectral because the NSK is composed of many more organisational components than it has ever possessed as members. This becomes more so in the case of projects such as the State in Time, in which the claiming of a state structure existing purely in time is enacted through overidentification with the organisational form and structure of states. In all of Laibach and NSKs work there is never a clear-cut statement on organisation but rather an exploration of its ambivalences and possibilities; this is an approach that does not support a utopian or dystopian organisation, but the fantasies of audiences that need to imagine that such possibilities still exist.13
The first phase of Laibachs work is based around the usage and working through of elements and histories that are particularly resonant and provocative within a Yugoslav, and specifically Slovenian context, but often have little to no meaning outside of it. This perhaps comes to its highest point of concentration in the 1986 NSK joint production Krst pod Triglavorn (Baptism Under Triglav), which was a monumental drama roughly based around the history of the forced Christianisation of the Slovenes, interspersed in NSK fashion within many other layers of history and processed through the imagery of the avant-garde (for instance the recreation of Vladimir Tatlins proposed monument to the Third International as part of the set design). This production, which took place in a large state-sponsored theater, is interesting not just for the merits of its internal aesthetics, but also in how it illustrates the changing status of Laibach and the NSK within their social context (particularly given the greater importance of state-backing and commissions within socialist systems). That is to say that it marks the transition of Laibach/NSKs work from its emergence within alternative and subcultural milieus to an acceptance, even if tentative and grudging, by state authorities. It characterises what Monroe refers to as the Laibachization of Ljubljana14, or the process of confronting and reworking cultural boundaries and norms that occurred during the 1980s; from the point of the banning of Laibach appearing under its chosen name, to their international success with which Laibachs fanatical identification with Slovenia came to be realised in their being recognised as the most successful of Slovenia artists.
Laibachs rise to prominence in the international mass media occurred at a point in time where attempts were being made to shift the image of Yugoslavia closer to one of a western humanist democracy. Laibachs presentation of itself in terms of a cold neo-totalitarian front (although admittedly one that had softened its self-presentation somewhat from its earliest works, adopting more of a playful approach in some ways) functioned both to invoke forms of authoritarian legacies and images that the Yugoslav government wanted to reject, while at the same time becoming the most prominent and aggressive assertion of Yugoslav (and particularly Slovene) culture on a global stage (although the fusion of Germanic elements within Laibachs aesthetic meant that they were often taken to be German by casual music fans, even more so during the 1990s with the rising popularity of German industrial bands). Laibachs success showed that it was actively connected to the zeitgeist, but specifically to those subterranean, unforeseen elements repressed by mainstream consciousness,15 specifically the lingering presence of authoritarian, totalitarian, fascistic elements and militarism in the self-management system itself.
If the early phase of Laibachs work was oriented around interventions which drew heavily upon local histories and references that only resonated within that context, then it shifted to one much more oriented to broader audiences reaching beyond the local or regional context and operating within global cultural and imaginary flows. It is this logic that underlies Laibachs reinterpretation of the Queen song, as well as all the other covers and reinterpretations that Laibach have engaged in, such as their versions of the work of the Beatles (1989), Europe (1994), Opus (1987), and more recently Laibach, extending the global state in time project, have taken to reinterpreting the form of the national anthem itself (2006). In their reinterpretation and reworking of One Vision, Laibach are not attributing any particular political agenda to Queen per se, but, rather, are engaged in a process of amplifying the ambivalences and tensions that are already contained within Queens performance. It is not that Laibach brings a fascist aesthetic to bear on it, but that there is a similarity and underlying dynamic between totalitarian mass mobilisation and capitalist mass consumption. Laibach present this strangeness back to an audience as a reflection and fracturing of the structures and imaginaries through which that crowd has been constructed and constructs itself.
Laibachs reworking and transformation of other artists materials render it into, seemingly, almost totally different compositions in terms of their feel and nature through relatively minor changes in tone, orchestration, and lyrics. This approach is somewhat along the lines of what Deleuze and Guattari discuss as the formation of a minor literature16, one based not on the development of a new representative form of language but, rather, working within the existing major languages and turning them against themselves to create strange new forms. Laibach and the NSKs artistic productions, as they take part and intervene in the Yugoslav and regional social political context (and beyond that), create the basis for the formation of what could be described as a minor politics17 and the minor composition of social movement18. Laibachs reworking and fusing together of widely differing pre-given aesthetic and ideological elements, sources they treat as readymades be to transformed through recombination, can be understood as a particular form of what the Situtaionist International referred to as détournement. Détournement, or, literally translated, embezzling, involves the combination of pre-existing aesthetic elements and ideas. But while détournement has often been understood in a rather watered down way in terms of forms of culture jamming based on witty recombination and mixing of elements that work based on a fairly easily recuperable form of critique (for instance Adbusters), the work of Laibach and the NSK is much harder to make palatable. Most détournement-based culture jamming relies upon maintaining a kind of critical distance from the elements used, while Laibachs work functions through a total and fanatical identification with obscene subtexts of the elements they employ. In this sense, Laibach return to a much deeper sense of détournement as the fundamental questioning of worth and communicability in any system of meaning, and the developing of tactics for monkeywrenching the fundamental structures of the production of meaning. Laibachs amalgamations of ideas, images, and politics does not simply recombine them, but acts to transform the potential of the elements used to create meaning in relation to each other, and through that acts as a form of semiotic sabotage in the public sphere, at times critically damaging the ability of these symbols to operate.
Strategies of Overidentification
He who has material power, has spiritual power, and all art is subject to political manipulation, except that which speaks the language of this same manipulation.
But let us consider the role and practice of overidentification in a broader scope. Overidentification as a practice of political intervention might indeed function as the unifying nodal point of a Lacanian left20, if indeed such a thing actually existed.21 Since that period of Laibachs rise to international attention in the late 1980s, this approach to cultural intervention has been adopted more broadly within political organising, and can be identified in the activities of groups such as the Yes Men, Christoph Schlingensief, Reverend Billy, the Billionaires for Bush, and many others. The argument for such strategies is that in the current functioning of capitalism, the critical function of governance is to be more critical than the critics of governance itself. Functionaries in a system of power, by presenting themselves as their worst critic, thus deprive critique of its ammunition and substance, thereby turning the tables on it. This is to go beyond both the arguments put forward by Boltanski and Chiapello; that critique has been subsumed within capitalism22 and that, within autonomist politics, reactive forms of social resistance and insurgency still remain a driving motor of capitalist development. This hints at the possibility that strategies for the neutralisation of the energies of social insurgency are anticipated even before they emerge. It is in this context that a strategy of overidentification is argued to be of particular value, throwing a monkeywrench in the expected binaries of opposition and response.
The most worked-out conceptualisation of overidentification as a strategy of intervention has been articulated by BAVO, an independent research project focused on the political dimensions of art and architecture, primarily based on co-operation between Gideon Boie and Matthias Pauwels.23 Although their take on these matters is far ranging (as can be seen by the varied contributions they gathered together for their edited collection Cultural Activism Today), there are a few key points that illustrate well their take on overidentification. First, that we live in post-political times where it is possible for artists and political actors to say anything, but what is said does not matter. Today, it is argued, artists are expected, and even demanded, to play something of a critical function, as long as one does not go too far in that function. In other words, so far as to question the fundamental ideological co-ordinates underpinning social relations, as by doing so one is immediately disqualified as a legitimate discussion partner, treated like an incompetent, ignorant imbecile who stepped out of line and should better stick to his own field of experience.24 From this BAVO argue, following Karl Kraus, that when forced between two evils, one should take the worst option. That is, to abandon the role of pragmatic idealists and to work to force an arrangement of contradictions to their logical end. In their words:
Instead of fleeing from the suffocating closure of the system, one is now incited to fully immerse oneself in it, even contributing to the closure. To choose the worst option, in other words, means no longer trying to make the best of the current order, but precisely to make the worst of it, to turn it into the worst possible version of itself. It would thus entail a refusal of the current blackmail in which artists are offered all kinds of opportunities to make a difference, on the condition that they give up on their desire for radical change.25
BAVO adopts such an approach as they argue that other possible strategies, such as working on the grounds of marginal positions or creating forms of exodus, have already been anticipated and accommodated by systems of capitalist governance, and are therefore no longer useful as disruptive strategies.26 It is within this context that the work of groups such as the Yes Men becomes more interesting, precisely because, rather than putting forth forms of critique that can easily be brushed aside, their tactics of fanatically identifying with the neoliberal agenda thus pushes them further along to obscene yet logical developments of such ideologies. This is the stance Laibach and the NSK employed, one based not on critical distance but erasure of such distance. And it is through this erasure of distance that the Yes Mens opponents are thrown off guard, precisely because, as BAVO describe it, this form of intervention forces such opponents to betray their articles of faith and passionate attachment to a neoliberal agenda just as its obscene subtext is made clear, and thus makes it [in this case, the WTO] rather than its critics appear weak27.
BAVO summarise the most salient features of a strategy of overidentification as being based on these elements:
1. Owes its effectiveness to sabotaging dialectics of alarm and reassurance, drawing out the extreme and obscene subtext of a social system, eliminating the subjects reflex to make excuses for the current order to inventing new ways to manage it better.
2. Quickly shifts between different positions, overstating, mocking critique, and producing internal contradictions and points of tension that cannot hold together.
3. Sabotages easy interpretations of unproblematic identification either with or against the intervention, making it difficult to be recuperated in any direction.
4. Aimed precisely against the reflex to do the right thing.
5. Creates a suffocating closure within a system of meaning or relations, preventing escapes from the immanent laws and relations of that system.28
A strategy of overidentification thus provides one possible antidote to what Peter Sloterdijk refers to as cynical reason29, or a condition where people know that there is something fundamentally wrong but continue to act as if this is not the case. It is this cynical distance that Jeffrey Goldfarb diagnosed as so prevalent in the US, creating a sort of legitimation through disbelief,30 although one could easily argue that this is much more widespread and just the condition that a strategy of overidentification aims to address and intervene within. One can certainly contest the desirability and effectiveness of such an approach, and such strategies have and continue to create a great deal of debate within political, artistic, and academic circles. Nevertheless, even if the conclusion is eventually reached that such is not an acceptable choice of interventionist strategy in most cases, it nonetheless seems valuable to learn from, especially in making a transition out of a time frame or frame of mind that is paralysed to find any method of intervention because all strategies are already caught in varying webs of power and therefore argued to be compromised. A strategy of overidentification operates precisely by turning this already-caughtness into an advantage by deploying and redirecting energies of capture and constituted power against themselves.
Zizek, in an essay on Laibach and the NSK31, comments that the reactions of the left to them has first been to take their work as an ironic satire of totalitarian rituals, followed by an uneasy feeling based on not knowing whether they really mean it or not. This is usually followed by varying iterations along these lines, wondering if they really do mean it, or whether they overestimate the publics ability to interpret their multiple layers of allusion and reference and thus end up reinforcing totalitarian currents. For Zizek these are the wrong questions to ask and angle to take. Instead, it is a question of how Laibach and the NSK, as well a strategy of overidentification, more broadly intervene in a social context marked by cynical distance. From this perspective Zizek asks:
What if this distance, far from posing any threat to the system, designates the supreme form of conformism, since the normal function of the system requires cynical distance? In this sense the strategy of Laibach appears in a new light: it frustrates the system (the ruling ideology) precisely insofar as it is not its ironic imitation, but overidentification with it by bringing to light the obscene superego underside of the system, overidentification suspends its efficiency.32
But the question remains to what degree a strategy of overidentification is marked by the conditions that led to its emergence? If overidentification was effective in its ability to disrupt circuits of meaning and the social imaginary within a particular social and historical context, it does not necessarily follow that it will operate similarly in other, possibly significantly different situations. Might then a transition within the imaginary of a politics formed around aesthetic interventions premised upon overidentification be necessary? This is perhaps what one sees in the development of Laibachs work, which moves from operating as a disruptive mechanism in and against the Yugoslavian national imaginary during the 1980s, but then changes direction following the disintegration of the country. For instance, during the 1990s the NSK launched its State in Time project, where it claims to have created a global state and system of governance that is not based in physical space but only in time. This is at one and the same time a movement away from a strategy of disruption of one imaginary, towards a new form of imaginary disarticulation, and can in some ways be seen more to be based on a nostalgic identification with the state form that has been torn apart than an act of overidentification. In other words, it had become possible for Laibach and the NSK to mutate away from disarticulating the Yugoslav imaginary through overidentification and to begin a more positive assessment of the state dynamics it had fused itself too. This is perhaps not so surprising when one takes into account Sharon Zukins argument that it is only really possible to fully aestheticise a system or relations of production once it has passed its moment as the hegemonic form of production.33
The question of transition and intervention within the social imaginary is transformed if one engages an argument such as the one made by Guy Debord34, that rather than there existing a sharp and total distinction between Western capitalism and Communism in Eastern Europe, it was, instead, a question of the difference between the workings of a diffuse and a concentrated spectacle. In other words, not of totally different forms but rather of particular compositions of a similar underlying dynamic of power and exploitation. The question then becomes of how a strategy of overidentification either creates or restrains the possibility of intervening within the creation of collective imaginaries within the present. One can perhaps stumble towards the position that overidentification provides another tool in the conceptual toolbox for refounding and reformulating critique. It provides a possible answer to the dynamics analysed by Peter Starr in his exploration of the failed revolt in post-68 political thought.35 Starr argues that modern revolutionary thought is premised upon radical breaks and departures from the past, one that suppresses previous notions of return and reappearance of social forms. And it is this dynamic of reappearance that gives way to fanatical obsessions with a dynamics of recuperation, as they run counter to the narrative structure of revolutionary politics. Starr argues that the ultimate direction laid out in post-68 thought moves toward a notion of, impossible, total revolution, and thus, failing there, moves towards forms of cultural politics based on subtle subversion. A strategy of overidentification, as well as of the Retro-Avant-Garde, working through the remaining utopian energies and the traumas of the past rather than repressing them, opens up other avenues for reformulating critique and intervention. A strategy of overidentification enacts a transition away from considering the dynamics of recuperation as problems to be avoided, to considering them as possibilities to be exploited and worked through, in, and against; but only against by working in them rather than seeking escape by recourse to an unproblematic outside. It is at this juncture where the question of transition is transformed into one of composition and recomposition, working from within the disarticulation and re-articulation of collective imaginaries.
1. Laibach is a Slovenian avant-garde musical performance group that was founded in 1980. They were one of the founding members of Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) in 1984, along with IRWIN (painting) and Scipion Nasice Sisters Theater (subsequently changed their name to Noordung). Although this article focuses primarily on Laibachs work, motifs, ideas, and images are frequently shared, developed, and elaborated by the various branches of the NSK, whether independently or as part of joint ventures.
2. For a good analysis of fascist aesthetics in relation to the avant-garde, see: Hewitt, A. (1993) Fascist Modernism: Aesthetics, Politics, and the Avant-Garde. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
3. The NSK TIMES. The blog of NSKSTATE.COM
4. Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, (1984). Kundera wrote, Whenever a single political movement corners power we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch. For Kundera, Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.
5. For more on Laibach and NSKs work in relation to this history and development of the avant-garde, see: Djuric, D. and M. Suvakovic, Eds. (2003) Impossible Histories: Historical Avant-gardes, Neo-avant-gardes, and Post-avant-gardes in Yugoslavia, 1918-1991. Cambridge: MIT University Press; IRWIN, Eds. (2006) East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe. Cambridge: MIT University Press.; Badovinac, Zdenka, Ed. (1999) Body and the East: From the 1960s to Present. Cambridge: MIT University Press.
6. Monroe, A. (2005) Interrogation Machine: Laibach and the NSK. Cambridge: MIT Press. (p.120).
7. One can see a parallel between the development of state rock in Yugoslavia (bands such as O! Kult and Panktri) and developments in the British post-punk scene, such as Public Image Limited claiming to be a communications and production company, or artists moving towards an adoption and overidentification with yuppie aspirations as technique of critiquing them. A number of artists, particularly Joy Division, Human League, and Magazine, drew from state socialist and totalitarian imagery their work, employing a tactic creating ambivalent effects, although perhaps nowhere nearly as disconcerting at Laibach and the NSKs work. Reynolds, S. (2005) Rip It Up and Start Again. Post-punk 1978-1984. London: Faber and Faber.
8. Monroe, A. (2005) Interrogation Machine: Laibach and the NSK. Cambridge: MIT Press. (p.79).
9. Dreamworld and Catastrophe (MIT, 2000), Susan Buck-Morrs
10. Shukaitis, S. (2007) Plan 9 from the Capitalist Workplace: Insurgency, Originary Accumulation, Rupture (2007) Situations: A Project of the Radical Imagination Volume 2 Number 2: 95-116.
11. There is a wide-ranging field of literature on politics and practices of identification, identity, and the politics of organisation. For a good overview see Pullen, A. and S. Linstead, Eds. (2005) Organisation and Identity. London: Routledge. For an exploration of the politics of disidentities, see Harney, S. and N.Q. Nyathi (2007) Disidentity, Exploring Identity: Concepts and Methods. Ed. Alison Pullen, Nic Beach, and David Sims. London: Palgrave: 185-197.
12. Dunford, M., et al, Eds. (1990) Yugoslavia: The Rough Guide. London: Harrap Columbus. (p244)
13. Monroe, A. (2005) Interrogation Machine: Laibach and the NSK. Cambridge: MIT Press. (p113)
14. Ibid. (p155)
15. Ibid. (p75)
16. Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1986) Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
17. Thoburn, N. (2003) Deleuze, Marx, and Politics. London: Routledge.
18. Shukaitis, S. (2008) Dancing Amidst the Flames: Imagination and Self-Organization in a Minor Key Organization Volume 15 Number 5: 743-764.
19. Djuric, D. and M. Suvakovic, Eds. (2003) Impossible Histories: Historical Avant-gardes, Neo-avant-gardes, and Post-avant-gardes in Yugoslavia, 1918-1991. Cambridge: MIT University Press. (p574)
20. Stavrakakis, Y. (2007) The Lacanian Left: Psychoanalysis, Theory, Politics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
21. Cederström, C. (2007) The Lacanian Left Does Not Exist, ephemera: theory & politics in organization 7(4): 609-614.
22. Boltanski, Luc and Eve Chiapello (2005) The New Spirit of Capitalism. Trans. Gregory Elliot. London: Verso.
23. For more information on BAVO, see http://www.bavo.biz.
24. BAVO, Gideon Boie, Matthias Pauwels. Eds. (2007) Cultural Activism Today. The Art of Over-Identification. Rotterdam: Episode Publishers. (p19)
25. Ibid. (p28)
26. Ibid. (p29)
27. Ibid. (p30)
28. Ibid. (pp32-37)
29. Sloterdijk, P. (1998) Critique of Cynical Reason. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
30. Goldfarb, J. (1991) The Cynical Society: The Culture of Politics and the Politics of Culture in American Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
31. Zizek has taken a keen interest in the activities of Laibach/NSK writing several papers, including: Why Laibach and NSK are not Fascists? and The Enlightenment in Laibach.
32. Zizek, Slavoj (1993) Why are the NSK and Laibach Not Fascists? MARS Volume 3/4. Available at www.nskstate.com. Ljubljana: Moderna Galerija.
33. Zukin, S. (1989) Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
34. Debord, G. (1998) Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. London: Verso.
35. Starr, P. (1995) Logics of Failed Revolt: French Theory After May 68. Stanford: Stanford University Press. _________________________________________________
Learning to Breathe Protest
An introduction and personal account of the protests at the art academies in Vienna and Munich, in the context of the wave of struggles and occupations that occurred across the educational sector in Europe, USA, South East Asia and South America in late 2009, written by people involved with salong (Munich), interflugs (Berlin), academy of refusal (Vienna), 10th floor (London), March 2010.
The processes that characterise what many now refer to as the neoliberalisation of education have various starting points and significant dates but GATS (General Agreement on Trades and Services) is worth citing. The global drive towards the privatisation of public goods and services (including the education system) can be understood as an ongoing process, certainly since GATS was first laid out during the constitution of the WTO in 1994. Along with other public services, the educational sector becomes subject to this agreement the moment an individual member state expands the liberalising function of GATS into its university system. The agreement serves to monitor and restrict government measures that might have a negative effect on the trade in services GATS grant commercial and foreign competitors equal rights to state financed institutions. In theory, the WTO member states are free to maintain individual control over their educational systems. In practice, this nominal control is virtually impossible to maintain.
The Bologna Process
The official starting point of the european Bologna Process is the Bologna declaration of 1999, signed by representatives from 29 countries. With the stated aim of creating a European Higher Education Area it sets out to make European Higher Education more compatible and comparable, more competitive and more attractive for Europeans and for students and scholars from other continents.2 The use of the term competitive and emphasis on international overseas students is markedly different from an earlier agreement drawn up in Bologna in 1988 (signed by 660 universities from 78 countries), the Magna Charta Universitatum.3 In this document its made clear that the university as such, be regarded as an autonomous institution and that furthermore ...to meet the needs of the world around it, its research and teaching must be morally and intellectually independent of all political authority and intellectually independent of all political authority and economic power.
Within a decade, the humanist model of the autonomous institution as laid out in 1988 had been degraded substantially and the recomposition of education in line with the broader global economy was well underway. But how did this shift occur, what were the operative terms? For this we might turn to an intermediate preparatory paper, the Sorbonne declaration, signed by the four Ministers in charge for France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, at the University Paris-Sorbonne, May 25 1998. Here we find reference to the knowledge economy and the claim that Europe should not be solely regarded in terms of the Euro, of the banks and the economy: it must be a Europe of knowledge as well.4 A Europe of knowledge requires an educational system acting as a bridge between the production and maintenance of knowledge and the interests of capital. It also requires a university-educated European citizen.
In tandem with this process, by 1997 the Schengen Agreement had been incorporated into mainstream European Union law as the Amsterdam Treaty. The European stronghold had been enhanced by aggressively enforcing external frontiers, whilst within the European Union border-controls were being loosened. The ensuing strict immigration-regulations for non-EU students in European countries as well as extortionate tuition fees (UK: three times the amount of EU-students fees) show the economic selection process at play5 (e.g. the growing importance of education as a tradable export factor). While the inner-European education systems are being restructured to fulfil the needs for measurable and exchangeable knowledge transfer, the legal standards for free and unrestricted trade with this newly standardised commodity are regulated through the GATS.
To date, 46 states have signed up to the Bologna process (28 to the Schengen Agreement) and what has been presented as inevitable across European member states has the legal status of a recommendation only. Simply put, its far less clear, less inevitable, less legally binding than government ministers would have us believe. The introduction of the BA/MA system for example, which in mainstream media (as well as current student protests) has been the most discussed symptom of the educational reforms, refers only to a recommendation to introduce a two-step-system. Neither BA/MA nor restrictions on international overseas student applications are mentioned, nor any recommendations on the actual structure of the studies made.6 Those who promote the reforms have claimed that students mobility and exchange would be made possible through modularisation and the common European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). In fact, student mobility, as such, has in most cases been made more difficult due to restrictions in what are now firmly structured undergraduate programmes and universities predictably rigid administrative bureaucracy. Geographical and social mobility only occur between BA and MA studies and only for those who can afford another higher degree.
In Germany the implications of the two-step system and modularisation led to the refusal of German Art Academies to participate in the Bologna process (2004). By 2010, most German fine art departments had maintained this refusal against pressure from local ministerial departments, holding on to the classic German masterclass-system. In the case of the Berlin University of Art (Universität der Künste Berlin UdK) for example, this has led to a marked difference in degree structure between fine art students (free, genius artists) and fellow students (technocrat, cultural labourers) in the design, architecture, music and theatre faculties (now studying under the restructured system). The effects of this split within the UdK are only now becoming visible, and might serve as an explanation for the general lack of student networking (between the faculties), solidarity, criticality and visibility in the recent wave of student protest. Activities and discussions were sporadic and mainly focussed on the individual problems within tightened study programmes, etc. The students of the UdK did not participate in the protests centred around the two main universities of Berlin, and the few attempts to formulate criticism towards educational and institutional politics remained with some individuals.
Almost a decade after the first Bologna meeting in 1999, Europe has just witnessed the first phase of widespread protests against various attempts by the state to implement the Process and the commodification and enclosure of education. Its perhaps unsurprising then that the initial explosion of this recent wave of student dissent and protest occurred in the best practice centre of the Bologna Process, Austria in late 2009.
As an exemplary model of educational neoliberalisation Austria moved to introduce the BA/MA and re-introduce tuition fees (there hadnt been any since 1972) with the 2002 university law which came to effect under a coalition of the conservatives and the far right. The Austrian state has continued to break down democratic university structures by weakening the voice of students and mid-level faculty within the various committees while strengthening and expanding the decision-making powers of the rectorate (The Head of School). It also introduced a business-like structure for handling budgets and the aims of the university: an advisory university board was deployed consisting 50% of members elected by the government (mostly ex-politicians and/or businessmen) and 50% elected by the university. The board has the final say on possible motions of no-confidence towards the Rector, and most importantly the final say on the Service Level Agreement (SLA) that was also introduced in 2002 and is negotiated between the government and the rectorate. In line with this, the budget from the ministry for the higher education sector is no longer based on fixed amounts divided between institutions but on a performance related system. The accepted parameters of which are based on statistics covering so called study-activity, the amount of exams students take and the speed at which students complete studies, etc. The SLA also includes the number of women employed by respective educational institutions but due to the manner of calculation, institutions that have significantly increased representation can still receive less than those where the situation remains unchanged.
In summer 2009 a new amendment to the university law was put forward. Many regarded this as a further assault on the democratic process that underpins the educational system and in particular the legitimacy of university structures. A number of mainstream political parties and institutional representatives had made their objections known at the time but were totally ignored by the National government. In June 2009, shortly before the summer break, a meeting was called to organise protest against the amendment and to connect the various struggles against the de-democratisation and neoliberalisation of education the Network for Emancipatory Education was founded. This proved to be an important turning point as most groups had up until this point, been working independently, dealing with issues and concerns specifically linked to the institutions and social contexts in which they studied, lived and worked. These included a number of self-organised reading groups and workshops from students at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna dealing with emancipatory pedagogy, the history of neoliberalisation of education, critique of the study plans, critical discourse about the interconnections of economy and art, creative industries, the cognitariat, etc. At the main university there had been protests at the Departments for International Development and Political Science. Also, students from different departments had been setting up a social space, called Widerstandscafé (Resistance café), and protest forms like action-days on campus. In addition, there had also been a major protest and demonstration led by school-kids and teachers and a group called Kindergarten Insurrection was formed by people working in childcare; developments that fuelled the situation in autumn.
In its relatively short existence the Network for Emancipatory Education set out to highlight the links between the university and the rest of society. This was achieved (at least initially), e.g. by showing the student as worker both in precarious job situations in and outside the university and directly linked to the broader economy.7 That said, the uptake in the mainstream press and the manner in which the media factored in the broader critique of neoliberalisation took everyone by surprise. But since the core of the protest was relatively small there was uncertainty as to whether resistance could be continued into the autumn term as the protest to avoid the passing of the initial law proved to be unsuccessful and was passed in summer. In October 2009, a new SLA was due to be signed between the ministry and the rectorate at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. A major point of dispute was the possible extension of the BA/MA system across all parts of the curriculum. Against this backdrop a group of students and teachers started working together to distribute information on the Bologna Process and the implications of the introduction of BA/MA. Further meetings with every class of the Academy were scheduled: a glossary on the Bologna Process, a short history of BA/MA at the institution, were handed out and the hierarchical structures of the institution and their connection to the university law were comprehensively discussed.
There was a general concern that the Rector would (again) act against the will of those working and studying at the Academy it was decided to apply public pressure before his meeting with the ministry. With support of the senate, students and teaching staff held a press conference two days before the scheduled meeting and a press release was issued. This made clear that the majority of students/workers at the institution were not only against the extension of the BA/MA system but opposed the broader process of neoliberalisation ushered in by the university law and Bologna Process, a point not fully covered in the mainstream media.
From the mainstream media news, vienna.at October 21st 2009:
Concrete demands from students and teaching staff directed towards the vice principal, Schmidt-Wulffen, are to represent the position of the academy instead of his private agenda, during the upcoming negotiations with the ministry for science and education. Another demand is to maintain the current diploma degree. A petition calls for the full abolition of tuition fees, knowledge-asset-systems and output-agreements and against the degradation of universities and schools towards jobmarket-oriented training posts.8
Two days after the press release was issued and the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna was occupied, another demonstration was called. This time the main lecture hall of the Vienna University was also occupied. The following weekend occupations occurred in Graz, the Technical University of Vienna with further occupations then taking place in Munich, Berlin initiating a wave of university protests and occupations throughout Europe.9
Writing this, we are aware, that none of these processes seemed and were as linear as they might look like in this account. Looking back, we would like to present a few threads and identify what for us were important first steps. All in all, the university occupations of autumn 2009 would not have been possible without the input of many people in, around and also from outside the affected institutions. Certainly not without those whove worked tirelessly on pinpointing not only the grievances in the educational system but across the social field in general organising protests, articulating and living alternatives.
Accounts of Occupation10
This performative act does not create something new out of an ominous nothingness. Instead, the space itself becomes visible and utilizable in a different dimension. In contrast to taking possession of it, occupying a space means to liberate it from its ostensible possessors. Occupation means a maximal densification of energy, work and discussion with a simultaneous deceleration and disruption of social speed.
THE TIME IS NEVER RIPE AND HAS THEREFORE ALWAYS ALREADY COME.12
We have to go in now, declares an uncertain voice over the megaphone suddenly a space opens up.
V: There had been many attempts to organise protests, but the moment the first occupation was proclaimed, everything changed. Students, non-students, teaching staff all came together in the warmth of the occupied space, appropriating the previously stiff, cold, neo-classical assembly hall and turning it into a site of negotiation. Here, sharing knowledge and experience, working and functioning collectively cut through established power-structures.
Solidarity and collective euphoria created enough energy for unforeseen workloads of organising, discussing, writing, preparing demonstrations, giving interviews, daily plenary meetings. Collectively, the head of the institution was challenged, the hierarchical structures put to disposition.
A position of power was taken without being able to actually grasp what this meant, in a tempo that was breath-taking, with the attention of mainstream-media and international observers that could not be overseen, making it necessary, making it unavoidable to just go from moment to moment, situation to situation, being fully within it.
Improvisation: Elusive and Unstable
In speaking of improvisation we not only discuss the production of particular sounds or events but the production of social spaces as well. ... Where applied, improvisation brings about glimpses of instability. If it is working, its elusive qualities evades solidification and commodification at least in the moment.13
M: In Munich someone placed a banner, a simple gesture of solidarity with the occupations in Vienna. Parallel to this, someone had printed a flyer announcing the academy was to be occupied. The rumour quickly made the rounds. People met the next day, speeches were held, a few flags waved, then the assembly hall of the academy was effectively occupied. A week later the occupation moved into the main lecture hall of the main university. From the idea to its implementation, it was a way of surprising ease.
V: Working groups were set up to give inputs to the daily plenary. The plenary itself had to be prepared every day, people bringing in the news, setting up the situation (chairs, microphone), writing protocols. Signs were used for improving communication, methods had to be developed for how to make proposals for decisions. Aim of it all was to create a situation with no leaders, where everyone had a say, without majority-votes where everything would be discussed until a consensus was worked out, where everyone was given an equal opportunity to speak, and women being favoured in this respect. It was claimed to be a grassroots democracy, an anti-sexist, feminist space.
The meetings took hours. But they were supposed to take hours. They were supposed to go on forever. They created a different structure of relevance, a different universe, one in which time was set out of order.
X: It seemed as if different circles of speed and information were forming. The ones spending almost all of their time with protest-organising, working group co-ordination, reading, communicating, were diving into a nucleus, dissolving into a different rhythm, time, structure. Others had to go to work, had other responsibilities they could not or did not want to give up, became ill, needed more regular working times, were torn between the different structures, trying to find compromises, ways of maintaining the life that was expected from them in the established order and engage in the protest, others had never given up their structures, were giving inputs and/or demanding digestible outputs from the ones more involved.
The question of legitimation arose. Signatures like the occupiers, the protesters were used while the plenary was made up of an ever-changing group of people. It became clear that grassroots-democracy actually meant democracy of those who are present.
It had been agreed, that there should never be anything like the movement. There should not be a committee of leaders deciding where to go. No dogmatic political direction should be imposed on everyone, it should be a space where people of different political and social background would have the freedom to cooperate.
Y: The non-representational form, the attempt to simply DO what was demanded is a central characteristic of the protest. Nevertheless, we felt and feel the need to explain and communicate what happened, making these processes transparent to others in order to participate and rethink. What we experienced was a breakout of the various dissatisfactions with the political as well as economic situation (not only) in the academic institution. It brought to light the size of the network of critically thinking people: politically or socially engaged working groups, collectives, institutionalised spaces which normally didnt get as much attention and other non-organised individuals in different occupations, before invisible as potential supporters, who have now raised their voices in more or less open support.
D: The occupations were once called university in the best sense. I totally agree! However, one must distinguish between self-organisation and self-help. It would be self-help to mend the holes in the Bologna process with ones own initiative. Self-organisation wants more, namely a change of society against the spirit that stands behind Bologna, which hovers over everything anyway. Specifically, it could seem as if self-initiated student projects are very welcome to those failed institutions due to the Bologna Process.
M: Of course, there is always the danger of mending holes, but there is a way to avoid this. As there was nothing we really AIMED for. It was demonstrated that this unrest would not possibly be stopped by fulfilling reformist demands but that instead what was done and lived was the demand, that it was rejected to acknowledge any other authority than the one of the people being in the protests themselves to have the power to fulfil any demands whereas then they were not called demands any more, then they were practice.
From mainstream media news, standard.at November 3rd 2009:
Network-protest leaves politicians helpless The University protests dont have leaders, that makes them strong Austrias political parties havent learned to organise themselves in the net yet. The politicians are therefore confronted with a heterogeneous mass of students that cannot easily be put into an ideological box. The mediation of the protests [e.g. a livestream was installed in the main occupied lecture hall] has various advantages: Most important is the transparency. Especially after the parties and the alleged damages of the first days, people could see for themselves that there was also constructive work done. That way we were not dependent on traditional media any more. ... Politics are clueless, such a form of protest is unknown to political parties ... and politicians wanting a controllable communication process. ... The occupants refused to nominate a representative as was requested by Hahn [minister for science and research].14
R: A key task has to be to introduce the market failure of a capitalist economy into the comfortable discussions on how universities might best suit the interests of the labour market; or how everyone might best become a member of the creative middle class. The aim cannot simply be the defence of a supposedly innocent humanist model of the university what needs to be challenged is the universitys role in reproducing capitalism, not only ideologically, but also as a site of direct accumulation and exploitation.
B: An immense interest from (leftist) academics in these protests made me think about the hopes and of the social potential of this lived counter-reality. And of the status that a visible student protest like this still holds for many. The projections and encouragement from certain parts of academia might seem overwhelming, contrasting with the lack of consequences on the political surface level. The rejection of pragmatism and effectiveness amongst some protesting groups are for sure in themselves legitimate. But can this resistance be reapplied in a way that even those outside of the occupations can gain from their experiences?
V: As was shown in the organisation of the protests against the 10-Year-Anniversary of the Bologna Process, a network has been built up during the protests, that although it might be a very small percentage of the people temporarily engaged in the occupations has been broadened and made more effective. This does not only affect people at the different institutions, or at least is further interwoven with other structures be it because of work and/or politically working contexts. But the lack of an occupied space, together with the necessary state of exception for the participants, is clearly noticeable as lack of collectivity. An important question is how to maintain a level of collectivity once its reached and how to work with the creation and dissolution of disruptive energies where to withdraw to? How to withdraw and restart together? How to build a support context for everyone who suddenly has to stand alone again?
B: I find important for example, how we are working together on this text, bringing in different viewpoints from art academies in Germany and Austria generally the communication between active groups seems to take on a different quality.
Maybe the collective memory of a protest can initiate a state of collectivity, a certain activist knowledge on how to better exist and work together, that can be carried further, towards other locations of struggle and movement? How can we effectively organise to infiltrate the educational institutions and initiate the production of independent and emancipatory structures?
I understand that you have been struggling inside the occupied spaces to come close to self-defined models of communication, of social interaction, of communisation, that correlate with your demands towards the educational system. That you have tried to enact criticism by turning the occupation into a kind of lived social utopia. One where academicised feminist studies would be re-applied and utilised in a radical disclosure of still dominating sexist behaviour, for example. Or by allowing the occupied spaces to be open for homeless people, while being aware of the public controversy this might entail.
V: Actually, the structures and problems varied very much in the different occupied spaces and the question of social utopia needs to be handled with care ... the heart of what was called a movement was the Audimax, the biggest lecture room of the main university. Here, a laboratory of a social movement seemed to be condensed, since (in contrast to the art academy for example) people from a broad spectrum of social backgrounds came together.
The space itself (its interior being built in a typical lecture-room structure) made it difficult to set up anti-hierarchical meetings. Sitting in rows directed towards where the front-lecture would usually take place, the setting was easy to use as a (male) profiling platform.
Although the politics of representation were decentralised , meaning that the typical narrowing to only a few leading figures was avoided and the people speaking to the public were mainly female, the Audimax occupation as the centre of the protests faced heavy problems with achieving the grassroots feminist claims in practice.
It was shocking too see how deeply an anti-feminist attitude was and is embedded within large parts of society, manifesting in discriminating reactions towards the feminist demands of the protesters and developments like the F.L.I.T. space (WomenLesbianIntersexTrans-space) at the occupied university.
Still, the very fact that problems like these occurred proves that with all the difficulties, the standard conditions of society were made visible, were challenged and disposed for deconstruction.
B: The described difficulty in communicating practical demands out of this deconstructed situation, might have to do with the potentially radical quality of this chosen form of resistance. If education was to take on forms as those claimed by the protesters, if it was to be a real-democratic, emancipating power, it would mean to exclude its reproductive functions as producer of human capital.
Anyway, maybe we have to stop looking for answers in all these accounts, accepting the occurrence of ever more questions once you start to produce answers. To keep digging and to never stop questioning ... maybe we will get closer to the core of what is called education, or knowledge.
What is needed is a permanent improvisation, a permanent self-criticism, the possibility to take and give up responsibilities, the forming and dissolving of practices, theories, lives.
This is in such huge contrast to the urge for linear development and progress, the need for predictable, monogamous security. The disillusion from something that for the glimpse of a second seemed to be the glorified solution to everything is necessary.
Some further reading
The Economy Has Left The Building, ed. Rosa Kerosene, 2008
Toward A Global Autonomous University, the edu-factory collective, 2009
1. For further contextualisation of the neoliberalisation of education see for example Silvia Federicis Education and the Enclosure of Knowledge in the Global University (2008), on the commercialisation and corporatisation of academic life, George Caffentzis Throwing Away The Ladder: The Universities In The Crisis (1975), on the turn in educational politics in the USA in the mid 70s a turn that might be read as exemplary for further developments in other parts of the world and CAFA and the Struggle Against Structurally Adjusted Education in Africa by Ousseina Alidou, Caffenztis and Federici for an analysis of the World Banks role in educational politics in Africa.
5. In Austria, for example, students from outside the EU are not allowed to earn more than 340 Euros a month (in case they achieve to get permission to work) but have to have proof of 7,000 Euros (increasing yearly) in their account once a year, and have to pay tuition fees.
7. For a discussion of the challenges and potential of the edu-supermarket see for example Marc Bousquet and Tiziana Terranova Recomposing The University (2004) http://www.metamute.org/en/Recomposing-the-University
8. Translated from: http://www.vienna.at/news/wien/artikel/generalstreik---akademie-der-bildenden-kuenste-besetzt/cn/news-20091021-05051855
9. See a map of the occupied spaces at: http://tinyurl.com/yacpkb
10. The following statements are personal accounts from the inside of the occupied art academies in Vienna and Munich as well as comments from outside, compiled in order to give a picture of the personal, the group-psychological, and micro-political structures that evolved during the protests.
11. For the discussion of the implications an occupation of a university can have, the New School occupation and the pamphlet Perspectives on the takeover of a building was very important and inspiring <http://www.scribd.com/doc/11562065/The-New-School-Occupation-Perspectives-on-the-Takeover-of-a-Building> As well as the later Pre-occupied, The Logic of Occupation <http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/files/preoccupied-reading.pdf>
12. From a flyer made during the occupations in Vienna.
13. Mattin, Against Representation: http://www.mattin.org/essays/Against_Representation.html
14. Translated from: http://derstandard.at/1256743667434/Netzwerk-Protest-macht-Politiker-ratlos
The Tyranny of Rent
A recent Shelter advert1 lucidly exposed the obscene rise in house prices by comparing how much domestic household commodity goods would now cost if matched to house price rises. A joint of meat would cost £95.62; a chicken, £47.51; a box of washing powder, £28.53; a jar of coffee, £20.22; a dozen eggs, £9.30, and a bunch of bananas, £7.86. As Shelter argue: we wouldn’t accept these price rises with anything else, so why accept them in housing? Eliot M. Trettter’s article ‘The Cultures of Capitalism: Glasgow and the Monopoly of Culture’ (Antipode: 2009) goes some way to answering how we got to this abject position. Tretter’s work can be seen as a continuation of the critical vein of historical geographical materialism, which has developed since the 1970s. Deeply influenced by the research of urban theorist David Harvey (in turn influenced by the critical writings of Marx, Benjamin, and Lefebvre), this school of critical geography has produced a corpus of materially grounded analyses of the ways in which capital, culture and social relations are both constituted in, and constitute the urban realm. Tretter’s article takes as its starting point Harvey’s analysis of monopoly – relating to rents, competition and fixed capital – in order to draw out the links between culture, gentrification, and economic valorisation in 1980s Glasgow. While Glasgow is routinely held up as a salutary success story in the boosterist literature of ‘post-industrial’, culture-led urban renewal2, Tretter argues that this narrative masks an insidious and destructive raid on the commons: “Glasgow is a primary example of an industrial city that has re-invented itself through the exploitation of its cultural infrastructure” (p.113).
Following Harvey, Tretter contends that a precondition for looting the cultural infrastructure of a city is the transformation of elements of cultural distinctiveness into ‘fixed capital’ (physical infrastructure such as land, machinery, transport etc, which is not immediately spent in the process of producing products or commodities) via outright, or de facto, forms of privatisation. Following a time-line that begins in the early ’80s and concludes around the period of the European City of Culture Festival in 1990 – an event intensely contested by the oppositional Workers City group – Tretter’s analysis provides a useful heuristic with which to understand contemporary raids on the commons in Glasgow. While acknowledging the value in Tretter’s account, the full magnitude of this ongoing dispossession remains untouched by his curious decision to end his enquiry at a historical juncture lying nearly 20 years in the past. Moreover, his narrow emphasis on the monopoly aspects of culture and representational issues omits other forms of monopoly and underplays the still central question of labour in the valorisation of capital3. However, his re-appraisal of the Workers City group, and his appeal for their enduring relevance, provides a platform from which to analyse a continuum of dispossession that has never stopped and to bring important lessons from the contested past into a productive and critical relationship with this present era of recession and financial crisis.
Extracting Value From The City: Basic Banalities
“There is a politics of space, because space is political.” Henri Lefebvre4
“With the disappearance of local manufacturing industries and periodic crises in government and finance, culture is more and more the business of cities – the basis of their tourist attractions and their unique, competitive edge”. Sharon Zukin5 (1995) Despite all the evidence to the contrary6, culture is still presumed to play a positive economic role in the fortune of cities globally. A common assumption is that each city contains a stock of physical, social and cultural assets that are economically exploitable. The widespread erosion of the economic and fiscal base of many large cities in the advanced capitalist world since the 1970s has seen a re-orientation of governance from a managerial to an entrepreneurial mode7 with an emphasis on exploiting a city’s cultural infrastructure concomitant with the turn from manufacturing, and waning central budgets. As Tretter argues, the revaluation of culture is directly contemporaneous with the broader entrepreneurial turn in governance: the appraisal of culture as an economic asset, and the increasing exchange value of culture, has led governments and private capital to undertake a series of programmes and strategies to realise and validate these resources. While many city governments of a Keynesian persuasion were once engaged in managing the urban economy with at least a nominal agenda of alleviating inequality through planning and administration of services, urban governments now attempt to follow an explicit growth agenda in partnership with private agencies and non-governmental organisations. Such market-oriented, market-dependent, ‘growth coalitions’ reflect elite interests and typically “show a significant deficit with respect to accountability, representation, and the presence of formal rules of inclusion or participation”.8
A major characteristic of this ‘entrepreneurial turn’ is geographically uneven development and inter-city competition. Local growth coalitions routinely stress a fierce struggle with other cities to compete for investment capital. Thus increasingly opaque constellations of power have justified strategies to stimulate economic growth – by providing subsidies, tax breaks, and other economic incentives – as a means to lure and leverage capital. In the race to enhance the competitive position of the city in relation to other competing cities, the use of localizing strategies (the exploitation of a city’s peculiar ‘marks of distinction’) is now ubiquitous. Cities have sought, with highly uneven results, to increase their marketability and brand identity through the promotion of the city and its assets as commodities to investors and private capital (including its labour force, infrastructure and cultural amenities). As part of this generalised process, Tretter emphasises the exploitation of the shared cultural assets of a city (‘the commons’9) as a means to promote the revaluation of prime urban land, and transform culture into an economic resource. In order to unpack this proposition in historically and geographically concrete terms, he assesses the “primary example” of Glasgow through the prism of Harvey’s theoretical insights on the political economy of monopoly rent.
“…capitalism cannot do without monopolies and craves the means to assemble them. So the question upon the agenda is how to assemble monopoly powers in a situation where the protections afforded by so-called ‘natural monopolies’ of space and location, and the political protections of national boundaries and tariffs, have been seriously diminished if not eliminated”. David Harvey10
Harvey begins to answer this question by noting that all forms of landownership that are the basis for the wealth and power of landowners exist as monopolies: they involve exclusive claims to definite portions of the surface of the earth that are not reproducible. However, transformations in time-space compression (“the annihilation of space through time”11) have accelerated since the shift from ‘fordist’ to ‘post-fordist’12 modes of accumulation via advanced telecommunications and transportation innovations. These innovations have destroyed previously existing spatial barriers and loosened the individual landowners’ monopoly power by putting them in competition with increasingly mobile global competitors. For Harvey, the drive to obtain profit from the cultural capital of cities can be seen as an attempt by landowners and their political allies to re-assert and reclaim monopoly powers in a context of accelerated globalisation.
While the source of land rent is derived from a monopoly on land, monopoly rent is distinguished by the ability of a landowner to earn a higher than average rent because of another pre-existing monopoly that exists independently of their monopoly on the land. Harvey specifies location and scarcity as the two chief sources of monopoly rent.
• Location: The locational source is related to the centrality of the land to a highly concentrated activity of economic capture such as a transport or communication network, or a financial center or shopping precinct. This is an indirect form of monopoly rent. A premium for the land will be paid in this case for its accessibility and for the commodities and services produced therefrom.
• Scarcity: In the case of scarcity the inimitable qualities of a resource are directly traded upon (for instance a vineyard, prime real-estate location or work of art). Here the uniqueness and specificity of the asset forms the basis for monopoly prices. Investing in a city’s cultural infrastructure is so desirable, Harvey argues, because culture distinctiveness is always embedded in a place and therefore provides the potential for landowners to garner extra rental income on top of an average differential rent. A distinct cultural infrastructure is thus the source of additional monopoly rents if imaginatively marketed in the commodity realm.
Moreover, in Harvey’s schema, free amenities held in common come to be valued for their ability to fetch monopoly rents. While many of the assets that he discusses fetch a monopoly price; many, such as parks, museums, monuments and scenic areas do not. Yet these ostensibly ‘free’ resources still provide a potential source of monopoly rent for adjacent land and property owners due to co-determinant factors such as prestige and status linked to special, localised ‘marks of distinction’ (e.g. a block of apartments overlooking a municipal park, or a shopping centre close to a museum, monument or gallery).
As Tretter notes, the cultural resources and institutions of a city almost always function at the local level as monopolies (each city can host only so many concert halls, museums, theatres, etc), and the monopolistic potential of a city’s cultural assets are routinely traded upon to boost a city’s competitive edge: “Cities trade on their cultural resources in attempts to attract investment, and corporations profit by effectively siphoning off revenue from the exploitation of the popularity of the city’s infrastructure or the uniqueness of a particular cultural tradition” (p.116). But it is not just cultural institutions that have monopolistic potential; the culture of any city is perceived as a monopoly asset because it is not easily exchangeable with the culture of another city. In this vastly reductive sense, any city can be said to have a monopoly over its “cultural heritage” or “way of life” because they are specific to one location (p.116). City culture itself, as abstract and unstable as this concept may be13, is open to monopolization because of its unique and non-exchangeable properties; city branding, endemic to the neoliberal city (e.g. ‘Glasgow: Scotland With Style’), is perhaps the most blatant example of the city reduced to the status of a product under the market calculus.
Glasgow, as Tretter notes, is a “primary example” of monopolistic subsumption. In the early 1980s, Glasgow’s elite started to rid the city of images of its industrial past, and began in earnest the plunder of its cultural infrastructure in the pursuit of urban revalorisation. The ‘S/Miles Better’ campaign launched in 198314 and the Garden Festival of 1988 were initial attempts in this direction, followed by Glasgow’s nomination to host the European City of Culture festival in 1990. A key advocate for Glasgow’s nomination bid was ‘Glasgow Action’ – the “first clearly defined public-private partnership in Scotland”15. Formed in 1985 by the Scottish Development Agency (SDA), Glasgow Action formed a strategic partnership with Glasgow District Council (GDC) to ensure that public funds were mobilised on behalf of private partners. Typical of later entrepreneurial private/public growth coalitions, Glasgow Action was almost exclusively composed of local business personalities16 with direct ties to local banks and other property related institutions17. Their agenda unsurprisingly reflected the bias of that constituency. The purpose of Glasgow Action was “to be a vehicle to inject private sector leadership into the growth process” (p.120), stated Chief Executive, David Macdonald. The agency was designed to “recreate Glasgow’s entrepreneurial spirit” and to co-ordinate and link Glasgow’s urban renewal efforts with a series of private partners. Private sponsorship was supposed to support community development, but as Robin Boyle noted at the time, this soon turned into a narrow focus on property development: “Profit becomes the goal; the original, much wider, objectives covering the economic and social condition of the city begin to fade”18.
In the lead up to the City of Culture festival Glasgow saw a major subsidy-driven property bubble: conservation and refurbishment work in the newly-branded ‘Merchant City’ accompanied new office buildings and refurbishments in other city centre locations such as the Broomielaw (now home to the International Financial Services District, IFSD), the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, and the site of the 1988 National Garden Festival, “all developments heavily underwritten by the SDA and other government agencies”19. The flipside of the ‘boom’ in construction and renovation came in the form of a sharp increase in rents, with city centre rents nearly doubling between 1987 and 1989 alone (p.120). This highly uneven and ambivalent ‘success story’ was attributed to the entrepreneurial vision of the Glasgow City councillors and business leaders whose place-marketing techniques (rather than public subsidy) were said to have provided the necessary stimulus for economic growth. In particular, according to Tretter, the marketing of Glasgow’s Victorian architectural grid, helped landowners and property developers trade on Glasgow’s unique and distinctive cultural qualities and its “new image as a cultural centre” (cited, p.121). Private investment, Tretter argues, was thus primarily stimulated on the back of the pre-existing monopoly arising from the special qualities and ‘marks of distinction’ associated with locational factors (place) – a monopoly held over and above individual monopolies in property and infrastructure.
Tretter maintains that the drive towards monopoly rents in Glasgow was built on the valorization of Glasgow’s unique and distinctive cultural assets as “a tool to promote economic growth” (p.122). He cites a key report by the Museum and Galleries Commission in 1986, which assessed Glasgow’s cultural infrastructure as one of the largest in the UK (p.122). When Scottish local government reorganisation in 1973 made art infrastructure the exclusive domain of district councils – including all capital and revenue expenditures related to the “fine and performing arts” – the GDC were legally sanctioned to exploit Glasgow’s cultural infrastructure for economic growth (p.122). In the run up to the City of Culture year, GDC routinely emphasised the comparative advantage these assets afforded the city in terms of promoting such a goal.
In order to ‘release the value’ of the local authority’s heritable arts and cultural assets, and transform the cultural commons into fixed capital, the GDC introduced privatisation measures in at least two ways in the lead up to and during the City of Culture festival. First, the GDC (hiring Thatcher’s favourite PR company, Saatchi and Saatchi) began to “package and sell the culture of the city as a brand and source of revenue to private investors” (p.123). The City Council gave its private sponsors exclusive usufruct on the European City of Culture brand, featuring them in all brochures and advertising materials. This acceptance of private sponsorship of the arts marked a decisive shift in Council policy to what is now a banality despite its relatively recent and highly contested provenance in the UK. Second, Glasgow’s long tradition of not charging people for admission to museums and galleries ended when two museums specifically designed for the City of Culture festival introduced admission fees. The Mclellan Art Galleries (now closed as galleries), entirely funded from the public funds, started charging a fee at the door in 1990. More pertinently for Tretter’s discussion, ‘Glasgow’s Glasgow’, presented by the City Council as the ‘leading exhibition’ of the Year of Culture festival charged a standard admission fee of £3.40. But this was later reduced to £1 when projected attendances fell to less than half the numbers expected. ‘Glasgow’s Glasgow’ ended as a “critical and financial disaster”20, with the City Council eventually losing £4.5 million on the hugely unpopular exhibition (p.124).
The ‘Glasgow’s Glasgow’ exhibition was roundly slated by curators and activists for its efforts to transfer art already on display for free in Glasgow museums to a private ‘for-profit’ corporation. Elspeth King, then the curator of the People’s Palace museum, was an especially vocal critic. For King, the privileging of the exhibition ignored the already established worth of the People’s Palace and its resonant location on Glasgow Green (an area historically associated with working-class gatherings). She also criticized the exhibition for receiving – unlike the People’s Palace – a seemingly endless supply of public funding; failing to represent the full diversity of Glasgow’s history; and omitting a well-detailed plan for the handling of the objects collected for the exhibition (p.124/125). When King was passed over for ‘promotion’ to the post of ‘Keeper of the City’s Social History’ (a newly invented post which stood above curator in museum hierarchy, thus by default demoting King21) intense local reaction, galvanised by the Workers City group, soon developed the Elspeth King matter into a national issue; part of a wider critique of the Year of Culture per se. For Tretter, ‘Glasgow’s Glasgow’ and the ‘Elspeth King Affair’ symbolize key moments in the battle over the representation of Glasgow during the Year of Culture.
Oppositional Spaces? ‘Merchant City’, or, Workers City
For Tretter, the ability of city governments and private partners to capture monopoly rents is predicated on the fact that “the images and symbols associated with a city, and particularly its cultural infrastructure, have a clearly defined and stable meaning” (p.118). By creating a market brand, city governments hope to harness the collective symbolic capital of the city in order to compete with other global cities for inward investment. Thus, he argues, by mobilising around the ‘Elspeth King Affair’ the Workers City group challenged the stability of this meaning and offered “an alternative narrative about the proper use of Glasgow’s history and culture that was important to questioning who owned the cultural heritage and legacy of the city” (p.128). But this sumary of events, while sustaining a useful corrective to city boosterism, conforms to a somewhat rigid adherence to Harvey’s hypothesis. For Tretter, the monopolization of Glasgow’s culture in 1990 increased the “sentimental investment” that people made in their locale, enhancing “people’s conscious attachment to Glasgow, their sense of belonging, and their awareness of their place in a longer historical continuum” (p.127). But this apparently sudden transformation of consciousness would surely come as a surprise to the Workers City group, many of whom had been engaged in political struggle in Glasgow for decades. By concentrating specifically on the cultural and representational issues thrown up by the Year of Culture, and by neglecting the wider social and economic contradictions in Glasgow that had long motivated Workers City activity, he leaves their arguments adrift on an a-historical, symbolic plane, rather than embedding their activity within a continuum of resistance which carries important precedents for the present. The Workers City campaign was less about “belonging” and more about becoming; change through collective praxis.
The campaign to safeguard the jobs of Elspeth King and Michael Donnelly (her colleague at People’s Palace) was initiated by the Workers City group primarily through the commitment of Hugh Savage. Savage had for some time been a member of ‘Friends of the Peoples Palace’, a group dedicated to supporting and fundraising activities for the Palace, and a group supremely aware of their “place in a longer historical continuum”, long before the City of Culture year. According to Workers City, it was precisely King’s efforts in resuscitating Glasgow’s radical, working-class history that had seen her passed over for the post of Keeper of the Museum. This despite the fact that King was more qualified than Mark O’Neil (who was eventually appointed), and despite the fact that she had transformed a “semi-derelict building into one of the finest social history museums in Europe”, winning the European Museum of the year award (1981) and the British Museum of the year award (1983) in the process22.
That Savage was interested in King’s archival and historical work should come as no surprise. A personal friend of legendary Clydeside radical Harry Mcshane23; veteran of the Apprentices Strike in 1941; shop steward in John Brown’s shipyard (blacklisted for union activity); and long time community activist in the permanently deprived east of Glasgow, Savage, along with other Workers City members Leslie Forster and Ned Donaldson, were part of the Glasgow Labour History Workshop research group. They published books in their own right such as All for the Cause: Willie Nairn, 1856-1902, ‘Stonebreaker, Philosopher, Marxist’, and Sell and Be Damned, The Glasgow Merrylee Housing Scandal of 1951 (Forster and Donaldson). They also contributed to several critical books on Glasgow’s radical history, including The Singer Strike Clydebank, 1911; Miltant Workers: Labour and Class Conflict on the Clyde 1900-1950, and Roots of Red Clydeside 1910-1914. James Kelman recently paid tribute to their research work in an introduction to Savage’s autobiography: “Reclaiming history, exhibiting the radical tradition; the work they accomplished is inspirational, packed full of information: to read them is to come into contact with a roll-call of outstanding men and women”24. As William Clark, another member of Workers City, recently said of the group: “Within Workers City we could see that the city officials thought of culture as something to be brought into the city. They could not countenance the fact that culture already existed, was indeed indigenous”25. An idea of this ‘indigenous’ culture can be found in James. D Young’s account of the progressive impact of socialist ideas from the refugees of the Paris Commune – who gained political asylum from the working-class communities of Glasgow – or the links of solidarity between the Glaswegian and Dublin working-class26.
While the Year of Culture may have instigated a response from the Workers City group, it was far from “sentimental”, and far from pivotal in shaping the consciousness of the group. Indeed, historical consciousness was what prompted the Workers City name, specifically chosen to challenge the newly invented ‘Merchant City’ branding27 that had been applied to the gentrifying area in the east of the city centre as part of the attempt to “recreate Glasgow’s entrepreneurial spirit”. The group pointed out that the branding of the ‘Merchant City’ was a craven attempt to link modern entrepreneurs with those of Glasgow’s past – thereby honouring the role of the ‘tobacco lords’ (who once lived in the area), despite their “deep involvement” in a colonial economy “which could not have functioned without an entrenched and expanding system of slave labour”28. As James Kelman noted at the time, Glasgow’s tobacco traders trafficked in degradation, and generated wealth “by the simple expedience of not paying the price of labour”29. This critical historical approach (for which they were lambasted30) can now be seen as a central legacy, though not the sole merit, of the Workers City group. While city elites have continually attempted to erase Glasgow’s history – radical and otherwise – the Workers City group, at the minimum, created “a record of opposition, some other history”31.
Tretter is right to emphasis this critique, but it was more than just “vocal opposition” or “analysis” (p.128). He suggests that “the more profound” contradiction between the Council’s attempts to monopolise the Year of Culture and the “perceived injustice” of this endeavour led to Workers City opposition. But cultural ‘regeneration’ is typically only a small, if important, mainly symbolic part of wider strategies of dispossession32 and the Workers City group were well aware of that. A central campaign that the group initiated (which Tretter barely acknowledges) was the battle to save Glasgow Green from privatisation and ‘development’. The Green has long been associated with radical working-class gatherings33, and remains to this day a part of the city’s ‘common good’ assets. The group’s victory against the Green’s privatisation (alongside numerous supporters and collaborators) can be seen as one of its central achievements. The group also practically supported campaigns against pollution in Carmyle and Rutherglen and Action on Asbestos, crucial solidarity work in a city riddled with industrial pollution. Moreover, looking through back issues of The Keelie, “a scandal mongering organ”34 distributed freely and anonymously by the Workers City group, the range of critical work draws attention to anti-poll tax campaigns, anti-militarism, housing campaigns, gentrification (“yuppiefication”), council corruption, the routing of the steel and oil industries, privatization of common good assets, governance, and the deplorable health and wealth disparities of a city notorious for them to this day.35
Tretter’s aporias obscure the fact that the Workers City analysis was rooted in the social and economic contradictions of Glasgow in a city-wide context during the Year of Culture, but by no means confined to it: “The money had to come from somewhere. Major cuts have already taken place in the areas precisely concerned with art and culture. The public funding of libraries, art galleries and museums; swimming baths, public parks and public halls; all are being cut drastically…Prime assets not to mention services to the community are being closed down and sold off altogether, to private developers, to big business. What has been celebrated as art in all its diversity is there to behold, a quite ruthless assault on the culture of the city”36 The struggle was neither merely event-based, nor limited to the symbolic plane, but contested over a series of class-based economic processes and their underlying contradictions; and this struggle was worked out at the level of praxis as well as in the field of representation as the Glasgow Green campaign clearly shows.
The Rent Devours All…
A major flaw in Tretter’s argument is the chronic lack of evidence he uses to support his otherwise helpful critique of monopoly rent seeking. By curtailing his examples up to the year 1990 (though his article was published in 2009), and by restricting his outlook to the role of culture in monopoly, he fails to update the wider processes of monopoly that have made the city such a paragon of neoliberal urbanism. Even a brief summary suggests the scale of the city’s capitulation to market forces. Most pertinent to Tretter’s position is the transfer of the management of Glasgow’s entire cultural and leisure services to Culture and Sport Glasgow (CSG), an arm’s length body composed of two companies; one limited by guarantee with charitable status, and a ‘trading arm’ to carry out functions not deemed charitable. For Rebecca Gordon Nesbitt this transfer represents “the wholesale takeover of culture by business interests”37. The total list of assets transferred, including all community and leisure services in public ownership, encompasses a remarkable diversity of services lost from the public sector38. Controversial proposals to allow private companies to develop businesses in the Botanic Gardens and Pollok Park – successfully resisted39 – suggest the direction ahead; as does a projected wave of industrial action in the face of closures and pay cuts40. Further, CSG’s recent Venues Review further proposes to close over a dozen community facilities, including a library and a swimming pool, and to reduce opening hours for museums and sports facilities. Among other deeply controversial arms length external organisations (ALEO’s) that Glasgow City Council has calved out of former city departments are City Building41, offering building services (2,200 staff transferred), and Cordia42 which operates out-sourced services contracts for IT, catering and cleaning (8,792 staff transferred).
Glasgow’s common good43 assets, held in the common good fund, have long come under threat from ‘mismanagement’ and lack of accountability due to a lack of a comprehensive register of assets – others might say the looting of the common good fund is far from accidental. The latest threat to the fund comes from a new ALEO – City Property (Glasgow) LLP – a subsidiary to which the council will be transferring the rights to 1,400 income-generating commercial properties in exchange for a loan of £120m from Barclays Bank, ostensibly in order to fill a funding black hole44. Taking the role of property services, which was formerly part of the City Council’s development and regeneration services, City Property (Glasgow) LLP will work at ‘arms length’ from the City Council in order to “deliver to the market” a wide range of properties45. The ALEO will now be responsible for the management and sale of all Glasgow City Council’s ‘non-operational’ property assets and the management of the Council’s major ground leases. The loan will have to be paid back at an expected average rate of £10m a year for 20 years, costing the City Council £80 million (which represents a 66% interest rate over the period). As the interest rates will be reset five years into the deal, there is a considerable risk that the final deal might cost “significantly more than expected”; if so, the risk is part guaranteed by the council and the costs will be borne by further sales of city council properties to the private sector or an extension of the loan46. But it’s not only the ALEO’s who profit: a recent scathing report reveals an “elaborate system of political patronage” at work in the ALEO’s, with councillors sharing ‘top-up’ payments of £400,000 – over and above their public salaries – for landing a role o the board on these ever proliferating quangos’47.
Tretter can be forgiven for missing these recent developments, but not for failing to adequately account for previous acts of enclosure in Glasgow. Thatcher’s UK-wide ‘right to buy’ policy in the Housing Act of 1980 encouraged council housing tenants to buy their homes with enormous discounts, effectively subsidising the mass sell-off of social assets way below their market value and instigating a wave of speculation, rent seeking, and the debt-financed housing bubble in the process. By 2003, after the most desirable properties had been bought up, Glasgow transferred its entire remaining public sector housing supply (81,000 council homes, the second largest stock in Britain) to a ‘registered social landlord’, Glasgow Housing Association (GHA). GHA have since been “crisis-hit” by a slew of management resignations and controversies over proposed ‘second-stage’ transfers to Local Housing Organisations (LHO’s) which have failed to materialise on anything like the scale promised48. Moreover, a spate of demolitions has seen the total amount of social housing reduced from 81,000 to under 62,000 by 200949, with creeping marketisation through ‘mixed-housing’ tenure providing a neoliberal alibi for further privatisation of the city’s ‘social’ (no longer public) housing. This in a context where the number of Council and Housing Association homes is now at its lowest for fifty years in Scotland50.
In education, a £1.2 billion contract for new build construction and the management of the city’s entire secondary school system over 30 years was given to 3ED consortium in 2002 as part of a PFI scheme with £451 million public subsidy from the Scottish Government (raiding public budgets from other local authorities), and with all the risk underwritten by the City Council51. According to Unison, the bill for the Council will be £36.4m more than if the schools were funded by conventional finance, and they estimate that Glasgow lost seven school swimming pools, along with staff common rooms and classroom reductions, in the deal52. Moreover, 25 primary school’s and nurseries have recently been subject to closure in the city, despite furious resistance – including school occupations53 – from parents, and local community groups in the affected areas. Meanwhile, in transport, after the UK-wide deregulation and privatisation of state-run Passenger Transport Executives (PTE’s) in 1986, Strathclyde Transport became Strathclyde Buses, an “arms length” bus company, and by 1993 was sold to its employees. Competition, and the inevitable process of monopolisation which accompanies it, ensured that by 1996 Strathclyde Buses was sold off to First Bus, (now First Group), who now monopolise most of the bus routes in Glasgow in an inadequate and increasingly expensive service54. While the subway, currently run by scandal-riven55 Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), has been starved of investment and now requires a £400 million modernisation plan – with “closure an option” if finance is not forthcoming according to a recent Herald report56. Those with eyes to see will note that disinvestment is often a deliberate strategy to lower asset values, making it more profitable for asset-stripping private investors. Privatisation, or a public private partnership, is sure to be on the agenda sooner or later57, and we might expect that this will be a new battleground for basic services in the near future.
Subsidy Junkies and Flexible Friends…
The Merchant City – the so-called ‘style mile’ – is the most heavily promoted example of Glasgow’s alleged urban renaissance. The ‘Arts Led Property Strategy’58 the City Council are pursuing in the area has roots in the early ’80s when public subsidies were directed into the area to re-brand the city centre and pump-prime private property development. In the ’60s, the area was home to warehouse storage, clothing manufacture, and the regional fruit and vegetable market. These uses were threatened by the proposed southwards expansion of The University of Strathclyde, and, as part of Glasgow’s comprehensive urban renewal policies, the east flank of a proposed inner ring road. The relocation of the fruit and vegetable market to Blochairn in 1968 precipitated a “crisis” that caused “a ripple or domino effect on a range of related uses and caused up to 80 businesses to cease trading in the area”59. Moreover, the University plans failed to materialise, and the ring road plan was abandoned in that form. The planning uncertainties led to blight and eventually demolition orders, and the Merchant City went into further decline over the following decade.60
By 1980, a third of the property was in Glasgow District Council (GDC) ownership and a third of property was vacant (with the majority of this vacant property owned by GDC). Overall, the physical fabric was neglected, and the area was designated a ‘Special Project Area’ where “active participation by the public sector was considered a necessary factor towards attracting a renewed market interest”61. Realising its property interests in the area, GDC began to offer subsidy packages to stimulate market interest – including conversion grants, ‘positive’ planning controls, and the release of buildings to developers. A more promotional and entrepreneurial approach was being signalled; and, as Jones and Patrick have noted, for hesitant investors, “public subsidy would bridge the gap between a desirable objective and a profitable opportunity”.62 From 1982 – with Albion Building, Merchant Court and Blackfriars Court – conversions, rehabilitations and new-build gradually began to take shape in the area. These developments were assisted with new planning criteria whose “underlying principle was that of flexibility”.63 In 1984, with major GDC and Scottish Development Agency (SDA) assistance, the Ingram Square project constructed 239 housing units as part of its comprehensive street block renewal scheme.
Gradually the demography of the area began to shift as buildings were converted to apartments and cultural amenities via public subsidy. Fashion and retail outlets emerged: The exclusive Italian Centre, incorporating shops, flats, offices, restaurant, and café bar, was opened around a courtyard and a ‘fashion theme’. By 1991, flats with gymnasiums, pool and porterage services were being marketed from £120,000 and above. The area now fostered forms of shopping with specialist and leisure themes in order to attract tourist revenue to the city centre, and by the early ’90s the city centre ‘lifestyle’ opportunities afforded by the Merchant City were attracting “the relatively modest numbers of people who seek the lifestyle that such an arrangement offers”64. Glasgow District Council figures show, for instance, that purchases of houses in Ingram Square in the Merchant City were overwhelmingly by professionals and managers, with other non-manual workers taking much of the rest – as Jones and Patrick comment: “the overriding impression these surveys imbue is that the demand predominantly stems from young professionals on relatively high incomes”65. These affluent young professionals were of course often termed ‘yuppies’: a term that was correctly associated with gentrification and loaded with negative connotations.66
By 1991, £12 million of public money had been invested in the Merchant City. The logic of this financial assistance was partly that of ‘pump priming’ a market from which the public-sector would eventually be withdrawn, but, unsurprisingly, the private sector developed a taste for such public largesse: “the availability of public finance has perhaps inevitably influenced land values. Potential assistance has been built into many site valuations with the result that the land values have been bid up”.67 Jones and Patrick, summarising their analysis of the Merchant City redevelopment in 1992, stated that the Merchant City – despite such sustained public support – was, “still dependent on public funds and therefore its future relies on these monies continuing”; moreover: “It would be very difficult for the public sector to withdraw its support without the painful acceptance that the current momentum would fall by the wayside. The conundrum of rising land values and the ongoing need for public assistance is therefore likely to continue”.68 And indeed it has. Property owners in the Merchant City area continue to see their rents protected and enhanced by public subsidy. Glasgow City Council have made improvements to ‘urban realm’ works worth £10 million69 – including the laying of Italian porphyry stone “which sparkles when wet and comes in a variety of colour variations [sic]”, at a cost of £500,000 in John Street70. The Merchant City Townscape Heritage Initiative, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Glasgow City Council and Scottish Enterprise has contributed another £4.5 million between 2000 and the present; while the Merchant City Tourism and Marketing Co-operative Limited (MCTMC) receives public funding from Scottish Enterprise and Visit Scotland to carry on a campaign of unadulterated propaganda for businesses in the area. MCTMC, via public agencies, also supports the ‘Merchants Market’, a market for expensive high-quality produce which opened three months after the brutal closure of working-class Paddy’s Market nearby, despite a sustained campaign71. In a typical act of historical erasure the new ‘merchants’ market stands over the site of the former fruit and vegetable market relocated to Blochairn.
Rent neither grows from the soil nor emanates from brickwork.
The enclosures of public housing, and the gentrification of the Merchant City, depended, and still depend, on new legal and policy frameworks, and new forms of economic and social relations (not to discount corruption and cronyism). Despite the mythology of risk-taking market-led and entrepreneurial activity, neoliberal urban development is almost without exception state-led and heavily state-financed. This fact is now a banality. In an exemplary account, Swyngedouw et al’s comprehensive survey of large-scale neoliberal urbanization in North America and Western Europe notes: “Traditional and well-documented processes of socialization of cost and risk and privatization of the possible benefits are central characteristics of most UDP’s”72. In 2008, at the State of the City Economy conference, disgraced former City Council leader Steven Purcell73 only reiterated neoliberal convention when he promised that ‘Team Glasgow’74 (an un-elected cabal of business leaders purporting to represent the wider interests of ‘Glasgow’) would do everything they could to help businesses ‘cope with the downturn’: “The first thing that all public bodies, including my own Council, must do, is to examine where we can help business by being more flexible and willing to do things differently. This is no time for unnecessary rules and processes; this is a time to do everything we can to help”.75 The “relaxation” of development rules; “flexibile loans” for business; payment deferrals on development sites; more “flexibility” on “land disposal”; a £36 million ‘Better Glasgow’ fund to support developers; “flexible” grants for social housing providers, and a “build now, pay later” policy that amounts to free land deals for developers with no clear and transparent plan on future payment details76 – no wonder Purcell was so lionised by the business community for his ‘vision’!
In case there was any doubt over his, and the City Council’s, affiliations, Purcell told the Conference’s assembled business leaders: “We are on your side; we want to work with you to ensure that businesses and jobs stay in Glasgow. And we will do everything within our powers to ensure that happens”.77 Tretter is right to say that monopoly rents can be derived from pre-existing monopolies arising from special qualities and ‘marks of distinction’ relating to place: the Merchant City is a prime example of an area whose image has been constructed in order to attract tourist revenue and investment in property portfolios. But by concentrating on the economic aspects of the monopoly of culture, he makes the mistake of political economy by assuming the eternality of pre-existing sets of economic relations. He thus fails to adequately account for the economic and political processes by which an area like the Merchant City can be turned from a working-class warehousing and market district into a ‘cultural quarter’ with a “cohesive Victorian architectural grid”. Rent does not grow from the soil, and private property development and the rentier economy in Glasgow, as elsewhere, have been dependent on a interdictory forms of security and surveillance78, and a form of looting and enclosure indelibly marked by a socialisation of risk and privatisation of profit.
History Against the Grain
“The Workers City group points towards the future. It is of groups like ours the future shall be made. We have nothing to apologise for”. Farquhar McLay, 199079
Tretter is right to validate the Workers City group’s ability to offer “an alternative narrative” and disclose a “different version” about the proper use and representation of Glasgow’s cultural and historical legacy (p.128). But his somewhat bloodless account rests too heavily on representational questions – however valid those may be – and fails to excavate the Workers City group’s deeper questioning of the roots of labour in the extraction of value from the city. The group correctly claimed that Glasgow’s ‘cultural regeneration’ was based almost entirely upon low paid service sector jobs. Even Richard Florida, the chief purveyor of the ‘creative class’ thesis, acknowledges that, “There is a strong correlation between inequality and creativity: the more creative a region is, the more inequality you will find there”80. As Gerry Mooney, a persistent critic of Glasgow’s social and economic policies, has later reiterated, with the support from numerous studies: “the arguments that cultural regeneration would do little if anything for the vast majority of Glaswegians is surely borne out by even a brief discussion of the social and economic problems that have faced the City in the period since 1990”81. The low-wage, insecure service economy is ultimately the “support infrastructure” of the so-called ‘creative age’, and the growth of this burgeoning and increasingly precarious service class must be understood alongside the deeply uneven development of the “creative economy”82. Over 40% of households in Glasgow live below the poverty line, and as a recent academic report states, even beyond endemic unemployment, “the norm” is “becoming a low-wage and casualised work environment, or an unregulated and degrading training system”83.
The Workers City group, while raising similar issues around 1990, were criticized by the right for daring to use the term ‘working-class’; and later by the left for adopting an allegedly ‘workerist’ position84. ‘Workerism’ in the UK left has been associated negatively with a privileging of industrial and manufacturing workers at the expense of other social and labour sectors. Thus, as James Kelman relates, the Workers City group was caricatured as “the ghost of Stalinist past and workerist future” by the municipal authorities85. More productive for this discussion is criticism from within the left: while broadly supportive of the group, some suggested that behind the Workers City critique of service sector jobs there was “implicitly” almost an unreflexive nostalgia for real working-class jobs (in shipbuilding, in engineering and in factory work, etc). For critics, the allegedly workerist position neglected the fact that service sector work has always been a part of Glasgow’s economy, at the same time as it reified a masculine subject position by privileging certain forms of labour. While this type of critique has played a necessary and constructive part in developing new forms of organisation appropriate to temporal shifts in class composition86, the criticism seems misplaced, or at least over-emphasised, in the case of Workers City. The group’s conception of ‘work’ was much more complex than that of workerism as outlined above.
The traditional conception of ‘workerism’ should be distinguished first of all from the workerism (‘Operaismo’) of the Italian autonomist Marxist movement that emerged in Italy during the ’60s and ’70s87. Defining itself as ‘autonomous’ from the dominant Italian Communist Party (PCI), the movement was distinguished by its ambivalence to PCI’s ‘productivism’ and Party ideology, as well as its tendency to seek out radical potentialities in new forms of class composition in the wider ‘social factory’. This latter included production and reproduction within and outside the workplace, and comprised, as well as ‘workers’ in the wage-labour relation, the unemployed and those deemed outside the waged work doing housework, caring, family maintenance, etc: the ‘hidden work’ that supports the wage labour relation and capital. While it would be wrong to attribute an autonomist perspective retrospectively to the Workers City group, Farquhar McLay’s preface to The Reckoning – a collection of Workers City writing from 1990 – presents a far from traditional workerist homage to the nobility of manufacturing workers and the unions:
“The old jobs are vanishing. Nostalgia for these outmoded forms of production – now a marketable commodity in art and theatre – is surely misplaced. It was hard, miserable toil in deplorable conditions”88.
McLay understood that we are all alienated under capitalism and the wage labour relation: “Work has been degraded to the point where it is totally devoid of any meaning outside the consumer values of capitalism”89. His anti-productivist critique of “trade union betrayal” and the “pursuit of delusory wage claims” reflects many of the same concerns found in autonomous Marxism: “Was it right that people’s labour should be just another commodity to be bought and sold in the market place? That a person’s chances in life should be determined by the market value of his labour? That certain people’s labour should have a higher value than that of others? That some people’s labour should have no entitlement whatever…While the wages system remains intact all the authoritarian relationships proceeding therefrom will continue to thrive throughout the whole of society, in every job and profession…”90. McLay edited The Reckoning, and wrote both the introduction and the preface; we can surely deduce that his views were shared to some extent by the rest of the group. The same ambivalence to wage-labour, for instance, is frequently reflected in James Kelman’s fiction; the striking instability of his working class subjects. Few have full-time work, and when they do, it tends to be low-paid and insecure. Frequently, his chosen subjects are unemployed. Far from reifying a fixed proletarian embedded in the wage-labour relation, his fiction – A Disaffection, The Busconductor Hines, How Late it Was, How Late, for instance – instead explores, among other things, the tension between the uncertain coming into being of social and imaginative lines of flight, and the alienating social and economic relations that tend to repress them. These tensions are explored throughout the ‘social factory’ – in work, in benefit offices, in parkland, in pubs and bookies and in the home. Social identity is never restricted to the workplace.
Henri Lefebvre’s influential insight in The Production of Space (1974) was that the “survival of capitalism” no longer depended on production that merely appears in space, but instead on the production of space itself, in and through the process of capitalist development. Spatial production is a political instrument that determines the reproduction of social relations of production through the control and heirarchisation of public spaces. There is then, a politics of space, because space is political. With the financialisation of the economy over the past few decades, the link between finance and an urban rentier economy has become more explicit. David Harvey has shown how large-scale urban infrastructural processes (Haussman’s Paris, Robert Moses’s post-war US suburbanisation, modern China, etc) provide a potent “spatial fix” for the dumping of capital’s surplus profit, especially in times of over-accumulation and recession91. Meanwhile Michael Hudson has shown that most wealth in the US economy is generated by rent-yielding property: “real estate remains the economy’s largest asset, and further analysis makes it clear that land accounts for most of the gains in real estate valuation”92. Stock-market speculation is largely a rent-seeking activity as companies are raided for their land or other property income. The speculation process inflates prices for these assets, making property and financial speculation more attractive than new forms of productive capital formation: “The bulk of this rentier income is not being spent on expanding the means of production or raising living standards. It is plowed back into the purchase of property and financial securities already in place – legal rights and claims for payment extracted from the economy at large”93. The property bubble, and the financial crisis it precipitated, is largely a financial phenomenon borne from this form of social looting. Rental incomes are an unproductive “free lunch” gouged from the economy at large, forcing an ever-higher proportion of wages to be spent on rent and basic social subsistence, and denying it for more socially useful means.
As Harvey argues, since the urban process is a major channel of surplus use, then struggles over the “Right to The City”94 can no longer be dismissed as ‘secondary’ in relation to traditional manufacturing struggles. When McLay suggested, in 1990, that groups like Workers City pointed towards the future, he talked of the traditional image of the worker as producer of wealth becoming more problematic every day. Indeed, the manufacturing sector now accounts for only 6% of the Glasgow labour market, while low-paid services work now accounts for 88% of the workforce95. As Harvey and Hudson have shown, wealth is more than ever non-reproductive and non-wealth generating for the vast majority of people. It is perhaps ironic then that the Workers City group could provide a model for a form of politics that isn’t confined to the workplace, fighting for limited gains at work that are stolen away by inflationary price rises at the level of social reproduction. Urban struggles over social reproduction, social space and everyday life, as Lefebvre and theorists from the autonomist Marxist tradition understood, must come to the fore if social gains in the workplace are to be protected at the level of social totality. The Workers City group, while by no means a perfect model96, overcame narrow specialisations – ‘the artist’, ‘the academic’, ‘the worker’, ‘the activist’, ‘the unemployed’ – to form a non-party political, horizontal, place-based movement ‘from below’ whose arguments resonate more than ever today – despite all the booster talk of urban renaissance in Glasgow. Herein lies their importance for understanding the struggles of today. James D. Young cited Walter Benjamin when he talked in The Reckoning of a low level of historical consciousness being an indispensable part of ruling class control over working people. Remembering Workers City means brushing history against the grain, and bringing the fractious constellations of the past into a critical and productive relationship with the present; Workers City are an image of the future, not of the past.
2. For instances of, and a critique of this position, see, Mooney, G, Cultural Policy as Urban Transformation? Critical Reflections on Glasgow, European City of Culture 1990, Local Economy, Vol. 19, No. 4, 327-340, November 2004.
3. It is less Glasgow’s cultural infrastructure, and more it’s surplus labour pool and low-wage economy that attracts capital investment to Glasgow. Moreover, as Richard Florida, chief proponent of the ‘creative class’ thesis admits, the cultural pilots of regeneration are entirely dependent on a “supporting infrastructure” of low-wage service workers to satisfy their consumption demands.
4. Henri Lefebvre, ‘Reflections on the Politics of Space’, in, State, Space, World: Selected Essays (eds Brenner and Elden), Minnesota Press, 2009.
5. Zukin, S, The Cultures of Cities, Blackwell Publishers, 2000, p.2.
6. In The Rise of the Creative Classes, for instance, Richard Florida acknowledges that behind the hyperbole of his creative class theory lies inequality. In fact: “There is a strong correlation between inequality and creativity: the more creative a region is, the more inequality you will find there”.
7. For a seminal account of this process see, Harvey, D, ‘From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation in Urban Governance in Late Capitalism’, Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Humkan Geography, Vol.71, No.1, The Roots of Geographical Change: 1973 to the Present. (1989), pp.3-17.
8. For an authoritative account of the changing scales of governance in large-scale urban developments projects, see, Swyngedou et al, ‘Neoliberal Urbanization in Europe: Large-scale Urban Development Projects and the New Urban Policy’, in Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring in North America and Western Europe, Blackwell Publishers, 2002, p.209.
9. The ‘commons’ refers to resources that are collectively owned. This can include everything from land to software. The process by which the commons are transformed into private property is often termed enclosure. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_commons
10. Harvey, D, ‘The Art of Rent: Globalisation, Monopoly and the Commodification of Culture’, Socialist Register, 2002.
12. Caution is required here: not everywhere is ‘post-fordist’. China and India, for instance, ensure that production continues at the expense of a massive (and massively exploited) workforce.
13. Gerry Mooney correctly notes that cities such as Glasgow are all too frequently reified and presented as “homogeneous locales of common interests” in city branding exercises, yet: “‘Glasgow’ does not ‘do’ things, it is not an agent and it is not ‘Glasgow’ that ‘wins’ or ‘loses’, or that is undergoing a ‘renewal’, but particular (and if recent evidence is anything to go by, fewer) groups of its citizens living in particular parts of the City”. Mooney, G, ‘Cultural Policy as Urban Transformation? Critical Reflections on Glasgow, European City of Culture 1990’, Local Economy, Vol. 19, No. 4, 327-340, November 2004.
14. The campaign was replete with a Mr.Men style ‘Mr.Happy’, and the advertising concentrated on, “the ABC1 market - namely those people who make or influence decisions, particularly of a commercial nature”. http://www.glasgow.gov.uk/en/YourCouncil/PublicRelations/Campaigns/glasgowsmilesbetter.htm
15. For a clear account of the changing UK and Scottish policy context at this time, see, Boyle, R (1989) ‘Partnership in practice: An assessment of public-private collaboration in urban regeneration – a case study of Glasgow Action’, Local Government Studies, 15:2, p.17-28
16. “It is noticeable, however, that all were well-connected in the Glasgow and Scottish business community, having numerous inter-locking directorships (particularly in Scottish financial institutions), membership of the local Chamber of Commerce, and the CBI [...] leadership, control and direction was to be firmly located in the private sector”. Boyle, Ibid. p.21.
17. Sir. Norman Macfarlane, for instance, was director of Clydesdale Bank; Director of Edinburgh Fund Managers and Chair UK Distillers, among numerous other roles, while he was Chair of Glasgow Action.
18. Boyle, R (1989) ‘Partnership in practice: An assessment of public-private collaboration in urban regeneration – a case study of Glasgow Action’, Local Government Studies
20. Kelman, J, ‘Storm in the Palace’, in, Mclay, F (ed), The Reckoning. Clydeside Press, 1990, p.52.
22. Ibid. (p.50)
23. See, McShane, H and Smith, J, No Mean Fighter, Pluto Press, 1975.
24. Savage, H, Born Up a Close: Memoirs of a Brigton boy, Argyll Publishing, 2006, p.16.
25. Clark, W, in, Savage, H, Born Up a Close: Memoirs of a Brigton boy, Argyll Publishing, 2006, p.258.
26. James D Young, ‘The May Day Celebrations in Scotland’, in, The Reckoning, Clydeside Press, 1990, p.141-3.
27. Sean Damer noted, in 1990, that the ‘Merchant City’ moniker was, “...a complete invention of environmental consultants. Nobody in Glasgow had heard this term ten years ago”. Damer, Sean, Glasgow: Going for a Song, Lawrence and Wishart, 1990.
28. For a widely accepted mainstream historical summary, see for instance, Devine, T, M, Scotland’s Empire: 1600-1815, Penguin, p.73-74. See also, Stephen Mullen, ‘Ae Fond Kiss, and Then We Sever’, Variant, Issue 35: http://www.variant.org.uk/35texts/AeFondKiss.html
29. Kelman, J, Some Recent Attacks: Essays Cultural & Political, AK Press, 1992, p.2.
30. “The authorities rejected criticism and condemned the critics, especially those who used the phrase ‘working-class’. They described them as philistines and kill-joys. It was an odd line of attack since a few of the critics were well-known writers, artists and musicians”. James Kelman, in, Savage, H, Born Up a Close: Memoirs of a Brigton boy, Argyll Publishing, 2006, p.10.
31. Brendam McLaughlin, group member, cited by William Clark. Savage, H, Born Up a Close: Memoirs of a Brigton boy, Argyll Publishing, 2006, p.260.
32. Take a walk around Dublin’s ‘Temple Bar Area’, then walk down to the Docklands to see how cultural regeneration fosters an image of the city that masks land-grabbing and rent-seeking property development on an enormous scale. Glasgow’s ‘Merchant City’ has a similar function in relation to wider development strategies along the Clyde river corridor and the ‘regeneration’ of the East end.
34. “For decades in Scotland, the name ‘keelie’ has been applied pejoratively to Glaswegians, denoting ‘low-class vulgar beings’. Absolutely appropriate for the Workers City group”. James Kelman, Introduction, Savage, H, Born Up a Close: Memoirs of a Brigton boy, Argyll Publishing, 2006, p.13
35. A recent WHO health report noted that “inequalities are killing people o a grand scale”. A boy growing up in Calton for instance can expect to live 28 years less than in wealthy Lenzie. Cited from a WHO report on health and well-being, in, Collins, C, To Banker, From Bankies. Incapacity Benefit: Myths and Realities: Perspectives on Welfare Reform from the Clydebank Independent Resource Centre. CIRC. Funded by Oxfam GB, April 2009.
36. Kelman, J, ‘Art and Subsidy, and the Continuing Politics of Culture City’, Some Recent Attacks: Essays Cultural & Political, AK Press, 1992, p.32.
37. Gordon-Nesbitt, Rebecca, ‘The New Bohemia’, Variant, Issue 32. http://www.variant.org.uk/32texts/CSG.html
38. See page. 71 for full list of transferred assets: http://www.scottishcommons.org/docs/BusinessCase.pdf
39. ‘Go Ape cancels Pollock Park Development’: http://www.indymediascotland.org/node/15857
‘Botanics Nightclub plans scrapped’: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/7352237.stm
43. For a good summary of common good issues, see: http://www.scottishcommons.org/commongood.htm
49. See, page.53: http://www.gha.org.uk/content/mediaassets/doc/AnnualReport2009.pdf
53. For news and links, see: http://sosglasgow.wordpress.com/ and, http://libcom.org/news/glasgow-threateaned-schools-occupied-parents-03042009#comment-form
57. See http://www.subway2020.com/Glasgow%20Subway%202020.doc especially, p.17.
58. See http://www.variant.org.uk/34texts/mechantcity34.html
59. Jones, C and Patrick, J, ‘The Merchant City As an Example of Housing-Led Regeneration’, in, Healy, P et al (eds), Rebuilding The City: Property-Led Urban Regeneration, E & FN Spon, 1992, p.129.
60. Given that disinvestment is often a motor of urban redevelopment – a strictly logical outcome of market rationality – one wonders if this process wasn’t at least partially engineered via an incremental process of ‘creative destruction’? Much more work would need to be done to ‘prove’ such a thesis, but the question should, at the very least, be asked.
61. Jones, C and Patrick, J, ‘The Merchant City As an Example of Housing-Led Regeneration’, in, Healy, P et al (eds), Rebuilding The City: Property-Led Urban Regeneration, E & FN Spon, 1992, p.129.
62. Ibid, p.132.
63. Ibid, p.136.
64. Ibid, p.138.
65. Ibid, p.139.
66. For an amusing and prescient take on ‘yuppification’ in Glasgow see Down Among the Big Boys (1993), Directed by Charles Gormley, and written by Scotland’s Jim Allen - Peter McDougall.
67. Ibid, p.143, 144.
68. Ibid, p.144.
69. See 19, http://www.glasgowmerchantcity.net/downloads/devmap0609.pdf
71. See, http://www.squidoo.com/paddysmarket. For a critical overview, see section ‘Governing Through Crime: Managing the Dark Side’ in: http://www.variant.org.uk/34texts/mechantcity34.html
72. See Swyngedou et al, ‘Neoliberal Urbanization in Europe: Large-Scale Urban Development Projects and the New Urban Policy’, in, Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring in North America and Western Europe, Blackwell Publishing, 2002, p.201-209.
73. And here we are not in the least bit concerned with Steven Purcell’s private or personal life, but rather his role in facilitating the looting of public assets in Glasgow on an unprecedented scale. http://www.heraldscotland.com/revealed-cronyism-at-heart-of-purcell-s-council-1.1017770
74. Including, Sir Tom Hunter, Willie Haughey, Jim McColl, Akmal Khushi and Dr Lesley Sawyers. Interestingly, Willie Haughey - the Labour Party’s biggest Scottish donor - recently received £700,000 from Clyde Gateway Developments, a quango run by Iain Manson, a former advisor to Steven Purcell: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/politics/company-linked-to-purcell-in-700-000-land-deal-with-labour-donor-1.1014924
78. MacLeod, G, ‘From Urban Entrepreneurialism to a Revanchist City? On the Spatial Injustices of of Glasgow’s Renaissance’, in, Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring in North America and Western Europe, Blackwell Publishing, 2002, p.254-276..
79. Mclay, F (ed), The Reckoning. Clydeside Press, 1990, p.12.
80. See, Gray, Neil, ‘Glasgow’s Merchant City: An Artist-led Property Strategy’, Variant, Issue 34, Spring 2009.
81. See, Mooney, G, ‘Cultural Policy as Urban Transformation? Critical Reflections on Glasgow, European City of Culture 1990’, Local Economy, Vol. 19, No. 4, 327-340, November 2004.
82. Peck, Jamie, ‘The Creativity Fix’, Variant, Issue 34: http://www.variant.org.uk/34texts/creativityfix.html
84. See, Mooney, G, ‘Cultural Policy as Urban Transformation? Critical Reflections on Glasgow, European City of Culture 1990’, Local Economy, Vol. 19, No. 4, 327-340, November 2004.
85. Kelman, J, Foreword, Some Recent Attacks: Essays Cultural & Political, AK Press, 1992, p.1.
86. As a starting point, see these seminal accounts from a feminist perspective, which retain an analysis of class and capital: http://libcom.org/library/power-women-subversion-community-della-costa-selma-james. And, http://libcom.org/library/sex-race-class-james-selma
87. For an excellent summary of autonomist Marxism, see, Wright, Steve, Storming Heaven: Class Composition and struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism, Pluto Press, 2002, p.3. For an influential account of operaismo within - and against - the currents of Marxism, see, Cleaver, H, Reading Capital Politically, Harvester Press, 1979. Especially, p.51-66.
88. Mclay, F (ed), The Reckoning. Clydeside Press, 1990, p.10.
90. Ibid (p.9)
94. The phrase comes from a Henri Lefebvre essay in 1968, and despite its connotations of bourgeois liberal democracy and “equal rights”, it usefully focuses attention on, and provides a rallying point for, the control and management of urban processes.
96. William Clark, a younger group member at the time, has alluded to his “difficulty” with some generational attitudes towards the sexes in the group. Born Up a Close: Memoirs of a Brigton boy, Argyll Publishing, 2006, p.259.