The project application with The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Science

The research project aims to study how publicly funded artistic practices relate to contemporary urban governance in the city of Malmö. By developing an innovative research design based on Actor-Network Theory and Governmentality Studies, the project aims to empirically map the lines of association between the various actor-networks that make up the publicly funded art-world of Malmö. By doing this, we aim to investigate the role of artistic practices in the establishment of specific technologies of government. Thus, this approach will address the relationship between art and governmentalization on both theoretical and practical levels. By tracing how a local site of artistic practice connects to other sites through vehicles and conduits (carrying documents, materials, people, ideas, concepts, etc.), it will be possible to discover whether actor-networks solidify certain relations of power in ways that affect movements and identities in the social world. We will thereby be able to investigate the actor-networks of the art world that are actively included in city governance in Malmö as well as the technologies of government that this inclusion creates and mandates. The project will also be a contribution to the study of the changing role of art in contemporary society.

Project description

The research project aims to study how publicly funded artistic practices relate to contemporary urban governance in the city of Malmö. By developing an  innovative research design based on Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and Governmentality Studies (GS), the project aims to empirically map the lines of association between the various actor-networks that make up the publicly funded art world of Malmö. By doing this, we aim to investigate the role of artistic practices in the establishment of specific technologies of government. Thus, this approach will address the relationship between art and governmentalization on   both theoretical and practical levels. By tracing how a local site of artistic practice connects to other sites through vehicles and conduits (carrying documents, materials, people, ideas, concepts, etc.), it will be possible to discover whether actor-networks solidify certain relations of power in ways that affect movements and identities in the social world. We will thereby be able to  investigate the actor-networks of the art world that are actively included in city governance in Malmö as well as the technologies of government that this inclusion creates and mandates. The project will also be a contribution to the study of the changing role of art in contemporary   society.

In our pilot study on the connection between art projects and governmentalization (Clavier & Kauppinen, 2014 and forthcoming, 2014), the key finding was that artistic practices function as technologies of government to manage migration; at the same time, migration has become a central political rationality for cities to invest in artistic institutions. We  would like to expand this work    beyond migration by including all of the investments in artistic practices made in Malmö by various actors using public funding. In other words, we are trying   to understand the new political scope and role of art by looking for its connections to governmentalization.

Our research questions are: How are artistic practices included in contemporary urban governance? What actor-networks are active in this inclusion? What governmental technologies are constituted in these   processes?

The purpose of the  research

We will map out and analyze the concrete ways in which art is funded, adopted and adapted to perform governmental functions in Malmö. We will look for the connections between government and art in the established cultural institutions (e.g. theaters and museums) but also in more provisional settings (e.g. art and cultural associations) and less obvious settings (e.g. schools and youth recreation centers).

In our pilot, we established strong ties between local projects and policy, and EU funding mechanisms. The present research project will develop the pilot further and, for example, map the potential ways that central EU initiatives (e.g. “The New Narrative for Europe”) are translated and disseminated through actor- networks into local policies and art projects and what the official motives are for state actors to fund artistic  projects.

We will be addressing a type of “subterranean” cultural politics that often by- passes the nation state through direct funding from the European Regional, Social, and Integration Funds and which thereby escapes the scrutiny of more nation-state focused cultural policy research (e.g. Klockar Linder 2014;  Frenander 2007, 2005; Nilsson 2003) and the debates in the press about cultural politics.

A further purpose is to develop theoretical and methodological tools for these types of analysis.

Theory and method

Research in the field of art and urban governance is   intrinsically multidisciplinary. In our previous research on artistic practices and governmentalization, for example, we have drawn on research from the fields of cultural policy, aesthetics and in particular urban aesthetics, international  migration and ethnic relations, actor network theory and governmentality studies. Below, we explain how we understand our current project in relation to these fields—and our theoretical and methodological points of departure and contributions.

Cultural policy research focuses on analyzing the historical formation of the relationship between culture and the state. This relationship is analyzed both as a formal policy field which came into existence in the 1960s and 70s when governments in Europe established cultural ministries (e.g. Menger 2010; Frenander 2007, 2005; Duelund 2003) and as a more wide-ranging set of informal relations between politics and culture dating back to the Enlightenment. The informal relations are researched not only in the discipline of cultural policy but also in history (e.g. Klockar Linder 2014; Nilsson 2003), ethnology and cultural anthropology (e.g. Ristilammi 2003; Frykman et al. 1987) and cultural studies (Harding 2007; McGuigan  2004).

Most researchers agree that institutionalized cultural policies in Europe are deeply rooted in the welfare state. For example, Menger points out that European cultural policy is “regarded as one of the pillars of [the welfare state] together with educational policy, social policy and health policy” (2010: 1). He maps the general trends of institutionalization since the 1960s in four stages (developing chronologically but allowing for considerable overlappings and   differences):

  1. cultural policy is geared towards preserving cultural heritage and promoting excellence in the arts and democratizing access to art;
  2. cultural policy is increasingly linked to education, urban and social policy: focus is on helping local authorities to provide cultural facilities and amenities, which in turn leads to more anthropological and regional definitions of cultural identity and diversity;
  3. cultural policy is joined with economic rationality in order to secure social and economic benefits from public investments in the arts;
  4. cultural policy becomes an “industrial policy”; it has the ambition to lead to a materialization as goods, services, performances and practices; creativity is understood to be generic of all economic activity (2010: 2-5).

Menger’s historical exposé also reveals how the understanding and function of art is changing in our societies: instead of fostering a relationship between audiences and art in terms of spectatorship, art is now understood as an arena for participation and collaboration, frequently connected to notions of social  cohesion and/or economic development (c.f. Bishop   2012).

This change in the function of art is also recognized in urban aesthetics. Hall & Robertson identify six claims often made as part of the advocacy of art in the urban environment: art projects can help [1] develop a sense of community, [2] cultivate a sense of place, [3] promote civic identity and social cohesion, [4] address community needs, [5] tackle social exclusion, and [6] stimulate social change (Hall & Robertson 2001, see also Hall & Smith   2004).

Similar claims are made in the field of international migration and   ethnic relations. For example, art is comprehended as a “magnet of culture […] catalyzing moods and emotions,” thus producing a sense of belonging and community (Verdi 2008: 38). Art is said to be “giving voice” to marginalized identities (e.g. O’Neil & Tobolewska 2002) or fostering spaces of recognition and contact where “new cross-cultural relationships can be rehearsed and imagined” (Wood & Landry 2008: 201). It is also argued that urban aesthetics functions as an important contributor of urban sustainability by making the city “joyful as well as functional” and by being part of a critical social process (Miles 1997: 114).

However, other voices point out that claims on behalf of public art “remain  largely untested and unproven” (Hall & Robertson 2001: 22). One particularly strong criticism comes from Deutsche, who argues that “the dominant paradigm of [the] urban-aesthetic” is characterized by “a democratic rhetoric of ‘openness’ and ‘accessibility’” but the practices of public art are nevertheless “structured by exclusions and […] attempts to erase the traces of these exclusions” (1996: xii- xiii). What becomes obvious here is that the frictions between advocacy, evidence and possible exclusions demand closer attention and   analysis.

Ruffel argues that the 18th century understanding of art which created “the  grounds for a sensus communis” through “monumental and extravagant” public investments in art is being replaced by “micro-political approaches […] privileging the inscription of the artist […] into a given social fabric” (2014: 117). Artistic practices are thereby no longer separated into exclusive spaces. Ruffel recognizes three consequences of this transformation: [1] artistic practices are increasingly ”attached to a cultural program,” which means that there is    a political rationality projecting outcomes for artistic practices; [2] art    is understood as ”a vector of social cohesion”; and [3] art is institutionalised into new centers of transmission, such as educational, commercial and social welfare institutions (2014: 116-19). Art is thus often directly given commercial, pedagogical and socially cohesive  functions.

These functions should not be understood as extrinsic to the arts but as belonging to the internal modification of art. Today much art is taking place outside institutional domains such as theaters and galleries. Even the unity of the artifact is being transformed. For example, Vasset argues that the “enthusiasm of contemporary writers for live readings, poster campaigns, or the production of sound pieces is less the result of the conquest of new non-textual territories, than of a modification of the internal distribution of the book itself, no longer  envisaged as a total object, closed off in its atemporal perfection, but as a   cloud of possibilities” (Vasset 2010, quoted in Ruffel 2014: 114). Literature, thereby, expands beyond the publication process and includes new functions as well as a reformulation of old  ones.

Ruffel’s and Vasset’s theorizations about the transformation of art from the monumental into the micro-political recall Menger’s historical account of the shifts in cultural policy from the focus on cultural heritage to a focus on  economic rationality and “industrial policy.” These connections between art and non-artistic concerns are not new—art has always had social and societal functions (c.f. Moretti 2013; McGurl 2009; Habermas 1989; Bürger 1984)—but the modalities of the connections and their consequences for artistic practice  seem to have changed. What we have is a landscape that has been theoretically debated in various disciplines but not yet properly empirically   registered.

With this background in mind, our project aims to be theoretically and methodologically innovative by focusing on artistic practices through ANT and GS, and thereby move the analysis of art into new domains not covered by the work of urban aesthetics (e.g. Deutsche 1996), the urban sociology of art and design (e.g. Miles 1997), or the cultural policy research (e.g. McGuigan    2004).

One of the strengths of ANT is the focus on what things and people do and how they connect rather than what they mean. Law describes ANT as ”a disparate family of material-semiotic tools, sensibilities, and methods of analysis that treat everything in the social and natural worlds as a continuously generated effect of the webs of relations within which they are located […] Like other material- semiotic approaches, the actor network approach thus describes the enactment of materially and discursively heterogeneous relations that produce and reshuffle all kinds of actors including objects, subjects, human beings, machines, animals, “nature,” ideas, organizations, inequalities, scale and sizes, and geographical arrangements  (2009:141).

According to Latour, ANT is not a theory, but rather an insistence on the empirical dimensions of research, particularly of descriptions. Latour even goes so far as to suggest that there is nothing beyond the description and that “explanation emerges once the description is saturated” (1991: 129). Indeed, he writes: “[i]f a description remains in need of an explanation, it means that it is a bad description” (2005: 137). As Krarup and Blok explain, Latour’s “sociology of associations entails a change of focus from ‘society’ (of humans)   to ‘collectives’ (of humans and non-humans). And, symmetrically, its method changes as well: from theoretically interpreting human action to obstinately ‘following the actor’ by tracking and mapping its multiple associations” (2011: 43).

Using ANT for methodological purposes allows us to make the actor-networks and assemblages of the art world in Malmö visible. This part of our work is empirical and opens new possibilities of understanding the social contexts of artistic actor-networks: we will meticulously record the connections, translations and mediations of the entities that make up the particular social world under analysis. In practical terms, we will track, map and describe the actors using the GEPHI visualization and exploration  tool.

Both ANT and GS are fundamentally influenced by Foucault, particularly his emphasis on refraining from ”deducing concrete phenomena from    universals” and instead ”start with […] concrete practices” (2008: 4). Just like ANT, GS has the ambition to “abstain from the problems of ‘explaining’” in favor of discerning “the web of relations and practices that result in particular ways of governing […] the conduct of individuals and groups” (Rose & Miller 2008: 7). However, unlike ANT, GS is interested in the descriptions for the information they contain about relations of  power.

We believe that ANT has been justifiably criticized for its tendency to remain on the level of description and for not being able to deal adequately enough with the asymmetries of power embedded in the networks (e.g. Brenner et al. 2011, Krarup & Blok 2011). This is why we feel the need to supplement ANT with GS, which makes it possible to trace how the assemblages are part of relations of power in ways that may affect movements and identities in the social   world.

Thus, when we map the artistic networks we will try to locate what remains of the “domain of strategies, techniques and procedures through which different  forces seek to render programmes [of government] operable” (Rose & Miller  2008: 63). This is the point where cultural policy in the research of Menger is materialized into goods and practices and where Ruffel is able to write about how the work of the artist is invested into an entire social   fabric.

To understand this dynamic, we will relate the activities of the actor-networks to what Rose and Miller call ”political rationalities,” namely “the formulation and justification of idealised schemata for representing reality, analysing it and rectifying it” (2008: 58). The artistic practices are, in these processes, turned into “a domain subject to certain determinants, rules, norms and processes that can be acted upon and improved by authorities [and which] make the objects of government thinkable in such a way that their ills appear susceptible to diagnosis, prescription and cure by calculating and normalizing intervention” (Rose    & Miller 2008: 63). Here, we believe, the artistic practices may function as the capillary extremities of governmentalization. This is where the political  rationalities are translated into technologies of   government.

We also want to capture the possible counter-networks, or alternative artistic assemblages that take shape and develop alongside the governmentalizing actor-networks and which do not participate in the creation of conditions of governance.

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