Saturday, September 26, 2009

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics - Chapter Six

I have provided a summary of notes on the sixth lecture given by Michel Foucault at the College de France 1978-79, published under the title The Birth of Biopolitics. The lecture was originally given on 14 February, 1979.

• Foucault wants to emphasise the singularity of neo-liberalism, and not to say that it is a return to old economic theories (Adam Smith), it is another term for market society (Marxism) or that it is the generalization of a form of state power. For Foucault, it differs from liberalism in that liberalism was concerned with how to ‘contrive a free space of the market within an already given political society’, whereas neo-liberalism is concerned with ‘how the overall exercise of political power can be modeled on the principles of a market economy’ (p. 131).

• Competition is both rigorous in its internal structure but historically fragile, and therefore needs the active support of government – it is not a state of nature (laissez-faire)

1939 Walter Lippmann Colloquium in Paris – emphasises the need for an active policy to maintain a market economy – classical liberalism is seen as naïve in this respect, as ‘the problem is not whether there are things that you cannot touch and things that you are entitled to touch … [but] the problem is the way of doing things, the problem, if you like, of governmental style’ (p. 133).

• The problem of monopolies provides a recurring question for neo-liberalism, as it suggests that competition may contain its own negation – the question becomes one of showing how other factors – most notably law – can maintain monopoly, raising the question of the need to understand specific political-institutional frameworks in the development of capitalism. They shift the question away from intervention to prevent monopoly, or even to support it, to one where ‘non-intervention is necessary on condition, of course, that an institutional framework is established to prevent either individuals or public authorities intervening to create a monopoly’ (p. 137)

• Eucken (1952) – liberal government must intervene through regulatory actions and through organising actions. Regulatory actions are those policies which set the rules of the game. Neo-liberalism recommends a focus on price stability, and not policies such as full employment. Organising actions are those which set up the framework for commercial activities e.g. European agricultural policy.

• Social policy marks a major point of difference between Keynesian economics and what in France was known as the economics of the Popular Front, and neo-liberalism. Keynesianism recommends a redistributive social policy that modifies the effects of the market and economic competition, through social provision of essential goods and services (welfare state), redistributive taxation, and greater social spending as a reward for economic growth. The ordoliberals argue that social policy and economic policy cannot be founded on contradictory principles, as a social policy premised upon equalizing outcomes will undercut the economic mechanisms of the market. They favour private provision over social provision, social policy based upon individuals rather than collective groups, and a policy which maintains and encourages risk-taking rather than one which compensates for economic risk.

• German social policy under the social market economy could not be based upon such principles due to popular resistance, and it marks an important point of differentiation between German ordoliberalism and the American neo-liberalism of the Chicago School. Its core principle, however, is that social policy should not be a counterpoint to economic policy, and the German ordoliberals want a ‘policy of society’ rather than a ‘government of society’

• The new art of government is one that seeks to generalize the enterprise form throughout society. A range of social conditions are identified as correlates for this including: promoting access to private property; encouraging medium-sized towns and private home ownership; decentralizing economic activity; developing policies favourable to small business; and planning urban environments in order to minimize environmental degradation. This is what Rüstow referred to as a Vitalpolitik, or a ‘politics of life’, that ‘is a matter of making the market, competition, and so the enterprise, into what could be called the formative power of society’ (p. 148).

• One consequence of the enterprise society is that it has the potential to multiply sources of dispute, and hence it typically requires considerable legal arbitration and judicial activism.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics - Chapter Five

I have provided a summary of notes on the fifth lecture given by Michel Foucault at the College de France 1978-79, published under the title The Birth of Biopolitics. This lecture was given on 7 February, 1979.

• While classical liberalism and political economy raised the question of how to reconcile the expansion of the market and the objectives of raison d’Etat by proposing the paradox of ‘more state by less government’, the challenge facing German neo-liberals was how to legitimize a state in advance that both guarantees economic freedom and is guaranteed by it?

• The Freiberg School of German political economists (Watter Eucken, Franz Böhm, Müller-Armack, Wilhelm Röpke, Röstow) developed an influential reading of German history that saw a consistent rejection of liberalism over the C19th and early C20th as the path that led to the Nazi state

• By the early C20th, according to Foucault, the Marxist problematic of the contradictory logic of capital had been largely displaced in intellectual circles by the problematic of Max Weber around the ‘irrational rationality of capitalist society’. The Weberian problematic saw no internal limits to the logic of capital accumulation, but pointed to its paradoxical social consequences. While the Frankfurt School sought a new social rationality that could displace economic irrationality, the Freiberg School sought to redefine the economic rationality of capitalism in ways that could nullify its social irrationalities.

• The Freiberg School’s historical reading argued that obstacles to liberalism had appeared successively in German history:
  1. List’s principle in 1840 that national economy needed to take priority over liberal economy, and that Germany needs protectionism – liberalism seen as the policy of a maritime nation (Britain)
  2. Bismarckian state socialism in late C19th that preserved national unity against the socialist challenge through a welfare policy that reintegrated the working classes
  3. Preservation of the machinery of a planned economy after WWI, and support for economic planning by both socialist and non-socialist governments
  4. Early adoption of Keynesian-style interventions from 1930 onwards
  5. Nazism coalesced all of these already existing elements of German economic policy around the ‘total system’ of the war economy. Rather than being an aberration, Nazism – like Soviet planning – could be seen as the coalescence of a diverse range of non-liberal forms of governmental economic action.
• Nazism was seen by the Freiberg School as also drawing upon critiques of mass society under capitalism associated with Werner Sombart and others (society of the spectacle, loss of communitarian ties, individuals as isolated atoms), but only through intensifying mass society and spectacles – they reject the argument (associated with the Frankfurt School) that the liberal model of capitalism produces these ideas, but rather see them as a consequence of ‘a policy of protectionism and planning in which the market does not perform its function and in which the state or para-state administration takes responsibility for the everyday life of individuals. These mass phenomena of standardization and the spectacle are linked to statism, to anti-liberalism, and not to a market economy’ (p. 114). – contrast to Herbert Marcuse (p. 117)

• The Freiberg School attributes those irrationalities that others link to the market and to capitalism to the state and the absence of a fully-functioning market: ‘Nothing proves that the market economy is intrinsically defective since everything attributed to it as a defect and as the effect of its defectiveness should really be attributed to the state. So, let’s do the opposite and demand even more from the market economy than was demanded from it in the eighteenth century’ (p. 116).

• ‘The ordoliberals say we should completely turn the formula around and adopt the free market as organizing and regulating principle of the state, from the start of its existence up to the last form of its interventions. In other words: a state under the supervision of the market rather than a market supervised by the state’ (p. 116).

Ordoliberalism is not a continuation or a reversion to classical liberalism, liassez-faire or Adam Smith. It fundamentally revises liberal political economy in three ways:
  1. The focus is shifted from the market as a system of exchange generating prices but as a mechanism which ensures competition. If it is only competition that can guarantee economic rationality, then the state must play a role in ensuring that competition occurs, which raises the issue of monopoly as well as how the ‘rules of the game’ are structured by government – the competitive market is not a ‘natural order’, but must be continually guaranteed through the actions of government;
  2. There can never be ‘pure competition’, but only a striving towards producing more competition - ‘Competition is therefore an historical objective of governmental art and not a natural given that must be respected’ (p. 120)
  3. The relationship between the market/competition and the state/government cannot be a ‘reciprocal delimitation of different domains’ – ‘the essence of the market can only appear if it is produced, and it is produced by an active governmentality’ (p. 121).

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics - Chapter Four

I have provided a summary of notes on the fourth lecture given by Michel Foucault at the College de France 1978-79, published under the title The Birth of Biopolitics. This lecture was given on 31 January, 1979.
• State-phobia is a recurring theme across the political and ideological spectrum. Foucault rejects a theory of the state as being like an ‘indigestible meal’ (p. 77), instead focusing upon how activites are brought under governmental rationality or etatisation. ‘The state is not a universal nor in itself an autonomous source of power … The state is nothing else but the mobile effect of a regime of multiple governmentalities’ (p. 77).

• German neo-liberalism rises to prominence in aftermath of WWII. Focus of post-WWII European economic policies was reconstruction, planning, and social objectives, all of which pointed towards greater governmental intervention in the key economic processes along Keynesian lines. Focus of German economic administration in 1948 was upon the removal of price controls and restoring market mechanisms at the earliest opportunity.

• Ludwig Erhard (1948): ‘Only a state that establishes both the freedom and responsibility of the citizens can legitimately speak in the name of the people’ (quoted on p. 81).

• Erhard’s statement not only refers to the obvious need to renounce the recent Nazi past, but also reflects the question on the conditions on which a new German state can be founded if there is not historical or juridical legitimacy. The proposal is that economic freedom can in itself constitute the basis for political sovereignty. Germany as a performative state where ‘the economy, economic development and economic growth, produces sovereignty; it produces political sovereignty through the institution and institutional game that, precisely, makes this economy work’ (p. 84). ‘All these economic partners produce a consensus, which is a political consensus, inasmuch as they accept this economic game of freedom’ (p. 84).

• The German neo-liberal policy was at odds with British neo-Keynesianism of the time, and had its critics on the left and among the unions in Germany at this time. It also appeared to be at odds with Christian doctrine of a social economy. It was therefore proposed that the German liberal order could be a ‘middle way’ between capitalism and socialism, with each of the other categories ambigiuously defined.

• German social democracy (SPD) turns from its Marxist inspired socialism towards an acceptance of the market economy and private property at the Bad Godesberg Congress of 1959, as long as it is compatible with ‘an equitable social order’ and does not produce monopolies. Foucault does not approach this as an SPD sell-out of its Marxist/socialist principles, but rather as an indicator of the extent to which the neo-liberal program had constituted the revised basis of the German state itself.

• ‘What socialism lacks is not so much a theory of the state as a governmental reason, the definition of what a governmental rationality would be in socialism. That is to say, a reasonable and calculable measure of the extent, modes, and objectives of governmental action’ (pp. 91-92).

• ‘In actual fact, and history has shown this, socialism can only be implemented connected up to diverse types of governmentality. There is no governmental rationality of socialism. It has been connected up to liberal governmentality, and then socialism and its forms of rationality function as counter-weights, as a corrective, and a palliative to internal dangers’ (p. 92) – it can also function as the internal logic of the administrative apparatus of a police state, where there is a fusion of government and administration (Soviet/Eastern European model)

• There is a consistent questioning of what is “true” socialism – was it the Germany of Helmut Schmidt, Erich Honecker, or something else – but we never ask what is “true” liberalism, as liberalism is not concerned with conformity to texts, but rather with more pragmatic logics of governmentality.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics - Chapter Three

I have provided a summary of notes on the third lecture given by Michel Foucault at the College de France 1978-79, published under the title The Birth of Biopolitics, which was given on 24 January, 1979.
Raison d’Etat was premised upon a balance between the unlimited objectives of the state within its territory on the one hand, and limited external objectives on the other – Treaty of Westphalia (system of states) generally accepted – mercantilism as an economic policy was premised upon the impoverishment of other states, and could only co-exist with relatively limited trade within Europe otherwise it would create a zero-sum game

• The market generates the possibility of mutual enrichment through trade, exchange and commerce – this pointed to the possibility of ‘reciprocal enrichment through the game of competition’ (p. 54)

• The idea of a European progress is a fundamental theme in liberalism, which has as a condition the commitment to an extended market so that all can benefit – ‘we are invited to a globalization of the market when it is laid down as a principle, and an objective, that the enrichment of Europe must be brought about as a collective and unlimited enrichment’ (p. 55)

• ‘This opening of the economic game onto the world clearly implies a difference of both kind and status between Europe and the rest of the world. That is to say, there will be Europe on one side, with the Europeans as the players, and then the world on the other, which will be the stake. The game is in Europe, but the stake is the world’ (pp. 55-56) – this is ‘the start of a new type of global calculation in European governmental practice’ (p. 56) – maritime law, Kant’s idea of “perpetual peace”, international law – ‘The guarantee of perpetual peace is therefore actually commercial globalization’ (p. 58)

• This does not lead to an era of European peace at all, and the ‘historical paradox of Napoleon’ emerges, who is hostile to the idea of a police state internally, but committed to an imperial project in Europe

• ‘Freedom is never anything other … than an actual relation between governors and governed, a relation in which the measure of the “too little” existing freedom is given by the “even more” freedom demanded’ (p. 63)

• ‘If I employ the word “liberal”, it is first of all because this governmental practice in the process of establishing itself is not satisfied with respecting this or that freedom, with guaranteeing this or that freedom. More profoundly, it is a consumer of freedom. It is a consumer of freedom inasmuch as it can only function insofar as a number of freedoms actually exist: freedom of the market, freedom to buy and sell, the free exercise of property rights, freedom of discussion, possible freedom of expression, and so on. The new governmental reason needs freedom therefore, the new art of government consumes freedom. It consumes freedom, which means that it must produce it. It must produce it, it must organize it. The new art of government appears as the management of freedom.’ (p. 63)

• At the heart of this liberal practice is an always different and mobile problematic relationship between the production of freedom and that which in the production of freedom risks limiting and destroying it … The liberalism we can describe as the art of government formed in the eighteenth century, entails at its heart a productive/destructive relationship with freedom … Liberalism must produce freedom, but this very act entails the establishment of limitations, controls, forms of coercion, and obligations relying on threats, etc.’ (p. 64)

• ‘Freedom in the regime of liberalism is not a given … Freedom is something which is constantly produced. Liberalism is not acceptance of freedom; it proposes to manufacture it constantly, to arouse it and produce it, with, of course, the system of constraints and the problems of cost raised by this production’ (p. 65) – the cost of freedom is security, and ‘the problem of security is the protection of the collective interest against individual interests. Conversely, individual interests have to be protected against everything that could be seen as an encroachment of the collective interest’ (p. 65)

‘The problems of what I shall call the economy of power peculiar to liberalism are internally sustained … by this interplay of freedom and security’ (p. 65)

• Consequences of this continuing need to arbitrate over the interplay of freedom and security:
  1. ‘The motto of liberalism is” “Live dangerously”’ (p. 66) – individuals continuously have to deal with danger and asses their exposure to it, and how to protect against it – ‘There is no liberalism without a culture of danger’ (p. 67)
  2. Development of disciplinary and supervisory techniques as a necessary correlate of liberal government derived from economic freedom
  3. Controls become a way of protecting freedoms – rise of ‘crisis of governmentality’ where ‘democratic freedoms are only guaranteed by an economic interventionism that is denounced as a threat to freedom’ (p. 68)
  4. Possibility of an ‘inflation of the compensatory mechanisms of freedom’ – too many protections in order to guarantee the freedom of the liberal state?

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics - Chapter Two

Following from yesterday's post, I have provided a summary of notes on the second lecture given by Michel Foucault at the College de France 1978-79, published under the title The Birth of Biopolitics. This lecture was given on 17 January, 1979.

• Liberal art of government is ‘not something other than raison d’Etat, an element external to and in contradiction with [it], but rather its point of inflection in the curve of its development’ (p. 28) – idea of frugal government - the permanent question of ‘too much and too little’ government – the ‘question of liberalism’ is the frugality of government rather than constitutionalism

• The market becomes ‘the site of truth’ of liberal government (p. 30) – move from the market as a site of justice (setting of just prices), to market mechanism as generator of a natural, normal price through supply and demand

• ‘Inasmuch as prices are determined in accordance with the natural mechanisms of the market they constitute a standard of truth which enables us to discern which governmental practices are correct and which are erroneous’ (p. 32) – the market as a ‘site of verification-falsification for governmental practice’

• There is no singular cause of the rise of the market as the ‘site of truth’ of liberal government, but arises from a complex set of developments in C18th Europe

• History of truth is always coupled with the history of law – rejects the critique of European rationality associated with Frankfurt School and romanticism

• Foucault notes that in France faculties of law were long coupled with faculties of political economy – C18th economists also tended to be theorists of public law (Beccaria, Adam Smith, Bentham)

• ‘There is a shift in the centre of gravity of public law … the problem becomes how to set juridical limits to the exercise of power by a public authority’ (p. 39)

• Difference between the axiomatic, juridico-deductive approach to law (Rousseau and French Revolution – Rights of Man), and the approach that starts from governmental practice itself, and asks what would be the ‘desirable limits’ of government in terms of limits to its spheres of competence – ‘the problem of English radicalism is the problem of utility’ (p. 40)

• ‘We have therefore two absolutely heterogeneous conceptions of freedom, one based in the rights of man, and the other starting from the independence of the governed … they have different historical origins and I think they are essentially heterogeneous or disparate’ (p. 42) – the ambiguity between these is a feature of both C19th and C20th liberalism

• Centrality of concept of interests to the new art of government. ‘Government is only interested in interests … It deals with the phenomena of politics, that is to say, interests, which precisely constitute politics and its stakes; it deals with interests, or that respect in which a given individual, thing, wealth, and so on interests other individuals or the collective body of individuals’ (p. 45)

• ‘Liberalism posed the fundamental question of government, which is whether all the political, economic, and other forms which have been contrasted with liberalism can really avoid … formulating this question of the utility of a government in a regime where exchange determines the value of things’ (p. 47)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics - Chapter One

I am convening a reading group on Michel Foucault's lectures at the College de France 1978-79, now published under the title The Birth of Biopolitics, at QUT tomorrow. Information about the meeting can be found here, and the rationale for the event is as follows:

In light of considerable interest in the term “neo-liberalism”, its historical origins, and its uses and misuses – including its use by Australian Prime Minster Kevin Rudd – we have decided to get together an informal working group to discuss how the term was developed by the French philosopher Michel Foucault.

Foucault’s lectures at the College de France in 1978-79 have only now been translated and published. In these lectures he traces a history of liberalism as an “art of government”, and its relationship to political economy and to government policy.

In the lectures, Foucault focuses upon the origins of the term “neo-liberalism” among the Freiberg School of German social thinkers, and its later uses by the Chicago School of American political economists. This is traced to changing ideas about the relationship between the individual, the state, society and economy.

The first meeting will focus upon how the idea of neo-liberalism was developed in Germany and applied through the “social market economy” in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Later meetings will consider American neo-liberalism as developed by Milton Freidman, Gary Becker and others, and contrasts between the neo-liberal “art of government” and alternative approaches.
As part of the preparation for these gatherings, I am summarising the lectures on this blog. Below are my notes on the first lecture, which was presented by Foucault on 10 Janaury, 1979.

• “Art of government” – interest in this instance is in “government … insofar as it appears as the exercise of political sovereignty” (p. 2)

• Why an “art”? Not a description of how governors really governed, but rather “the level of reflection in the practice of government and on the practice of government” - “the study of the rationalization of governmental practice in the exercise of political sovereignty” (p. 2)

• Starting point is not with pre-given objects or universal categories, but rather “starting from this practice as it is given, but at re same time as it reflects on itself and it rationalized, show how certain things – state and society, sovereignty and subjects etc. – were actually able to be formed” – aim is “to start with these concrete practices and … pass these universals through the grid of these practices” (p. 3)

Raison d’Etat (reason of state) – established the state as both the object and the instrument of governmental practice – ‘a practice … which places itself between a tstae presented as given and a state presented as having to be constructed and built’ (p. 4) – strengthening the state as the guiding principle of government – principles included mercantilist economics, ‘police’ as an unlimited system of internal management, and permanent military-diplomatic apparatus

• Juridical challenge to raison d’Etat proposes that the law must set limits to the sovereign power – contract theory, natural law, parliament/Crown balance in England – ‘the opposition always takes a legal challenge to raison d’Etat and consequently uses juridical reflection, legal rules and legal authority against it’ (p. 9)

• Political economy emerges not as an external challenge to raison d’Etat, but rather as ‘establishing a principle of limitation that will no longer be extrinsic to the art of government, as law was in the C17th, but intrinsic to it; an internal regulation of governmental rationality’ (p. 10). Six principles of this internal limitation:

  1. It is a de facto limitation rather than a legal one, meaning there is no illegimitacy to exceeding this limit, but it will lead to less effective government
  2. It is nonetheless a general one and ‘the problem is precisely one of defining this general and de facto limit that government will have to impose on itself
  3. The principle of limitation is itself calculated through governmental reason and its objectives rather than something external to it (God, law, social contract etc.)
  4. This establishes a division between what must be done by government and what it is advisable not to do, but not in terms of a domain of freedom and constraint grounded in individuals, but rather in the ‘agenda’ and the ‘non-agenda’ (Jeremy Bentham)
  5. This arises in the context of transactions between subjects rather than a historically or theoretically defined ‘principle of right’
  6. Critical governmental reason thus becomes internal to government – a continual practice of criticism about ‘how not to govern too much’ (p. 13)
• Political economy as it emerges between 1750 and 1810-1820 is central to this, but it does not develop in opposition to raison d’Etat, but rather within the principle of governmental reason to maximize wealth in the context of competition between states e.g. the issue is not whether or not a tax is legitimate, but rather what the optimal rate of tax may be in light of its possible effects – it is an empirical practice concerned with making mechanisms intelligible ‘success or failure, rather than legitimacy or illegitimacy, now become the criteria of governmental action’ (p. 16)

• Political economy is central to liberalism as a new regime of truth alternative to that of raison d’Etat, where ‘a government is never sufficiently aware that it always risks governing too much, or a government never knows too well how to govern just enough’ (p. 17) – ‘With this question of self-limitation by the principle of truth, I think political economy introduced a formidable wedge into the unlimited presumption of the police state’ (p. 17)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Charles Leadbeater presentation in Brisbane for EIDOS 21 Sept

I had a 5am start this Monday morning to get in the car and head 50km to Brookwater Golf Club for breakfast at 7am on a Monday morning, as you do. The reason why myself at 99 other luminaries hit the Ipswich Motorway this morning was to hear the British writer, thinker and former Blair government advisor Charles Leadbeater present on The User-Generated State: Public Services 2.0.

The presentation was brought to us by the EIDOS Institute, headed by Bruce Muirhead, and with participation from a number of universities (including QUT) and industry participants.

I had the opportunity to meet Charles Leadbeater when he was in Brisbane as part of the launch of the QUT Creative Industries Faculty in 2002, so it was great to hear him again, even at what appeared to be an unlikely venue at an unlikely time (a few golfers could be spotted at the club among the more formally dressed attendees).

The gist of Charles's presentation could be summarised as saying we are entering into a third age of thinking about public services. The first, which characterised the post-WWII welfare state, was driven by need. Services needed to be delivered to people, and questions of quality were subordinated to the importance of delivery. The second was driven by want, or people exercising power as consumers (encouraged by government policies and philosophies of the 1980s and 1990s) to demand more responsive and personalised services. In the third stage, the key word is can - can the service provider give me a voice in this, and can I take some personal responsibility over how this is provided?

What follows is that thinking in terms of service delivery is not enough. There needs to be more emphasis on three C's:
  • Collaboration between service providers and citizen-consumers;
  • Conversation - particularly in times of greatest need, people don't want a purely transactional model, but want someone to talk with;
  • Capability - how can a service be provided in such a way that the need to provide it dminishes after a certain point, as people have got more control over their own affairs.
Leadbeater cautioned that people who claim they want to do something for you often want to do something to you. He gave the example of his Personal Funds manager, whose friendliness belies the fact that he wants some of his cash in service fees. Rather than thinking in terms of for and to, it is recommended that thinking be in terms of with. Participation is where leading edge thinking about the future of public services is, according to Leadbeater.

This also necessitates a shift of thinking away from the institution as the starting point. His example from cultural policy was that the building of cultural institutions (fixed infrastructure with high up-front costs) is often the starting point of this sector, but that there is obviously a plethora of "culture" that happens well away from these institutions (You Tube, Facebook etc.), that is lower-cost and more distributed, participatory and agile.

NB: Charles Leadbeater took up some of these themes in a recent article in The Guardian.

Update: Charles Leadbeater's talk can now be accessed from You Tube.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Findings on online news

My colleague Anna Daniel has recently presented our findings on Young People and Online News, developed through the Smart Services CRC with Fairfax Digital as the principal business of interest. This was presented at the Transforming Audiences 2 conference, held at the University of Westminster in London from 3-4 September.

The paper can be accessed from my QUT ePrints site, by clicking on Conference Papers and downloading the top listed paper. It was based upon an online survey of 540 people - primarily in South-East Queensland - and follow-up focus groups with 50 respondents. We divided these up into 18-24 and 25+ demographics.

In developing the work, we have identified three competitive strategies of news media organisations (following Michael Porter, among others):
  1. Brand leadership - investing in quality and unique resources to build a nationally or internationally leading news brand. Examples in Australia include The Age, SMH, The Australian and the ABC;
  2. Cost leadership - generating content at the lowest possible cost that is tailored to the expectations of a targeted readership. Examples include the free MX newspapers and the ninemsn web site;
  3. Differentiation - this is about extending content into new news brands, made very possible in the online environment. An interesting recent example is The Economist developing a new magazine and online resource called More Intelligent Life, repurposing its non-economic content.
In the course of our research, we identified three typologies of news user. They were:
  1. Loyal users: they gravitate to established news brands, and have strong views about the authority of professional journalists. They are not especially innovative users of online sources, and they don't typically comment on hews sites (although they read the comemnts of others). This would account for about 30% of our sample.
  2. Conveneience users: this group take news where they find it, and like news "snacks". Many get ninemsn from their Hotmail accounts. They are not necessarily disengaged from news, but are not "classic" news consumers e.g. they like their celebrity gossip as much or more than finding out about ETS policy. They accounted for about 60% of our sample;
  3. Customizers: this group accounted for about 10% of our sample, and fit the profile of what my colleague Axel Bruns refers to as produsers. They source niche content globally, rely upon blogs and multiple RSS feeds (or increasingly Twitter), and are as likely to be producers and consumers of news. They are often highly critical of the mainstream media (or what they term the MSM).
Key take home messages. Two to focus on at this stage:
  1. The challenge for established news brands is how to reach beyond the loyal users. Google seeks to occupy the Convenience space, and the "frenemy" issue for these news providers in their dealings with Google is becoming more acute. Growing through the customizers can attract a valuable readership, but is expensive and time-consuming to pursue;
  2. It was not clear from our study that there is a user reaction to perceived "dumbing down" of online news sites. This may be shaped by our focus on younger users and S-E Qld, but we had very little commentary that these online sites were once better than they now are.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dancing Barefoot and Paying for Online News

One issue that comes up with the question of whether people would pay for online news is the nature of micropayments. So what is a micropayment?

I have a recent example of one. While buying pot plants at Bunnings, with 4 year old in tow playing in the children's play area, I heard Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" on the in-store music system. An unusually engaging song to hear at Bunnings, and I was thinking what a great song it is. Upon getting back from Bunnings, I went onto Apple iTunes, paid my $A1.69, and got the song downloaded.

So micropayments may be for impulse buying. I'm exposed to it, I like it, and I buy it. Can this work for online news? I think there are several problems with the anlaogy.

I could compare it to the last really compelling news article I accessed. It was Paul Krugman's diagnosis, in The New York Times on September 8, of why economists failed to anticipate the global fianncial crisis of 2008, and how their ideas helped contribute to it. This is a comprehensive and compellign piece by the most recent Nobel Prize winning economist on what he believes was wrong with dominant thinking in his field over the 1990s and 2000s, written in a way that both makes its non-specialist reader able to understand the issues, whithout overly simplifying or misrepresenting the views of those whose analyses differ from his own neo-Keynesian position. In my view, the model of how an academic specialist can write an op-ed piece, and an excellent case study in why they should do so.

Buy would I pay for it?

At present, I don't because I can get it for free. Unless I feel a moral obligation to pay for journalism in order to keep journalists in work, I take advantage of free access. Even if I felt morally obliged to "return the gift" of news with money, it is not clear that I would give money to the New York Times which, even if a high-quality paper, is also a capitalist enterprise that I would expect to survive through means other than my charity. Even if a case was made that people should pay for good journalism, I would prefer that it was done through general tax revenues that I contirbute to rather than one-off donations. And with taxpayer-funded public broadcasting, that already happens.

But I could afford to make a micropayment if that was the only way that I could get the article. And this is what the "paywall" question for the future of online news, most forcefully raised by Rupert Murdoch in recent months, revolves around.

It is at this point that other dilemmas emerge. One is how I found the Krugman piece in the first place. I found it because someone put a link to it up on Facebook. After I read it, and profiled it, others did the same. This is, of course, the phenomenon of network effects, and the risk for proprietors of the paywall environment is that they lose them altogether. While some may those to subscribe to NYT to continue to get Paul Krugman op-eds, they will be a fraction of those who get such information serendipidously via the 300 million Facebook users or via network aggregators.

I don't know who Patti Smith's record label is. The point is that I don't have to, as its not a condition for getting access to the song, and Apple iTunes has simplified the task for middle-income earners prepared to pay for the convenience of going to a single site [If I was on a student income, I would devote time to shopping around the Web for a free copy of this, copyright be damned.] This is not the way the news business has worked, with its brands, mastheads, trusted sources and so on. In the past, this didn't matter, as the source and content were bundled in a single package. Now they are increasingly disaggregated.

Which raises the last point. If I were to pay for articles by Paul Krugman, what do I need the New York Times for? Why don't I just pay Krugman directly? In the recent past, the answer would have been that big media have distributional clout and the capacity to reach large audiences that a sole trader can never acquire, and that a Princeton University economics professor with plenty of other calls on his time would be foolish to also seek to be an Internet entrepreneur. There may still be something in that, but the self-evidence of the proposition is diminishing quickly.

Finally, as Joshua Gans notes, one source of resistance to the idea of paying for online content is that people are already paying for online access. Be it a broadband plan, a mobile phone plan or whatever, people are paying for access top the medium, and payment for the content on top of that may be seen as a payment too many. With the scope for myriad news providers to emerge in the online space if the incumbent media players vacate it and move behind content paywalls, the risks of losing audience share, and what interests advertisers, are substantial. They are not the same risks Patti Smith has to face.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Cultural Economy Moment?

The draft of my keynote presentation to "Media Technologies, Community and Everyday Life", histed by the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University in Perth, WA on 2 Septmebrt, 2009, can now be accessed from Scribd here.

Please note that this is a draft completed in the hotel room, and without a Bibliography at this stage. A version will appear on the QUT ePrints site shortly.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Social Media presentation at Murdoch University

Slides from my presentation to students at Murdoch University on 1 Sept, 2009.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Smart Services CRC scholarships in New Media Services

The Smart Services CRC is a $120 million, commercially focused collaborative research initiative, developing innovation, foresight and productivity improvements for the services sector. Services are the largest sector of the economy representing approximately 80% of Australia’s GDP and 85% of employment. Within the services industries Smart Services’ initial programs are customer-focused with outcomes translatable across the whole services sector. Initial research outcomes and demonstrators have been associated with the digital media, finance and government sectors.

In order to achieve these goals, Smart Services CRC is supporting research higher degree students at PhD and Masters level through scholarships, top-ups and in-kind support for research, travel, conferences etc. As a partner in Smart Services CRC, the Queensland University of Technology is offering scholarship packages for 2010. Research higher degree students with CRC scholarships will have access to the full range of resources offered by QUT (access to equipment and facilities, Grants-in-Aid, teaching opportunities etc.), as well as the opportunity to work with leading industry partners in the media, finance and government sectors on projects of direct real-world relevance through Smart Services CRC.

The New Media Services program at QUT is focused on research questions such as:

• What are innovative business models for new media? Can international case studies identify new opportunities for media service industries in an era of Web 2.0 that goes beyond the mass communications model?
• What new opportunities for news are enabled by digital media, including computational journalism, news visualization and citizen journalism?
• What opportunities exist to “harness the hive” of social media in advertising, marketing and integrated marketing communication?
• Can the development of digital communities and the nurturing of digital ecosystems be applied across the service industries?

Led by the Creative Industries Faculty and the Faculty of Business, the New Media Services program provides the opportunity to work collaboratively with industry partners across the media and government sectors on aligning research activity with industry goals and strategies in the emergent digital media environment.

The following topics are of interest to supervisors in the New Media Services research project team:

Professor Terry Flew (Creative Industries Faculty, QUT)

1. Innovative business models for new media;
2. Digital futures for news media;
3. Mobile and digital media content production.

Associate Professor Axel Bruns (Creative Industries Faculty, QUT)

1. Drivers and motivations for users to participate in social media Websites;
2. Future developments in online social media and social networking;
3. Business models for social media sites.

Dr. Christy Collis (Creative Industries Faculty, QUT)

1. Emerging uses and users of locative mobile media;
2. Audiences and markets for online, mobile, and cross-platform media.

Dr. Christina Spurgeon (Creative Industries Faculty, QUT)

1. Researching and developing brand communities and content;
2. Commercializing co-creative media.

Dr. Edwina Luck (School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations, Faculty of Business, QUT)

1. Future drivers of participation within virtual social media
2. The role of ‘electronic word-of-mouth’ in product and service marketing
3. Hyper-targeting and advertising within virtual social networks

Dr. Larry Neale (School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations, Faculty of Business, QUT)

1. Social media and information search
2. Delivering digital customer service

Smart Services CRC is a research and development partnership between 12 major industry players and six Australian universities, funded by the private sector and governments under the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre program. Its aim is the creation of research-enabled commercial outcomes for its partners.

For more information on scholarships at QUT, go here.

Application forms for Smart Services CRC scholarships can be found here.

Information for prospective research students in the Faculty of Business can be found here.

Information for prospective research students in the Creative Industries Faculty can be found here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Past, Present and Future of Cultural Studies - Frances Bonner and John Hartley

In the second part, Frances Bonner (University of Queensland) promises not to do a "state of the cultural studies nation" talk, but to focus on the specifics of material culture studies. Frances recommends Daniel Miller's The Comfort of Things, and wants to register problems with the concept of consumer culture as an explanatory framework. Miller's book is targeted at the more genral reader, and comes out of a failed research grant (!). Frances argues that the relationship between anthropology and cultural studies is a rich one, and material culture studies of the sort undertaken by Miller of human-object relations as "technologies of attachment". It helped Frances understand lifestyle media in ways that consumer culture studies do not sufficiently explain as part of a "concern with things".

Talking about "things" as a meaningful term is a challenge, which Frances first heard from Lesley Stern in her work on "cinematic things" and forms of personal affect and memory. Frances has being doing recent work on Top Gear and its female audience in particular, with its three middle-aged male presenters (four if you include The Stig!). Female viewers have found the show to be a facilitator of family interaction, and gifts and merchandise being given in ways related to it. Why do we want to own the material artefacts of a program, in this case the world's most watched program! The Stig features mist commonly in the merchandise, and more of the merchandise bears the figure of The Stig than that of Top Gear more generally. There is no personality to get in the way of our fantasy figure of The Stig e.g. Stig stress toy/keychain fob.

Frances Bonner proposes study of the material objects that are spin-offs from TV programs as providing insights into the role of memory in our relationships to television, ranging from cookbooks to Stig toys. This is auto-ethnography as an affordable form of cultural reserach that does not require ethical clearance, part of the great tradition of cultural studies reserach that does not have research council funding. Nicky Gregson and Louise Crewe have done a study of second-hand culture that considers what the gifting of old TV-related products may involve.

The requirement to monetise digital material is a recurirng theme of corporate literature, and Frances thinks that the relationship between the tangible and the digital may be too heavily dichotomised in thinking about both material culture and new/digital media. They can remain technologies of attachment, even if they do not sit in one's lounge room. Frances ended by showing her binoculars inside a beer can that was a gift from being in the studio audience for Roy & HG's The Monday Dump.

John Hartley from QUT and the CCI begins by describing cultural studies as a "treasured object", and feels that while it is in institutional good health in Australia, it is not in intellectual good health. Hartley notes that Thorstein Veblen worried that economics had gone towards "measured work" and avoids the "meretricious", and that this is something that he has been accused of by Jim McGuigan.

He notes that "the death of cultural studies" has been proclaimed by Tony Bennett in the Journal of Cultural Economy, among other places. Rayomnd Williams worried in the 1970s that English departments had become stale, and renewal needed to come from outside, possibly from communications studies or cultural science (Williams' term). This article appeared in the Journal of Communication in 1974 (Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 17-25) - woudl cost to get it from Wiley-Blackwell, so check it out yourself.

The Australian Government minister responsible for research, Kim Carr, now intends that science to be understood in its broadest sense, which includes culture and the humanities.
Hartley proposes that evolutionary science can be applied to culture, and proposes Thorstein Veblen as a champion of such an idea in 1898. He argues that too often new ideas are warded off from cultural studies by presenting those who present new ideas as being under the evil spell of neo-liberalism (a theme of my talk at Murdoch University in Perth on Sept. 2, which I will post shortly).

Cultural studies has, for Hartley, imported ideology into the centre of the field, where it once sought to critically analyse ideology. He thinks it is time for what Joseph Schumpeter termed "creative destruction" to be applied to cultural studies. He thinks that the need to resist "premature scientism" has passed, in light of significant evolutionary change in the biological sciences and mathematics in particular, where complexity theories open up new ways to use sicne to explain culture. The Santa Fe Institute has asked can we used physics to explain culture, for example. John Hartley thinks that cultural studies went wrong histoircally in its assumption that the world "ought to be" like the analysts wished.

The second part of the paper focused on creative industries and its moment from origins in the UK in 1998. Noting that people are often encouraged in advance to know what their critique of creative industries should be, he proposes that this conjuncture needs to be explained as something other than political opportunism by Chris Smith as the DCMS Minister to get more money for the arts. In particular, it pointed to the need to think about the relationship between economics and culture as complex systems, particular around the hypothesis about culture being central to modern economies.

To understand this, there was a need to get away form both neo-classical economists (who weren't challenging enough) and political economy (which rejected the propositions form the start), but from evolutionary economics, that could converge with cultural studies through cultural science at the CCI. Reference is made here to the idea of social network markets as a bridging point between evolutionary economics and cultural studies as a way to rethink creativity as a product of complex systems rather than arising out of the unique genius of talented individuals. Hartley sees this as future-oriented and a form of creative destruction in an age of power-law distributions (It all makes sense with a diagram John showed at the symposium, honestly!). John recommends the work of Carsten Herrmann-Pillath from the Frankfurt School (of Finance and Management!) in Germany.

The cultural has been collapsed into the economy, around questions of identity, distribution and difference. Have we therefore all become neo-liberals? No. The magazine AdBusters is entirely devoted in its most recent issue to evolutionary economics and Joseph Schumpeter - also George Akerlof and Joseph Stiglitz - to point out that the "revolution in economics" is precisely based around a turn away from neo-liberalism and orthodox equilibrium economics.

Melissa Gregg (Uinversity of Sydney) was invited to respond to the papers today, which she saw as a big job. Does she need a "silver space suit" to be the "future of cultural studies"? Melissa begins by noting how much work being done in Internet Studies is cultural studies, but there is a reluctance to name it as such.

[Interesting side point: at this time I was told off by someone complaining about my typing during the session. This surprises me, but may something about different types of audiences. I have been at plenty of confernces where blogging during the event is very much the norm.]

Melissa also makes reference to the Association for Cultural Studies Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference being held at Lingnan University in Hong Kong in 2010. Some US schoalrs boycotted the 2008 conference in Jamaica because the country was seen as homophobic, and the 2010 event has been accused by some board members of implicitly endorsing the govenrment of China and ignoring human rights abuses and the conditions of labour in the country.

The third event Melissa references is the State of the Industry conference being held at UNSW in Novmeber 2009 through the Cultural Research Network as a signing-off event. She notes surveys that have found that 100% of academics at University of Western Sydney worked on weekends according to an NTEU survey, and that many academics are saying that having chldren is inimical to pursuing an academic career. Are these symtoms of those at the top of what Hartley referred to as the "winner-takes-all" economy?

Q & A
  • Mark Gibson wondered whether cultural studeis was in institutional good health, noting that it is in decline in undergraduate enrolments and is not holding a 2009 conference in Australia. Do cultural studies people go somewhere else at a certain point, such as what John Hartley outlined as cultual science and evolutionary economics?
  • John Hartley sees cultural studies more as a meeting point for different approaches and methodologies rather than as a discipline or methodology in its own right. He also pointed to Graeme Turner's influential positions with the Australian Federal government, such as being on PMSEIC.
  • Liz Ferrier wondered whether the focus on agency has been lost, as people focus more on networks. Hartley sees agency as operating through networks, and there can be bottom-up as well as top-down networks.
  • Greg Hainge wondered if the university today is basically a different beast to that of the 1970s, that points towards the inevitable dispersal of cultural studies into a bunch of other things, especially as fee income and a client-driven economy particularly impact on arts and humnaities faculties.
  • Chris Rojek thinks that one the one hand cultural studies, as with sociology in an earlier period, has been successful in popular education (we talk about alientaion, charisma etc.), while simultaneously being dispersed into fields as diverse as criminology/justice studies, business studies, game studies, Internet studies etc.
  • Stuart Cunningham noted that there is also a crisis in the core of the sciences in terms of student demand toward applied domains. He is not sure that there is a similar gripping narrative about whether fundamental humanities are under threat.
  • Graeme Turner wondered whether interdisciplinarity has exposed the humanities to extinction. Are they too easy to merge to the point of extinction around the principle of "interdisciplinarity"?

Past, Present and Future of Cultural Studies - Graeme Turner and Chris Rojek

I'm writing from the Cultural Studies Symposium: Past, Present and Future conference at the University of Queensland, being hosted by the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies on Thursday, September 3, 2009.

Keynote presentation by Professor Graeme Turner. Graeme notes that the origins of the symposium come from a book he is developing with Chris Rojek, who heads to relevant publishing outlet at Sage, and he and Graeme are working on a book with this theme. Graeme has bemoaned the growing predictability and lack of critical edge of contemporary cultural studies, as seen in its conferences and ARC grant applications. Graeme notes a reluctance to put doubts about "cultural studies orthodoxies" into the public sphere, for fear of giving ammunition to its enemies, but feels that something needs to be said, as many of its senior founders are declaring their doubts about what now happens in the name of cultural studies.

Chris Rojek, Professor of Cultural Studies at Brunel University, UK (en route to New Zealand to taek up a chair). Notes that the culture of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies remains pessimistic and beleagured, even if all involved are tenured professors. He argues that this has infused the discipline, particularly about how they conceive of the "organic intellectual". Birmingham School was always small, highly politicised, and attuned to popular culture, but in order to "transmit knowledge" to the population as a road-map to political action.

Rojek feels that most cultural studies researchers do not clearly indicate such a political motivation to their work in this way, as opposed to genuflecting to being empowering and inclusive. Birmingham Centre's influence subsided after Stuart Hall, with Jorge Larrain and Richard Johnson failing to manage its finances and intellectual tensions effectively. Chris Rojek's book on Stuart Hall was subject to a 30 page review by Bill Schwarz - indicative of a defensiveness about outsiders, and some people wanting to "get him". The CCCS were, he argues, reluctantly to be "optimistic" or put forward concrete proposals for change. They were very reluctant to look at corporate culture - focus was on class, race and the state - ignored the rise of what Rojek calls "neat capitalism", or solutions porposed by global corporations that presetn themselves as more effective than the state - doing good while stamping the brand - "the brand is everything" (Richard Branson about Virgin).

What "the project" of CCCS was about was:
  • class consciousness
  • struggles over ideology
  • Western Marxism (esp. Gramsci and Althusser)
  • how to move the state towards meeting popular demands.
What CCCS did not deal with:
  • feminism
  • Michel Foucault
  • what corporations actually do
  • cultural citizenship (what can be done?)
  • what a future society might look like?
Achievements of Birmingham School:
  1. Rigorous insistence upon the importance of popular culture (fashion, youth culture , pop music, television etc.);
  2. Linking culture to politics in a sophisticated way (now largely absent from the field);
  3. Made idea of resistance legitimate;
  4. Developing an alternatvie publishing stream in face of publishers' indifference - appeared "cutting edge" and alternative;
  5. Creating jobs in cultural studies - a new establishment.
Defects of Birmingham School:
  1. Backed the wrong horse in embracing tradition of Western Marxism, which led it to overly focus upon the white working class and the state, and slow to understand identity politics or corporate capitalism. It made it less receptive to globalization, and exaggerated the importance of the nation-state;
  2. Insistence on relevance promoted a need to be an expert on what is happening now, which gets in the way of better grounding its own approach and developing a string disciplinary base - leads to a recurring tendency to "reinvent the wheel" intellectually;
  3. Tendency to produce cultural relativism - failed to develop an adequate position on cultural value - "everything is important";
  4. Never linked its intellectual work to a viable form of politics - resistance, protest and challenging privileged over organisation and leadership - proposes an "unlikely rainbow coalition to deliver the goods" that avoids the nitty-gritty of political work.
Q & A
  • Rojek notes that cultural studies people do not come across as intellectuals, but only as "moaning critics" - he proposes "learning from the new capitalists" in how to appear able to concretely address real issues - stop just bemoaning "bad capitalism";
  • Both Liz Ferrier and Jason Jacobs argue that geographers have a better feel for the issues Chris Rojek raises than cultural studies people do;
  • Stuart Cunningham asks about cultural value - is the point that "the emergent" is of more implicit interest to the resistive scholar than "the traditional"?
  • Publishing experience for Sage and Routledge is that textbooks are selling much better than ideas books (response to John Hartley);
  • Mark Gibson notes a "pre-Marxist" moment in British cultural studies in the 1960s, with early Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart;
  • I asked a question about undergraduate cultural studies. Chris thought that, at least in Britain, they may be a "lost cause" for cultural studies;
  • Chris Rojek notes that Jim McGuigan's forthcoming book Cool Capitalism will deal with how corproate branding has incoprorated elements of counter-cultural critique;
  • Tom O'Regan asked about a "stepping in the face" ethos in cultural studies, where the impulse may now be to "kill the father" that is now Stuart Hall (used to be Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams).