Frank Hartmann on Wed, 11 Nov 1998 21:48:47 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> cultural competence

[ What ever came out of the "European Culture Month"? After visiting a
conference on "culture as competence" I wrote this report for Telepolis,
which with a month delay I submit here in an english version / FH ]

Culture and the 'electronic challenge'

Conference Report
Frank Hartmann

The EU-conference "Cultural Competence " (,
which took place beginning of october in Linz (Austria), was dedicated to
the context of new technologies and the changes in cultural production and
distribution. A crucial question was, which aspects of cultural policy
with an European dimension are evolving here. To be a topic at all, it was
decided to sell 'culture' to the policy-makers on the level of work and
employment. However, not much could be noticed in Linz of the attempted
dialogue between the arts, industry and politics - the commercial
pacemakers of media enterprises were not taking part, cultural policy
makers were rare, and most of the announced members from the European
Commission sent their substitutes.=20

Plans are requested for the implementation of the political tasks of the
European Council, which put a special emphasis on the new information
technologies, to highlight the cultural potential of innovations besides
the restrictions of technology policy. Culture is not only that what is
left after business hours. With all the emphasis on =91competition=92, the
core buzzword for European Union politicians, it should only be
appropriate to remember the role of culture for the economy, as well as
the fact that a lot of business acitivities depend on culture and the
 ("Culture, the culture industries and employment " - EU Commission
Working document of the European Commission, DG V und DG X, Brussels, May
) But it seems odd that culture now is of value under the condition of its
employment factor only (Data on employment in the cultural sector in
Germany see ). One might suspect that policy
prefer a concept of culture as in =91culture industries=92, which includes =
much besides the employees of the big opera houses, theaters and such.=20

Georg Franck, Professor at Vienna University (Wien): "The traditional
cultural scene functions as the high-performance middle-class sector
within the immaterial economy. Who did not comprehend its laws, will not
be able to counsel the cultural scence and cultral policy, at least
where high quality is concerned."

This approach was chosen by Keynote-Speaker Georg Franck (his latest,
locally much discussed book in German: The Economy of Attention, 1998) ,
who stated the fact that culture as a topic at a EU-conference is a
certain innovation, not unmotivated though within the dominating
economic subjects: culture is an economic category, the production and
distribution of cultral =91content=92 being one of the dominating commerce
topics. Depending on the chosen perspective, even the cultural view from
within tends towards economics, the struggle for attention being the
core business of culture. For value added economics, =91high=92 culture the=
becomes a problem compared with commercialism, because it cannot be
fully subsidised any longer. Hence, a change in economy is due. Because
of a lack in theoretical basics however, the immaterial economy of
cultural production is not yet recognized. The measurable immaterial
profits like respect and attention are the driving forces in postmodern
societies. While there is no problem to follow the diffentiated diagnois
of a long since functioning =91economy of attention=92, it is irritating
though how Franck=92s approach is willing to see only high-brow cultural
production (with the example of let us say, Arnold Schoenberg) as the
general problem, as well as solely the financing of the elitist sector
of culture.

This illustrates a basic attitude, which revealed itself in some much
less elegant contributions to the conference; the tenor being one of
traditionally having culture in Europe, as an advantage over America,
and thus the obligation to do something for the cultural heritage. The
conservationists attitude forgets that new forms of culture are now in
the making. These cannot be grasped with the labour market argumentation

Focussing mainly on economic aspects, the European Commission in its
long term strategy (electronic commerce and multimedia content - cf. the
=91Agenda 2000=92 ) puts an
emphasis on the development of cultural and industrial capital.
Therefore, financing depends on specific means, while cultural
initiatives and projects hardly are sponsored for their own sake -
unless they follow transnational interests like the political-economical
cohesion of Europe. Some contradictions are evolving though, since the
new technologies are not fully recognized in their role to support an
environment where the free circulation of goods and services are to be
ensured. This concerns the complex questions of copyright and new media,
as well as intellectual property and authorship as a core question in
cultural production and distribution. Industrial insterest are quite
well considered so far, and especially concerning the so-called =91value
added services=92 (EU-slang for communication) the policies are aimed only
at securing investments and profits. Identifying high-brow culture as
the problematic sector at one hand, while pushing the European culture
industry on the other, fits well into the Commission=92s ideology of
competition, while a basic fact is overruled: that it is especially the
new media technologies which tend to cancel such simplistic dualisms.

It seems only logical therefore to include culture initiatives and
artists, who concentrate on media technologies in this conference. To
quote but one example: Viennese composer Karlheinz Essl
( ) demonstrated from his own practice how conditions of
contemporary creative process fundamentally changed through the use of new
communication technologies, whereas the dualism of high and low culture
simply became obsolete through different contextualisation. These new
technologies enable a range of small scale project works to establish a
=91culture=92 of their own beyond any commercial imperativs: new cultural
practice in electronic networks. Different =91subcultural=92 network projec=
introduced themselves at the conference, all of which - according to
various EU position papers on art and culture and the Internet - should be
strengthened through structural policy. Most of them however, do not
experience any effect of that policy, while the common cultural manager,
who is concerned with covering the rent and labour costs, can not
disregard such responsibilities in the name of an immaterial economy of

Pit Schultz, artist and net-critic (Berlin): "Electronic cultures are
the basis of numerous productive social and technical innovations, and
they are needed for developing a language beyond, either programming
languages, or those press releases which are published on the Internet."

The fact that the practicians of electronic networks represent a
different culture than the one which fits the mentality of
EU-bureaucrats, needs no further explanation. And yet, a =91clash of
cultures=92 which might have been an intention of the organizers did not
happen, simply because the political policy makers were scarce, while
the hermetic academic discourse of the opening panel did not allow much
of a follow-up. So with their 'best practices'-models, the =91digital
culture=92-clientele once again stayed amongst themselves. Also, not much
new insight was offered through the accompaning 'ambient lecture
surfing' (on the browser: Pit Schultz): a website-supported struggle for
credibilities in the fight against the =91system=92, the track down for new
media structures, and a vague critique of the Bangemann-propaganda - all
issues well known and quite well exercised already, but while
strategical concepts are missing, a vague sweeping attack against
=91Microsoft=92 once again is not enough. Instead of analyzing transnationa=
project plans, which are designed to extend the information
infrastructure and increase the bandwidth, on their social compatibility
and the actual needs aside from pure commercial applications, the
addiction for images exploited by multimedia industry was being
ridiculed with protestant moralistic undertones.

This caused a minor emotional explosion by member of the EU-governing
board Nathalie Labourdette, who herself has some career experience in
the creative sector. Instead of complacent criticising, she argued, one
should learn how to appropriately articulate one=92s needs in a given
context. Without cynicism it was stated that the EU-programmes are not
designed as the reconciliation with a wicked world, but as an
augmentation for industrial enterprise.

Derrick De Kerckhove (McLuhan programme for culture & technology,
Toronto): =84Are there any  expert-centers and media labs which do
research on the effects of new technologies on the European culture?"

The applications of new information and commication technologies for the
means of cultural diversity in a European context is on the agenda of
the European Council ( ). As a work in
progress, a declaration for a coordination of all the national cultural
policies is in the making. It should be expected from the responsible
persons and institutions, that they design a cultural policy beyond the
stereotypes like the "challenges" of the information society and the
"chances" of the digital revolution. This can also not be limited in
re-defining a European culture through an anti-american attitude.

Beyond all proclamations not only technology changes, but also the
social situation of 'cultural workers' (read: taxpayers in non-typical
work situations). A nomenclatura of officials from curators to culture
managers, experts and counselors already took over key functions in the
field of cultural production and distribution. The prominent issue of
employment tends to focus on their personal interests. How much the
reality of the explicit culture industrialists and the one of the
'informal knowledge workers' fundamentally differ is unwillingly
demonstrated with conferences like this one. There are not only
incompatible concepts of culture, it also seems that cultural workers
have come to an arrangement with structural deficits. All too willingly
the romantic role of a supporting cast of creatives is played, powerless
in the face of migty institutions like the European Commission. All hope
abandoned to have their culture subsidised, a concept of culture to
become the luxury good for a few is reinforced. And likely, that
meta-institutions like the EU develop an interest for culture beyond its
representative function for elites on the one hand, and its subsidy as
an industrial factor on the other. Despite all political rhetorics,
culture policy will not change then, from what it already is: a
subsidised residuum of emancipatory yearnings for the one, a sponsored
public good as a turnover factor for the other.

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