Extended Project Description

Towards a new concept of culture and new types of cultural communication

Abstract: The aim of the project is to develop a new, dynamic concept of culture that can provide a framework for reflection in the late modern "hybrid" cultural institution and help to rethink the ends and means of cultural communication. The new concept of culture must be able to a) illustrate why, how and with which consequences art and culture have changed their character and are moving towards experience and event; b) be used to reflect the current change of focus of cultural communication from expertise to user participation, and c) help to bridge the gap between theory and practice by creating a conceptual foundation for cultural communication. The project will be carried out using a theoretical and historical concept clarification, analytical and strategic model development, and case-based studies (of regional culture agreements and at museums of art and cultural history).

Motivating factors involve two aspects. 1) Basic cultural research has not been performed at national level since the establishment of the interdisciplinary Centre for Cultural Research at Aarhus University in the 1980s, cf. Hans Fink "the hyper-complex concept of culture" (1988). There is now a need to rethink the concept of culture in the light of the radical cultural changes that have taken place over the last few decades (cf. Fink, 2008) and of the latest international research, so that, in addition to being complex, the concept can also become dynamic. 2) As in other fields of practice, theories of cultural communication are lacking, but at the same time cultural communication is attracting increasing interest from research and increasing political attention. Based on a rethinking of the concept of culture, this project will help to bridge the gap between theory and practice by creating a framework within which work can be carried out on conceptually grounded cultural communication, i.e. well-adapted forms of communication substantiated conceptually and translated both into long-term objectives and short-term strategic choices.

The background is the intensified engagement with culture in the late modern "experience society" (Schulze 1992, 1997) and the increasing role of cultural policies in the reconstruction of the modern national and welfare state (Bennett 1998, 2013). Under the influence of this reshaping of culture, cultural policy as a whole and the classic cultural institutions in particular are confronted by a series of demands to readjust. Danish municipalities are encouraged to join forces on major framework policy measures, while individual cultural institutions are encouraged to form clusters and open up to each other and to the urban environment and, at the same time, to include former non-users in their activities. There is currently a search for terms that can act as signposts for this change: the "digital", "inclusive" or "democratic" city; "smart", "open" or "hybrid" institutions; "creative alliances", user-driven "innovation" and "communities" of users, etc. (Danskernes kulturvaner 2012, Fremtidens Kunstmuseum 2010, Reach out inspirationskatalog 2012). At the heart of this lies the fact that central communication tasks have moved away from enlightened information, from the objective dissemination of knowledge and from the interpretation of classics towards immediate experience, subjective topicalisation and user participation.

The first purpose is to develop a concept of culture that can embrace the dynamism and the demand for affective commitment and dialogue-based participation that characterise contemporary lifestyle-oriented, multicultural reality. The second purpose is to operationalise such a concept of culture in a model that can be used both for analysis and for strategic choices at the interface between institutions and users. The third purpose is to create a basis for a dialogue between the fields of theory and practice, which includes taking into consideration external demands and expectations among the public (users) and the public authorities (the state and the municipalities), and to reflect the objectives on a critical-ethical basis (Butt 2005, Rogoff 2005, Stevenson 2007).
The thesis is that there is a need for a fundamental concept development that can create a point of departure for reflective cultural communication, i.e. the identification, selection and prioritisation of relevant types of communication that take account of current user needs and social requirements as well as more long-term, culturally and aesthetically substantiated perspectives. The assumption is that existing experiments in the cultural sector are closely connected with ongoing digitalisation and to ideas regarding user participation that have been generated by web 2.0 and the social media (Digital museumsformidling - i et brugerperspektiv, Drotner et al. 2011). However, taking their lead from philosophers and political theorists such as Agamben, Arendt and Sennett, media and cultural researchers (Turner 2010, Thumin 2012) have warned against an unreflecting belief in the democratic potential of the new media technologies and against user participation as the watchword for (social) inclusion and (economic) innovation. Such notions can on the contrary constitute an obstacle to a deeper understanding of the discrepancy between demotic (popular) and democratic, and between democracy and technocracy. There is, therefore, a need for a dynamic concept of culture that can function as a reflective tool in judgements of taste, ethics and politics, and can promote ideas about what communication as initiation of co-creation and social transformation could look like (cf. also Hammershøj 2012; Nielsen 2007).

Field of research: Given that its point of departure is a rethinking of the concept of culture, the field of research that the project will form part of and contribute to is a relatively new field in which cultural research joins forces with efforts to create a theoretical and conceptual qualification of cultural communication as a field of practice (Andersen, J. et al. 2012; Jantzen, Vetner and Bouchet, 2011; Langsted et. al. 2010). The field ranges nationally and internationally across phenomena such as new museology (Anderson 2004; Dysthe, Bernhardt & Esbjørn, 2012; Hooper-Greenhill 2007; Janes 2009; Ingemann & Larsen 2005; Witcomb 2004) and new institutionalism (Ekeberg 2003, Möntmann 2006, Kangas & Vestheim 2010) and includes a number of simultaneous measures connected with libraries and archives, (Rasmussen, Jochumsen & Skot-Hansen 2011) architecture and urban development, (Kiib 2010, Marling & Zerlang 2007) media and public service (Brynskov, Halskov & Kabel 2010).

Theories and methods: In its rethinking of the concept of culture, the project takes as its starting point cultural theoreticians such as Z. Baumann (1999), R. Sennett (2007, 2012) and A. Huyssen (2003), who work with culture as a cognitive and perceptual concept (Baumann),  a concept of social (inter)action (Sennett) or a concept of discourse and identity politics (Huyssen). A supplementary thesis is that it would be relevant and possible to think of a combination of these different dimensions in a dynamic concept of culture that would allow them to interact. With this aim in mind, the project will derive inspiration from international cultural studies, which include a tradition of cultural policy studies (Bennett 1998, 2013), combined with a) performativity theory, b) more-than-representational theory and c) affect theory.

R. Williams' definition of culture as "the emergent public good" (Sørensen et. al. 2010) has been central to cultural studies since the 1970s. According to this definition, culture is on the one hand something in the making and therefore in principle open/undetermined, and on the other something shared that is the object of general/public interest. We want to combine this foundation with what is known as the Amsterdam School and M. Bal's cultural analysis (2002, 2010, 2012) of art and culture as aesthetic objects and processes that bring about something, i.e. are performative. The project is intended as a further elucidation of such a dynamic and performative concept of culture and will draw on a number of theoreticians who, like Bal, work with art, culture and performativity (Bishop 2012, Bourriaud, 2005, Fischer-Lichte 2004, Jalving 2011). To consolidate this foundation there will also be focus on how concepts in themselves are performative: "while groping to define, provisionally and partly, what a particular concept may mean, we gain insight into what it can do" (Bal 2002, p. 11). Such a view of a concept can bridge the gap between theoretical concept development and reflective practice, which is the nucleus of our project, and promote a flexible research framework that pays attention to how such a concept also does something with its field.

With a view to rethinking the concept of culture, the non-representational theory (Thrift 2008, Anderson & Harrison, 2010) often also termed the more-than-representational theory (Lorrimer 2005), make an important reference point. Culture for these human and cultural geographers is made up of the emerging life forms that come to expression in everyday routines and impulses, in the flow of meetings and bodily movements, in affective intensities and sensual dispositions, in practical skills and activity-related dispositions. This again helps to bring home the point that culture is not something to be found as a value or an essence "out there" and that requires revelation by the researcher and communication by the expert. Culture is what arises, is created and is given meaning in situational meetings and processes between objects, places and people, and not least in the encounter framed by the institution of the museum, for example, or the urban space, where life as it is lived faces expertise.
Both performativity theory and more-than-representational theory draw on and refer to the affective turn in aesthetic studies and cultural sciences, which includes a renewed interest in emotions, senses and imagination (Ahmed 2004, Sedgewick 2003, Wetherell 2012) and thereby also in phenomena such as mood, atmosphere and presence (Böhme 2012, Gumbrecht 2012) and objects, places and space (Massey 2005; Miller 2010). This new theoretical field has contributed to a rethinking of aesthetics and culture beyond categorical distinctions and categories of taste and upbringing and thus to laying a foundation for the concept of experience, including a rethinking of the relationship between self, community and society.

The project comprises four qualitative, explorative case studies (Denzin & Lincoln 2011) that, taken together, will help to develop the dynamic concept of culture and turn it into a conceptual understanding of communication. Each of them must enter into a dialogue with the institutions, projects and players involved by, among other things, working with participatory, ethnographic methods. With regard to methodology, the sub-projects will derive inspiration from a neo-phenomenological tradition of focusing on the body, senses/emotions, space and mobility and consequently use methods such as visual ethnography and multi-locational and multispectral ethnography (Pink 2008, 2012). These are methods that are basically dialogical and were developed with the aim of capturing processes, relationships and modalities. They will be combined in the analysis with analytical approaches derived from more-than-representational and affective theories, post-critical and performative art and cultural analysis, such as Thrift's "assemblage" concept through which networks and relations can be revealed, Rogoff's "participation modality" through which participation can be approached as a form concept, or Bal's combination of "focalisation" and "framing" which allows decisions to be made with regard to viewpoint and perspective.

By taking the point of departure outlined here, the project concentrates on a) developing a dynamic and multispectral concept of culture, b) turning it into a model for reflection, for determining objectives and selecting strategies, c) developing and testing the model in collaboration between the sub-projects and between theory and practice. Each of the four sub-projects will enter into a dialogue with its field on concept and model development and individually and collectively report back to the field through publications and conferences, etc. Joint conclusions will be arrived at on the basis of this, both with regard to the work of concept development and to the opportunities it provides as a foundation for concept-based forms of communication.