Individual versus collective

I mentioned in yesterday’s thematic post that the idea of the individual versus the collective may be a big, politically charged theme that I don’t want to get into.

I’m not sure how I can avoid it though.

When I started this research I came at it from a positivist approach, as that was pretty much my default way of thinking when I hadn’t been exposed to research methodologies, epistemologies or any other ‘ologies.  My focus was on the individual emerging leader and what they did, learnt or experienced that helped them build leadership capability.

This started to change (surprise!) when I spent more time reading.  The first change was understanding that leadership related to more than just the leader – it includes the followers. A basic and fairly obvious thing to realise, but one that is an early on ‘aha’ moment, which I wrote about here. I watch my students go through this shift in thinking now as I teach.

The second, and more important to me, change is the one between leader and leadership. Which I’ve written about previously, but I can’t find the post.  Rost (1993) wrote about how most leadership development was actually leader development, focussing on the individual when it should be leadership development focussing on the all parties involved. This probably helped me progress to the methodological approach to include people around my emerging leader, not just talk to the leader themselves, but also pushed the notion of the collective.

Then,of course, I have the emergence of communities of practice as a central component of my research. By definition this is a collective or social learning process, which again shifts thinking away from the individual.

Linked to all this, however, is not only leadership development being individually focussed (which is actually less important for these participants are most have not attended leadership development programs) but career development and educational messages also being individually driven.

When delving into the worlds of career models, when thinking about my journal article that became something else, I read a lot about protean and boundaryless careers and how they are linked to the cultural and creative industries, particularly through writers such as Ruth Bridgstock.  The rhetoric here is one of the individual being in control of their own career, and decisions being made based on values as much as economic or status. Internal motivation as much as external.  I can see my own contribution to this dialogue in my teaching and discussions with creative industries students – you will likely be an entrepreneur, you will change jobs, you need to learn requisite skills, you likely wont be trained by your employers.

So there is this individual push toward learning, self-awareness, self-control of career, that contradicts with the notion that we still learn collectively outside the educational environment and a focus on individual learning responsibility may mean we miss the potential opportunity to facilitate social learning and communities of practice that are so valuable.

While leads to the inescapable notion of neo-liberalism and its pervasive influence in the educational and economic systems.   To paraphrase Angela McRobbie (2002), a scholar I’m very fond of:

Creative work increasingly follows a neo-liberal model, governed by the values of entrepreneurism, individualisation and reliance on commercial sponsorship. One consequence for the relatively youthful workforce is the decline of workplace democracy and its replacement by network sociality.

She claims that the notion of the auteur, traditionally associated with film, writing and fashion, has been extended across the creative sector in what is now a highly individuated workforce, and that is not just about the individual per se, but less permanent social relations that are characterised by a perception of freedom and choice. Universities and educational institutions, and teachers like me, support this through the promotion of entrepreneurial skills in courses.

From here I can’t help but leap back to some of the statics around the creative industries, in particular the precarious nature of employment.  One one had there are those like Hesmondhalgh who critique the creative world’s structure of short-term contracts, lack of unions and individual employment focus, while many from the creative industries camp, like those at QUT, say precarity is less of a problem and that as a sector the creative industries earns higher than average and has better psychological conditions.

It’s hard not to see the latter’s approach as one that supports this neo-liberal approach which places all career success, or failure, on the individual who has none of the traditional workplace support that may have existed in other sectors.

Which makes my communities of practice idea even more important. Many have spoken of how their community provides psychosocial support (echoed by Higgins 2010) in dealing with the tempestuous employment conditions they face.  Particularly women, who tend to, early in their career, internalise rejection as being their fault, not a result of the institutional arrangements they face. (Hey, sounds familiar!)

So by taking an individual learning approach we are neglecting the benefits of the collective in not only development of capability but in filling the void in workplace support that used to come from organisations, professional association and unions. That said, McRobbie and scholars of her ilk argue that networking, or network sociality, has become required for career success and that this may be a challenge for many.  The way I’m thinking, however, is there is still a distinction between legitimate peripheral participation in communities of practice and networking for employment purposes, in the same way collaboration and cooperation are different, networking and social learning are different.

So a conclusion may be that we need to increase understanding of social learning and communities of practice within the educational curriculum of creative practitioners to help facilitate post-University learning.


Our final day we used to Marseille to spend most of the day at Friche de la belle de Mai, a great location, with big cool auditoriums, as well as being a fascinating space.
After the artist studio tour, and morning tea, we settled in for the final plenary session, in English this time. Not to sound all Anglo Saxon dominant and colonial but HOORAY.

On a proposed new models for arts funding the panel consisted of perspectives broader than just European and presentations were restricted so dialogue could be had. Finally a well orchestrated round table…..well that was the theory. The reality was the introductory speakers went well over an hour and then the whole session ran 30 minutes late. You could feel the crowd tuning out 3/4 way through.
There’s been a lot of discussion on crowd funding, and Zannie Voss from SMU Dallas raised the point that crowd funding is shallow, there’s no one to one relationship with donors, which makes we wonder why no one is studying the ‘Amanda Palmer phenomenon’ because this clearly contradicts this idea that crowd funding doesn’t promote individual connection.
The Chinese perspective highlighted that government and industry focus has been on establishing creative industries, in which they have been very successful, but there is almost no support, government or otherwise for public cultural institutions. This is the new area of exploration.
We also heard from the head of fundraising from the Louvre, one of the most important people in this space globally. He spoke about how it was harder to attract business sponsorship unless there are two factors, one it links to social causes too for CSR purposes, or they want strong marketing benefit, bang for their sponsorship buck.

Little gift giving comes from individuals in France, but it is growing both from major donors and little value campaigns and crowd funding. The idea that culture as a sponsorship opportunity alone is not enough was a theme in a few places, culture needed to align with some other social cause or issue- culture plus youth for example.
A big issue, outside the U.S. where it has existed for a while, is the professionalization of fundraising as an industry and a career. Much training needs to occur in this space.

After lunch you would think would be the killer slot, the last session on the last afternoon of the conference, in a dark room on a 30 plus degree day. I’d say, however, they were three of the best presentations I’d seen over the conference. The first was a study of a creative clusters using a museum case study in Vienna engagingly presented by a double team. The second two were both American, the former examining knowledge centric organisations and whether they have better organisational performance outcomes and the latter on the relationship a state’s entrepreneurial climate and the sustainability of arts and culture organisations.

This wrapped up the content for AIMAC15, with only the awards, a final museum visit and the gala dinner to come. Or I should say the Gala dinner that wasn’t, but more on the other blog.

AIMAC doctoral symposium 2015 day one

It was with a strong sense of nervousness that I arrived at the location for the International Arts Management conference doctoral workshop.  Would my research hold up amongst an international, highly qualified audience of my peers? Was my presentation appropriate? (We had limited guidelines.) Was I dressed right. (Hey, I’m superficial.)

The last question was answered pretty quickly- yes. As unsurprisingly the participants were largely women aged 25-40 and we all dressed similarly (arts stereotypes anyone?)

The kick off session on research methodologies from a Roger Bennett eased my mind about question two. It was interesting but also demonstrated that good presentation style counts for much, so I knew I’d hold the audience well. The second session, a really informative analysis of trends in publication in arts management and creative industries in Europe , answered a bit more and made me realise two things. One I know what I’m talking about, in particular my experience teaching cultural policy has served me really well in understanding key trends and theories. Secondly, my thesis is in an emerging area combined with a classic one. I’m taking a classic arts management theme, leadership, and looking at it in what was described in an avante-garde way.  I can tell by my positioning within the program that the scientific committee didn’t really know what to do with me.  This is good, as I’m charting new territory, but bad because I may not be ‘arts management enough’ for my potential examiners.  This has got me thinking about the positioning of my thesis and future career. While I’m working in now, and hope to have a job, in arts and cultural management, my thesis itself may be too interdisciplinary and narrative orientated.  I hope not.(Elaine if you’re reading this we might need to discuss.) I think I will get an indication as to how the academic world sees me with the acceptance or rejection of my recently completed journal article.

The key themes emerging in arts and cultural management, interestingly summarised by Anne Gombault, are:

  • The creative turn- the shift from arts management to creative industries.
  • The digital turn- the impact, or disruption, of digital on the discipline and sector.
  • Private art funding and entrepreneurship- a long term area in the USA and Australia but only now an issue in Europe as public funding diminishes.
  • Governance and evaluation- I was interested to hear there is still very little evaluation and measurement of cultural policy outcomes in Europe and boards have very little power or influence.
  • The avant-garde- which included areas like celebrity, careers and design thinking.
  • The classics- arts marketing, leadership (which I sort of fall in, but with a new approach), management control and dual leadership.

The post presentation conversation got into some interesting territory about the rise and fall of Eureopean dominance, but the informative comment of one of the assessors/advisors in the program, Gretchen Larsen from Durham raised the idea that it was more to do with the rise in neo-liberal thinking than geography (which I agree.) Later we got talking, she’s a New Zealander so we gravitated towards each other drawn by flat vowels, and I think I found my first kindred spirit. It’s interesting trying to read the political dynamics of something like this conference. 

The early afternoon was spent watching the first of the PhD presentations, and now I’m pretty confident that I can present effectively because a)  this is not outside my realm of experience and b) I know my stuff inside and out. And I’m ace at presenting, public speaking is my jam. (Shall revisit this tomorrow post presentation because I have the co-chair of the whole event as one of my assessors, who also happens to be the editor of the most prestigious journal in the space….so no pressure.)

The last sessions of the day on publication and coping with a PhD were well intentioned but probably didn’t teach me anything I hadn’t learned comprehensively at UTS, once again reaffirming my good choice in applying to go there. I’m extremely thankful for the guidance I’ve received, both from my supervisor and from the staff in general.

We broke at 6:30pm, and after starting at 8:30am, I was crushed. There was some sort of experiential art event planned later in the evening, but I know myself well enough to know a bit of alone time was needed before my ‘big’ day tomorrow.