Knowledge: The New Trump Card

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Kazimierz Krzysztofek

Culture is the unaccounted development resource. It is a resource that resides in human minds and emotions, in social praxis, and in external manifestation of cultures such as clothing. These rich deposits of meaning constitute today’s most valuable capital.

After decades on the sidelines, culture is once again asserting its rights. Not just its right to participate in shaping the added value in goods and services, but its right to influence socioeconomic development in the broadest sense. No longer is it sufficient to achieve an optimal set of quantifiable parameters in technology, finance, management, trade, etc. What has become crucial is the cultural parameter, involving our values, customs, religions, political culture, our conception of rights and liberties, and artistic expression.

The influence of culture on socioeconomic processes is a long-term phenomenon, one that spans generations. Greater attention has been paid to the cultural factor in development every since it was understood that it manifests itself without the need for any planning or implementation via political instruments. It turned out that societies react differently to identical changes ―some succeed, others fail. Ideas and knowledge, while subject to universalization, always grow out of a specific culture and may differ depending on the society that conceived them.

The market is a cultural system in which the actors, market institutions, goals and means of action are all deeply rooted in culture. Problems thus posed are of interest to researchers and ―increasingly often ―to politicians and financiers. The World Bank and other financial institutions sponsor (or even create) research centers focused on the economy of culture and the culture of economy, in order to better comprehend the ties between culture, the economy, and entrepreneurship.

The content is the value

On the one hand, we have a cost-benefit analysis based on rational economic behavior: minimizing costs while maximizing profits (the universal aspect of homo economicus), while on the other, a desire, deeply rooted in culture, to achieve a social position, social status, personal autonomy, and to build one’s identity. The latter also encompasses the moral, aesthetic, and symbolic components, values that cannot be reduced to economic costs.

Culture is the unaccounted development resource. It is a resource that resides in human minds and emotions, in social praxis, and in external manifestation of cultures such as clothing. These rich deposits of meaning constitute today’s most valuable capital, and the most successful national economies are the ones that are net exporters of culture, with significant shares in the export of symbolic goods protected by intellectual property law: copyrights, patents, trademarks, corporate identities, etc. The business of “reproculture,”as Adorno and Horkheimer thought of mass culture, is no longer the leading field of industry; it has been replaced by the creative industries that form the base of the economy (also referred to as the creative economy). While production is possible without culture, creation is not.

This is the fastest growing sector of business. Creative economy draws upon the resources that have built up, like a coral reef, over the centuries: religions, myths, stories, tales, legends, cuisine, local knowledge, language, lifestyles, folk arts, dances, interpersonal relationships, forms of expressions, codes of meaning, history, etc. Creative industries are the domain of individuals equipped with the skills and creative talents that managers and technologists can shape into marketable products. Their economic value is derived from culture and/or the intellectual qualities and properties of their creators. They are built upon the skills and talents that produce potential wealth, occupations, and jobs by generating intellectual property.

The products of these industries have no physical value, or have value that is secondary (celluloid, paper, print, disk storage). The content is the value: the meaning, representation, and symbols created in film, stories, photography, and music. For this reason, they are called content industries. Their function is to inform, persuade, and entertain. Simply put, they are attractive ―just like an expensive t-shirt, the price of which does not reflect the quality of the material, but the silk-screened design adorning it. These are goods that combine economic activity and profits with the need for creativity, thus encompassing both economy and culture. The line dividing the two is increasingly becoming a matter of convention.

We are heading for a world in which the most valuable concepts and meanings are not the ones made by machines, but the ones produced through imagination and talent.

This has long been understood in developed countries. In Europe, Great Britain was the first to realize that having the Queen honor creators of pop-culture (the Beatles) was more profitable that supporting mines, the heavy lever of development whose resistance was broken almost two decades later by the “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher.

No collar: the new caste

The level of education and the rate of adoption of new technologies is growing in wealthy countries. The needs of their inhabitants are increasingly individualized and incapable of being satisfied by a single “narrative.” Thousands of market players vie for their attention, flooding them with attractive advertisements for entertainment and leisure activities. This is a high-risk activity, as the values ascribed to cultural goods are quickly dated by passing trends and lifestyles.

The production of content and new technologies is largely an urban phenomenon, one that relies on the infrastructure present in large cities. The sector employs highly qualified professionals, such as artists, engineers, IT professionals, web designers, webmasters, and others. Richard Florida has described them as “the creative class.”They are neither “blue collar”nor “white collar”workers: they don’t wear any collars at all.

The use of new information technologies in production has also brought about changes in how we work. Employees need to be mobile. The concept of the job is disappearing, replaced by the new mantra of investors, creators, networks, and projects. Creative industries generate the highest number of new jobs and professions. What these careers have in common is that they “age”quickly, often within just a few years.

The increasingly dense network of cheap and reliable connections encourages the flow of symbolic goods. This is where the greatest profits can be found, and it is for this reason that the flagship field of creative economy is information technology. This branch of production is semiotic: what it creates is meaning (ads, identities, statues, belonging, etc.). The enormous amounts of money invested in infrastructure are expected to yield quick returns. There can be no “dry runs,”as the infrastructure (just like in railway and road transportation) must pay for itself and generate profits.

As newer tools are developed, better educated groups that are higher up on the socioeconomic ladder absorb culture and knowledge faster than groups of lower status and with less education. The competence gap separating the two groups increases.

This mode of production is also one that protects intellectual property rights, giving rise to a certain idiosyncrasy. The use of legal and technological instruments to restrict access to content in the name of defending intellectual property may stifle creativity at the very moment when information technology, supported by talent, is providing amazing creative opportunities to millions of people, allowing them to personalize their devices, sample content, and develop more refined interests.

The individualization of needs

Culture is becoming technoculture. Its added value is formed by indicating innovations in human and social studies and the associated cultural technologies. The skill that is becoming crucial is the ability to analyze increasingly complex technological innovations from the perspective of the needs of particular individuals, communities, social groups, cultures, and a variety of other bodies.

The driving force behind occupational development and the creation of new jobs in the upcoming decade will be innovations and new ideas, not just in the fields of natural sciences, engineerings, and biomedicine, but also in cultural studies, organizational studies, art, and the science of new business processes. The most successful ventures will be the ones that address the needs of niche consumers and offer specialized products and service that focus on lifestyle, attractive design, and cater to individual tastes. For this reason, such academic fields as psychology, sociology, and the anthropology of creativity will grow in economic and cultural significance.

It is thus necessary to prepare new generations of Europeans to meet the upcoming demand for innovation, allowing future generations to participate in the creation of new resources, including jobs. While growing productivity will improve the competitiveness, quality, and attractiveness of manufactured goods, another factor that may prove even more crucial is the growth of innovation, or the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Many experts agree that following the current crisis, as with previous crises, an enormous technological surge will take place, producing groundbreaking new technology ―cultural technology included.

The local and the global

An issue of growing importance is “the cultural impact of economic ventures,” which tells us how great a positive or negative influence local culture may have the productivity of a venture. This is especially crucial in a world where the economy is reaching a global scale, and the European and world markets are becoming multicultural systems and phenomena. What matters is not just the active role of culture as a filter of entrepreneurship and development, but also the risk that culture faces by becoming entangled in the laws of economics.

One of the greatest challenges of our time is reconciling our own circulation of culture with the global circulation. Those who avoid melting into globalization without completely cutting themselves off from the phenomenon will gain the upper hand.

The general idea is to translate our own idiomatic identity into a discoursive identity, one comprehensible to others, so that we may face the world’s problems together, and to reject radical viewpoints ― ones reducible to either a dogmatic defense of tradition or a sellout of the same tradition in the belief that culture is nothing more than entertainment, and that people differ in terms of civilization, not culture.

The vitality of European cultures will increasingly depend on the ability of creative industries to create and distribute their goods. A debate is therefore necessary to determine the acceptable degree of government intervention in protecting national identity, assuring a diverse and high quality cultural offer, and limiting the economic hurdles faced by consumers accessing cultural goods. We need to recognize culture as an opportunity for social and economic development (as it increasingly is in the European Union), which requires the implementation of common programs for cultural markets and the field of subsidized culture.

Every citizen of the EU is to have access to broadband internet by 2013. The “Digital Agenda for Europe” program is the latest incarnation of a knowledge based society.

We need to prepare Europe for globalization and informatization by exploiting its creative potential and its enormous cultural resources. We need to apply these resources towards creating high quality products and services that will be in demand in Europe and abroad. More and more countries are achieving a comparable standard of living, production levels, and infrastructure. These parameters are no longer promotional attributes. We need something extra: an idea, creativity, a local flavor.

Translated by Arthur Barys

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TAGS: Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Dialectics of Enlightenment, creative economy, creative industries

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