In September 2014, four of the editors of the Journal of Cultural Economy — Tony Bennett, Joe Deville, Bill Maurer and Liz McFall — gathered for the last Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change (CRESC) conference at the Friends Meeting House in Manchester.1 The discussion turned on the futures and past of the journal — where it came from, where it is going, what opportunities are to be grasped, and which challenges met. A recording of the discussion is provided here.
The event marked the beginnings of new era. As regular readers will have noticed, the JCE has been closely associated with CRESC since the beginning. What few will know is that what would eventually become the JCE was first imagined when CRESC began its formal funded existence in 2004, as one of the outcomes that a major Economic and Social Research Council funded centre was expected to produce. This made for a peculiar dependence between two things that shared a beginning but would set after different ends. Research centres, certainly those benefitting from government funding, have clear and bounded research programmes, are tied to the achievement of certain goals and are expected to be of limited duration. The funding imposes some of these limits, because, of course, it is finite. Other limits are imposed by the practicalities of academic life as key personnel move on and host institutions engage in those increasingly regular and discomforting shifts in priorities. Others still are about an inchoate need to somehow complete the research programme. Even if some questions remain unsettled (by definition, a centre for research on socio-cultural change was not going to exhaust its object since things just keep on going on), most researchers will reach the end of what they want to find out, or say, about certain questions. As Karel Williams, one of CRESC’s three founding directors, put it: CRESC has to end, if it doesn’t it risks becoming an institution and who wants to build an institution?2
Well us, the journal’s editors sitting in the gallery, coughed, we do. From the start, the JCE was like and unlike CRESC. It shared CRESC’s founding concern with how the relations between culture, economy and the social, the three main organising concepts of the social and cultural sciences, were being reinterpreted. While CRESC organised itself into four substantive themes to coordinate programmes of research into cultural economy, the media and social change, cultural values and politics, and culture, governance and citizenship, the JCE was to offer an editorially independent means of probing further into these areas, examining and showcasing the connections between them. It would publish empirical and theoretical work that engaged with the interfaces between culture, economy and the social and challenged any taken-for-granted ontological separation. CRESC, through its own programmes and extended networks, would provide some of the source material for this but it was always clear that this had to be a restricted and diminishing intersection. An in-house journal soon risks draining its own supply and demand. The JCE had to reach beyond CRESC for content and, since a serial should not have to have its own end in sight, for an institution-like lifespan.
How exactly to begin doing this is the task that animated the discussion in Manchester. Despite the challenges involved, from the perspective of the editorial team the future looks full of promise.
1. This post draws on Liz McFall’s editorial introduction to Volume 8, Issue 1 of the journal: McFall, L. (2015), ‘What’s changing cultural economy?’, Journal of Cultural Economy, 8 (1), pp. 1-15.
2. ‘The End of the 30 Year Experiment?’ Plenary session CRESC Annual Conference 2014. Chaired by Karel Williams with Philip Augar, Aditya Chakrabortty, Steve Francis, Nick Pearce and Karel Williams (2014). The other founding directors were Tony Bennett and Mike Savage.