Tag Archives: Arts and culture

Cultural Policies in East Asia: Dynamics between the State, Arts and Creative Industries

This post was contributed by Dr Lorraine Lim, Lecturer in Arts Management in Birkbeck’s Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies.

Book coverThe past 10-15 years have seen interest in arts and cultural products from East Asia in Europe steadily increasing. Regular screenings of Japanese Anime films such as Spirited Away by Studio Ghibli are no longer confined to the art-house circuit and it would probably be difficult to find someone who has not heard or seen the Korean pop song Gangnam Style by Psy. Artists such as Yayoi Kusuma have had a retrospective exhibition at the Tate Modern recently and both modern and historical Chinese art have been showcased at the Barbican Centre and the British Museum.

There is no doubt that the growth in technology has allowed many more people to access myriad arts and cultural products from East Asia. After all, the music video for Gangnam Style became the first video to reach a billion views on YouTube. With Japanese anime, bilingual fans on internet communities provide translation services for free to allow non-native Japanese speakers to watch or read the latest manga and anime. However, can the growth in visibility and interest of arts and culture from East Asia be linked to technology alone?

My book Cultural Policies in East Asia: Dynamics between the State, Arts and Creative Industries (written with Dr Hye-Kyung Lee) attempts to shed some light on how arts and culture in East Asia have developed in the recent past through looking at various government cultural policies to determine what has led to the various arts and cultural products that most of us in Europe are familiar with today.

The countries covered in the book: China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan while occupying a geographical diverse space, share many common historical and cultural features which allow for interesting comparisons. A common history of colonisation, for example, has resulted in cultural policies where governments in Singapore and Taiwan have used arts and culture to create or nurture common national identities. Culturally, it has been argued that these countries possess strong Confucianist traits such as a respect for authority and a belief in success through hard work. These cultural traits have led to the support of arts and culture that is built on strong state intervention. Countries such as China and South Korea are two such examples where artists are in constant negotiation with the government. While many of the countries in the book examine the problems that can occur when the state intervenes too closely with arts and culture, Japan provides an interesting counterpoint where decades of a ‘hands-off’ approach is now being questioned by the arts and cultural community.

A historical look at the development of arts and culture in these countries provide a snapshot of the current state of arts and cultural development in the region. At the moment, the continued economic growth of these countries in East Asia (and Asia in general) have led to a corresponding increase in their political power and a desire to make a mark on the global cultural landscape. The governments in these countries are investing more money into supporting arts and culture as they recognise the potential impact arts and culture can have in the world. By examining the support for the creative industries through online games, the film industry and the development of creative clusters, the book offers a look at where the future lies for arts and culture in East Asia.

One thing is for sure; in the near future it will be highly likely that the next big pop song or movie will come from East Asia!


Critical Work Placements

This post was contributed by Dr Sophie Hope, Lecturer in Arts Management in Birkbeck’s Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies.

Critical_Work_Placements_logoToday, students and graduates are expected to be nurturing their entrepreneurial selves; moulding themselves into the brand that will appeal to prospective clients or employers. Students are often pressured by tutors and peers to carry out extra-curricula voluntary activities to help improve their ‘employability’. Universities are taking their responsibility in producing work-ready students more and more seriously by revamping careers advice, embedding work placements and offering recruitment services. The purpose and nature of university education is changing.

The situation in the creative industries

In the creative industries and arts sectors, employers offering regular or permanent jobs are few and far between, rather, students embark on a flexible, freelance, portfolio career which in reality involves a lack of separation between work and non-work, no pension, no sick-pay or other employment rights. Because the work is supposedly creative and you are ‘doing what you love’, you are expected to express gratitude and enthusiasm for the ‘opportunity’ to be entering into such a career path. A love of and commitment to the work is often used as an excuse for little or no pay. Within the context of academic study, ‘employability’ is often approached uncritically and in a vacuum, disconnected from the theory, history and politics of the changing realities of work. This is happening in a context where enquiring minds are supposedly being nurtured. Critical, independent thinking practiced in the university and efficient project management and communication skills expected in the job market have a difficult, contradictory relationship. Welcome to the world of credited work placements.

The fragmented career structures of graduates together with this disconnect between employability and critical thinking advocated by the academy were both triggers for my colleague Lorraine Lim and I to think about how work and education intersected in a university context.

Unequal access to work placements

Through our research, which led to the Critical Work Placements resource, we found that employability is a luxury not all students can afford. Indeed, students undertaking placements tend to be a self-selected group who are motivated, engaged and in the case of self-organised placements, are also expected to be confidently networked so as to know who to contact and how. Our research aimed to explore what a ‘serious, ethical, substantive academic’ period of work experience might look like for students, tutors and employers in the arts, and if this is at all possible. The resulting ethical tripartite agreement, developed with students, hosts and tutors, is a practical toolkit of flow diagrams and recommendations for students, host organisations and placement tutors working in higher education.

The case studies we looked at demonstrated a spectrum of approaches, from students self-organising their own placements to tutors working with partner organisations to ‘marry’ students to specific projects. The reasons for this range of approaches depended on the learning objectives of the course and resources available to the tutors to act as brokers and ‘relationship managers’ between hosts and students. While this diverse range of approaches is necessary because of the specifics of each course, it was pointed out that some support for those students who are not networked or confident in approaching potential hosts should be supported by the tutor, although it is recognised that this has resource implications for the department. Based on our review of existing literature, we found that well informed students and courses that explicitly connect the concepts, theories and realities of employability through practical experience and academic, critical reflection are perhaps a way forward.

There is increasing pressure from both students and managers in higher education to provide credited work placements, but the realities of placing students in organisations to carry out a specific project related to their academic learning is becoming more difficult. While there are some funded programmes supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access placements, those students who do not qualify for this support but cannot afford to take up unpaid work placements continue to be at a disadvantage. The sector remains distinctly un-diverse. Placements are often reliant on the goodwill of people in those organisations who decide to invest their precious time and resources to provide necessary support to the student. Similarly, well-run credited placement programmes involve significant work-load for tutors and unless a university can provide the necessary paid staff-time to support students, running such programmes might be detrimental to their reputation and sustainability.

Writing about the proliferation of credited work placements in the US, Ross Perlin writes that “universities are falling over themselves to outsource their students’ education and lend credibility to illegal employment practices”. He provides examples of credited placements which involve envelope stuffing and leafleting. In the development of the Critical Work Placements website we took the position that students carrying out work that is far removed from their academic experience should be paid. Where students are paying to carry out work experience through university fees, the payoff has to be a rigorous, critical, reflexive, well-supported learning experience. It was recognised that placement students are not workers and that the placement is part of a broader, formal learning process, the outcomes of which will depend on what skills and learning the student wants to get out of it in relation to the course they are studying. The need to strike this practice/academic balance is central to the debate over credited work placements. This resource aims to provide a framework for that debate which students, hosts and tutors are invited to engage in.

Further reading:

  • Equality Challenge Unit. 2010. Work Placements in the Arts and Cultural Sector: Diversity, Equality and Access. London: Equality Challenge Unit/ Institute for Policy Studies London Met.
  • Perlin, R. 2011. Intern Nation. How to earn nothing and learn little in the brave new economy. London: Verso.
  • Yorke, M. 2003. Employability in higher education: what it is – what it is not. London: Higher Education Academy.
  • Barrow, R., Behr, C., Deacy, S., McHardy, F. and Tempest, K., 2010. “Embedding Employability into a Classics Curriculum: The Classical Civilisation Bachelor of Arts Programme at Roehampton University.” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, Vol. 9, p. 339-352.

Katherine Mansfield and food

This post was contributed by Aimee Gasston, a PhD student in Birkbeck’s Department of English and Humanities, whose research focuses on modernist short fiction, the everyday and the act of reading.Student Profile: Aimee Gasston

My project looks specifically at Katherine Mansfield and food, Virginia Woolf and furniture and Elizabeth Bowen and clothes, and considers everyday practices in relation to reading. I am interested in the ways that short fiction simultaneously fits around and encompasses everyday life – both its ergonomics and elasticity.

In January 2013, I travelled to Wellington to visit the Alexander Turnbull Library and attend a Mansfield conference being organised at Victoria University of Wellington. The Alexander Turnbull Library had recently acquired boxes of new material from the family of Mansfield’s husband, John Middleton Murry. On reading that the new material included recipes, I was eager to go and look for myself and extraordinary research and conference funding from Birkbeck helped me to do this.


Jottings amid account books. The poem reads:
Tea, the chemist & marmalade
Far indeed today I’ve strayed
Through paths untrodden, shops unbeaten
And now the bloody stuff is eaten
The chemist the marmalade & tea
Lord how nice & cheap they be!

This was my first experience in any archive and it was overwhelming holding papers in my own hands which Mansfield herself had lived with, touched and written upon.

For my stay, I rented a bach in Wadestown that dated from the 1920s, when Mansfield was creating her strongest work. Each morning I wandered to the library down a steep, winding hill that afforded startling views of the ocean, and down past Tinakori Road where Mansfield was born.


Mansfield’s recipe for orange soufflé

I got to see such a diverse range of materials – from postcards to friends, to notebooks, drafts of stories, as well as shopping lists and accounts with poems about food written in the margins. The material also included recipes handwritten by Mansfield, one for orange soufflé and another for coldwater scones, which, she instructs, must be eaten with ‘plenty of butter’. (For a modern interpretation of Mansfield’s orange soufflé, please see Nicole Villeneuve’s excellent Paper and Salt blog about literary recipes.) I had seen some of the material reproduced in publications but you don’t always get the full sense by reading transcriptions, so even seeing things I already knew about was fascinating.

I also came across a 1923 article in New Zealand’s Evening Post about depictions of meals in literature. This was an exciting find because it uses Mansfield as an example of ‘the inferior sex’ being unable to successfully write about food because they have acquired the ‘snack habit’. The argument of this surprising piece chimed so well with my developing thesis, which considered the short story itself as a type of snack – something you can pick up when you need it, something private, rebellious, sumptuous and (often) decadent.

Mansfield was a plump child and later, when she had contracted TB as an adult, increasingly emaciated. Her letters are full of comments about the food she ate as she travelled Europe in search of healthier climates, as well as comments about her weight. But this interest extends beyond that of an anxious patient – in Mansfield’s writing, food is everywhere. It punctuates both her fiction and her biographical writings, and often she conceives of literature in gustatory terms. This fascination is not only intrinsic to Mansfield’s ambition to relay her experience of the world using each one of her senses, but also evidence of her ravenousness for life. In her first collection of stories, In A German Pension (about which she came to be slightly embarrassed), there are pages and pages devoted to gluttonous eating – but the tone is satirical and there’s distance between Mansfield and her subject matter. So while there’s food everywhere, you don’t quite get the sense of tucking in and enjoying it yourself.

In the later, more mature works, food begins to appear at moments when individuals are negotiating for their own personal freedom and engagement with the world. So you find many more instances of eating alone and snacking in outdoor settings or outside of prescribed norms. Snack food was really beginning to come into its own at the beginning of the twentieth century, with fast food becoming readily available, and the modern short story as we know it came into existence at the same time. My research thinks about the way the instances of snacking in the stories parallel Mansfield’s own coming to terms with the short story as a fictional form (rather than something inferior to the novel or poetry) as well as her success in it. Seeing material relics from Mansfield’s own life has provided me with vital insights, which have shaped and informed this consideration of materiality in her fiction.

[Photographs by author reproduce material available in the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Wellington.]

Further references

  •  ‘Katherine Mansfield, Cannibal’, Katherine Mansfield Studies, Vol. 5, (Edinburgh University Press), Autumn 2013.
  • ‘Consuming art: Katherine Mansfield’s literary snack’, Journal of New Zealand Literature 31:2 Special Issue: New Zealand Cultures, October 2013.

Picturing the Family: Media, Narrative, Memory

This post was written by Dr Silke Arnold-de Simine, Senior Lecturer in Memory and Cultural Studies in Birkbeck’s Department of European Languages and Cultures. There will be a conference held at Birkbeck on 10-11 July on ‘Picturing the Family: Media, Narrative, Memory‘; and an exhibition in the Peltz Gallery from 3-25 July, entitled ‘Family Ties: Reframing Memory‘.

© Rosy Martin 'In Situ' - from the forthcoming Family Ties Exhibition at the Peltz Gallery

© Rosy Martin ‘In Situ’ will be on display at the forthcoming Family Ties Exhibition at the Peltz Gallery

The family is seen as a privileged site of memory transmission both in terms of the stories which are told and passed down the generations as communicative memory, but also in terms of the unspoken and unspeakable memories which are acted out in families and passed on to children without ever being acknowledged. Marianne Hirsch has introduced the concept of ‘postmemory’, something that Abraham and Torok describe as ‘transgenerational haunting’, the ‘phantom effects’ that haunt the children of parents who have lived through unprocessed traumatic events or repressed and shameful secrets. The concept of ‘transgenerational haunting’ is not simply extended to or replicated on a collective level when the history of the nation is seen through the paradigm of the family: shared phantoms can be externalised and become inscribed in cultural practices in an attempt to ‘relieve the unconscious by placing the effects of the phantom in the social realm’ (Abraham 1994: 176) – phantoms which were never restricted to individuals to begin with but only ever existed in an interpersonal and intergenerational dynamic.

In contemporary commemoration culture the family has become the central trope through which national history is framed. Around the centenary of the First World War we are faced with a remembrance culture which relies in all its scripted rituals, TV programming and exhibition planning on the input of the public who is made to feel that they are provided with a forum for their stories, their family’s personal memories, rather than a top-down version of events. A pan-European website, Europeana 1914-1918, promises untold stories alongside official histories of WW1 and includes digitized documents and film material from libraries and archives but also 90,000 personal papers and memorabilia of some 7,000 people involved in the war, held by their families and digitised at special events – so-called ‘crowdsourcing’ –  in 12 countries. It provides access to ‘memories and memorabilia from families throughout Europe’ and users are encouraged to ‘contribute [their] own family history’. That the trope of the family is used to naturalise national alliances is not particularly new, variations on the concepts of ‘fatherland’ or ‘motherland’ can be found in many different languages and cultures, and the institutions of the family and the nation are reaffirmed and reaffirm each other in that process. However, the unpredictability of family stories can also provide an unsettling element and when current European heads of state are given the ‘Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC 1, 2004-) treatment, the results can be difficult to incorporate into an official narrative.

Roughly a year ago the German media reported that German chancellor Angela Merkel’s grandfather, Ludwig Kasner (Kazmierczak), who had been of Polish origin but was drafted into the German Army in 1915, had – after becoming a prisoner of war – joined the Blue Army, a unit that fought for Polish independence on the side of the Entente Powers which meant that he probably took part in fighting against Germany. But rather than using this information against Merkel, the image conscious German press celebrated the fact that this made her the most favored foreign politician in Poland. Merkel’s Polish colleague Donald Tusk also had a ‘grandfather affair’ of his own and knows all to well about the pitfalls of the wrong family history when it comes to the conflicts of the twentieth century. During the national elections of 2005, surveys showed him clearly in the lead, but when it was revealed that his grandfather had fought in the German Wehrmacht he lost to the National-conservative party of Lech Kaczynski.

These examples show that ‘picturing the family’ is an activity that is clearly fraught with unexpected dangers and while it can be used as a conservative and stabilizing force it can also lead to a defamiliarisation of the past and ask uncomfortable questions about the ways we define our identities in ‘imagined communities’ (Benedikt Anderson).