Sociology of the arts and culture

Arts and Culture in Times of Crisis (session 1 of 3)

June 29, 2021 10:45
June 29, 2021 12:15

Research Committee Sociology of Arts and Culture (RC-SAC – Foko-KUKUSO):

Olivier MOESCHLER,University of Lausanne; Miriam ODONI, University of Neuchatel; Loïc RIOM,University of Geneva/Mines Paristech; Samuel COAVOUX,Orange Labs/SENSE; Valérie ROLLE and Thibaut MENOUX,University of Nantes; Guy SCHWEGLER,,University of Lucerne


Paul Buckermann (Thematic Research Network ‘Validity of Knowledge’, Heidelberg University)

Maria Teresa Lacerda (NOVA FCSH, INET·MD - Instituto de Etnomusicologia · Centro de Estudos em Música e Dança, Lisboa, Portugal)

Magdalena Popławska (Sociology Faculty, Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU), Poznań, Poland)

The Covid-19 crisis has deeply affected the production, distribution, and consumption of culture. Early on in the unfolding of the crisis, governmental and other institutional reactions across the world might have prioritized conventional sectors of the economy more than the arts. However, it soon became clear that the situation of artists and cultural workers as well as their venues could not be neglected, especially in the face of the renewed intensification of the crisis or the “second wave” of autumn 2020. The cultural sector’s own immediate responses to the imposed restrictions, such as the shift towards digital strategies, also lead to new and perhaps unintended consequences on a larger scale, such as live concerts through social media, virtual museums, digital access to books or libraries, broadcasted concerts on balconies, etc. At the same time, not only did the various authorities and producers re-evaluate culture, but so did audiences. The inequalities, uncertainties and precariousness often already inherent to culture have multiplied and become even more visible. During the SSA Congress 2021, the Research Committee Sociology of Arts and Culture (RC-SAC, or Foko-KUKUSO) would like to undertake discussions on the shifts currently taking place in the arts and the cultural sector as regards social justice, and particularly in uncertain times. Our main interest concerns the reshufflings of the cultural sector that stem from the Covid-19 crisis. Research that tackles the changes that arts and culture undergo in light of other crises (economic crisis, climate crisis, political crisis etc.) is also possible.

What is art good for again? Cultural organizations’ boundary work in times of crisis

Paul Buckermann (Thematic Research Network ‘Validity of Knowledge’, Heidelberg University)

How do cultural organizations and professionals justify controversial claims for reopening exhibition spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic 2020/21? How do their argumentative frameworks interrelate knowledge about the institution of art as both an autonomous sphere and a positive resource for society as a whole? This paper shares findings on the visual arts and invites discussions concerned with literature, theatre, music etc. and respective organizational infrastructures.

Navigating autonomy and heteronomy of the arts in complex ecologies, cultural organizations and professionals need to justify the relevance of art and the relevance of its public offline display to influence political decisions and public opinion in a heated debate. Therefore, cultural organizations actively bring forward positive effects of the arts that not directly root in art-specific logics. Obviously, promoting political, economic, psychological or educational benefits of the arts relates to multiple pressures of instrumentalization. While cultural organizations are permanently dealing with these “tensions of mission” (Zolberg), this paper is particularly interested in how organizations and professionals specifically sell art to society without selling out art to “hostile worlds” (Velthuis) in highly critical situations. Based on empirical analysis of argumentative frameworks for visual art, the paper reconstructs epistemological foundations and epistemological conflicts that underlie the public discourse on culture during COVID-19.

The paper theorizes art museums and other exhibition venues as organizations in “trading zones” (Galison), in which different resources are interchanged between agents with different interests that root in diverse value spheres. Sociological questions on organizational processes crossing symbolic boundaries directly link to questions on autonomy of the art in general and on its institutional infrastructures in particular. Involved in “boundary work” (Gieryn), cultural organizations and professionals not only mobilize multiple resources for whole art worlds but also need to shelter evaluative and classificatory criteria of these very worlds against external logics. The professional discourse on art’s genuine logics and its contribution to the common good, individual well-being, political culture etc. is particularly interesting regarding sociological approaches that understand autonomy of the arts as the result of a successive emancipation from political, religious, academic or economic constraints (Bourdieu, Luhmann, Bürger). On a general level, the paper argues that permanent organizational work on symbolic boundaries is crucial for the institution of art, its internal structures and evaluative logics that are all respectively embedded in a complex society. To systematize this constellation (for further investigations, too), the paper combines concepts from sociology of the arts, organizational theory, sociology of science, and sociology of knowledge.

The paper presents empirical results based on qualitative analysis of public statements of organizations, networks, and professionals for visual art in Switzerland, Germany, and France. These findings relate to general questions like: What are the arts’ positive impacts on society and individuals propagated by cultural professionals? Which common knowledge and myths about the arts are mobilized to make valid justifications of disputed claims? How are demarcation and promotion of art intertwined within these justifications? Which role do organizations and professionals play for the institution of art and its autonomous structures in complex social ecologies?

Keywords: Art; Controversy; Museums and exhibition venues; Autonomy/heteronomy 

Arts and Culture in Times of Crisis in Portugal

Maria Teresa Lacerda (NOVA FCSH, INET·MD - Instituto de Etnomusicologia · Centro de Estudos em Música e Dança, Lisboa, Portugal)

The cultural sector has been characterised by precarious work, job insecurity and a lack of social protection (Freee Art Collective, 2013; Monnier, 2009). According to the Cena-STE data, in Portugal, only 12% of culture workers have an open-ended contract, and 70% maintain a second profession. The Cultura em Luta (Culture in Protest) platform considers this situation should be changed with greater State investment, which is why, in 2015, it launched the motto “1% for culture”.

However, this goal remains to be achieved and, six years and a pandemic later, only 0.21% of the total expenditure of the 2021 State budget was allocated to the cultural sector. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation: between March and April 2020 alone, the Associação de Promotores de Espectáculos, Festivais e Eventos (Association of Promoters of  Shows, Festivals and Events) registered the cancellation or postponement of 27 000 shows. The GDA (Management of Artists' Rights) adds that, on average, for each cancelled or postponed show, 18 artists, 1.3 production professionals and 2.5 technicians are left without income. The government’s response soon followed and involved a combination of cross-cutting measures for various industries and others specifically designed for the cultural sector. On March 26, Decree-Law No. 10-I / 2020 was published, which defined that cultural activities should not be cancelled but rescheduled within a maximum period of one year, and Decree-Law No. 10-G / 2020, that established the Simplified Lay-off Regime. On March 28, 2020, the call for the Linha de Apoio às Artes (Emergency Support Line for the Arts) opened. Still, organizations, professionals in the cultural sector and academics remained apprehensive about the future. (Gama 2020; Nofre et al. 2020). The climate of uncertainty dragged on until June 1, when the Government implemented the Deconfinement Plan, which allowed the reopening of concert halls and music venues under strict hygiene and safety standards. However, this brief respite for the cultural sector only lasted until October. Since then, the country has oscillated between “state of emergency” and “state of calamity”, with measures constantly changing, sometimes hampering, sometimes preventing, the planning of events in the short and medium-term. According to Cena-STE data, 80% of the planned cultural activity was cancelled and postponed without a new specific date. On January 13, 2021, the Council of Ministers determined the closure of all cultural spaces. The following day, the Minister for Culture, announced a new set of measures, notably: 1) the Programa Garantir a Cultura (Guarantee Culture Program), which provides for universal and non-competitive support of 42 million euros; 2) DGARTES allocated 35 million euros for sustained support and 8.4 million to 368 entities that were not supported in 2020; 3) Social support of 438.81 euros for each cultural worker; 4) Support for non-professional artistic structures.

This paper aims to provide a sociological analysis of the cultural policies proposed or applied in Portugal during the coronavirus pandemic, based on press analysis, government publications, and preliminary surveys developed by unions and associations.

Keywords: Cultural policies; Portugal, Covid-19, Artist’s statute 

Interdependencies – culture with active participation of older people

Magdalena Popławska (Sociology Faculty, Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU), Poznań, Poland)

The text will focus on the cultural and social needs of older people who deal with various kinds of disabilities or limitations, and require active assistance from formal and informal carers – which introduces a category of “dependence” into the socio-scientific discourse. In discussing the issue, the author refers to two examples of projects organised by Zamek Culture Centre, a cultural institution located in Poznań (Poland). In 2019, this cultural centre conducted a study of the needs of dependent older people as cultural participants, gaining insight not only into the opinions of older people, but also employees of elderly assistance centres of the Wielkopolska region. In 2020, during the COVID-19 epidemic, Zamek Culture Centre organised a series of expert workshops devoted to working with the older people. Participants of said workshops included employees of cultural institutions, as well as employees of institutions and organisations dealing with the therapy and rehabilitation of the elderly. The workshops contributed to the publication of educational and training materials targeted at the personnel of cultural institutions and organisations. The author presents the effects of the described projects from the perspective of one of the researchers conducting qualitative research who participated in "idea-generating” workshops, co-edited and co-authored training materials. This presentation is meant to contribute to reflections on the “educational turn” in culture – the proposition that pedagogical practices have been growing more and more significant in the context of curatorial and artistic strategies (O'Neil, Wilson 2010). The research on the needs of dependent seniors, as well as subsequent research and education activities carried out by Zamek Culture Centre were all cross-sectoral in their approach, integrating various ways of learning and conceptual categories (cultural constructs of old age, distinctions between cultural animation and therapy). The cross-sectoral character of the research made it possible to highlight such approaches to older people’s participation in culture which emphasise the importance of non-discursive elements, e.g. touch and movement. 

In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, the cultural needs of dependent older people coincide with the need for physical distancing, but also with the growing problem of loneliness and exclusion from socio-cultural life. The author characterizes cultural education as a practice based on inclusiveness, the relational nature of cultural participation, and the transformative assumptions of critical pedagogy (Giroux 1997; Krajewski 2013, 2014). In a broader context, the discussed topic is related to the production of alternatives to directing the cultural offer to unspecified and undefined groups of recipients, which is, in turn, linked to the fact that after the political transformation of the 1990s Polish cultural institutions have lost their direct connection to local communities (Kosińska 2019). The presented results indicate the need to make culture more accessible and to make artistic practices more democratic, without fetishizing marginalised groups, but with the awareness of various dependencies and crises that occur during different stages of human lives.

Keywords: Culture; Art and therapy; Older people; Poland