Wednesday, 24 October 2012

a labour struggle for distinction?


A follow up on my previous comment to @jenmcgregor:

I’ve tried follow up on others’ suggestion elsewhere to consider this a labour dispute, and to then position conflict within that. The following’s still more a map of concerns, but I wanted to post it now as I don’t know if I’ll be able to look at it again ahead of the 26th October Edinburgh event:

What’s going on involves a struggle for distinction amongst competing interest groups (which form ‘constellations of opportunity’) in them reacting to Scottish government restructuring (of which Creative Scotland is but a part) based on an international ‘creative industries’ (development/growth) policy script that’s contingent on local histories and contexts.
This policy script doesn’t act alone, rather Creative Scotland sits across and is responsive to different policy influences – as SAC was to e.g. Social Inclusion.
The disruptive transition of restructuring is also experienced by staff across Creative Scotland as an organisation itself – as not disentangled from collegial networks which manifested with/through the art form specialisms of SAC/ SS.
The state structure, that was necessary to protect certain interests, and which was responsive to and generative of those interests, is being recast – this was legislated for via the Public Services Reform bill (2010) and from which (as well as decades of private consultation, and as nurtured into being by bankers) Creative Scotland and its market definition was the outcome.
(The cultural ‘Leadership’ agenda perhaps takes a slightly different turn in Scotland; contra the notion of a ‘damaged cultural Scottishness’, it’s been formative in embedding a string of the Scottish political/economic elite in public institutions involved in state production of symbolic value – it’s state formation at work, in reassuring those class interests and tying them in with an independent Scottish state’s production. Though such a view hardly fits with the ‘class racism’ that we’re all lefties in the arts in Scotland — i.e. Étienne Balibar’s identification of the ignoring of class within ethnicity as if ethnic groups are not fractured by class like everyone else, arguing that the notion of class is ‘ethnicised’.)
These are state processes throughout which the distribution of power and authority is uneven, which is the basis of conflict.
The object of such conflict is the status quo and the consequences of change.
Lewis Coser defined conflict as‚ “a struggle over values and claims to scarce status, power and resources”.
Randall Collins believes there are certain ‘goods’ that every group wants to pursue, including ‘prestige’.
Which is where I locate the recent self-selecting pronouncement on the parameters of “Scottish culture” – where worryingly we appear to be moving from faux-meritocracy (‘talent’) to a lodging of authenticity (‘Scottishness’).
Much creative labour is not simply excluded but actually absented from such an intimate construction of ‘community of belonging’, as a constellation of relatively-closed (though not static) ‘familial’ network enterprises – hence disciplinary notions of moral ‘disloyalty’. Whereas solidarity is a political process not a consanguine command.
These are the conflicts between inter-groups and intra-groups that are part of social life.
(Some of this is necessarily abrupt in its brevity – for a more nuanced definition of conflict, I found the short section of notes on Bourdieu here useful: “Bourdieu refuses that agents act according to explicit norms or rules, rather it is the shared conditions of existence which produce certain inclinations of practical action, where events are met in the world with certain inclinations and dispositions shaping the specific action undertaken.”)
So this is about the social and economic relations of cultural production, where different groups continue to have unequal power. Given these power differences, special interest groups compete over scarce resources of society – consciously/ intentionally or not, it is to gain advantages over others, including advantages of distinction. There are also, however, differences in power and opinions within and across each ‘group’.
These ‘groups’ are, rather, better described as not fully static but more dynamic and overlapping constellations formed around accruing cultural capital and labour opportunity; “products of rationalized social construction [that] lack [fully] social solidarity”.
“To complicate matters further, different individuals enter these groups with differing levels of access to resources. Those with the greatest resources tend to have a larger say in group activities. Consequently, minorities form that feel underrepresented and powerless to compete with majoritarian views and methods. (Too often, these minorities reflect the same minoritarian structure found in culture as a whole). … Oddly enough, the worst-case scenario is not group annihilation, but the formation of a Machiavellian power base that tightens the bureaucratic rigor in order to purge the group of malcontents, and to stifle difference.” Critical Art Ensemble, ‘Observations on Collective Cultural Action’ – Variant, issue 15, Summer 2002
So we can see that it’s a conflict based on inequality of existing power relations – an understanding necessarily backed-up here by CAE. Groups and individuals advance their own interests, struggling over control of societal resources.
The resulting social disruption of these groups’ intra- and extra-relations is but one manifestation of latent conflict serving to create a new balance of authority. (Even in attempting to reassert old ties.) This is an ongoing process. It concerns incremental social change in adjustment to shifts in the underlying balance of constellations of power.
‘Destabalisation’ of what are perceived as too-closed constellations of interest, as is being pursued via CS, is thought to ‘stimulate innovation’ in the economy.
Whatever the actual international experiences of this neoliberal competitive ‘solution’ to perceived stagnation, paradoxically CS does actually identify a very real set of conflicts in inequality of cultural provision – one which remains contrary to the ‘status quo’-framing of politics as merely a managerial task involving the identification of consensus.
The State is not some neutral organ that equitably represents everyone’s interests. When the business of the state was more fully that of those cultural brokers and producers who are still in a relative position of authority to aggregate and voice disaffection, it also facilitated a particular dominance in means of cultural production.
In that sense it can be considered a conflict over property rights – a right granted by the state to authoritatively exercise sovereignty over property: to exclude others from it or to regulate them in its use. That property which is socially significant establishes a relationship of domination and subordination among people. So it can be considered a conflict over relations of authority at the state level; a struggle over state power and control of property rights.
(Re Nicholas Garnham: “the cultural industries are seen as complex value chains where profit is extracted at key nodes in the chain through control of production investment and distribution and the key ‘creative’ labour is exploited not, as in the classic Marxist analysis of surplus value, through the wage bargain, but through contracts determining the distribution of profits to various rights holders negotiated between parties with highly unequal power.” Which is why the W.A.G.E. campaign remains highly partial and so limited.)
There is no neutral, explanatory position; no objectivity and detachment of ‘disinterestedness’ – it’s about actively defending advantages or contesting disadvantages (real and perceived).
Such conflicts and power struggles are everywhere; something that always conditions human existence and interaction.
Suffice to say here, neoliberalism is a programme that gained its strength from various alliances, ranging from the economic and political fields, to the academic and cultural fields.
What we experience then is that we are caught in the midst of various forms of neoliberal enclosure and restructuring, which is seen by competing individuals, networks and agencies to offer openings for a range of agendas seeking to gain purchase on institutional structures/ bureaucracies.
In our experience, it is precisely these meshing of egoistic interests that effaces any significant debate of the underlying antagonisms (conflicts) in Scotland’s cultural policy and provision — how it significantly differs from, say, Sweden’s earlier, more social democratic policy before its own neoliberal restructuring. It even acts to efface the previous conflicts before this round of restructuring – as if the discriminative collegial basis of art form specialisms isn’t what current restructuring is reactive to!?
How do we call it out for all of us to see?
To claim the disruption currently experienced as merely, or even primarily, ‘managerial’ is to limit what potential positions we may take up with regard to it. It would be to separate these processes of conflict and transformation from ‘political imagination’ – that is, from our consideration of the organisational forms, objectives and specific issues of the economic struggles of our precarious labour.

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