Academic journal article About Performance

Derry: City and Cultural Capital

Academic journal article About Performance

Derry: City and Cultural Capital

Article excerpt

Since 2007, I have been "over here" in Ireland, where I have had the opportunity to adapt the research skills I acquired through performance studies and subsequent research in creative practice as an actor and theatre maker. In the past I have written about my own and others' experiences of actor training and actors' attempts to enter and remain involved in professional life (Moore 2004). In this paper, which describes arts making within the broader project of the Derry City of Culture 2013, I will again focus on the antagonistic nature of cultural work and our struggles as artists to produce. In doing so, I contrast concepts of cultural capital as proposed by Robert Putnam and Pierre Bourdieu. Putnam's liberal views of culture have had tremendous influence on government and arts funding policy internationally and lay at the heart of the City of Culture 2013 project, its stated objectives, and predicted impact. Applying Bourdieu's ideas of cultural capital will enable me to scrutinise the City of Cultures positive aims and effects and also to examine the power structures and particularities in the fields within which I currently produce-the fields of Irish and Australian theatre and performance and the field of performance studies.


I emigrated from Northern Ireland to Australia with my family at ten years of age, during the infamous period of civil unrest, which the Irish, with understatement, refer to as "the Troubles." On my return in 2007, some nine years after the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998, I noted how enthusiastically theatre makers, and indeed cultural producers and consumers across disciplines, had embraced the idea of culture as a remedy: a means of healing deep wounds, of bringing people together, and of forging positive relations between otherwise isolated and antagonistic communities.1 That culture is necessarily beneficial and inclusive is a view that is prominent internationally and lies at the base of a great deal of policy in terms of social utility and the arts. This positive focus has been encouraged through the work of the American sociologist Robert D. Putnam (2000, 415-424), who has provided governments, producers, educators, and arts administrators with the concept of social capital(s), a means of defining the need for, and a methodology for quantifying the impact of, cultural activity. Many sociologists and arts workers, who promote what might be characterised as liberal and humanist views, support these aims and ideas. In his influential work Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000), Putnam argues that civic participation has been in decline in America since the 1960s, and measures this decline in terms of political participation (voting numbers, party membership, local involvement), civic participation in various associations and unions, religious participation, connections in the work place, informal social connections, philanthropy, and volunteerism (31-180 and 415-424). Social capital, for Putnam, is based on ideas of benefit through social participation and interaction, which are almost always, on his account, framed as being inherently positive, encompassing "features of social organization, such as networks, norms and trust, that facilitate coordination and cooperation [between agents and institutions] for mutual benefit" (1993, 35-42).

Elsewhere, Putnam raises the fundamental question: "does social capital have salutary effects on individuals, communities, or even entire nations?" He finds in the affirmative.

Yes, an impressive and growing body of research suggests that civic connections help make us healthy, wealthy, and wise. Living without social capital is not easy, whether one is a villager in Southern Italy or a poor person in the American inner city or a well-heeled entrepreneur in a hightech industrial district. (Putnam 2000, 287)2

Many arts bodies across the West have developed similar ideas regarding the worth of "social capitals. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.