Monday, 16 March 2009

Competitive Edges Symposium : Culture, Nationalism & Migration

Please check for updates

Competitive Edges Symposium : Culture, Nationalism & Migration

10.30am - 5.30pm Saturday 28th March 2009

CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts)
350 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3JD
Event free but ticketed
Box office: +44 (0)141 352 4900

At the 2008 Lothian Lecture given in Edinburgh Professor Tom Nairn and Scotland's nationalist First Minister, Alex Salmond envisioned Scotland as a nimble nation "light on its feet" and "possibly out-smarting heavyweights". In many ways this idea draws upon Ireland's boom time image of the Celtic tiger. Given that nation states are not in fact mobile entities within the international juridical system of sovereignty, we aim to involve internationally acknowledged researchers, academics, writers and artists, who are engaged with the issues of globalisation, to explore what such ideas mean for culture and the arts, particularly in relation to identity and migration, and ultimately for the policies that shape culture.

This will be a vital opportunity for a wide range of people to historically locate contemporary cultural trends and to situate the politics and discourse of diversity in a comparative international context. We think it is particularly important to examine cultural policies in the context of uneven development and the phenomenal rise of the speculative international economy.

Historically, Scotland has experienced mass emigration particularly as a result of enforced rural 'improvements' in the 19th century. This has influenced the way the country imagines itself today. In 2004 the Scottish Arts Council held a major conference in Dundee, 'New Voices Hidden Histories', which created a debate about how mass immigration had also influenced the cultural landscape of Scotland and whether artists and arts organisations effectively represented contemporary Scottish society. One of the things that emerged from the conference was that the philosophical foundations of multiculturalism are vague and its politics potentially divisive or sectarian. As has similarly been described of contemporary multi-ethnic Ireland, 'multiculturalism' is a common linguistic currency which disavows everyday, institutional and state racist undertones in the name of racelessness. Far from promoting tolerance of cultural difference, orthodox multicultural policies have presented a number of paradoxes which work to harden territorialism and racism. Increasingly, the ideology of nations as lively corporate entities, such as 'UK PLC', appears to have no answer to the everyday experience of life in immobile unlimited states that do not enjoy an option for bankruptcy under international law.

Five years on, the issues raised in Dundee have been recast by the troubled progress of the Scottish parliamentary Creative Scotland Bill which, despite a confusing series of political twists and turns, still seems set to position culture closer to political and economic policies, possibly eroding the material basis of "the arms length principle" which informed cultural management after 1945. What is extremely unclear from orthodox multicultural ideas is how the complex values of multiculturalism will continue to function in practice: can there be a substantial critical relationship with the promotional model of culture that now informs cultural policy in many countries, and if so how successful would this be in relation to defending democratic rights and freedoms in culture? It is therefore especially timely to have the above symposium in Glasgow to comparatively explore how cultural freedoms and human rights might be upheld or eroded in the era of competitive nationalism.

Some of the key areas to be addressed are:

• the economic structuring of migration and national responses
• the policies that define 'diversity'
• the place of non-white academia
• development, sovereignty and citizenship
• cultural autonomy - communication or self-expression?


Femi Folorunso - works as arts development officer at the Scottish Arts Council. Prior to joining the Arts Council, he lectured in drama and cultural studies at universities in Nigeria and the UK. Femi continues to retain strong academic interest in drama and cultural theory as well as in cultural policy development. He is currently researching the disenfranchisement of immigrants under the neoliberal reconstruction of citizenship. His contribution will focus on the interconnections between race, migration and international development.

Ronit Lentin - director of the MPhil in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Department of Sociology, Trinity College Dublin.
['From racial state to racist state: Ireland on the eve of the citizenship referendum', Variant, issue 20, Summer 2004]

Sarah Glynn - Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Edinburgh and a Public Interest Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde.

Robbie McVeigh - Derry-based human rights activist and researcher on racism and sectarianism, equality and human rights.

Stephen Mullen - co-ordinator/researcher with GARA (Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance) - will argue that there is romantic view of the ubiquitous Scot abroad, which is symbolic of the selective perception of Scottish history. In spite of sustained Scottish emigration to the Caribbean slave plantations from c.1650 onwards, this period is sometimes viewed through a deliberately obscured lens. Stephen will explore factors contributing to this national amnesia and illustrate implications for the national identity. The omission of the less glorious aspects of our history means there is an unacknowledged legacy of Scots emigrants. There are many tangible examples of this legacy in the Caribbean, although this is not reflected in the narrow scope and focus of the Homecoming programme in 2009. The Homecoming encourages the Scots Diaspora to return home to participate in festivities, celebrate the birth of Robert Burns and to revel in the achievements of notable emigrants. However, this legacy extends to more than pioneering inventions, whisky and golf. Indeed, the kilt has many colours.


Owen Logan - photographer and Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen. Owen works with the 'Lives in the Oil Industry' oral history project in the Department of History at the university, and is currently working between Scotland and Nigeria.


Daniel Jewesbury - artist & co-editor of Variant magazine
['The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st Century Britain', Daniel Jewesbury, Variant, issue 32, Summer 2008]
Alex Law - Lecturer in Sociology at University of Abertay Dundee whose research interests include Nation and Society, and Urbanism.
['Social Capital and Neo-Liberal Voluntarism', Alex Law & Gerry Mooney, Variant, issue 26, Summer 2006]

For further information, please contact Variant:
t. +44 (0)141 333 9522

Or check the website for updates:

This event is kindly supported by CCA.

UNESCO Tackles Culture and Commerce
UNESCO Tackles Culture and Commerce

A new international treaty entered into force in March, encouraging parties to adopt measures to protect the diversity of cultural expressions that may be imperilled by the quickening pace of globalisation.
Since the early 1980s, international trade in cultural goods has grown six-fold, increasing from US$9.5 billion in 1980 to US$60 billion in 2002. According to the World Bank, cultural and creative industries account for more than 7 percent of world GNP, which represents a global commercial value of US$1.3 trillion. A handful of countries export the lion’s share of cultural goods, with Europe leading at 51.8 percent, followed by Asia (20.6 percent) and North America (16.9 percent). Likewise, rich countries account for more than 90 percent of all cultural imports, led by the US, the UK and Germany. In contrast, Latin America and Africa were estimated to represent 3 and 1 percent, respectively, of world trade in cultural goods in 2002.
Some statistics on the diversity of cultural expressions are startling. For example, while Hollywood accounts for 85 percent of box office revenue worldwide, in Africa just 2 percent of the population has seen African films. There thus appears to be both a decrease in the dissemination of cultural goods on a global scale, and a decline in the production of, and access to, a diversity of such goods and services.
In addition, cultural industries are progressively taking over traditional forms of creation and dissemination and bringing about changes in cultural practices. The diminishing diversity of languages offers a striking example: while there are more than 6000 living languages in the world, those used in commerce and new technologies are increasingly dominant. It is estimated that a language disappears every two weeks and there are predictions that 90 percent of them will be extinct within a hundred years.

Convention on Cultural Diversity
It is against this backdrop that the members of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) adopted a Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions1 in October 2005. The treaty, which entered into force in March 2007, recognises that cultural goods and services cannot be treated as mere commodities. It explicitly allows parties to protect and promote the diversity of their cultural expressions [1] through, for instance, adopting measures aimed at:
providing opportunities for the creation, production, dissemination and enjoyment of domestic cultural activities, goods and services, including provisions relating to language;
providing domestic independent cultural industries and activities in the informal sector effective access to the means of production, dissemination and distribution;
providing public financial assistance; and enhancing diversity of the media, including through public service broadcasting.
Parties to the convention may also take ‘all appropriate measures’ to protect and preserve cultural expressions in situations where they have determined that these are at risk of extinction, under serious threat, or otherwise in need of urgent safeguarding.

Relationship with WTO Rules
A major point of contention during the negotiations for the new treaty was how its provisions would relate to WTO disciplines. Opponents, such as the US, saw its main purpose as an attempt to give additional legitimacy for the maintenance and possible expansion of measures – maintained by countries such as Canada, China, France, South Korea and many others – that restrict market penetration of foreign films and music, as well as other cultural products or services (magazines, audiovisual broadcasts, etc.). Its proponents considered it as a necessity to safeguard the survival of their cultural identity, language and traditions.
The convention has been ratified by 67 individual countries, as well as the European Union as a whole. The US voted against its adoption, arguing that the instrument remained “too flawed, too open to misinterpretation and too prone to abuse for us to support.” The US also stressed that the convention “must not be read to prevail over or modify rights and obligations under other international agreements, including WTO agreements. Potential ambiguities in the convention must not be allowed to endanger what the global community has achieved, over many years, in the areas of free trade, the free flow of information, and freedom of choice in cultural expression and enjoyment.”
The language regarding the treaty’s relationship with other international agreements is indeed ambiguous: on the one hand it affirms that parties will not ‘subordinate’ the convention to any other treaty, and on the other it specifies that nothing in it “shall be interpreted as modifying rights and obligations of the parties under any other treaties.”
Thus, should a WTO dispute arise regarding measures taken to protect the diversity of cultural expressions, a defendant in the case could refer to the rights accorded by the convention, while a complainant could evoke the clause that it does not modify the defendant’s obligations under other treaties. Non-parties, such as the US, would of course not be bound by the convention’s provisions at all. Legal scholar Joost Pauwelyn, however, has argued that the WTO “presumably would not wish to isolate itself from the rest of the international lawmaking world by closing its eyes to any legislative initiative agreed on outside its own building, be it consented to by the disputing parties or not.”[2]

See also:
UNESCO Overwhelmingly Approves Cultural Diversity Treaty

Open Letter to Mike Russell MSP, Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution

What follows is an open letter to Mike Russell MSP, Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution, concerning Creative Scotland (the proposed merger of the public bodies, the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen) that will shortly be sent to him. The letter was formed through open group discussion and concentrated exchanges between artists and members of Variant’s affinity group. If you concur with the letter and wish to sign it, either in a personal or ‘official’ capacity, then please email Variant at:
For ongoing analysis of the Creative Scotland debacle, please visit:

Open Letter to Mike Russell MSP, Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution

Dear Mike Russell,
Re. Promotional Culture versus Democratic Culture: The Case of Creative Scotland
After a long series of confusing twists and turns over cultural policy in Scotland it is clear that there is considerable controversy surrounding the proposed cultural body Creative Scotland. We believe Creative Scotland is already impoverishing culture by promoting and envisaging it in overwhelmingly industrial terms. This misguided approach ultimately fixates on anything or anyone that can be bought, sold or put into debt[1], and stands against the spirit and letter of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions which came into force in March 2007.[2]
So far, the formation of Creative Scotland has been a largely opportunistic political and bureaucratic exercise in a country which suffers from significant democratic deficits despite our devolved parliament. It is therefore vital that this organisation, if it is to truly represent the interests of culture, builds moral and democratic authority. We take your recent ministerial appointment as evidence of the seriousness of this problem at the heart of Creative Scotland.
It is disappointing that your first public meeting, at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh (18th February 2009) about the new cultural agenda was with a selected gathering. Many people who wanted to attend, such as the President of University Colleges Union in Scotland, were excluded. It should go without saying that there are intertwined problems of protecting criticality and freedom in education as in culture. However, the ‘Team Scotland’ ethos already expressed for Creative Scotland[3] demonstrates far narrower promotional and business-led objectives that neglect these and other treaty obligations in cultural policy.
Other countries which have also ratified the UNESCO declaration, such as Sweden, recognise prosperity as an important consideration in cultural aims[4]. Yet, in contrast to successive pronouncements in our country, Sweden’s policy explicitly states the need to counteract “the negative effects of commercialism”. Evidently Scotland and Sweden’s leaders in the cultural policy area are not singing from the same song sheet. However, given that both nations are signed up to the same universal rights and obligations, we, as citizens, are entitled to ask why there has been absolutely no sense in Scotland’s political discourse of all the ways that culture and commerce are not compatible?
Is it that Scotland is conforming to an old slur against its people and is now ruled by the same short-sighted money-minded people, the best of whom have presided over financial disaster, or is it that we have not been represented in accountable and truly democratic terms? In either case we see the dominant ethos of Creative Scotland as deeply flawed. It is highly inappropriate that Creative Scotland is being forged by bankers and businessmen who are evidently insensitive to, or ignorant of, the broad implications of cultural policy. Their patronage or support for certain cultural activities is no qualification and does not enable them to address culture as whole. We therefore urge the resignation of Ewan Brown, Peter Cabrelli and Chris Masters from the board of Creative Scotland on the grounds of their inability to fully discuss this key issue of democratic society with politicians, civil servants and wider communities.
In accordance with our international obligations under the UNESCO convention from March 2007, it is also essential the following points are recognised in, and made central to, Creative Scotland’s ‘core script’:
• Culture must be protected from commerce, particularly from the economic processes of globalisation.
• The very idea of ‘Team Scotland’ is a symptom of these competitive processes and should be removed. It is not a means to defend diversity of expression, nor does it promote international co-operation. These two obligations should be clearly addressed.
• The poverty, and consequent lack of autonomy, of artists and cultural workers must be acknowledged as a key issue that should be addressed by any cultural organisation seeking to articulate the public interest and the common good.

John Porter & Helen McGregor
Owen Logan (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen)
Leigh French & Daniel Jewesbury (editors, Variant magazine)
Tim Nunn
Euan Sutherland (visual artist)
Giles Bailey
Bridget Fowler, (Professor Emerita of Sociology, University of. Glasgow)
George Tarbuck, Lighting Designer
Doug Aubrey (Artist/Filmmaker)
Gair Dunlop
Roxane Permar (artist)
Ellie Harrison (artist)
Lesley Punton (Lecturer, The Glasgow School of Art)
Jim Colquhoun (artist)
David Harding (artist & educator)
Larry Butler (Convenor of Lapidus Scotland)
Leigh Ferguson
Monika Vykoukal (Curator, Peacock Visual Arts)
Marlene Sim
Catherine Czerkawska
Matthew Zajac (Joint Artistic Director, Dogstar Theatre Company)
Gordon Asher (adult educator)
Angie Dight
Neil Davidson
Rachel Jury (Writer)
Neil Mulholland (ECA)
Andrew Ross (Professor and Chair, Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University)
Mandy McIntosh (artist)
Lucy Johnstone (artist)
Kathryn Elkin
Louise Shelley
Sophia Lycouris (Edinburgh College of Art)
Pernille Spence (The University of Dundee)
Philippa Hall (Uclan & Open University Scotland)
David Kerr
William Wilson (Lyth Arts Centre)
Lynn Wray
Dr Alex Law (Division of Sociology, University of Abertay Dundee)
Terry Brotherstone (University of Aberdeen / President UCU Scotland in a personal capacity)
Ann Vance (artist/film maker)
Daniel Simpkins (Director, Critical Network)
Stephen Hurrel
Ken Davidson (Shortlisted artist, Creative Scotland 2005)
Dr Olga Taxidou (English Literature, University of Edinburgh, Academic and Playwright)
David Stamp (artist)
Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan (artists)
Simon Gowing (artist)
Mick Peter (artist)
Johnny Gailey (arts education officer)
Kate Orson
Paula Larkin (Development Worker, Document - International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival)
Tim Birtwistle
Karla Black
Doug Russell (Actor)
Xana Maclean (Freelance Performance Maker, Formerly head of the Royal Lyceum Youth Theatre)
Ross Birrell
Neil McIntee (BAhons, P.Grad MFA)
Alex Hetherington
Janie Nicoll (artist)
Anthony Schrag (artist)
Bob Hamilton
Des O’Sullivan
Lila de Magalhaes
Dr. Sarah Glynn (architect & academic)
Iain MacInnes
Dr. Mo Hume
Colin Darke (artist)
Miller Caldwell (Society of Authors and a member of the cross party committee)
Penny Whitehead & Daniel Simpkins (artists)
Jo Timmins (Theatre Practitioner)
Myrto Stampoulou
Clare Yarrington
Rob Kennedy

1. “The Government wants Scotland to be recognised as one of the world’s most creative nations - one that attracts, develops and retains talent, where the arts and the creative industries are supported and celebrated and their economic contribution fully captured.” [our emphasis] Published - 5 February 2009, Support For Creative Industries: Roles And Responsibilities - Core Script
The previous minister Linda Fabiani stated: “If formed, Creative Scotland will add to the range of funding sources available to artists and creative practitioners. As well as grants, it will develop a wider portfolio of funding methods including loans and investments.” This was reinforced further in a Sunday Herald article, where it was reported, “A spokeswoman from the Creative Scotland transition team stated: ‘Creative Scotland will be looking at a range of alternative investment models, with the aim of finding and increasing sources of funding.’ Tax incentives, venture capital, loans and corporate investment are all potential models previously mentioned by the transition team.”
2. Culture is itself broadly defined in the convention as a complex phenomenon; “...consequently cultural goods and services convey identity, values and meaning and cannot be treated as mere commodities or consumer goods like any others...” p4 ‘UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions’.
3. 5 February 2009, Support For Creative Industries: Roles And Responsibilities - Core Script
4. “The objectives of national cultural policy include safeguarding freedom of expression and creating genuine opportunities for everyone to make use of that freedom; taking action to enable everyone to participate in cultural life, to experience culture and to engage in creative activities of their own; promoting cultural diversity, artistic renewal and quality, thus counteracting the negative effects of commercialism; enabling culture to act as a dynamic, challenging and independent force in society; preserving and making use of our cultural heritage; promoting the thirst for learning, and promoting international cultural exchange and meetings between different cultures in the country.” ‘Sweden’s objectives of national cultural policy’