CRESC is a social science centre conducting methodologically sophisticated and wide-ranging research on key aspects of socio-cultural change. Although there are numerous claims made about the significance of cultural change, from post-modernism to globalization, we are concerned to carefully evaluate these perspectives, drawing upon three key strengths, (i) our interdisciplinary range, (ii) our expertise in both quantitative and qualitative methods, and (iii) our familiarity with a wide range of theoretical framings:
Following our launch in 2004, we have established ourselves as a large and visible research centre, in which we have
- developed four organic interdisciplinary research teams in the areas of (a) Cultural Economy convened by Karel Williams (b) Transformations in Media, Culture and Economy convened by Marie Gilespie (c) Cultural Governance and Citizenship convened by Tony Bennett and (d) Cultural Values and Politics convened by Penny Harvey. Each team has one Research Fellow and between 10 and 20 junior and senior academics, who have published key intellectual interventions in core areas of CRESC’s mission;
- elaborated a strong quantitative and qualitative research methods laboratory (the Politics of Methods) convened by Mike Savage with two Reseach Fellows, which has made important interventions in championing new methods for the study of socio-cultural change, through the use of methods such as social network analysis, multiple correspondence analysis, and the re-use of archived qualitative data;
- published quality research, with our core funded staff being responsible for 108 academic outputs: 10 books, 29 book chapters, 64 refereed journal articles and 5 specially edited journal issues;
- developed partnerships with several user constituencies, in the form of dedicated seminar series, consultancies, advisory relationships and exchange of personnel, which allow us to link systematically with groups such as the BBC, DCMS, ACE, BFI, EHRC, KPMG, ONS, Culture NorthWest, Arup, and various other business constituencies;
- nurtured a series of strategic national and international collaborations both to enhance CRESC’s profile and increase our capacity to develop our research programme in the second phase of CRESC;
- won over £2million in additional research funding from the ESRC, AHRC, Leverhulme, RCUK, NWDA, and EHRC, so allowing us to further increase our research capacity.
Intellectual Highlights so far
In the first phase of CRESC’s work we can boast a number of major achievements where our work has already had a major impact and has attracted international research interest. In particular:
- We have shown how financialization processes are fundamental to contemporary change, in a situation where ‘everything is for sale’. Because companies have to present themselves as positively as possible, they increasingly deploy ‘culture rich’ presentational devices. We have demonstrated how this financial culture is central to the restructuring of contemporary capitalist relations, and is linked to the emergence of a new kind of ‘intermediary’ financial elites.
- We have analysed challenges posed to multi-ethnic publics, media producers and security policymakers by the post-9/11 environment. Despite the increasing availability of culturally diverse news sources, we found that national news (BBC news especially) is widely valued for providing access to vital resources for citizenship in multicultural Britain. Working closely with the BBC, we have forged new, culturally sensitive, approaches to researching international and diasporic audiences, publics and politics.
- We have developed a distinctive theoretical approach to the analysis of socio-cultural relations which takes account of the ways in which culture forms an integral part of modern programmes of liberal government, including its research methods. This has contributed to a re-conceptualisation of the relations between cultural and religious diversity and multicultural policies and practices. Unusually, we have placed these contemporary developments in a long term historical perspective by examining a series of historical transformations in the relations between culture and government since the 18th century.
- We conducted comparative ethnographic research into technical interventions and expertise in studies of the UK and Peru, focusing on the cultural dimensions of technical expertise. Our analyses of the cultural values embedded in diverse knowledge practices reveal how expert practices provoke tensions and conflicting visions of change. In the context of public works and development initiatives, we show how technological solutions embed past and future social conflicts within them.
- We have undertaken the most comprehensive quantitative and qualitative research on social and cultural participation to have been conducted in the UK, confirming that social class divisions remain significant axes affecting cultural and social participation, yet also revealing that age, gender and ethnicity are strongly implicated. Using detailed historical studies of the UK since 1945, as well as a series of contemporary investigations, we have shown that participation is most intense when it is related to disputes between participants, and that instrumental involvement does not generate the kind of investment that creates longer-term engagement and encourages people to identify themselves as activists.
Research Outcomes and Dissemination
We have developed a very strong dissemination profile through:
- Developing a frequently visited website, and a lively working paper series;
- Publishing in high quality journals in disciplines including anthropology, business studies, culture and media studies, history, political economy, sociology, and in obtaining great interest in our research from leading academics in these disciplines;
- Successfully organising high profile events, in several important venues, including major international interdisciplinary conferences which regularly attract 200+ delegates, high profile lectures by internationally renowned academics, and around 12 more specialist events each year;
- Completing a publishing contract with Routledge which provides for a book series on Culture, Economy and the Social (5 books a year), and the Journal of Cultural Economy which began in 2008 and has already attracted publications from leading international scholars.
CRESC researchers are drawn from very diverse disciplinary backgrounds: anthropology, business and finance, cultural studies, geography, history, media studies, museology, political science, sociology, and visual studies. Interdisciplinary engagement takes place within research themes (discussed below), in reading groups, workshops, conferences and in the publication of co-authored work. We recognise that concerns with the ‘cultural’, the ‘social’ and with approaches to transformation and change take very different forms across disciplines, requiring special efforts to allow meaningful engagement to take place. Our innovation is that rather than seeing the methods deployed by social scientists, businesses, the state, and cultural institutions simply as tools, we instead consider them as central to the very processes which they also claim to be delineating (e.g. Savage and Burrows 2007; Harvey (ed. 2007). In taking this approach we have extended arguments from the sociology of knowledge, developed in relation to the natural sciences, to the concerns and practices of the social sciences. We have focused on the methods and practices by which disciplines constitute their objects of knowledge and their own specific expertise over time in order to develop a more effective inter-disciplinary strategy. Disciplinary differences are thus historicised and integrated into our understandings of social change which recognise how the reworking of expertise is itself fundamentally implicated in the restructuring of ‘knowing capitalism’. This approach has allowed us to synthesise Foucauldian arguments regarding the reconfiguration of knowledge and expertise in neo-liberal conditions, the actor-network theory championed by Callon, Law and Latour, and the anthropology of knowledge with its emphasis on partial translation and the possibility of incommensurable knowledge forms. It has also allowed us to acknowledge how contemporary computing capacity has enabled new forms of interdisciplinarity through enhanced awareness of distributed knowledge, networked databases, and changing possibilities for the production, sharing and storing of informational forms. In short, at the forefront of our approach is a realisation that the contemporary world not only makes a difference to the ways in which methods and disciplinary approaches are conceived, but also produces new interdisciplinary objects of study.
The Engagement of Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
Our researchers have worked with both quantitative and qualitative methods and one of CRESC’s achievements in this field has been to identify and analyse new interdisciplinary objects and/or fields of practice which cannot be adequately described without engagement with both quantitative and qualitative data. Broad fields in which we have carried out empirical studies within the four research themes include: Financialization, Cultural Assemblage and Network Analysis, the Visualisation of Digital Data, Integrated Media Analysis, and the relationship between historical archives and contemporary networked digital databases.
Our work on Financialization has shown how corporate financial success requires performative presentations with numerical and narrative data (Froud et al 2006). Classical product market centred concepts of strategy are obsolete because stock market pressure for higher returns encourages narrative inventiveness and performative initiatives in giant firms which cover over the general failure of management to deliver value and the opportunism of chief executives who enrich themselves. Subsequently, we have proposed a distinctive conjunctural concept of financialization (Froud et al 2008) and developed a new framework for the study of elites which demonstrates how their relationship to money is central to their contemporary organisation (Savage and Williams 2008).
In a situation where Networks are routinely evoked and mobilised by powerful social agents, we have identified how we can rethink them in terms of generating absences, disconnections and gaps (Knox et al 2005; Savage et al 2008). We have championed a network analysis focusing on intermediaries and brokers (Froud et al 2008), drawing on methods within social network analysis but extending their qualitative and ethnographic aspects. Drawing on the lessons of laboratory studies, and breaking from more institutionally established forms of ‘cultural studies’, we work with the notion of Cultural Assemblage, to describe the ways in which cultural institutions (such as museums and art galleries) manifest the cultural in distinctive ways in relation to the pressures and concerns of neo-liberal governance (Bennett 2007; 2008; Bennett, Dodsworth and Joyce 2007).
Digital modelling and the visualisation of statistical data is a key area in which quantitative and qualitative methods combine in new and emergent fields of social practice (Harvey 2006; Harvey and Knox forthcoming). Engineers and urban designers are increasingly drawing on these novel modelling techniques to enhance their capacity to communicate between divergent fields of expertise, to mediate between technical experts and the diverse publics whom they seek to address, and to provide convincing accounts of future urban landscapes. Within the social sciences CRESC researchers have collaborated with mathematicians to find appealing ways to visualise survey data. Using relatively neglected (in the UK) methods of multiple correspondence analysis (Gayo-Cal et al 2006; Bennett et al 2008), social network analysis (Savage et al 2008; Griffiths et al 2008) and sequencing methods (EHRC report 2008) we have been able to render socio-cultural complexity visible and more accessible.
Changing media require methodological innovations, adapting and integrating established methods in diverse disciplines. In this context, CRESC researchers have developed a new model of public policy research, Integrated Multidisciplinary Media Analyses (Gillespie 2006; 2007). This model, which was piloted in the ‘Shifting Securities’ project, can be adapted across diverse policy domains. It integrates audience ethnography with discourse and policy analysis. Innovative tracking methods were used to capture media ‘user flows’ in the home, to explore the dynamics of textual navigation in relationship to everyday life, and to relate these findings to policy debates about audience participation in reality TV programmes.
Finally, by focusing on methods and procedures as key agents of socio-cultural change, CRESC’s cultural statistics and qualitative research methods laboratories have challenged assumptions about the nature of methods and indicated ways of innovating, and in particular extending the repertoire of social science methods. In addition to our interests in explicitly relating narrative and number (the theme of a 2007 CRESC workshop), we have explored the possibilities for re-using Archived Data, (Moore 2007; Savage 2007; Silva 2007) a project which we are taking forward in a series of workshops on the ‘archive’ in the contemporary world. Historians have much to teach the social sciences in relation to these sources, and researchers are actively exploring the links between contemporary digital data-bases and networked archives, and the ways in which data has been generated, archived and used in the past.
Comparative and Historical Focus
The comparative and historical dimensions of our research are intrinsic to our objects and fields of study. While empirical research requires attention to be paid to the implications of location, our collective research emphasis is on entities that extend beyond the specific contexts of the United Kingdom. We thus focus on areas such as the practices of elites (e.g. Savage and Williams 2008), of giant firms (Froud et al 2006), of financial, media and cultural institutions (Collins 2006; Gillespie 2007), of communications networks (Harvey and Knox 2008), and the values and relations through which social differentiation and the dynamics of inequality are made apparent (Bennett et al 2008). Not only do many of these institutions work across national borders, but it can also be shown that such borders are nevertheless significant as shown for example by our comparison of UK, US and French giant firms. In relation to these objects of study, borders and boundaries take on a new significance both in relation to their relative stability (or instability) and to the complex ways in which they organise particular kinds of culture and population flows. We have come to identify how boundary and border making processes are fundamental to processes of globalisation. Our historical research on forms of liberal governance (Dodsworth 2005; Bennett et al 2007) stretching back to the 18th century, allows us to place current change within an unusually long time frame, so allowing us to show how contemporary forms of liberal governance are indebted to historical models, yet at the same time are characterised by innovations in the deployment of ‘culture’ as an instrument of governance. Innovative research on social change in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s allows us to recognise how contemporary claims to change actually have longer term precedents (Majima and Savage 2007; Savage 2008).
Theoretical and Empirical Approaches to Knowledge, Expertise and Social Change
In all our research we are concerned to improve the link between theoretical and empirical research through appropriate methodological innovation and through an approach which challenges unfounded claims to epochal change. We can thus differentiate not only the degree of change, but also the ways in which change is apprehended, through the assumptions that particular approaches to change entail. We have found ‘governmentality’ approaches useful in revealing the specific forms in which culture is enacted in various social conjunctures. Building on the work of Foucault, of science studies and actor network theory, and ethnographic approaches to knowledge practices we focus on the ways in which knowledge is configured, institutionalised, disconnected, valued and distributed; to show how culture, the economy and the social have been and are differentiated, and how they come together in specific overlapping fields of practice. These general approaches have emerged and coalesced from the specific research topics of our four research themes.