Cultural Production in Theory and Practice

“Doing” Culture

Cultural production is the magic word in our teaching and research. It appears in the title of the international MA programme. It is also a lived experience in the context of the students’ master theses. But what exactly does the term refer to?

We are all constantly involved in producing culture. While living our everyday lives we use cultural material and imaginary resources in a unique way to serve our purposes. When we get dressed, go to work, communicate with others, organize our spare time, etc. we rely on, reproduce and modify the norms and values underlying our social and cultural relations. Our daily routines seem natural and self-evident to us and we don’t usually think about the fact, that while carrying them out exactly in the way we do, we appropriate and articulate culture. This productive side of our everyday routines, our “doing culture” is often hidden from view. It is precisely this seemingly natural state of affairs that more often than not leads to the reproduction of what is. Our ordinary, standardized activities prevent us from reflecting the internalized patterns they express and they undermine the search for alternatives.

To become an active producer of culture entails the attempt to overcome these shortcomings. When “doing” culture consciously, we try to think about the contexts and conditions that govern our cultural activities and to reflect on the effects these have. Producing culture actively, thus, entails to think about the stance, the point of departure from which we act. It requires to think of the values, collective norms and invisible rules that guide our behaviour and to reflect on the social and cultural positioning of our activities. Finally, it encompasses a claim to participate in the formulation of the norms and values that govern society, to take part in its decision-making process about who or what counts as important or unimportant, as good or bad and to change the rules by which social and cultural relations are reinforced.  Products of such activities – works of art, DIY cultural forms, etc. – irritate and challenge the way we “normally” see and do things. Today a host of contemporary art productions exist that aim to reflect on and interpret our cultural contexts and the underpinnings of our daily routines (see the articles by Siglinde Lang and Elke Zobl on the “Matrix of Cultural Production” and on “Art goes Culture” in this volume).

Cultural production in this sense can be understood as an intervention in the process of producing meaning. Since this process is one of constant reshaping and redefinition, it has been called “the circle of meaning production” within cultural studies. This circle addresses the sides of production, product and consumption alike and stimulates questions such as: Where and when did a cultural artefact originate? Which legal, economic and political forces govern and restrict it? How does it express the existing power relations in society? Why was it produced and by whom? Who consumes and appropriates it and for what reason? Answering these questions promotes an awareness of the different forces that are involved in shaping our culture and that determine the effects our cultural productions will have.  Being aware of the different moments in the circle, thus, constitutes a prerequisite for actively changing the production of meaning in society and giving a voice to new ideas.

The international MA programme in Cultural Production aims at providing artists and other cultural producers with the theoretical and practical means for such an active examination of culture.  On the theoretical side it has attempted to raise awareness for the different moments in the circle of meaning production and provided its participants with information and knowledge on its workings. Given this broad understanding of the term cultural production it becomes immediately clear, that a work of art or a media text cannot exist in any meaningful sense unless there are consumers, spectators and audiences, who consume, interpret or co-create this product. Thus, reflections on art mediation and audience development are part of the business plan developed by the participants of the Master programme – as well as an environmental analysis, an arts marketing and PR strategy, a SWOT analysis, the budget needed, etc…

The business plan itself is part of a project that in turn is theoretically grounded in the ideas of culture as a lived, constantly changing and shifting thing produced in everyday life. Since active cultural production depends on such reflections, it always involves our identity and thus entails a moment of personal change and growth. Often such products are done collaboratively, since cooperation is a prerequisite for finding one’s own unique voice when aiming at intervention and change. The MA provided such a common ground for developing the projects and it was amazing to see how people stemming from different nations and cultures, from different sections of art and media, from different political and social stances managed to form a productive group that took interest in each other’s work, helped it along and developed an empathetic attitude towards each other. This is exactly what we mean, when we talk about cultural production as a lived experience.

(Elisabeth Klaus)

Elke Zobl, Elisabeth Klaus ( 2012): Cultural Production in Theory and Practice. In: p/art/icipate – Kultur aktiv gestalten # 01 ,