Sociology of the arts and culture

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

June 30, 2021 10:45
June 30, 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


Florence Schenk, Department of Social Sciences Sociology Unit, University of Fribourg

Alice Neusiedler, Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen

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.

Creative workshops and access to artistic practices

Florence Schenk, Department of Social Sciences Sociology Unit, University of Fribourg

The social value of artistic activities is becoming a central topic in sociology of art (Ward, 2014; Loser, 2014). Shifting perceptions of artistic practices demonstrate a convergence between artistic expression (visual art, dance, …) and the creation of social bonds. These bonds are particularly visible in creative workshops open to a variety of audiences (adults, children, marginalized people, migrants, etc.). On one hand, these workshops are moving away from an elitist approach of artistic culture. The aim of self-development through the enhancement of feelings and individual emotions, enable a reconnection to one’s own body, seen as a mediator, allowing self-expression. On the other hand, creative workshops value ordinary culture as creator of social interaction and relationships. Including these values to the workshops, the artistic moment becomes a favorable place for socialization. 

The paper is based on data collected through interviews and participant observation in artistic workshops in Switzerland conducted within the framework of an ongoing doctoral thesis. First, it will investigate to what extent artistic workshops are becoming spaces of emancipation and creation of its own and self-made creation. Then, it will question how they are also perceived within traditional social boundaries related to gender, class and alterity in order to access to these workshops. Indeed, the majority of people attending these workshops are women; economic conditions define the access to these workshops too, since art is still perceived accessible for an elitist population only.  

Within the imposed restrictions of the Covid-19 crisis, this sharing among people is currently slowed down. Room for expression, personal time and atmosphere in the workshops, related to the group, are missing elements in this particular time. On the other hand, creativity seems to have taken a more important place at the moment, since confinement has constrained people to stay at home. New occupations must be found. Many testimonials can be observed about new creative activities (newspaper, social media, personal experience and relatives). It seems that creativity is therefore accessible to everyone in an easy way. 

Thus, the situation is encourring an increased interest of digital practices and online creative workshops. A lot of these creative workshops have found an important interest in digital platforms and online classes, since it could prevent them finally from closing definitely. 

Yet, creative workshops offer a specific space with materials and freedom to experiment within a group. Intuition and self-expression are valued and shared. While schools are principally teaching esthetics and technical elements to individuals, creative workshops seem to socialize people to their creativity and to their potential to access artistic activities. Is Covid-19 changing our perception of art practices?

Keywords: Creative workshops; Emancipation through art; Digital practices 

Embracing uncertainty? How expected and surprising actors negotiate collaboration in participatory art practices

Alice Neusiedler, Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen

Crisis, such as the current pandemic, can be understood as an interruption of the normal, and thus reversely leads to the question how much stability it (re-)produces at the same time. In the setting of the current pandemic, performative art, as other art forms too, had to react to crucial changes in their work organization, such as postponing performances and adaption to new regulations. Nevertheless, performative art in general, and participatory art in particular, is facing disturbances of their planed work organization as regular events in their production processes, although in other forms. By focusing on interruptions of work organization in a broader sense, my paper will examine how artists and artistic processes deal with unintended disruptions in their production processes, and what that means for artistic collaboration and the conceptualization, of both, artists and participants within those projects.

Participatory art projects include non-professionals in their art production and their art works are in turn dependent on those collaborations, seem especially interesting to target those questions. Thus, they integrate unpredictability to an even greater extent than other artistic work processes, as they open up to new actors and other social spheres to realize their artistic vision per se. Those projects are further promising, as much hope has recently been placed in those projects for social change outside the art project itself. While a participatory turn in cultural policy strategies has been stated (European Commission 2009; Virolainen 2016), art’s role in society is being re-evaluated (Wuggenig 2016, Reckwitz 2017). Even though the inclusive effects of participatory art practices have been questioned (Bishop 2012; Bell 2017; Jancovich 2017), participatory practices have been a form of critique for artists, by advocating against social exclusions within and exterior to the art field.

Through interviews and group discussions with artists and participants, and leaning on the Documentary Method (Bohnsack 2013), I aim at reconstructing how roles and positions within art production are negotiated by planed and unpredicted actors in a production context, that embraces unpredictability. My paper is based on the analysis of three exemplary cases and unintended interventions within: a group of external actors calling upon fire regulations in a 2-week school intervention, the postponing of events in a critical history project, and the intervention in decisions of the site of event though collaborating art institutions in a public space dance performance. Strategies to include actors into artistic work, artists’ goals as well as reactions to disturbances differ widely in those projects. All of those projects, though, have to navigate field specific expectations regarding the artist-subject as a geniuscreator and in the artwork as their singular expression.

From a practice theoretical perspective practices (Bourdieu 1996; Nicolini 2012; Reckwitz 2002; Shove, Pantzar, and Wattson 2012), I will investigate in my presentation, (1) how those projects react and deal with disturbances in their work organization in relation to project-specific modes of inclusion and the project’s narratives of their own work process; how this in turn is linked to (3) negotiations of positions of different actors within those work processes; and (3) what happens in those projects artistic visions, when key issues are disturbed by unpredicted factors.

Keywords: Participatory art projects; Creative process analyses; Performative arts; Unpredictability