Applying ‘fields’ and ‘habitus’ to Researching Cultural Entrepreneurs
As part of my research of Birmingham based cultural entrepreneurs, I aim to highlight the context in which they operate by outlining some key policies and selecting a few important developments and projects. I identify that cultural entrepreneurs are not working in a vacuum but that the language of enterprise, an emphasis on economic development and the role of the cultural industries as part of the city is an important factor in the space of production.
Bourdieu’s notion of a ‘fields of production’ is revealed through the policies, powerful agencies and is linked to ‘habitus’ represented by the networks of individual cultural entrepreneurs who play a role in influencing the ‘field’ by creating their own projects, blogs and events. There is a sense that spaces associated with the cultural industries, either through individuals or through policy making, have much in common. But which comes first, the strategy or the activities of cultural entrepreneurs?
In my view, it is difficult to tell which informs which, as a dialogue between those on the ground, cultural entrepreneurs, and policy makers can be brokered through individuals, through research consultancies and through blogs such as Created in Birmingham. However, it does appear that institutional forces in the field of production are mediated through the ‘habitus’ of networks by influential individuals and through common spaces (virtual or not). ‘Habitus’ is complex and contradictory creating a space in Birmingham’s ‘field of production’ in which policies can be discussed, contested, negotiated and assimilated by the community of cultural entrepreneurs.
The term ‘enterprise’ or ‘entrepreneur’ is associated with the sector and linked to the economic success of the city. There is a sense from policy documents that an ‘enterprise culture’ is an important ingredient and this is evidenced through the activities of individuals who set up projects such as Birmingham Social Media Cafe. The proactive and enterprising nature of some local cultural entrepreneurs is potentially filling in a gap where traditionally a union would have been an opportunity to share common problems. This is important if as the data suggests, micro businesses in Birmingham’s cultural industries have the highest number of employees/self-employed and are growing faster than other sectors. Yet, the informality of these organisations could be problematic both in terms of the influence they have and their ability be sustainable (for example: although the website exists, Creative Republic has not been active for 4 years).
What does this lack of strong representation from traditional organisations such as unions mean for the cultural entrepreneurs I work with? How do they manage in a context which urges a ‘can do’ approach but relies heavily on individuals kick starting and maintaining projects in sometimes difficult circumstances. The ‘field of production’ in Birmingham is of a city which celebrates the sector but which has also had many developments, new initiatives, different sources of funding, and changes in governments. The picture is full of optimism on the surface but also depicts uncertainties and insecurities.
The cultural entrepreneurs I am studying have to navigate this environment and interact with it in their individual ways. As I analyse their stories, I set them within this space of a changing cultural industry ‘field’ with its language, policy priorities and initiatives and key players. Using Bourdieu’s framework the relationships between the macro (field) level and the meso (habitus) level have been explored to offer a context for individual narratives, the micro level.