11 2011

The Industrial Turn

From Creative Industries to Inventive Industriousness

Translated by Aileen Derieg

Gerald Raunig

Cultural industries, the creative class, creative industries. It seems as though the old, hard discourse of industrialization from the nineteenth century took over the smooth spaces of immaterial, cognitive and creative labor at the turn to the twenty-first century. What can it mean, when the apparently so different and contrary terms of creativity and industry conjoin? And what does this conjunction mean, especially when the two areas can no longer simply be separated from one another? In formulations like creative industries or cultural industries there is clearly more at stake, namely a blurring, a merging, an overlapping of spaces that used to be cleanly segmented and separated: the becoming-industry of creativity and the becoming-creative of industry.

In the art field, where myths of genius, originality and autonomy are still more virulent than ever, despite countless funeral orations, these topoi of the “economicization” and the “industrialization” of culture are almost eternally repudiated, contrary to all evidence of the art market. Even today, sixty years after the late publication of the Dialectic of the Enlightenment, industry is still not much more than a pejorative epithet in the sublime fields of art. So it is all the more a question of how it could happen that with a simple shift from singular to plural, from culture industry to creative and cultural industries, specifically this brand term has today been reinterpreted as a kind of universal promise of salvation – not only for a few politicians, but even for many actors in this field themselves.

Three complementary patterns suggest themselves as explanations for the strange conceptual paradox of the “creative industries”: the first pattern seeks to outline the culture policy backgrounds, the second looks more closely at the divisions and differentiating hierarchizations of the field that can be explained sociologically, and finally the third examines its dominant modes of subjectivation.

The first interpretation that suggests itself is that in the early 2000s, as the term creative industries became successively established throughout Europe in culture policy programs, the means of state art funding were to be increasingly redistributed from supporting critical positions to supporting uncritical positions and commercial enterprises. It is not the case that critique has not always been marginal or that a site of resistance had been found that was not to be co-opted, but in a strange meeting of educated middle class affirmation of critical stances and the euphoria of 1968 in relation to emancipatory effects of cultural work, sub-cultural and counter-cultural free spaces were subsidized again and again in the 1980s and 1990s. Long attacked by the radical left as being taken into service to the state, critical cultural initiatives and art projects have been losing these free spaces since the 1990s. In addition, there is an endeavor to severely push back state funding for culture, which is highly developed in the European welfare states, in conjunction with neoliberal and national-populist transformations, or at least to manage this funding more and more according to economic aspects. This development functions as part of a European-wide process of shifts in cultural policy, which – starting with Tony Blair’s politics in the 1990s – is intended to “de-politicize” state-funded art production: to do away with the remainders of cultural production as dissent, as controversy, and as the creation of public spheres; to promote creative industries as a pure and affirmative function of economy and state apparatus. This also explains the shift in terminology in cultural policy programs from emancipatory and social-critical elements in the direction of issues of social integration and the creative industry. The fog machines of creativity – “creative economy”, the “creative class”, “cultural entrepreneurs”, and the “creative industries” – have been influential propaganda tools in this process.

However, it is not only the populist-neoliberal strategies of today’s politics that are relevant to the genealogy of this development, but also certain programmatic guidelines of social-democratic cultural policies in Europe after 1968. Emancipatory social-democratic programs of the 1970s, which actually go back to revolutionary concepts from the 1920s, propagated slogans like “culture for all” and “culture from all”. These large-scale starting points for a “democratization of culture” were not only intended to enable workers to access the bourgeois consumption of culture, but also to counter the “idolatry of sublime art” with a “secularized” cultural production – this was at least the goal of several generations of socialist and social-democratic cultural policies of the twentieth century. Today, their concepts surprisingly seem to be increasingly realized, but in a completely inverse form. “Culture for all” implies the culture-political obligation of art institutions to push quantity and marketing in a populist spectacular way, and in its perverted form, “culture from all” indicates an all-encompassing (self-) obligation to be creative. State apparatuses no longer need repression here to appropriate creativity and participation, sociality and communication. On the one hand they insist on striating and measuring mass consumption of culture, and on the other they retreat to a modulating invocation of creativity and cooperation, activation and subservience of the desire machines.

However, the paradox of the term creative industry can also be explained with the tensions, divisions and re-orientation of various parts of the cultural field. The leading terms of creative industries discourses, which superficially appear synonymous, such as digital boheme and creative class, refer to quite different and limitable partial fields. Behind the terminological division into techno-trendsetters immanent to the art field on the one hand and a fraying “class” of cultural work as modulating creativity on the other, there is perhaps even the old phantasm of the avant-garde pressing on ahead and the masses obediently running along behind.

The narrower field of art production is always developing new techniques and media, but it is still sharply separated from the industrial paradigm. As much as artistic practice itself works against the modus of originality and has played, at the latest since Warhol, with industrial manufacture, the rules of the art field and especially of the art market still circle just as resistantly around the distinction potentials of an anti-industrial imperative. Even in their negation, creativity and originality remain necessary resources of capital, often hidden, yet at the same time too easily recognizable in the opposition of the artist habitus to every form of industry.

In contrast, a broader field of cultural work relies on climbing the social ladder and penetrates into the cool new field of creativity, or at least what is imagined as such. Here the industries of creativity, with their flair of obstinate self-design, produce an aura that at least appears more positive than other areas of services. Belonging to an imaginary “creative class” promises a better life as creative directors, web designers and fashion people. The precipitous transition from self-exploitation as a cultural entrepreneur to extreme precarization is quickly completed, however. At the low end of the scale, then there is still the pat on the back from cultural policies for all the creative people in voluntary work and the affirmative exploitation of creative exhibitionists in casting shows and reality soaps.

Whereas the narrow art field and the wide “class” of potential creatives, in other words both components of a blurred concept of creative industries, can be quite easily distinguished from one another in their differential hierarchization from the sociological perspective, the term industry, on the other hand, leads to a congruent and almost unbounded meaning for both components: as a description of a particular time regime, which adds an aspect of subservient deterritorialization to the reterritorialization of time in the era of industrialization.

A third explanation for the conceptual paradox of creative industries arises from a closer look at the modes of subjectivation in the fields, structures and institutions that were and are described with the terms culture industry and creative industries.

First of all, a look at the terminological difference suggests itself here, which makes up the difference between the branding of culture industry and creative industries: whereas culture industry still seemed to emphasize the structural and abstractly collective components of culture, an implicit invocation of the productivity of the individual occurs in the creative industries. This kind of difference between the collective and the individual only exists, however, at the level of invocation; the becoming-industry of creativity is characterized specifically by being athwart to this dualism.

In the interpretation of the Institute for Social Research, the unified form of culture industry is, first of all, the institutional structure for modes of subjectivation that subjugate the individual under the power and the totality of capital. The function of culture industry is that it encloses, counts and striates its audience’s body and soul. At the same time, it exposes this enclosed audience to a permanently repeated, yet ever unfulfilled promise, generating a desire and continually suspending this desire in an unproductive way. This is what makes the core of the idea of culture industry an instrument of mass deception: the culture industry deceives, makes compliant, takes into service. And at the same time, moments of self-deceit, casual obedience, subservience are also  components of subjectivation in the network of the culture industry.

Even in the seemingly so structural, homogenizing perspective of Horkheimer and Adorno, modes of subjectivation and desire production thus also play a role. Desire and enslavement coincide, as in the famous passage from Dialectic of the Enlightenment: “As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. They have their desires. Immovably, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them.” As in other formulations in the Dialectic of the Enlightenment, an ambivalence is suggested here, which if it does not quite conjoin self-active subservience and externally determined subjugation through a totalizing system, at least places them next to one another on an equal level. Subservience and subjugation are simultaneously existing poles that are actualized in the same things and in the same events. In the mode of social subjugation, a higher entity constitutes the human being as subject, which refers to an object that has become external. In the mode of machinic subservience, human beings are not unified subjects, but are, like tools or animals, parts of a machine that overcodes their concatenation. The interplay of the two regimes is particularly evident in the phenomenon of the creative industries, two parts that perpetually reinforce one another, whereby the components of machinic subservience grow in significance due to a surplus of subjectivation. Asservissement machinique is what Deleuze and Guattari call the relevant concept, and this subservience is accompanied by service, servility and obedience. “Should we then speak of a voluntary servitude?” is the rhetorical question in A Thousand Plateaus, and the answer is no: “There is a machinic subservience, about which it could be said that it appears as reaccomplished; this machinic subservience is no more ‘voluntary’ than it is ‘forced’.”

Machinic subservience, and in it the central position of desire production and servility, is exemplified in the gray area between consumption and production. For Horkheimer and Adorno, already in the 1940s the actors in radio talent competitions being “denied any freedom” were functions of the business. Controlled and absorbed by talent scouts, talented performers belong to the industry “long before it displays them; otherwise they would not be so eager to fit in”. In light of its updated version in Reality TV, docu-soaps and casting shows, in fact the image of extras that only appear to be protagonists seems more plausible today than ever. Looking at a broader idea of producers producing and presenting not only materialized cultural goods, but also affects and communication, we see the picture of an activating system determining every move and every mood growing even darker.

The mere appeal is sufficient: Be creative! – and the creative sheep are happy, as long as sheer pressure, anxiety and existential worries do not render them incapable of creativity. Everyone is an artist, so he or she should also work and live in a way that is accordingly flexible, spontaneous and mobile, or self-exploiting, without security and forced into mobility.

The minor shift from culture industry to creative and cultural industries and their discursive success story are largely due to the way that the modes of subjectivation of machinic subservience are associated with desire as well as conformity. Desire and servility are the central components of machinic subservience. It is only with the help of the economy of desire that time can be subserviently deterritorialized and reterritorialized. Yet these same fields of the economy of desire also open up escape routes from subservience. There are desire machines that compose and concatenate into a different industry, produce an industry different from the entrepreneurial start-ups of the creative industries, and this other industry has not always been servile.

Industry has not always been what it became in the course of the nineteenth century. industria is a Latin word that meant roughly “activity”, “diligence”, “industriousness”. Composed from the components “indu-” and “struo”, it referred to an activity of “building”, of “setting up”, which took place “inside”, a process of making within domestic economy. This line of meaning introduced through French was still widespread in German in the eighteenth century. Industry designated a personal trait, disposition, virtue, and at the same time it also had an economic aspect that soon went far beyond housekeeping: invention and assiduity are the central components of this old concept of industry.

Starting from this complex of personal dispositions revolving around invention and assiduity, collective notions of industry developed in modernity, especially as a policing appeal to the population to greater industriousness and economy. In the late eighteenth century, “culture of industry”, “increase of industry” meant primarily steering the inventive industriousness of the individual in the direction of increasing national productivity. In Germany, “industry schools” and an entire “industry-pedagogical” movement even developed against this background. Their task was, not least of all, the administration of the economy of time, instructions for the efficient use of time, and here there is already evidence that the exploitability of time as a whole beyond working time in the narrower sense is at stake. The invention of industry is made servile for the purposes of a time-saving economy also taking all of “ancillary time” into service.

In French, on the other hand, industrie was understood since the end of the Middle Ages as the ability to do what one does differently as well, to use the intellect for new paths. Here, industry as “inventive industriousness” is more than only mechanical assiduity in the service of the national economy. It is inventive ability and, at the same time, uninterrupted assiduity, lasting persistence, zeal. One component of industry overreaches the economic circles of time efficiency, which does not make ingenuity and industriousness servile, or at least not to such an extent. This meaning still seems to be preserved today in the English word “industrious”. This is also the meaning that can be actualized to develop a mode of subjectivation that reappropriates time: industria as an inventive reappropriation of time, as a wild and no longer servile industriousness allowing smooth and striated times to newly emerge in the flows of reterritorialization and deterritorialization. An industry that is no longer creative economy, but rather “business” in the vernacular, a wild, disobedient, orgic industry.

This in turn also reveals the full ambivalence in the title of this text: “industrial turn” is by no means to be understood in the sense of the many “turns” invoked in social sciences, cultural studies or literature studies, which seek to name a (social) transformation that has already taken place and describe it as clearly as possible. The term “industrial turn” is not intended to simply empirically cover the transformations leading from classical industry through the culture industry to the industries of creativity. It is intended to make the term industry itself iridescent, to newly invent the other industry that breaks through conventional time regimes. So “industrial turn” does not imply a descriptive procedure, but rather a desideratum that is just emerging, although its genealogical lines can be traced far back into the industry history of the cultural field.


With support of the Federal Ministry for Arts, Education and Culture, IA/4.



The Industrial Turn