AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
The Special Interest Group ‘Cultural Literacy and Creative Futures’ (CLCF) has been established to showcase current research in the field of Cultural Literacy 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). 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.
The apprehension of cultural artefacts: literary texts, films, theatrical and musical performances, still photographs, art installations, exhibitions and other forms of ‘creative events’ raises complex philosophical questions: what should be the most appropriate ‘products’ or ‘texts’ through which a given culture is to be identified? Is such a process of identification even possible in a cultural environment generally characterised as ‘fragmentary’, ‘liquid’ and ‘provisional’? 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 the relationship between creative process, deterministic political forces 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 a social environment dominated by neo-liberal forces whose impacts are simultaneously hegemonic and deeply divisive.
A number of key factors dominate the current research context in humanities and social science: first, there is the omnipresence of technology which, while radically transforming the notion of culture itself, blurs the boundaries between generic categories, conditions creative processes, directs modes of production and consumption, redefines authorship, access and social impact and lends a new, instrumental dimension to what it means to be culturally literate, whether as a professional researcher or active citizen. Second the focus of national and EU policy on economic utility – ‘the creative industries’ – promotes a separation between commercially driven and marginal, dialectical processes of creative production, introducing a necessarily critical element to the act of interpretation. Third, the mass movement of populations is exploding the relationship between languages and cultures worldwide, causing the notion of ‘cultural literacy’ to be inextricably bound up with the accommodation of difference, whether subjective or collective, gender driven or ethnically grounded.
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 includes not only meta-commentary on research methodology but also reflections on cultural literacy as a social phenomenon.
The institutions and individuals referred to in the texts on this site are only the tip of a global iceberg. The constitution of this loose network has been heavily influenced by the European origins of the CLE programme. It includes participants in workshops, colleagues and members of the public who have commented on its work or influenced its direction. If you are interested in contributing: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, Department of Languages and Cultures/Institute for Social Futures, Lancaster University. We welcome your views and look forward to hearing from you.
Lancaster, October 2018