Aims and objectives

The Special Interest Group ‘Cultural Literacy and Creative Futures’ (CLCF) has been established to showcase current research, both theoretical and practice-led, which combines methodologies drawn from humanities, history and social science. As described in the ‘London Statement’ following the CLE Birkbeck conference of April 2015, Cultural Literacy is defined as ‘the ability to view the social and cultural phenomena that shape our lives – bodies of knowledge, fields of social action, individuals or groups, and of course cultural artefacts – as […] essentially readable‘. The notion of ‘readability’ necessarily engages with forms of ‘mediation’ in the sense defined inter alia by Althusser (1965) and Jameson (1991), insofar as collective human experience understood in historical terms is communicated by representations which transcend time and place and invite interpretation by others according to principles accommodated within a general theory of social progress. The mediated product is not only to be understood in terms of its own formal properties but as a ‘lens’ through which the properties of a given culture or cultures can be apprehended or apperceived.

Acts of apprehension of cultural artefacts, whether literary texts, films, theatrical and musical performances, still photographs or art installations raise complex philosophical questions: what should be the most appropriate ‘products’ or ‘texts’ through which a given culture is to be identified? How should historical distance be accommodated? To what extent is it necessary for an analysis to be set within a comprehensive theory of society as an ideological point of reference? What essential ‘body of knowledge’ should be brought to the process of interpretation? What research methodology should be applied to the analysis of creative process and social impact? Attempts to address such issues are being made in an era which calls into question the very notions of theory, ideology and interpretation and in which any stable idea of culture, even in its most contextually specific expressive form, has been irreversibly undermined. It continues to be so in an environment dominated by neo-liberal forces whose impacts are simultaneously hegemonic and fragmentary. A number of key factors dominate the current research context in humanities and social science: the omnipresence of technology which blurs generic categories, creative processes, authorship and reception, the focus of national and EU policy which prioritises social well-being and economic utility and the separation between ‘mainstream’ commercially driven and marginal processes of textual production; and this at a time when the mass movement of populations is exploding the relationship between languages and cultures worldwide.

Against this background, the rightful recognition of pluralism and the respect for minorities in all spheres of contemporary life challenge attempts, especially those informed by a mono-disciplinary approaches, to formulate theoretical principles which enable creative outputs and their impact on society to be meaningfully ‘understood’. As Stuart Hall put it:

I come back to the difficulty of instituting a genuine cultural and critical practice which is intended to produce some kind of organic political work. […] Not theory as the will to truth, but theory as a set of contested, localised, conjunctural knowledges, which have to be debated in a dialogical way. But also as a practice which always thinks about its intervention in a world in which it would make some difference, in which it would have some effect’ Hall (1998: 108)

It is the issues associated with interpreting and the evaluating the impact of Art (in its widest sense) on society, historically and in the present, which this special interest group proposes to address. While recognising the open-endedness of the term ‘cultural literacy’, it will build on the work of an established international network of contributors so as to explore through example the practical implications of cultural literacy research, both theoretical and practice-led. This involves not only the demonstration of cultural literacy on the part of researchers themselves insofar as their work is theoretically grounded and capable of inducing change, but also cultural literacy as an object of study in its own right as a social phenomenon. The projects undertaken within the framework of the network will present their initial findings at the next CLE conference to be held in Warsaw on the 10th-12th May 2017. In the meantime, project outlines and work in progress will be posted on this website.

The group of institutions and individuals described below is not exclusive. Current and prospective membership of the group is summarised below. If you are interested in contributing directly to the work of the network either independently as an individual, as the named representative of an institutionally-led research cluster or simply as an anonymous tweeter, we warmly welcome your participation. If you wish to be identified as a named contributor, please contact r.crawshaw@lancs.ac.uk, Department of European Languages and Cultures/Institute for Social Futures, Lancaster University. We look forward to hearing from you.