Culture, Industry, Finance

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Conveners:
Michael Szalay, English, UC Irvine
Joshua Clover, English, UC Davis

Fellows:
Evan Buswell, Cultural Studies, UC Davis
Andrew deWaard, Cinema and Media Studies, UCLA
Richard Godden, English, UC Irvine
Eleanor Kaufman, Comparative Literature, English, French and Francophone Studies, UCLA
Colleen Lye, English, UC Berkeley
Stephen Shapiro, English & Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick

In residence Spring 2015

This research group seeks to understand new conjunctions between mass-produced culture and finance. We’re interested in the the changing economic logic of the culture industry in the era of finance capital, more so than the interpretable character of cultural products. Equally, we’re interested in reading the regime of finance and its political economy through the optic of industrial cultural production. That our inquiry might travel dialectically in both directions is itself an indication of mutations in the relation between culture and finance.

The U.S. culture industry, for so long understood as society’s dream factory and ideology machine, seems to have achieved a provisionally new status: in its gradual and debt-driven retreat from the wave of conglomeration that peaked with the AOL-Time Warner merger in 2000, it has undergone a real restructuring polarized by financialization and globalization, two predicates of the post-Fordist economy and its regime of dematerialization. At the same time, as companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Google have begun producing traditional television content, distinctions between new and old media seem increasingly beside the point. Indeed, in light of the manner in which “creativity” has come to function as a central paradigm for the generation of profit within a range of information and knowledge industries not directly involved in the production of entertainment, the culture industry might be understood to name something at once specific and pervasive. In the process, it has also become synecdoche for a provisionally new U.S.-centered capitalism, insofar as it promises a version of what financial institutions affirm: money for nothing, or at least, money without the kind of durable commodities which launched two industrial revolutions. For a thinker like Paulo Virno, for instance, the culture industry is “an industry among others” and, at the same time, “the industry of the means of production“-that is, the industry whose “linguistic cognitive competencies” make possible wealth creation throughout the economy as a whole. This is a way of naming the novelty of our moment: the culture industry seems to have become both an ideal and a central engine of finance capitalism, and thus a crucial locus within the regime of financialization described by Fernand Braudel as an empire’s “sign of autumn.” The promises of a New Economy characterized by finance and ostensibly creative forms of immaterial production must be approached skeptically (the facticity of crisis provides one immediate counterclaim). It is precisely for this reason that the culture industry provides a singular lens with which to assess the viability of a regime of finance capital generally.