Thursday, September 17, 2015

Performances of Hope

Kerrie Schaefer and I will be talking about this at the "Poor Theatres" symposium at the University of Manchester on the 4th of November: 

Performances of Hope: minor acts of cultural re-imagining within austerity's 'extreme economy'

Remaking Society set out to ethnographically document and critically analyse four community-based arts and participatory media practices in contrasting contexts of socio-economic deprivation in the UK. No longer viewed as a grassroots movement of counter-cultural activism (Kelly 1984), but as publically subsidised cultural provision, community-based cultural practices have been criticised (from within and without) for facilitating (unwittingly or not) neo-conservative government policies of ‘social inclusion’ (Merli 2004; Belfiore 2006) or the ‘Big Society’. Writing on the broad ‘turn to community’ in the arts, Wyatt, Macdowall and Mulligan (2013) posit a close link between the recent ‘instrumentalisation of the arts’, wherein the arts are geared to the production of government determined ‘social impacts’, and Nikolas Rose’s theory of ‘governing through community’ in which “governance in a post-welfare state shifts from the ‘disciplinary’ governing of society to a more collaborative and consensual” (p.83), or community-based, mode. Whereas Kelly bemoaned the increasing ‘mini-welfare-stateism’ (Kershaw 1992: 181) of community arts in the 1980s, the shift noted by Wyatt et. al. (2013) appears to tie community-based cultural practices to a mode of governance that aims to economically rationalise the welfare state itself. Community is at its most ideologically slippery in this genuflection to the forces of market capitalism, offering the chimera of ‘solidarity’, or at least a loose (post-modern) sense of ‘togetherness’, while actually instituting precarious social conditions through the decimation of the welfare state and associated public services and infrastructure. 

This paper proposes an active, critical and dialogical engagement with the politics of intersecting community–based practices – cultural and governmental – in relation to discourses of ‘austerity urbanism’ (Peck 2012). Community-based cultural practices are situated, contextualized and activated through partnerships across social divides, agencies and categories. This fundamental interdependence produces messy, contingent and unpredictable outcomes. Our account aims to acknowledge these ambiguities, and the critical problems and social possibilities they generate, while teasing out frameworks of meaning and value.