what is different now?
cultural enquiry, economic confusion and 'fiscal austerity'
eight speaking matters event: friday 30/1/09 09:30 - 11:00 GradCAM Seminar Room.
This 'speaking matters' event is organised by the Graduate School as part of the annual planning and review of the Graduate School's programme. Participants will include researchers and fellows from the Graduate School. The Graduate School, as part of initiating its second year of delivery, hosts this roundtable where participants in the Graduate School will examine and debate the implications of recent economic transformations for cultural and intellectual enquiry in general, and for the School's research programme in particular.
Do our discussions of 'enquiry', 'creativity' and 'innovation' need to evolve and change given the radical changes taking place in the larger political, economic, social and cultural worlds - both within and beyond the academy? If so, in what ways?
What is the 'public-ness' and the 'public responsibility' of enquiry and research? How does this emerge in a moment of economic re-alignment? Are we obliged to instrumentalise all our work? What are the choices that we now face?
Can cultural enquiry contribute to the re-thinking of our world in ways that open up new choices?
This open discussion will be based on a dialogue of emergent perspectives rather than seek a rehearsal of pre-formed positions.
This discussion involved: Martin McCabe; Tim Stott; Tara Byrne; Sarah Dunne; John Buckley and Mick Wilson.
The discussion began by noting the construction of a specific sense of the current historical moment as one of global crisis. Particular attention was paid to the role of expertise in respect of economic affairs and the ambivalent ascendancy of academic and other economic commentators in the media - as truth-speakers determining the 'real'. The conversation centered on the unsettling performance of economic 'intelligence' in respect of the emergence of the crisis in global finance markets and the attendant destablelization of general economic systems, and the continued legitimacy accorded economic pundits in the media. By way of counterpoint, this prompted consideration of the 'unhappy dis-avowal' of the economic and market processes in cultural pedagogies, especially in the visual and performing arts. This prompted questions in relation to the role of cultural research in engaging specific questions of economic and business process integrally within the construction of a research project. A corrollary of this question of 'expertise' was the question of public mediation and communications practice in cultural work and in the research process.
In this way, the question of 'the public', 'the public interest', 'public culture' and the problematic role of the 'public intellectual' was broached. The different valuation of both cultural and intellectual work in the Irish - as opposed to broader European - context and tradition was posited. It was claimed by several participants that there was a clear deficit - in the Irish context - in according a consequential or serious role to cultural work or intellectual enquiry. Beyond a lip-service of 'worthiness' there was a question as to whether 'seriousness' could sincerely be accorded to cultural and intellectual life in the contemporary political scene or in public discourse.
Reference was made at this point to the contested question of total 'instrumentalisation' across both cultural work and cultural enquiry (indeed enquiry in general). This became a matter of trying to understand the consequence of determining the value of cultural and intellectual work and enquiry - and indeed determining which work and enquiry should be prioritised, enabled and resourced - with immediate and exclusive reference to a pre-established goal, purpose or discrete instrumental end. Adorno's position on the infamous question - 'What is to be done?' - was cited. Adorno said that this question frequently 'sabotages the logical progress of knowledge that alone allows for change' but that it is also 'unavoidable'. ("Taboos on the Teaching Profession", 1965). This led to a consideration of a recent project - Cork Caucus - which Tara Byrne, a newly arrived researcher in the Graduate School, had previously been involved with through her role as Director of the National Sculpture Factory.
The Cork Caucus project has as its subtitle - 'ON ART, POSSIBILITY & DEMOCRACY' - and was taken as a case in point where contemporary cultural work is enquiry based, discursive, and oriented around broad questions of public relevance, public culture and in pursuit of a 'political' imagination.
At this point in the conversation there was a move to look at the specific content of the School's emergent agendas - manifested in seminar discussions, in individual research projects and in the School's growing networks of collaborators and visiting scholars.
In drawing the hour-long informal discussion to a close, the participants were asked to indidicate if the particular format adopted was found useful or whether greater prescription of thematics and format would be preferable. The broad consensus was that the format was useful as one among many. Its particular value being to enable unformulated or partially formulated positions to emerge in a relaxed dialogue. However, it was noted that it would be important to allow for the critical uneveness of informal dialogue. The conversation might be described as inhabiting a hybrid space between social encounter, journalistic exchange and academic enquiry. It was agreed to evolve the format further before webcasting in order to ensure that the output was critically robust.
following up on issues raised...
Tim Stott writes: Following our conversation last Friday, see texts on the possible role of the artist as 'public intellectual' (Sheikh: http://eipcp.net/transversal/1204/sheikh/en/print), and as producer in times of crisis (Enwezor). But most importantly, as our conversation does not only concern artists, I have added a link to a lecture course given by Foucault late in his life, at Berkeley, on 'parrhesia', 'speaking freely' or 'truth-telling' especially in times of crisis and/or at great risk to the speaker. [...] these Foucault lectures in particular might offer us some orientation: I would recommend the first two http://www.foucault.info/documents/parrhesia/
These issues were further developed in subsequent events most importantly the HII collaborative seminar on the reponsibility of the university in a time of 'crisis'.