Cultural production: Diversity, equality and exclusion

One day colloquium to bring together academics currently conducting research in this area, alongside those who are attempting to address such inequalities in practice

In August, Edinburgh plays host to the Edinburgh Festivals, collectively one of the largest arts festivals in the world. The city is filled with creative practitioners and many of them are hoping that the Edinburgh festivals will offer a route into a sustainable professional career in the arts, and are willing take significant risks as they attempt to achieve their aspirations.

The presence of such activity makes Edinburgh in August the ideal location at which to discuss questions of inequality in cultural production. Therefore, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh will host a one day colloquium to bring together academics currently conducting research in this area, alongside those who are attempting to address such inequalities in practice. It is hoped that this event will not only be a chance to share existing knowledge, but to identify potential new lines of research and establish new networks and partnerships that might pursue them.

This event is organised by Dr David Stevenson, and is supported by the Centre for Media, Culture and Communication Research at QMU. Lunch will be provided on the day, with vegetarian options available as standard. However, if you do have any specific dietary requirements please detail them during your registration.

Programme and speakers

Invited Keynote

Dr Dave O’Brien, Goldsmiths and Dr Mark Taylor, University of Sheffield

The keynote address presents findings from the 2015 Panic! Whatever Happened to Social Mobility in the Arts? Project. The discussion thinks through two main themes, beginning with narratives and understandings of career trajectories in the experience of cultural workers. Who gets cultural and creative jobs? And how do they keep them? What are the barriers to success? Who is advantaged and who is excluded? This part of the discussion is based on a dataset of interviews with participants from the Panic! Project. The second part of the paper moves to consider how people working in the creative and cultural industries feel about fairness in the industry- Do they think that success is purely down to hard work, talent, and ambition, or is it about who you know and what kind of family you come from? Using quantitative data from the 2014 Panic! survey of around 2500 people working in cultural and creative jobs in the UK, this research shows a wide range of attitudes towards this question – whether people believe that the processes involved are meritocratic, reflect social reproduction, or both. The most striking finding is that the highest-paid respondents to the survey are the most likely to believe the processes that got them where they are to be meritocratic. However, there are no clear generational differences – at odds with a popular narrative in which the situation is described as worse than it used to be. The discussion reflects on the possibilities of mixed methods research, in particular combining secondary data analysis with primary qualitative fieldwork to understand cultural labour markets; considers the continuities and changes to cultural work in recent years; and demonstrates the role of cultural work in reproducing and reinforcing specific social inequalities.

Panel presenters

Professor Sabina Siebert, University of Glasgow.

Unpaid work in the cultural and creative industries: In this presentation I will discuss the benefits and pitfalls of unpaid work as an entry route into employment in the creative industries focusing in particular, on the role of universities in promoting and regulating it. Unpaid work experience raises a number of issues, for example a concern about the exclusionary and exploitative nature such work, or the issue of inequality of access to relevant work experience by students ‘without connections’. I pose the question why unpaid labour is considered by many students and graduates a legitimate method of gaining access to paid employment, and suggest a number of ways ways in which some of the problematic aspects underpinning unpaid work experience can be addressed.

Gavin Maclean, Napier University, Edinburgh.

‘A production line of posh kids’? Social class in the recorded music industry: This paper seeks to contribute to recent debates surrounding the link between social class and cultural value. This paper presents data from twenty-five semi-structured interviews with ‘indie’ musicians working in the music industries. The findings presented demonstrate that the apparent conflict between artistic merit and commercial pressures extends to include social class as having a stigmatising effect on the value of cultural output.

Sasha Callaghan & George Lamb, Disability History Scotland.

Who do We Think We Are: Cultural Production or Cultural Appropriation? Historically, discourse around impairment, disability and difference has been framed from the perspective of non-disabled professionals. The authentic lived experiences of disabled people and the existence of disability culture have been seen as secondary to this dominant narrative. Is Cultural Production a means of challenging this orthodoxy or will the emphasis on ‘mainstreaming’ further exclude disabled voices?

Dr Aleksandra Webb, University of Stirling.

Women and performing work: Challenges experienced by female performers working in music, dance and theatre in Scotland: This talk will firstly point out multiple systemic barriers to women’s work, employment and fulfilling careers as experienced by female performers working in music, dance and theatre in Scotland. Secondly, it will critically assess whether creative and cultural industries are truly creative in promoting and supporting gender equality in the sector.

Rosita McKenzie, Photographer.

In her talk, Rosita McKenzie will introduce us to her work as a totally blind photographer. She will examine major barriers to progress and identify the steps she has taken to achieve success.

Gurvinder Aujla-Sidhu, DeMontfort University

This talk focuses upon the experiences of BBC minority ethnic journalists working primarily on the BBC Asian Network, as digital radio station that targets British Asian listeners. In interviews journalists and editors explain some of the difficulties they they face not only in creating content for a diverse, complex and multifaceted audience, but complexities of recruiting staff for the BBC Asian Network and difficulties in trying to move into jobs in other areas of the BBC.

Dr Annette Naudin, Birmingham City University.

Diversity in Cultural Leadership: This paper examines approaches to addressing issues of diversity in the cultural industries by reflecting on a bespoke training programme aimed at diverse cultural leaders. The study interrogates questions of inequality in cultural production through a qualitative account of the experiences of diverse cultural leaders on the RE:Present16 programme, focusing on gender and ethnicity.

Andrew Ormston, Drew Wylie Projects.

Deep Roots & Tall Trees – Developing community and distributed artistic leadership as a platform for widening engagement with the arts. This session will explore different theoretical and practical perspectives to community leadership in the arts using learning from a small number of current projects.

Representative from ERA 50:50.

We will be talking about our campaign, which is a simple one. We want to see women represented on screen, in television and theatre in equal numbers to men. Our campaign is to require the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and all other major broadcasters to implement an equal gender balance across their drama and comedy slates by 2018.

Dr. Emma Coffield, Newcastle University

‘Collectivity, Exchange, and the Performance of Identity: How Artists Negotiate Inequality Via Artist-run Initiatives’: This paper offers a critical perspective on contemporary arts production within artist-run initiatives. It first sounds a note of caution, for being a member of an artist-run initiative can involve large amounts of unpaid time, the acceptance of group norms (Guibernau 2013), and the power of artist-run initiatives to decide who makes art, when, and of what kind urgently needs to be addressed. However, the paper goes on to draw upon empirical data that demonstrates a number of strategies by which members of The Mutual, 85A and Empty Shop each defied Bourdieu’s (1993) competitive field logic in favour of a more equal and accessible field of arts production – and sometimes, succeeded.

Dr. Simon McKerrell, Newcastle University

Intersectional analysis of a musical genre, towards a sociology of traditional music: This paper presents an intersectional analysis of key categories including age, ethnicity, gender and class, in relation to the participation, consumption, aesthetics and education in the traditional arts in Scotland. This leads into wider discussions around 1) how to deal with the sonic aspects of a musical community of practice in relation to cultural policy, and; 2) the disjunctures emerging between local and national cultural policy, and musical deterritorialization.

Michael Richardson, Heriot Watt University

Deaf actors are natural storytellers who use an embodied language rich in physical and visual imagery, and yet they are almost unseen on our stages. This paper explores the reasons for the lack of opportunities for Deaf actors, including the current vogue for sign language interpreted performances, before describing my own research into Deaf/hearing bicultural and bilingual theatre.

Dr Catherine Rees and Dr Daniel Sage, Loughborough University

Stages of Gender: A Study into Gender Inequalities between Theatre Study and Work: In this paper we report on research conducted in British Theatre on the paradox between female dominated theatre study and male dominated professional work. We will offer a brief contextualisation for the impetus of this study – outlining the current inequitable working conditions in British Theatre. We will then move on to explore the research we have undertaken, offer some tentative conclusions, and suggest some of the ways in which our findings underpin continued inequitable working structures. Finally, we will look in detail at a single case study from the research, examining the ways in which gender discrimination is ingrained within British Theatre professional practices.


Tuesday, 23 August 2016 from 09:00 to 17:30


Queen Margaret University – Queen Margaret University Drive, Edinburgh , EH21 6UU