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The Three Nexal registers: Identity, peripheral cultural industry, alternative cultures

Nikola Janović and Rastko Močnik

11.1. The three groups of nexus-relevant cultural policy agents

Processes and policies of neo-liberal globalisation are presently providing the general frame for every conceivable cultural policy. This means that cultural policy agents first have to decide either to follow the mainstream, that is transforming the cultural domain into an important new niche for capital accumulation,I or to oppose (or eventually to by-pass) the prevailing tendency. The main agents of the first alternative are entertainment transnational companies. Those outside the mainstream controlled by the core transnational cultural oligopolies are, most prominently, peripheral cultural industries for whom culture certainly is just a domain of capital exploitation – but who have to activate various peripheral or marginal social dimensions in order to circumvent the stronger mainstream competition. On the other side, there are agents for whom culture is not just another continent to be colonised for capital gain, and also others who pretend to entertain such a culture-oriented attitude in order to safeguard their share of profits, a share they would not be able to retain on purely market terms. As a starting approximation, we will present cultural agents as distributed along two axes, the axis of their orientation and the axis of their structural position. To the rough directional distinction between “profit-oriented” cultural industries and “culture-oriented” productions, we will add the positional opposition between “mainstream” and “marginal” production.

mainstream

(= dominant)

marginal

(= subaltern)

 profit-oriented

GLOBAL OLIGOPOLIES

PERIPHERAL CULTURAL

INDUSTRIES

culture-oriented

STATE-INTERVENTIONIST

CULTURES

ALTERNATIVE

CULTURES

Scheme 11.1 Cultural agents according to their orientation (profit/culture) and to their structural position (mainstream/marginal)

Cultural agents compete both with their peers who occupy the same position in this ad hoc scheme (global transnationals fight against each other, peripheral producers compete with other peripheral producers etc.) as with those who are situated in other positions (global agents compete against their peripheral counterparts, global and peripheral agents both try to squeeze out alternative agents, etc.). Every agent attempts to create a niche where it could secure a relative monopoly for itself. Such a niche is culturally constructed, it is underpinned by representations of a particular life-style, it possesses its own cultural traditions, mythologies, heroes, has its own jargon, its shibboleths etc. Creation of cultural niches is as much the product of cultural invention as it is of cultural parasitism. The two can hardly be distinguished, since commercial cultural invention mostly proceeds in the way of re-articulation of already existing cultural features found "on the field". However, strategies of invention differ according to their aims: if a strategy aims at conquering a world market, it will build upon etiolated and abstract features and will try to maximise the extension of its potential targets; if, on the contrary, a strategy aims at a socially determined group (e.g., an age group), the patch-work of its cultural offer may be closer to the already existing features of the group, or, more likely, will stylise and further develop the traits of its cultural Ideal-Ich.

What we call "nexus" in this volume is a social formation that particularly invites this kind of secondary elaboration. It is itself a source of continuous patch-working efforts that collate explicitly heterogeneous elements ranging widely both over the space and the time, and its cultural features are open towards further re-articulation.II Into every cultural element that is brought within its orbit, the nexal cultural formation introduces a self-distancing mechanism precisely at the point of the usual native illusions.

Global mainstream oligopolies mainly exploit the nexal phenomena within the standard strategies of niche-seeking for capital accumulation, that is, they do not specifically valorise their particular structure. Contrary to this de-localised exploitation of nexus-cultures, some of the other agents inherently depend upon nexal flows and their effects, and actually constitute and re-produce themselves through practices that are detrimental to the nexus-processes. These practices of supplementary elaboration upon already elaborated cultural material establish spaces where the three groups of agents that interest us in particular, either deploy explicitly stated policies or perform what could be considered as “spontaneous”, implicit, policy-making.

The three groups of agents that constitute themselves through specific practices working upon various aspects of the nexus complex, can be broadly described as follows:

    1.                       The group of mainstream culture-oriented agents is composed of national operators – national governments, national cultural industries (in particular, cinematographic and audiovisual industries), institutions of “national culture”. With some exceptions, cultural policies of EU and the European Commission belong to this category. Agents of this group oppose global liberalisation and deregulation of cultural markets principally in order to protect their national cultural industries from oligopolies that control the global market; in a second place, they want to stop homogenisation and destruction of “national” cultures that result from monopolistic practices upon the “free market”. Although these agents have succeeded in preventing the unreserved surrender of cultural productions to the rule of capital at several confrontations, none of those occasions has been a true breaking point. Quite on the contrary, most European governments have adopted a more or less liberal attitude over recent decades.III Such an attitude has also been strongly suggested by European bodies to post-socialist countries. From this “national” position, protection of cultures can only be conceived and practised as state intervention, and state meddling with the presumably natural life of the free market needs very strong arguments to be accepted by the spontaneous ideology of the agents themselves. Within this ideological horizon, valid arguments are either para-economic (e.g., they ground the need to protect culture from the free play of market mechanisms on the concern to safeguard the market itself): this argumentation will justify various anti-monopoly measures; or they simultaneously draw from economic and political liberalisms (freedom of enterprise is translated into freedom of creation; freedom of choice serves both sides); or, finally, they appeal to the very basics of the liberal political constitution (freedom of expression). Various appeals to “rights” are nowadays most often styled as claims for identity that seem to be the bottom-up perspective of  what is understood by the top-bottom view as “cultural diversity”. Within the “national” perspective, nexal phenomena presently appear as questions of “identity”. The “national” identity is presented as being threatened by the global flows, either by hegemonic pressures or by peripheral migrations. “Identity” of the “diaspora” outside the nation-state has to be nurtured, “identities” of minorities within the nation-state have to be safeguarded.

    2.                         The marginal profit-oriented agents are peripheral commercial cultural producers and their apparatuses. In the effort to create their own markets, peripheral producers exploit the nexus cultural material and more generally the nexal social dimensions.IV Cultures that emanate from these productions valorise gigantic dislocations which brought millions from European peripheries, namely, from South and South-East Europe, Near East and Africa into the heart of Europe during the second half of the 20th century, re-affirm them as a new quality in the core-Europe and as creators of multiform and grass-roots processes of the novel core-periphery global integration. These extremely pluralistic and richly structured cultures are genuine contributions of the European periphery to the processes and products of globalisation. They render obsolete the classical simplistic conception of core-periphery relations, and impose the necessity of a structured view that will be able to substitute to the classical world-system perspective a novel concept of de-totalised nexal configurations.

    3.                        The group of marginal culture-oriented agents is composed of various alternative cultural producers and audiences. They struggle in the intermundia of contemporary cultural scene, practice “small business” or masquerade as “socio-culture”, parasite on “cultural diversity” and “minorities” policies, evade regulations that favour transnational oligopolies or invent spaces not yet regulated by “free trade” legislation. Common to all these alternative forms is their direct affirmation of the socialised character of contemporary means of cultural production, and of the socially productive potential of contemporary communicational technologies able to create worldwide audiences without the mediation of private appropriation. In other words, alternative cultural practices suppress the separation between the individual and her or his sociality, they perform material liquidation of that Trennung, Scheidung, so typical of the 19th century and which made industrial capitalism possible. In this way, alternative practices directly confront and combat the endeavours of transnational capital privately to appropriate what has historically and materially already been socialised. V

Policies of the first group seem to rely upon an obsolete political paradigm: in fact, they question the basic tenets of the present world hegemony, and trigger processes that may well bring about an alternative set of global solutions. The second group, on the one side, just linearly expands the logic of capitalist exploitation into the recently formed social spheres of global capitalism while, on the other side, it dramatically challenges the basic structural relations of contemporary capitalism, most explicitly the core-periphery hierarchies. Policies of the third group create alternative spaces of socialisation and cultural production, while being simultaneously exposed to the pressures of economic marginalisation and juridical criminalisation by the powers-that-be on the one side, and to the processes of systemic recuperation and commercial exploitation, on the other.

The nexus problématique is worked upon by all the three sets of processes, agents and policies. Policies of the national model impose an identitary straightjacket upon nexal processes and formations. Peripheral cultural industries are the most direct and impressive way through which nexal flows and processes are articulated under the presently prevailing logic of neo-liberal capitalism. And to the alternative cultural production, nexal flows are the most prominent necessary condition for creation and survival.

In the sequel, we will separately examine the logic of each of the three policy types. But let us first have a quick look at the world-historical conjuncture that provides the background to our policy analysis.

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