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					Researching Creativity:
Using ethnography in the
analysis of professional
media production
                  Georgina Born
         Cambridge University, UK
              gemb2@cam.ac.uk


                                    1
            3 parts to paper
Preamble: media ethnography as
   methodology…
1) Complexity, causality: crossing scales in
   analysis of conditions of creativity
2) Accessing producers’ creative practices:
   follow the actors (Latour)
3) Repetition and difference: invention and
   value in creative work > necessary basis for
   normative questions, policy interventions
                                              2
 Ethnography of media/cultural production
• Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke, and the Reinvention of the BBC (2005)
• Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the
  Musical Avant-Garde (California 1995)
• „On musical mediation: Ontology, technology and creativity‟, Twentieth
  Century Music, 2(1) 2005
• „Strategy, positioning and projection in digital television: Channel 4 and
  the commercialisation of public service broadcasting in the UK‟, Media,
  Cult & Soc 25(6) 2003
• „Future-making: Corporate performativity and the temporal politics of
  markets‟, in D. Held and H. Moore (eds), Cultural Politics in a Global Age
  (Oneworld 2007)
• „Digitising democracy‟, in J. Lloyd and J. Seaton, What Can Be Done?
  Making the Media and Politics Better (Blackwell 2006)
• „Culture, citizenship and consumerism: The BBC‟s fair trading obligations
  and public service broadcasting‟, The Modern Law Review 64 (5) 2001
• Methodological: „The social and the aesthetic: Methodological
  principles in the study of cultural production‟, in J. Alexander and I. Reed
  (eds), Meaning and Method: The Cultural Approach to Sociology (2008)
• „Inside television: Television research and the sociology of culture‟, 3
  Screen 41 (4) 2000
                My ethnographies
• Two ethnographies of major cultural institutions - „high‟ and
  mass media - their cultural and political milieu, genealogies
• IRCAM: high-cultural organisation, music dept of Pompidou
  Centre: interrogates crisis of musical modernism - why did
  avant-garde music drift from public tastes?
• BBC: transformation in last decade by commercialisation,
  globalisation & „new public management‟ - emergent form of
  neo-liberal governance: marketisation, audit, accountability
• Both analyse conditions for creativity in two organisations,
  causalities underlying these conditions, and how they
  influence what is made: IRCAM music, BBC TV output
• Two methodological (Foucauldian and Bourdieuian)
  injunctions: 1) attend to historical specificity of each field, its
  coherence and differentiation; 2) in analysing causality,
  trace multiplicity of causes including distinctive temporalities
  (political, economic, discursive) and contingency of their
  conjunction                                                       4
    What is media ethnography?
• Wrongly conflated with audience and consumption
  studies: as powerful for production / industry research
• Entails in situ, „naturalistic‟ fieldwork on both
  a) language / discourse (via interviews, dialogues) and
  b) practices (via observation, participation)
• > Disjunctures and contradictions between discourse
  and practice: key sign of operations of power, ideology
• > Illuminates series of dualisms: formal / informal,
  explicit / implicit, public / private, collective / individual..
• Fieldwork entails both identification and distanciation:
  importance of movement between 2 subject positions
• Reflexivity fine, but should not overwhelm research
  orientation and questions                                    5
     Rigour in ethnographic work
• Multiple perspectives: not randomly, but attempting to
  represent significant positions within/across the „whole‟
  social space: both social diffs & cultural/ideological diffs
• Triangulation: checking findings across multiple
  informants / perspectives
• Corroboration:issues addressed with different forms of
  data (interview, observation, documents, archives…)
• Time / temporality: ethnography as a sustained process
  over time and cumulative in its analysis, because…
• Ethnography is both deductive (using background
  theoretical and substantive knowledge) and inductive
  (deriving concepts, analysis from empirical fieldwork) >
• Fieldwork is characterised by oscillation or movement
  between deduction and induction                           6
          Ethnography as good for
          post-positivist empiricism
• Against „master-slave‟ model in which theory
  (abstraction, reduction) presides over empirical
  (complexity, subtlety, messy…)
• Instead: empirical research can have theoretical effects
  and serve as a basis for conceptual invention
• Deleuze criticises rationalist philosophies in which „the
  abstract is given the task of explaining, and it is the
  abstract that is realised in the concrete‟
• Instead Deleuze outlines „two characteristics by which
  Whitehead defined empiricism: the abstract does not
  explain, but must itself be explained; and the aim is not
  to rediscover the eternal or universal, but to find the
  conditions under which something new is produced
  (creativeness)‟                                          7
Ethnog not merely descriptive /s analytical:
     ethnography : normative : policy
  • Triangle of mutual relations in research -

                        Ethnography
                                         See Uncertain Vision
                                         (2005), „Digitising
                            informs      democracy‟ (2006)
                                         and „Culture, citizenship
                                         and consumerism‟ (2001)



                            informs
  Normative /                                    Policy
  philosophical                                                8
1) Complexity, conditioning and
   causality:
   crossing scales in the analysis
   of conditions of creativity




                                     9
          Ethnographic relations:
        crossing scales in analysis
• Ethnography particularly useful in crossing scales in
  analysis: tracing relations between macro and micro,
  attending to complexity of conditions and causalities
Marilyn Strathern, The Relation (1994):
• „The relation brings together phenomena of quite
  different scale…The relation, itself neither large nor
  small, can cross scales…[and] be applied to any order
  of connection‟
• „Through relational practices – analysis, comparison –
  relations can be demonstrated‟
• „The reproduction of knowledge is a complex,
  heterogeneous, non-linear process that involves
  concrete as well as abstract relations‟                10
Crossing scales: macro as meso / micro:
   ethnography of political-economy
• „Cultural economy‟ theories (Du Gay, Slater, Thrift etc):
  politics, economics are encultured: both frame the field
  site - BBC, C4 as institutions - and enter into them
• Politics, economics can‟t be fully known in advance!
  (contra teleology, ethnocentrism of some critical work)
• Policy and regulatory debates are part of the object of
  study: visible in (multi-site industry) fieldwork
• Economics as practice and discourse: > new economic
  sociology (ANT, Callon, Slater, Mackenzie…)
• In BBC and C4 studies, market analysis, forecasting,
  research highly visible and performative drive org.
  strategies - dig TV & radio, online services, new platforms
  - and so determine wider market structures
• Thus industry ethnography moves between such analyses
  and a recursive, reflexive engagement with policy-making
  as it affects the institution / creative practices        11
     Macro as micro: economics as
   culture – eg: forecasting digital TV
• Forecasting central to media companies‟ strategies in
  emergent new media markets: forecasting as performative
  and teleological in its effects -
• Analysis of US markets and consumer behaviour > abstract &
  universalise models, obscuring particular geo-political origins
• Forecasts commissioned by firms and regulators, circulate at
  industry and policy events, debated, probed…
• > Translated into corporate strategies
• > …Which powerfully form how markets develop
• > …While also redefining consumption
• EG: C4‟s dig TV strategies: based on forecast that
  multichannel, niche pay TV would become norm in UK
• > Outcome: niche, low budget pay channels on Sky Dig
  platform: E4, FilmFour, AtTheRaces (gambling channel)…
• > Which shifts UK further in direction of US-style markets 12
       Crossing scales: conditions >
          creative practice > text
• Analyse conditions for creativity, causalities underlying
  those conditions, and their influence on what is produced:
• Attend to normative claims and intentions VS. production
  realities, actual practices and output - in the BBC:
   – PS mission and policies >
   – Institutional culture, standards, quality rubrics followed >
   – Ethics and aesthetics of particular producer,
     commissioner, scheduler, strategist practices >
   – Output: individual programs, schedules, new services..
• Thus track between ethos > institutional culture >
  intentions > creative practices > output
• > Illuminates relations across phenomena of different
  scale, enabling critical comparison and appraisal
                                                            13
2) Accessing producers‟ creative
   practices:
   follow the actors (Latour)




                              14
  EG: Peter Dale, The Return of Zog
   (1997) (Uncertain Vision ch. 9)
• Intimate ethnographic illumination of creative practices
  that determine why media texts take the form that they
  do > relations across scales between text : creative
  practices : conditions
• Or how given generic and institutional conditions get
  into the creative practices, and thus text
• ANT: „Follow the actor‟: track myriad rationales,
  practices, judgments (aesthetic, political, ideological,
  ethical) vested in the text – via both what is said, and
  what is done (implicit, tacit, embodied knowledge…)
• > Genre theory (Jauss, Neale, Frow…): enables
  analysis of evolving aesthetics and ethics of text in
  relation to given „horizons‟ of genre, and so text‟s
  contribution to ongoing dynamics of genre-in-process
                                                        15
           The Return of Zog




Leka Zog
King Zog I of Albania
(1895-1961)                    16
      Making The Return of Zog: the
      BBC‟s Documentary Dept 1997
• July 1997: watching Peter Dale edit with John: constant
  process of trial and error – „editing can never end..‟
• Peter believes in BBC‟s public service ethos and thinks it
  is operative in his work; feels supported to make the films
  he wants to make
• Week 4 of 6 week edit: Stephen Lambert, BBC exec
  producer, comes for screening and discussion
• Institutional conditions: in mid 1990s BBC Documentary
  Dept had autonomy and funds to commission high-end,
  experimental authored films like this
• But institutional conditions fragile: within a year, with rising
  competition, individual docs of this kind no longer made
• (> Peter leaves to run docs at C4, Stephen to run RDF!..)
                                                               17
       An aesthetic / ethical / political /
             generic judgement
• Peter and Stephen discuss an editing decision: a filmed
  sequence of a roadblock, missing relatives, finding corpses,
  wailing mothers: how to deal with this?
• Peter doesn‟t want this upsetting footage to overwhelm the
  film‟s tone, obviating humour, irony, mystery...
  > Peter is playing with genre, with repetition, hybridity,
  parody, irony, difference: he hasn‟t used it in the edit shown
  to Stephen
• Stephen tells him to use the footage: this tone must also be
  in the film – a hint of chiding Peter for avoiding responsibility
  to truth (the aesthetic overriding the ethical…!)
• …The broadcast film ends with election day and its
  aftermath > DVD clip
                                                               18
3) Repetition and difference:
   invention and value in creative
   work
   > necessary basis for normative
   questions and policy
   interventions

                                 19
        Difference and repetition,
 invention and reproduction - and value
• Genre theory (Jauss, Neale, Frow): need for analysis of
  text in relation to given „horizons‟ of genre, and so text‟s
  contribution to ongoing dynamics of genre-in-process…
• ..Which first requires reconstruction of trajectory of the
  particular genre (if none exists!) using available material:
  ethnography, criticism, industry discourses / lore…
• > Enables assessment of text‟s contribution to interplay of
  repetition (normal genericism, reproduction of
  conventions) and difference (departure from conventions)
• Makes it possible to theorise invention (or its absence):
  defined as the introduction of a difference that makes a
  difference, that departs from the normal curve of evolving
  genre
• > Questions of value: what is good documentary? Good
  TV? Essential to both normative and policy interventions   20
  Zog: which genre is this? Creativity,
       experimentation and risk
• My judgement: „In the end The Return of Zog is
  knowingly ambiguous, an experiment in remixing the
  terms of the genre of foreign documentary. It evokes in
  turn the conventions of the foreign report, the political
  thriller and elite political interview; through comedic
  touches it teeters on the edge of parody – Carry On
  Commander – or, more sinisterly, a „Documentary of the
  Absurd‟. Above all Peter resists the generic pull of the
  hard-hitting report on post-Communist disintegration.
  Instead the film adopts the contours of a mystery,
  revealing the roots of Albania‟s anarchistic realpolitik, its
  fragile forays into democracy. We observe the banal,
  everyday operations of power and terror. Peter has
  taken risks; some critics judge the film a failure.‟
                                                            21
         Analysing creative invention -
•
                        its of experimentation:
                    or senseabsence… how, in the
    My aim: to convey a
    creative process, Peter‟s task is to render his ethical stance
    through his filmic material in the specific terms of the aesthetics
    of contemporary documentary, through an infinity of small
    creative decisions – varying, innovating, resisting mere
    repetition, attempting to bring viewers with him via humour,
    pathos, empathy, revelation – (moving across scales…)
•   And in doing so, how he reinflects trajectory of genre(s), both
    re-reading the genre‟s past, and projecting new possibilities for
    the genre‟s future
•   cf. Husserl‟s analysis of time via the dynamic construction in the
    present of the past - via retentions - and future - via protentions)
•   This method bridges social scientific and humanities / arts, and
    can be used for creative practices in any medium/cultural form
•   Both analytical and performative: intended not to close debate,22
    but revivify it - making overt what might otherwise be covert
   Beyond Western media practices:
     ethnography and ontologies
• Critical lesson from anthropological studies of art, music
  and media: blasts through ethnocentric assumptions
  underlying our grasp of aesthetics, ethics, politics of media
• … Particularly important as western media technologies
  flood developing world: but technology is not ontology!
• Indigenous expressive practices using Western media must
  be set within account of ontologies - metaphysics,
  cosmologies concerning the nature of being, space, time -
  in which they are embedded
• Highlights need to pluralise and historicise our analysis of
  ontologies governing media practices
• … as basis for understanding social, discursive, aesthetic
  and material dimensions of these media practices
• Brings critical new framing to analysis of creativity in media
                                                              23
  practices, one that has received scant attention
        EG Eric Michaels: „Francis
      Jurrupula makes Aboriginal TV‟
• Repressed truth: TV can support aesthetic alterity! Warlpiri TV
  productions aimed at cultural self-determination & -representation
• „The problem that TV posed [for Warlpiri] was how to [bring] this
  new medium “inside the Law”‟ (the Dreamtime)
• Coniston Story: practice of filming infused with both Warlpiri
  cosmology and kinship relations: kin group of 30 present in
  filming to „authorise the product‟ since „everyone had rights to
  both the story and the land of which it speaks‟
• Filmic language and aesthetic startingly unique: „the pans do not
  follow the movement of the eye, but movements of unseen
  characters – of the Dreamtime and historical – which converge
  on this landscape. Shifts in focus and interruptions in panning
  pick out important places and things in the landscape - a tree
  where spirits live, a flower with symbolic value‟
• Thus visual field and filmic time suffused with Warlpiri
                                                                 24
  metaphysics and incomprehensible without reference to them
 Against ethnocentrism in the study
            of creativity
• Not all ontologies conceive of, or value, creativity,
  invention and creative agency identically
• Eg Feld on Kaluli of PNG: „Kaluli place no fetish
  premium on musical “innovation”, “progress” or
  “development” and make no assumption that change
  is synonymous with vitality or that stasis denotes
  degeneration‟
• Thus most insidious aspect of Western media power is
  imposition or importation of founding assumptions
  immmanent in materiality of medium itself - affording /
  preferring certain aesthetics, forms, ethics
• …Which are then adopted in non-Western creative
  media practices, obliterating former distinctive idioms
  of time, space, visuality, being - and autonomous,
  particular aesthetics that ensue                        25
       EG Fred Myers on Pintupi,
    and conflicting creative ontologies
• Conflictual inter-cultural contacts between contending ontologies
  as indigenous paintings of Pintupi of Central Australia enter
  Western art-culture system and encounter Western property norms
• For Pintupi ancestral knowledge takes material form (painting,
  ritual, song), embodying the collective, „custodians of Dreaming‟
• Overriding kin-based obligation is to control and limit dispersal of
  manifestations of ancestral knowledge and who can witness them
• Myers shows disjunctures that arise between this ontology, where
  expressive forms are not property of artist-individuals, and
  commodity regime of international fine art market with its discourse
  of individual creativity and economic & legal cultural and IP norms
• Entry of indigenous painting into Western fine art system „[was]
  meant to be accompanied by a subordination of political and ethnic
  value to a formal aesthetics. But the subordination is not complete;
  what actually prevails is a contestation of the hierarchical
                                                                    26
  organization of those values‟
    Ethnography and creativity
• Creativity therefore itself the locus of different,
  (potentially) conflicting ontologies and regimes
  of value - and social-relational, economic, legal
  regimes that attach to them
• … and the Pintupi and Kaluli ontologies pre-
  figure (or are recapitulated by) the „new‟
  ontologies / regimes of post-production
  (Bourriaud) and remediation (Bolter and Grusin)
  - social, distributed, relayed creativity afforded
  by digitisation and the Net (for music: Born
  2005)
                                                    27

				
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