A Case Study in Discourse Analysis of "Community Arts" in Cultural Policy and the Press

By De Bisschop, An; Rutten, Kris et al. | CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, December 2011 | Go to article overview

A Case Study in Discourse Analysis of "Community Arts" in Cultural Policy and the Press


De Bisschop, An, Rutten, Kris, Soetaert, Ronald, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture


Community arts in Flanders have developed into a professional practice during the past few years, but only recently have received increased recognition from cultural policy makers, scholars, and art critics. This increased attention has caused a growing need to pin down and define the essential nature of a practice that is diverse in form, goal, and process: for example, as a form of art that emphasizes the relationship between art and social context, as a form of social work that emphasizes the social functions of art, and as a form of empowerment that gives voice to those who are excluded from mainstream society. In this article, we problematize this search for the essential nature of community arts and apply comparative discourse analysis to understand the different "situated" meanings that are assigned to its practice, thereby shifting the question "what is community arts?" to the question "how is meaning constructed about the notion and practice of community arts?"

This said shift can be related to Chris Barker's rephrasing of the question of "what is cultural studies?" to "how do we talk about cultural studies and for what purposes?" (2). Indeed, cultural studies is an eclectic field of scholarship that has different forms, goals and processes. Starting from a Marxist-based critical perspective on culture as "ordinary" (Williams), cultural studies introduced the study of popular culture because "it produces the narratives, metaphors, and images for constructing and exercising a powerful pedagogical force over how people think of themselves and their relationship to Others" (Giroux qtd. in Kellner 233). However, this also confronted cultural studies with the question "how different cultural and social groups are portrayed in the different forms of cultural inscription: in the discourse and images through which a culture represents the social world" (da Silva 9). This implied the need for a focus on the relationship between culture, society and politics. Cultural studies focuses on a multiplicity of "cultural inscriptions" and "discourses" by studying not only on what is said but also by whom and to whom. This implies that we do not only focus on the language that is used to talk and write about community arts, but also that we pay attention to the social context in which this language is situated. We concur with Barker who argues that cultural studies should balance between the study of texts and subject positions or "the utterances of persons in social contexts, thereby giving our attention to the relation between language and action" (15). For Barker, crucial aspects of "culture" can be understood in terms of performances and this metaphor implies that every speaker in a discourse has his or her own role to play (the journalist, the scholar, the policy maker). From this perspective, the practice of "community arts" can be understood as a collection of different "meanings" that are assigned to it trough a specific use of language. Therefore, in order to understand how meaning is constructed about community arts, we need to focus on the different roles of the different stakeholders within a discourse.

Because cultural studies--and the humanities and social sciences--are increasingly part of a "globalized" context, the study of culture ought to be comparative (on this, see, e.g., Pinxten; Totosy de Zepetnek; Totosy de Zepetnek and Vasvari). To be able to deconstruct and problematize the contextual nature of the meaning making processes around community arts, we have set up our research in two different institutional contexts: cultural policy and the press and two different cultural and geographical contexts: Flanders and the Western Cape in South Africa. In what follows, we introduce the comparative design and methodology of the larger empirical research by An De bisschop which form the background to this article. Discourse analysis as a methodological framework for cultural studies is applicable because it offers an analytic lens beyond a linguistic analysis in the strict sense by also focusing on the social context of language (see Barker and Galaszinski). …

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