In my last blog post I finished by asking: How is identity created and what are the modes of conduct? How, as a researcher, can this be observed, analysed and interpreted? Still using Du Gay, I shall attempt to explore these questions further. Specifically, I am interested in the implications for developing a methodology to explore cultural entrepreneurs.

Du Gay suggests that despite their differences, theorists such as Barthes, Derrida, Foucault and Lacan are united in their opposition to the idea of human beings as a ‘free agent’. Despite agreeing that the idea of a person as a ‘free agent’ is not convincing, he argues that it should be considered because in certain circumstances, our society acts as though we are ‘free agents’. Du Gay argues that we cannot simply ignore the idea of a person as a ‘free agent’ simply because it is integrated in our society through the legal system and other spheres of life such as education. In other words, our conduct as individuals is attributed to us; in most circumstances, we are responsible for our acts (2007: 21).  He suggests that context is important. The milieu or institutional setting being a key context for an understanding of ‘persona’ rather than theories of constructed identity. Du Gay attempts to take a historical, anthropological and sociological perspective.

He explores theories and methods (tools) to provide a descriptive account of how some individuals acquire certain characteristics, attributes or capacities associated with a particular sort of person (2007:22). Investigating the individual within society rather, than as many other theorists do, identity as something outside of society.

Du Gay turns to Elias to describe the relationship between the individual and the context in which they operate. He describes how Elias enables us to think about a person’s identity not as a fixed state but rather as a dynamic relationship between the person and the environment or milieu. For example, the attributes of a group of people, such as those working in the creative industries, are not fixed and learned by an individual coming into this network, but fluctuate both in form and dynamics through the relationships.

The figuration, in other words, does not connect persons with already established identities but, rather, it provides those persons with their very dimensions or characteristics. The persons, their characteristics, what they are and do, are all dependent upon the relations in which they are involved (2007:25).

He refers to Bourdieu to describe the problems with treating identity as a life story or ‘life-history’. Bourdieu argues that the mechanism for telling the ‘life-history’ itself produces a certain kind of self (2007:27). It is the insistence that there might be a prior core self which Du Gay challenges, instead preferring to explore the field  and other agents by describing and comparing in some detail (2007:30).

I have discussed  discourse analysis and Fairclough’s approach in previous blog posts which echo some of the issues raised by Du Gay. Taking on board the full context in which an individual operates will help us understand the persona they develop within that institution, organisation or group of people. This can be categorised through language, the environment or milieu, policy, legal issues, rituals and other associated norms. However, I had not given so much attention to this a) as a non fixed identity and b) as a process which the individual will play a part in influencing. In other words, I probably saw the context as a relatively fixed thing rather than changing, complex and dynamic.

How can this be explored in a sociological study of cultural entrepreneurs?

This raises questions for me in terms of methodologies for investigating cultural workers / entrepreneurs. On one hand, I want to explore the cultural worker’s identity as constructed by identifying power relations and other influential factors which make them what they are. Yet, I am interested in the notion of the ‘free agent’ and the level of personal autonomy in creating his/her identity as a cultural worker / entrepreneur. When interviewing cultural workers or entrepreneurs there is often a strong sense of ‘telling my story’ as a historical, linear set of events. I am mindful of Bourdieu’s concern with telling a life-history, a narrative which essentially expresses one’s story as we want to be perceived and through the prism of the story telling mechanism. Is it the case that the narrative we propose is a self fulfilling prophecy?

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