home > publications > review > no.37 > dossier  


Culturelink review, no.37/August 2002 - contents - imprint - archive

Redefining Cultural Identities: Cultural Industries and Technological Convergence

Summary Report

Redefining Cultural Identities: Cultural Industries and Technological Convergence was the third in a series of postgraduate courses on Redefining Cultural Identities (See Redefining Cultural Identities: The Multicultural Contexts of the Central European and Mediterranean Regions, Zagreb, IMO, Culturelink Joint Publications Series No 3, 2001, and Redefining Cultural Identities: Southeastern Europe, Zagreb, IMO, Culturelink Joint Publications Series No 4, 2001.). It was held in the Inter-University Center, Dubrovnik, 12-18 May 2002. (The 2002 Course on Redefining Cultural Identities was supported by the Arts and Culture Network Program of the Open Society Institute, Budapest. The organizers would like to thank the Arts and Culture Sub-Board of the OSI Budapest for the support for this activity.) The previous two courses were devoted to the regional contexts and regional approaches to cultural identities. The specific situations in the Mediterranean, Central Europe and Southeastern Europe were analyzed. In the third session the issues of cultural industries and technological convergence were introduced with the aim to open discussion and research on the new influences that shape the contemporary cultural identities of the Southeast European region.

The course opened with the introductory remarks on cultural identities in Southeast European societies, on arts and identities, and on cultural industries as frameworks for cultural change. A brief note was offered on the perception of Southeast Europe as a region. It included observations on the 20th century regional history seen as the history of nation-building, marked by transitions from the pre-national stages (ethnic identities) to the establishment of national identities through language standardization, development of written literature, sciences and political and economic frameworks of nation-building. In the second half of 20th century, the formation of corporate identities was encouraged, particularly in the Yugoslav federation. Being new social constructs, combined or corporate identities were systemically supported, but they never suppressed national identities that reemerged with the dissolution of the federation and with the establishment of the post-socialist transitional states. It could be said that through these processes some kind of socio-spatial notions of identities evolved towards the socio-communicational understanding of identities. That is where the influences of new communication technologies, media, and cultural industries are felt. An analysis of the regional Southeast European context may therefore point out the developments that led to a kind of individualization of cultural identities and cultural values and to a new cultural creativity supported by new technologies. These are also a source of new types of communication and cultural exchange based on cultural industries and cultural trade.

Market research (rare in the region) may indicate that our cultural identity is not exactly what we tend to believe. Pop cultures, and particularly pop music, which still stand for cultural traditionalism, are much more present in the daily life and usage of many social groups than is often believed. New technologies facilitate exchanges of popular culture products among societies who otherwise think they are distant and not even friendly. They might find out that cultural preferences of the majority of the population are not so dissimilar.

Instead of states or companies, it is often the NGO sector that stimulates and supports the use and application of new technologies in the cultural field. This opens up new creative spaces and makes possible the formation of new individualities. However, community representation through the nation still persists, although it is no longer particularly valid. The first signs of "cyber democracy" can be seen in the region, and there have been attempts to suppress individual identity in the context of the new cyber communities.

In all post-socialist societies, including the Southeast European ones, intellectuals used to be particularly strongly involved in initiating transition. Nevertheless, culture, education and science have been largely marginalized in the post-socialist period. The countries in transition have thus failed to reshape the image of the European East and the European Southeast. This is where the main challenge still lies: in restructuring cultural identities and their perception abroad.

The notion of cultural industries was introduced and discussed through an invitation to the students to describe the term. Most of them pointed out that it was quite abstract, homogeneous, having different and not quite standardized meanings, and that it was generally new. It was a mass production of standardized cultural products, without negative connotations, but not familiar enough. It was taken to be "a structured way of creating new identities" and "factories of identity making", as well as "manipulation based on special images". Cultural industries "link together producers and organizers of production". Understanding cultural industries "depends on the context" and accessibility of the goods to be consumed, etc. Most definitions offered by the students coincided with the already existing definitions, but they were also innovated and put in the specific regional context during the discussion.

The regional perspective was thus introduced. Are there cultural industries in Southeast Europe, of which type, which goods are produced, and how these products reach the market? The analysis is difficult, not only because of the lack of data, but also because of different understandings. It is evident that the cultural production in the region is more of an artistic than of industrial type. It is nevertheless ever more mediated and shaped by new technologies and global influences. Although markets are not well developed or sufficiently specialized, they do support a specific type of small-scale cultural industrialization. This thesis was contested. Why should cultural production become industrialized at all? The specific and authentic cultural identities might rather be based on a certain type of small-scale original artistic production. This approach would be easily supported in some cultural areas in the region, although global influences are not supportive of such types of cultural development. Moreover, the states and their cultural policies (when formulated) rarely tackle the problems of cultural production and consumption. There are no adequate statistics covering the issue. Therefore, the only answers that can be offered regarding the challenges of cultural development in the region rely on some kind of adaptation and acceptance of basic industrial frameworks for cultural production - the type of cultural production in the region thus follows the global trends. The content may be original in the production and marketing of cultural goods. But this again refers to individual creativity and talent, as well as to marketing skills.

The presence of cyber culture is a new experience in contemporary art practices in the region. It influences the movements of artistic creativity and inspiration from ethno to techno and from virtual, accessible now by new technologies, to site-specific. Artistic interests go for the margins of the existing experience, and the social position of the artist is one of a freelancer, sometimes supported by NGOs. Technological capabilities of the present-day artistic production have released imagination. Floating in the space of cyber culture, the artist now tends to appear in specific familiar places: in buses, in city squares, etc. Instead of remaining in situ, artistic production becomes mediated and moves towards the media. This was illustrated with examples from the contemporary Serbian art production (e.g., works of Mrđan Bajić, Marina Abramović, etc.). Digital arts cannot be sold. They are present on the net. There is no public visibility of the net, and the artist may be very far away from the public he tends to address. Art criticism is very restrained, and its mediating role has diminished. The problems of users are many: costly equipment, need to learn software, need to change habits. The perception of such art is technically determined, while the net appears as a meta-medium. All this goes hand in hand with the major transitional changes that have taken place since 1989 and that are strongly influenced by the reorganization of the main economic, political and social concepts. Arts and artists tend to be socially marginalized, almost out of reach of the public. Only rare ones are able to provoke or build up links and contacts with their social environments. The film about the Croatian sculptor Ivan Kožarić was illustrative in this respect: his works are provocative, innovative, and not out of the social and historical context. Communicating through his works, he has greatly contributed to creation, assertion and general acceptance of the new sensitivity and artistic taste.

What happens to the market of cultural goods when and if it cannot reach for the new artistic sensitivity, or for digitalized net art? It strongly supports the standardization of artistic creativity and goes for the standardized and easily traded cultural goods. The world trade in cultural goods and services is expanding globally. This process has resulted in the promotion of two opposed approaches to trade of cultural goods: full liberalization of such trade (promoted mainly by the U.S.A.) and cultural exception (supported by the European Union, particularly France). Cultural trade is also regulated by numerous bilateral and multilateral agreements, but all of these are a far cry from providing a consistent and well-balanced system of treatment and regulations that would be globally accepted and observed. The exceptionally fast growth of trade in cultural goods (from 47.8 billion US dollars in 1980 to 213.7 billion in 1998, according to UNESCO sources) is, however, concentrated in only 13 countries. About two-thirds of the world population are therefore excluded from cultural trade transactions. This also proves that the links between market, economy and culture are largely missing. The question is how cultural diversity can be preserved in such a situation. There are initiatives to introduce the problem to the world community and try to solve it from different aspects: cultural production, cultural trade, the use of cultural goods and cultural consumerism, preservation and support for cultural diversity. In this context, the New International Instrument on Cultural Diversity - NIICD (See the texts in Towards a Global Cultural Pact, Dossier, Culturelink no. 35/ November 2001, pp. 107-151.) was mentioned. It has become evident by now that the problem of cultural diversity needs to be addressed by all the actors involved - the states/governments, transnational corporations, governmental and non-governmental, local and international organizations, civil society, and individuals. The booming trade in cultural goods and preservation of cultural diversity should be a subject of continuous interest and study.

Culture studies in Eastern, Central and Southeastern Europe lack a strong tradition. It seems to be a new academic field, not well established yet. The East European studies focused until recently on the dichotomy or division of artists, writers and scholars into regime supporters and dissidents. One more dichotomy marked the cultural life and cultural production: the one between mass and elite culture, although both had been redefined during the socialist period. The recent transitional period has again been marked by the dichotomy of socialization and de-socialization (privatization) of cultural production. Commercialization of culture and treatment of cultural goods as commodities is commonplace and culture is ever less seen as public property or public good. Cultural production has generally been going down. Film production has been decreasing; it is not properly publicized and it seeks international funding. Book printing, however, experienced growth across the whole sector: the number of titles has increased radically, but the number of prints dropped. In the cultural industries transition has been marked by the loss of "cultural mission" (linked to the concept of either nation or class) and by the discovery of the market. However, national markets are limited, and also exposed to global competition. The lack of professional knowledge on cultures and regional cultural production, as well as limited internal markets, may prevent the cultural industries from transcending national borders and creating regional markets. Further transcending of regional borders and support for regionally based, specific cultural production and distribution would contribute to notion of regional identity.

Consumerism and the introduction of the consumerist economy in cultural life were also discussed. An educated customer is the best buyer. There is a feeling that post-socialist countries, especially the small states, which open up more quickly and easily, are adopting consumerist practices rather quickly. There is also a tendency to link these with democratic liberties: the freedom to buy is often interpreted as a kind of human right. This idea of freedom reached through consumption is, however, problematical. Constraints such as small markets, state interventions, disproportions between free consumerism and economic potential were mentioned. Nevertheless, the acceptance of new values and new habits is proceeding apace in all post-socialist states and they are strongly pushed through the consumerist approaches to cultures.

New technologies and the Internet are supportive not only of cultural creativity but to a large extent of cultural consumption as well. Post-industrial, information society stands today for a prototype of knowledge-based societies. Technology, basically represented by the daily use of the Internet and mobile phones, is tightly interwoven with society. New types of identities emerge, based on different uses of the Internet and intense communication supported by mobile phones. The Internet replaces reality and opens access to new virtual realities, while mobile phones rationalize relations within real societies. Statistics on the use of the Internet and mobile phones show that most post-socialist societies experience fast growth of the usage of both technologies. However, such growth has not yet changed the pattern of relations between information and pre-information societies, nor turned some of the pre-information societies into information societies. The diffusion of the Internet is largely culturally guided; the diffusion of mobile phones is economically guided and is similar or same in most types of societies. Besides, these key technologies do not have the same chance of diffusion: the Internet requires a certain degree of cultural and technological sophistication to stimulate its usage, while mobile phones function easily without any specific technological knowledge of their users.

The spread and cultural dimensions of both technologies are also generation influenced. In pre-information societies they very much depend on the young. In most post-socialist countries they may also indicate, or even create, differences among the youth groups. The spread of new technologies also reflects conflicts between the aspirations of young people in post-socialist societies (research on the Hungarian groups was cited) and Western-type consumerism. Influences of popular culture values from the West, easily consumed by youth groups, may prompt their destructive behaviour vis-à-vis their society. Western-type consumerism is often rejected by the youth who are nevertheless buying into it. They tend to adopt consumerist patterns adjusted to the local possibilities and locally available contents. Their particular cultural attitudes deserve to be carefully observed and studied, as they indicate the real value changes in societies.

An interactive workshop on Croatian identity was organized during the course. It was a practical demonstration of how new images and new brands of identities are produced. A number of post-socialist countries are trying to elaborate and establish their new image. The discussion on Croatian identity was an example of such efforts.

The evaluation session of the course proved that it was generally found to be useful. Both the students and the lecturers felt that they had interacted very successfully in discovering new dimensions of cultural development shaped by the cultural industries and new technologies. It was stressed that new issues and topics had been brought to the attention of young professionals who had no opportunity to study them as part of their university curricula. Net-cultures, cyber art, new cultural creativity, cultural trade, cultural industries and their indigenization are rarely presented and discussed, although it is evident that all countries of Southeastern Europe are already living in a new cultural environment, whose characteristics can no longer be reduced to the traditional regional background and historical cultural specificities.

The participation of the students was excellent. They particularly appreciated the fact that the presentations and discussions of new issues left them "with questions that are the best part of the course". However, a more consistent and methodologically better grounded regional picture of cultures and cultural industries would be welcome. This deserves to be further elaborated, particularly as regards the standardization of data and statistics.


  • Summary of the Basic Problems
    by Jirina Šmejkalova
  • On Cultural Industries in Southeastern Europe
    by Nada Švob-Đokić
  • New Trends in the Trade of Cultural Goods and Services - Consequences for the Preservation of Cultural Diversity
    by Nina Obuljen
  • Digital Culture - Entertainment, Art, Communication
    by Milena Dragičević Šešić
  • Cultural Diversity in the Emergence of Information Society with References to South East Europe
    by Josef Langer