Cultural Transformations | In Conversation with Doris Ruth Eikhof and Mark Banks

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As details of the University of Glasgow’s Advanced Research Centre are unveiled we thought it timely to introduce you to two of our newest colleagues, Prof. Doris Ruth Eikhof and Prof. Mark Banks. Leaders in their field of the cultural economy, they form part of the ARC’s Creative Economies & Cultural Transformation team. Here they talk current projects, new roles, and the future of the creative economy.  

So tell us, what are you working on just now?

DORIS: My current writing and research projects are all about diversity and inclusion in cultural work. As an AHRC Leadership Fellow I lead the project Everyday Diversity in the UK Screen Industries, which has the British Film Institute and the Creative Diversity Network as partners. I am also just starting an ORA-funded collaboration with Skadi Loist, Deb Verhoeven, Eli Prommer and Amanda Coles analysing gender equity policy in film in Germany, the UK and Canada. That’s a project I am quite excited about because it will combine pretty innovative big data analysis with in-depth policy and stakeholder analysis to model which policies will or will not bring about change. My hope for these projects is that they will help remove structural barriers to inclusion and get us beyond ‘counting diversity’: workforce statistics can only tell us part of the story.

MARK: I’ve just finished a book called Cultural Industries and the Environmental Crisis that was co-edited with our Head of School, Professor Kate Oakley, and also features Dr Matt Brennan from Music. A good team effort has now (finally!) helped that book over the line. I’m also working with Justin O’Connor on a forthcoming special issue entitled ‘Art and Culture in the Viral Emergency’ for the journal Cultural Trends. Outside of that I’m trying to develop my broader interests in labour and social justice in cultural work and production, emergent theories around post- or de-grown cultural industries, and alternative economy.  

What bought you to Glasgow and to the School of Culture and Creative Arts?

D: I had worked in Scotland and lived in Glasgow for eight years before moving to the Midlands; any attempt at pretending the opportunity to return to my adoptive hometown in the UK didn’t pique my interest would be totally futile. I wouldn’t have returned for any job though: the opportunity to work in a School dedicated to researching and teaching across a broader mix of culture and creative arts, and in an institution that values civic engagement was a huge attraction: I might have moved to somewhere other than Scotland for that!

M: For me it was a desire for change – and the chance to work with a really interesting and exciting group of scholars, some of whom I’d worked with or was aware of previously, through the Centre for Cultural Policy Research and Music connections, as well as others I have only read about on the page! Of course, the city was also a huge attractor in its own right: I hope to be able to take full advantage of its cultural life before too long!

It’s wonderful having Mark and Doris here at Glasgow as they add so much to the breadth and depth of our work on the creative economy. They are both used to asking big questions, working in a collaborative way and with an ethical purpose, and that can help us chart new and better futures for the cultural sector.

Professor Kate Oakley, Head of School of Culture & Creative Arts

You’re both involved in the Creative Economies and Cultural Transformation theme at the ARC, the University’s new Advanced Research Centre. Tell us about your ambitions for that work.

D: I am a great believer in dedicated spaces for research and engagement. We have classrooms and other purposefully designed learning environments, so why wouldn’t we have that for research and engagement too? And my hunch is that for whatever blended research practices our post/with Covid19 work develops into, dedicated spaces for anchoring collaboration will become even more important. I am excited to learn how we might use ARC to amplify and extend the great work already going on in the School, and to engage with colleagues from our and other Colleges.

M: It’s still early days so my first focus is to learn more about the Centre, what the University’s ambitions or expectations are for it. It looks an exciting initiative, and with the right support I’m sure people will find it a lively and animating space in which to develop research. It would be great if a number of the team here at the School were involved, and for critical arts and cultural research to feature prominently. 

Artists impression of the Advanced Research Centre | Source: HOK Architect
The ARC, due to open in Spring 2022, will be the creative and collaborative heart of research at the University of Glasgow.

For a number of reasons, not least COVID-19, it feels like the creative industries are entering a new phase. What are your predictions for the future of these industries? And what might universities bring to this new world?

D: I have spent quite some time figuring out what COVID-19 might mean not just for working in the cultural economy, but for diversity and inclusion specifically. Drawing on existing research, the initial picture is pretty bleak: creative careers will likely become even more difficult to establish and maintain for individuals from already under-represented groups. But existing research does not only help us predict new problems, it can also help us identify potential solutions. For instance, I found that many exclusionary practices which COVID-19 is likely to lead to are structurally similar to the barriers disabled people have faced for decades. We have evidence on how to solve some of those, so it’s about drawing on that knowledge, bringing it into policy-play and working with cultural economy stakeholders to find solutions. I don’t think the role of engaged universities is much different under COVID-19, to be honest: we don’t have to act so quickly, we can allow ourselves a little more time to think. Practitioners and policymakers can’t take a step back so easily. From that more reflective position we can be a critical friend, bring in perspectives that might not be as easily accessible if you are in constant ‘doing mode’ and help to imagine and re-imagine, hopefully for the better, how to be more inclusive, more sustainable, more socially just. In principle that’s what we have done before Covid19 too, but it’s possibly become more urgent, and more valued now.

M: I agree with Doris that at the moment it feels quite pessimistic. The pandemic has seriously curtailed a lot of productive cultural activity and artistic livelihoods. But we also have to face up to longer term challenges – and the threats posed by accelerating ecological crises of different kind, and culture is part of that equation. The positive aspect is that we now often find cultural practitioners and producers at the forefront of attempts to imagine more genuinely sustainable and just social and economic futures. For universities, while we can continue to support and train arts and cultural practitioners, we also need to invoke the hope that education is a means to many possible ends, including those that might seek to challenge the conventional assumptions about what the ‘creative economy’ is for, and what it should become. I would want us to ask – if progressive social change is needed, then what role can arts and cultural producers play in effecting it?

Collaboration is central to both of your disciplines, be that between the academy and industry or between academic disciplines. What’s the value of collaboration in your work, and how do you approach it?

D: As much as I love a day of solitude and coffee for writing, my default mode is ‘doing together’. My career, my empirical research, my publications, and most of my leadership roles have been genuinely shared endeavours, and, I think, richer and more effective because of it. As you say, I work closely not only with academics, but also with cultural economy practitioners. For me there’s three big gains from collaboration: Firstly, more perspectives enrich what you do. No one can cover everything, each discipline’s or individual’s approach has to exclude something from view, otherwise it gets too complex. If you bring different approaches together, the exclusions matter less and you get a richer grip on whatever it is you are doing. Secondly, as a person, you grow in collaborations: collaborating makes you reflect on who you are, what it is you bring to the table, what you will and won’t compromise on. That’s healthy and productive for personal development. And thirdly, collaborations allow learning from others, which is massively important in academia, where it can sometimes feel like personal development is ‘done’, or at least left to the individual, once you have completed your PhD.

M: I have worked in small, interdisciplinary research teams for most of my career, alongside academics and practitioners from many different disciplines and traditions. My own work tends to reflect a mixed training in various bits of sociology, cultural and media studies and human geography, and I tend to like authors with similarly broad approaches, that aren’t too bound by the lore of their disciplines. I’ve found that monocultures tend to lead to stasis and closure, while creating contexts where people can bring their own different experiences and insights into open contact tends to be most generative. I certainly have learnt a good deal from working in that way, and hope that I have been a good collaborator in return. I suppose one thing I’ve learnt is that people often need good reasons to collaborate – it doesn’t usually just happen naturally. Everyone needs to be able to see what the benefits are, either to them personally, or to a practice, or to a society of others. I guess trying to find out what those benefits are – and so giving people a reason to participate – is the key to any good collaboration. 

Professor Doris Ruth Eikhof is a critical creative economy scholar who specialises in diversity and inclusion in cultural work. She currently leads the AHRC Leadership Fellowship project Everyday Diversity in the UK Screen Sectors (with BFI and Creative Diversity Network) and is the UK PI for an ORA-funded international study into gender equality policies in film (with Universities of Babelsberg, Rostock, Alberta and Deakin). Doris has worked on CDN’s Doubling Disability initiative, BAFTA’s 2020 British Academy Film Awards Review, the BFI’s Workforce Diversity Evidence Review (2018), One by one: building the digital literacies of UK museums (AHRC) and the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture in Scotland (for the AHRC, Nesta & Creative Scotland). She is a member of the National Partnership for Culture’s Measuring Change Group and from 2016-2020 was Deputy Director of the CAMEo Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies at the University of Leicester. Doris has previously worked at the Universities of Leicester, Stirling and Hamburg.

Professor Mark Banks is a sociologist and cultural studies scholar who specialises in the study of cultural industries, work and economy, with a particular interest in the music, media and visual arts industries. His research often focuses on the experience of working in culture, and normative questions around cultural work and policy – such as those explored in his most recent book ‘Creative Justice: Cultural Industries, Work and Inequality’ (2017). Mark began his career at the Manchester Institute for Popular Culture, MMU before moving to the The Open University and the University of Leicester where he was the founding Director of the CAMEo Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and is currently writing about cultural economy and environmental crisis, and the impacts of COVID-19 on the cultural sector.

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