Culture, Participation and Social Values

Members of the UEP research team will be presenting at Museums in the Global Contemporary: Debating the Museum of Now, The School of Museum Studies, Leicester’s 50th anniversary conference. Abstracts from these papers have been copied below, but are also available on the conference site, here.

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Culture, Participation and Social Values

Andrew Miles, Abigail Gilmore and Adrian Leguina Ruzzi, University of Manchester, Lisanne Gibson and Delyth Edwards, University of Leicester, Mark Taylor, University of SheffieldEleonora Belfiore,  University of Warwick

Brief introduction to the UEP projectAndrew Miles
This 5 year (2012-2017) Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project proposes a radical re-evaluation of the relationship between participation and cultural value. We are used to thinking about the benefits of the arts and heritage as a traditional way of understanding culture and its value but what about the meanings and stakes people attach to their ‘everyday’ hobbies and pastimes? The UEP research brings together evidence from in-depth historical analyses, the re-use of existing quantitative data and new qualitative research to reveal the detail, dynamics and significance of ‘everyday participation’. Our aim is to generate new understandings of community formation and capacity through participation, which we will develop through collaborations with partners and participant groups to evolve better practice for policy makers and cultural organisations. Our approach promises new ways of capturing the contexts and processes of cultural valuation including the ways in which creative economies are underpinned by local practices and community identities.

Telling stories of participation: times, tastes, territories, Andrew Miles 
Alongside Putnam’s (1995) work on social capital, consideration of the ‘stakes’ attached to participation is most clearly associated with the debate around Bourdieu’s (1986) concept of cultural capital and the role this plays, alongside the possession or otherwise of other assets and resources, in processes of domination and social closure. Here the cultural omnivore thesis (Peterson and Kern 1996) vies with the concept of ‘emerging’ cultural capital (Prieur and Savage 2013). Yet the preferred method of understanding variation in practices in the cultural field – the analysis of cross-sectional survey data on tastes and activities – reveals nothing of the value or dynamics of participation in different activities at the individual level, nor for groups. In this paper I explore the potential of ‘participation narratives’ and life histories from longitudinal in-depth interviews for understanding the formation, negotiation, presentation and relationality of cultural tastes and identities. These interviews are taken from the first three case studies (in Manchester/Salford, Aberdeen and Gateshead) of the ‘Understanding Everyday Participation’ project, within which they mobilized as a core component of a geographically focused ‘mixed-methods’ approach to re-appraising questions of ‘cultural value’. The resulting accounts foreground the multiplicity of participation practices and their embeddedness in social life (Warde 2007). Yet they also articulate the complex ways in which everyday lifestyles are marked out relationally in time and space through the interplay of age, gender, class, mobility and belonging. Participation narratives can thus be presented to policy as a method which complements and informs recent appreciation of the need for longitudinal perspectives on cultural engagement. At the same time, they are a reminder of the continuing vitality of a tradition in social research which, in the age of ‘big data’, seeks to distil issues of process and meaning in cultural research (Savage and Burrows 2007).

Facilitated Participation and Everyday Participation: Enabling the Agency of young people in care, Lisanne Gibson and Delyth Edwards
Since the mid-nineteenth century cultural practice and its management has been attached to a discourse that constructs participation, in particular kinds of cultural activity, as beneficial to individuals on the basis that these beneficial effects have resonance beyond the cultural sphere. More recently ‘leading edge’ cultural practice and programmes have been based on the notion that benefit from such participation occurs via the facilitation of the active agency of participants; that is the making of their own meanings through co-curation and co-creation. Enlistment and involvement in, what we have termed ‘facilitated participation’, is, in Nikolas Rose’s terms, a tool typical of ‘advanced liberalism’ whereby the governance of individuals operates on the basis of the governance of their ‘freedom’, through making them self-governing subjects (Rose, 1993 and 1999). We have found that for children and young people living in care the facilitation of their agency through cultural programmes is limited by an assumption that such groups’ everyday cultural choices lack value. Through a discussion of research undertaken with young people in care which sought to understand the ways in which they valued their everyday participation in relation to the facilitated participation activities in which they took part, this paper will explore how these different domains of participation are understood by both the facilitators and the facilitated. The article will conclude with a discussion of how this understanding could contribute to the development of cultural practice which reveals, recognises and, perhaps, interrogates and challenges, the relations that inform participant’s autonomy or agency, as well as the relations that inform the roles of the facilitators themselves.

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Fields of participation and lifestyle in the UK: Challenges and opportunities for quantitative research in cultural participation, Adrian Leguina
Despite growing relevance for humanities and social sciences, much cultural participation research tends to consider research methods as mere tools for data analysis. Moreover, as the recent emphasis on the ‘social life’ of methods makes clear, methods should be seen loaded devices, which are both rendered by and shaping of the social world. The theoretical framework adopted by UEP, inspired from a range of perspectives, calls for update methodological paradigms. The main objective of this talk is to Illustrate the way how relevant operationalisations and statistical methods help to unpack the findings from surveys and other data collection strategies, while providing entirely different ways of ‘seeing’ participation. More specifically, we review some of the different quantitative methodological perspectives adopted by the UEP project, highlighting the importance of the study of methods for understanding participation. Although methods differ in nature, they are complementary and in most cases help to endure data limitations.

The Park, the Museum and the Commons:  vernacular spaces and social infrastructure for everyday participation, Abigail Gilmore
This paper will look at the spaces for everyday participation and consider their relationships to local cultural policy, community ownership and cultural value. It will focus on two particular spaces for participation – the park and the museum – and consider them comparatively to see how these spaces are understood and valued by local communities.  The park and the museum are chosen as focal points because of their parallel and intertwined local histories, as nineteenth century local cultural strategies for public health, regulation and education in newly industrialised Manchester and Salford, in response to moral anxieties and changing conditions of everyday life. Both can be considered as ‘assets’ for the performance of everyday participation. For example research on public parks for health and recreation positions parks as spaces for common ground, tolerance and distinction, where different communities can meet, become visible, perform shared and distinct cultural identities around ethnicity (Low et al,2005). In contrast museums studies literature positions museums spaces as places of bodily regulation and control where visitors are expected to conform to particular visiting and viewing practices (Rees Leahy, 2013). This article draws on participatory research with the Manchester Jewish Museum and Cheetham Park, Manchester to consider the contemporary practices of governance and policy, in relation to parks and museums, as their status as common ground is under question, in the context of public sector cuts and the quest for new funding and management models.

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Nonparticipation or different styles of participation? Alternative interpretations from Taking Part, Mark Taylor
Since the Taking Part Survey began collecting data in England in 2005/06, it has become the dominant source of information on participation in a wide range of domains, and its relationship with social stratification. Existing work that investigates domains of “formal” culture constructs narratives of often large groups of “nonparticipants” in a way that supports a deficit model framework. The Understanding Everyday Participation: Articulating Cultural Values project aims to extend this interpretation of participation, since not only is formal culture clearly not the norm, but there is a large amount of variation in how people spend their time in what might be called “everyday” activities [Miles and Sullivan, 2012]. The scope of the survey allows analysis of formal culture to be combined with analysis of other everyday activities; this allows us to identify whether omnivores within domains are also omnivorous across domains, and the extent to which alleged nonparticipants are genuinely so. Using five waves of Taking Part data, I use hierarchical cluster analysis on 90 variables to identify relationships between variable, and use kmeans cluster analysis to identify distinct patterns of participation in a wide range of activities. The analysis suggests, consistent with other work, that while about 8.7% of the English population is highly engaged with state-sanctioned forms of culture, and that this fraction is particularly well-off, well-educated and white, over half the population has fairly low levels of engagement with state-sanctioned culture but is nonetheless busy with everyday activities, such as pubs, shopping, darts, and gardening. Only about 11% of the population is detached from mainstream pastimes and social events. The results raise questions about policies surrounding participation: current policies aimed at increasing participation in state-sanctioned activities are likely to target those with already busy cultural lives, just not cultural in the way the state anticipates.

Cultural policy research in the real world: Curating “impact”, facilitating “enlightenment”, Eleonora Belfiore
The very identity of cultural policy studies as a distinctive field of academic pursuit rests on a well-established and widely accepted tension between ‘proper research’ and policy advocacy, which has often resulted in resistance to the idea that robust, critical research can – or even should – be ‘useful’ and have impact on policy discourse. This paper tries to navigate a third route, which sees policy relevance and influence as a legitimate goal of critical research, without accepting the pressures and restrictions of arts advocacy and lobbying. This is accomplished by exploring in detail the journey ‘into the real world’ of preliminary quantitative data produced by the UEP project in the context of its development of a segmentation exercise based on Taking Part data. The exercise used cluster analysis to identify profiles of cultural participation, with the most two engaged groups accounting for 15% of the broader British population. The single most engaged group corresponded to the wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population. This data fed into the consultation and evidence gathering process of the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value. The data was eventually cited in its final report Enriching Britain and was subsequently cited by key figures in the cultural and policy sectors. The paper looks at the trajectory that ‘the 8%’ statistic has travelled, charting its increasing prominence in English cultural policy debates and argues that, despite the impossibility for researchers to exert control over the use and misuse of their data, policy influence is nonetheless a realistic objective if understood in terms of ‘conceptual influence’.

Please visit the Museums in the Global Contemporary: Debating the Museum of Now pages to find out more about the rest of the event

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