Festivals and the Cultural Public Sphere (Routledge Advances in Sociology)

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Articles

  1. Book Reviews by Liana Giorgi
  2. Gerard Delanty
  3. Festivals and the Cultural Public Sphere
  4. Publications of Fabiani, Jean-Louis | Central European University

Finally, we created a USP for each festival to account for one or two of their unique features. After compiling the scores into a spreadsheet, we created a set of cards which included an instruction card that explained the aim of creating the game Figure 6. We played the game with a number of groups, including authors, academics from the disciplines of book history, publishing studies, cultural and media studies , publishers, and publishing students.

Playing the game was generally enjoyable, with players taking particular delight in the card objects. However, in terms of generating discussion, rounds of Book Festival Trumps were often pure, decontextualized quantitative play, in which players focused on the numbers without paying attention to other textual and pictorial detail on the cards. Discussion, prized by us as humanities researchers, was often absent, particularly when the nominated category was Attendance or Twitter followers. In other cases, discussion was heated. The insights gleaned through design and play of Book Festival Trumps are further discussed below, but we became aware that this particular metaphorical model for understanding book festivals has limitations.

The rigid, compressed format of the card means that many dimensions of book festivals were excluded, and the set became polarised into strong and weak cards, creating an extremely uneven playing field that does not accord with our understanding of festivals.

So we turned to a more complex game model, with expanded metaphoric potential. Our third game is an adaptation of Monopoly, a game that already functions somewhat metaphorically as an engagement with and critique of capitalism. The aim of the game is for players to bankrupt each other. Monopoly is a complicated game with several distinct stages that takes a long time to play. It was an intriguing challenge to adapt Monopoly to account for cultural as well as economic transactions, and Bookfestivalopoly is our most intricate metaphorical work.

Our adaptation models a year in the promotional life of a book, with players taking the role of authors who aim to earn a living wage. We wanted to explore how festivals publicise books and provide authors with income through performance fees, and how festivals contribute to broader symbolic economies. Taking a subset of cards from Book Festival Trumps, we allocated festivals to the board, recognising the uneven distribution of prestige by spiralling up to the largest UK festivals as the epicentre of power and legitimacy.

The lower value cards are festivals in what Casanova would consider peripheral national literary cultures and festivals, which also target niche genres, such as Iceland Noir and Versoteque Festival of Poetry and Wine Slovenia. The utilities became newspapers and social media. The equivalent of houses and hotels was being a regular speaker, then keynote at a festival denoted by books and bookcases. One player a writer said that she avoided green rooms because of their elitism, while another reflected on the increasing separation between readers and writers over the years.

Bookfestivalopoly card adaptations, including the Critical Acclaim Loyalty Card. Other game features also generated discussion. One player, who received a card about an overbearing male chairperson, thought there should be more gendered disadvantage structured into the game. We made adjustments to the rules to tease out the economic reality of festivals.

Although aspects of book culture may be a zero-sum game some writers do not secure a publisher, or do not get invited to festivals at all , more often competition in book festivals is experienced as a graduated system of inequality: an A list and a B C, D Players then reflected on the economic effects of this system: prestigious events with derisory pay, and the gap between payments offered to emerging and celebrity writers.

Players often laughed on receipt of a miniscule amount e. Inspired by Bourdieu, we also altered the game dynamics by introducing a second currency of cultural capital. These stations also provide royalty boosts for authors. Critical Acclaim points therefore have exchangeable value, but like a store loyalty card, their direct financial equivalence is negligible.

Book Reviews by Liana Giorgi

The loyalty cards generated much discussion. It was a poignant experience to land on the Man Booker Prize square and not have enough critical acclaim points to redeem it. The metaphor here was strong: to feel eligible for a prize but to not yet have acquired the cultural credibility to claim it. Rebellious game play introduced fluid, non-rigid approaches to challenge conversions between economic and cultural capital. We invented impromptu house rules that ameliorated this inequality. This is one example of how game play, despite or because of its constraints, allows players the freedom to imagine different rules and modes of behaviour, including novel ways of combining the economic and cultural dimensions of a literary life.

These three games—Bookfestivalopoly, Book Festival Trumps and the race game—form the core of our arts-informed investigation into contemporary literary festivals. Each stage of the iterative process of designing and testing these games offered opportunities to think creatively about games as metaphors for book festivals. In the following analysis, we aggregate the feedback from our testers as well as our own observations on the design process. The tactile materiality of our games enabled thinking through action, drawing on slow scholarship as well as arts-informed approaches.

Players interact physically with cards and tokens as they gather face-to-face, creating opportunities for reflection and discussion. This reflective, open method is highly appropriate for investigation of an emergent, dynamic and complex cultural phenomenon such as book festivals, and the deliberate materiality of our games prompted several learning moments. Material objects are charming. The Book Festival Trumps cards are miniature expressions of festivals, able to be held in the hand or tucked into a pocket.

The Bookfestivalopoly writing-related tokens, which include a 3-D printed miniature quill, laptop, and bookcases, caused particular delight. The pleasure of holding these objects can also inspire an acquisitive impulse. Book Festival Trump cards are instantly collectible, making manifest the way in which book festival experiences can also be accumulated.

In addition to their own materiality, our games reference and evoke the physical space of book festivals. Our early map of Ullapool Book Festival and the race game taught us some lessons in terms of how we might try to understand the experience of a reader traversing festival spaces, linking to our abiding autoethnographic interest in attending festivals in different locations. The process of scoring locations for Book Festival Trumps made us discuss the impact of the geographical setting of a festival on its appeal. This led into a broader discussion, extended by Bookfestivalopoly, about the way physical location interacts with reputation and economic structures, discussed further below.

Materiality and physicality are, deliberately, key components of our arts-informed research. Yet even though our games are traditional card and board games, our work is firmly embedded in the digital era. As transnational research partners, we are reliant on digital communication technologies, from Skype and Facebook messenger to Google Docs and emails. To create the games, work done on one continent was digitally transmitted and materially reconstructed on another.

Game playing sessions were also often discussed on social media, where we encouraged the use of the bookishgames hashtag. This combination of physical and virtually-mediated experiences mirrors book festivals themselves. Festivals increasingly engage in online spaces alongside their live events; this can create enriching experiences for readers and writers, but can also sometimes produce unease. Our research project, both in terms of its object and its methods, explores technological comfort and discomfort, sensations of unease at the transmission of material objects into the digital realm, and the joy of digital connections.

In this, our game-inspired thinking points to the enduring materiality of print culture, its enmeshment with the digital, and the possibilities these formats provide. One of the levels on which games work as metaphors for book festivals is that both are social. Comparing these different forms of sociality within the frame of academic research—itself a professionalised mode of sociality—provides valuable insights into how interpersonal dynamics can shape understanding of cultural events.

As noted earlier, the sociality of games shifts the role of the academic by opening book culture studies up to collaborative and interactive processes. At several stages throughout prototyping, we asked people to test our games. The premise was that inviting fellow researchers, students and practitioners to engage playfully with ideas about festivals would reframe their, and our, approaches to book cultures. This turned out to be the case as players actively entered into discussion about book festivals as they played.

As noted above, the design and play experience of our adaptation provoked reminiscences, so that the game operated as an elicitation technique for generating new knowledge. Sometimes this produced recognition and shared laughter; sometimes tensions arose as in the example above of a player whose reaction to the Green Room was an interrogation of the value of festivals.

This articulation of dissent is an important part of our process, invited by our design decisions. For example, we allowed our personal investments in location to be visible in the form and scoring of the games in order to provoke discussion. Disagreements were highly valuable in exposing some of the frictions that underlie a prevalent mode in contemporary book cultures, where mannerly behaviour and agreeable sociability are exhibited, and competition and inequality are elided.

Our research suggests that disputation about game design, along with the other humorous, cheeky, interrogative and ruminative conversations that occur in a playfully competitive environment, is an illuminating discursive mode for understanding book festivals. Another form of disagreement arose from the intersection of games-sociality and academic-sociality. Some academic players did not see the point of the games, or to be more precise did not see them as research; others were delighted by the games but saw them as unusual within universities.

Because game-inspired thinking is a tangential, associative, indirect form of knowledge creation, it resists and runs counter to the output-driven, economically-oriented model of academia in operation in our two countries. The unusualness of our research, the way it veers away from conventional scholarly modes and formats, is part of its point. Our collaborative, playful method is critical because it actively counters reductive thinking—not only about festivals, but also about what research can be.

The sociality of game-inspired thinking refracts the already social aspects of established research processes. The iterative nature of game design means that the conversations it prompts are ongoing and collaborative, a less formal version of the feedback mechanisms in larger academic structures of knowledge, such as conference presentations and peer review. For example, despite our aim for a de-centred role for ourselves as researchers, many testers expected us to know the rules and interpret the game for them. Who plays the game matters, in terms of the discussion.

One player, for example, suggested inviting festival directors to play the game in order to help them strategically think through the values they wished to focus on in their festival, and how rival festivals pitch themselves. Doing this would be a way to generate a new set of insights, and may be an avenue for future impact-related research.

All of these conversations, and the inclusion of them in our research design, point to the possibilities for critical reflection and engaged participation offered by games as a method for book culture studies and practice. Each player contributes to the findings in game-inspired research. At the same time, we recognise that not everyone may feel equally able to contribute to play-based discussions, and acknowledge that our own positions as academic staff in the developed world, with more secure employment than some of our early career colleagues, mean that for us playfulness is less risky, if still inhabitual.

Two of the strongest critiques of book festivals are, first, that they are neoliberal, money-making operations that participate in the instrumentalisation of culture, and second, that they perpetuate neocolonial power structures that work to the disadvantage of non-Anglophone, peripheral literary cultures.

Camille Paglia (full) - Conversations with Tyler

Our arts-informed research to some extent supports these claims. Our games make evident in a striking way the neoliberal economic frameworks in which festivals and academics participate. Games may be playful, but their representational design and structured, competitive play can effectively depict instrumental processes. Book Festival Trumps is an exercise in experiencing the pressure to quantify culture. Numbers are proxies for other kinds of value.

Twitter followers, for example, stand in for digital engagement, and the close fit here reinforces the amenability of social media to algorithmic, quantified understandings of connection. Numerical scores also transmit criticisms of individual festivals. Our decisive opinions on the Programming category, for example, highlight our own habituation to ranking cultural phenomena via their degree of established practice and innovation.

Once chosen, these numbers have force. During game play, we were struck by the rounds of Book Festival Trumps that generated no discussion beyond announcement of numbers. This discursive absence demonstrates the power and authority of quantitative measurement. The tendency to accept numbers on their own terms is a phenomenon with which festival organisers must contend as they try to gain funding and support. In general, for Book Festival Trumps, the playfulness of the game belies a very competitive process.

Gerard Delanty

Do literary festivals ever really come head-to-head? Festivals compete, on uneven ground, for funding, audiences, authors, media coverage, and prestige. Book Festival Trumps makes overt a hierarchy of festivals and forced a quantification of cultural value, a process that is often disconcertingly easy. And yet numbers are also always problematic. The difficulty that we encountered in accounting for Attendance—the slipperiness of this apparently straightforward metric—is one example.

In other Book Festival Trumps categories, players showed a striking resistance to quantification, querying how we arrived at the Prestige, Programming and Location scores, and articulating their own affiliations and prejudices. Such debates are manifestations of the enduring difficulty of measuring cultural value, particularly when it interacts with subjective, experiential understandings. Bookfestivalopoly made explicit the interplay of critical acclaim and financial gain in trying to promote a book through book festivals, and the high risks at stake in so doing.

This game, though, is also powerful as a metaphor of the geopolitical power relations at work in book festivals. Bookfestivalopoly makes it impossible to ignore the different levels of status and wealth generated by festivals. Our intentional referencing of these power dynamics potentially reinforces them, and was quickly questioned by players who perceived ethnocentrism in the arrangement of festivals. Yet while players challenged the placement of Scottish and Australian festivals, no one disputed the position of the United Kingdom festivals at the top of the hierarchy, and no one leapt to the defence of niche festivals from peripheral literary nations.

Physicality constrains real life festivals, and our games lay bare the Anglophone and metropolitan dominance of world literary markets, as well as vestiges of neocolonial power. The inequality that structures the global literary field is also highlighted through Book Festival Trumps, where the head-to-head competition between festivals repeatedly demonstrates the might of the biggest festivals on almost every conceivable metric. Even the textual elements of these cards tend towards accounts that perpetuate a colonial structure. Both games put a spotlight on the antagonistic aspects of literary festivals.

The world of writing, books and publishing is competitive. Festivals may be presented as venues for generally polite democratic debate and cultural exchange, but their economy also introduces hierarchy: of festivals, locations and authors. Our game-inspired research has produced some models of what winning looks like for book festival organisers and writers: more money, more Twitter followers, and more connections with starry guests. These insights contribute to the larger scholarly debate about the neoliberal incorporation of culture into the economy, and the global economic inequities that undergird cultural events.

The implications of this article for future research are twofold.

Festivals and the Cultural Public Sphere

First, game-inspired thinking has the potential to significantly enrich academic research by providing a mid-level perspective that offers something more than either case studies or abstract models. Second, game-inspired thinking specifically contributes to research on the complex emergent cultural phenomenon of the literary festival by highlighting its entanglement with neoliberal economic frameworks, its position in a globally unequal cultural field, and the subtle and varied pleasures it provides for audiences.

Designing games as metaphorical models of cultural phenomena enables researchers to think in terms of abstraction, and to move beyond the limits of the sociological impetus of data collection. Game design is an effective tool for structured, conceptual thinking, and for juxtaposing theoretical lines. Its value as a research method stems from the way that games represent phenomena in simplified graphic forms. This representational process helps articulate and intensify the aims, strategies and ritualised interactions of actors, and the conflict and resolution of various types of value across geographical locations and across time.

As an arts-informed methodology, game-inspired thinking offers a scale and perspective on cultural phenomena that is an alternative to other social sciences and humanities methods—a mid-level approach that is neither close nor distant, and which is simultaneously structured and creative. Board and card games extend the value of this approach through their materiality and sociability, which invite players to interact with the game and with others, including those who might not normally participate in academic research.

For all these advantages, we recognise that there are limitations and risks to game-inspired thinking as a research methodology. Game-inspired thinking is not appropriate for every researcher, not least because it requires significant prior knowledge of the phenomena being adapted. In our case, the use of games builds upon a knowledge base developed through years of research into literary festivals, and offers an effective way to extend this.

It also, as we noted earlier, relies to some extent on a position of privilege. Playfulness is risky. There is a chance that games can trivialise the real economic and reputational pressures on arts administrators and writers, and experiences of exclusion for writers and readers in particular demographic or geopolitical situations. A game is about play and disruption and creativity and ambiguity and surprise. A game is about the unexpected. Game-inspired thinking should subvert rather than reinforce power dynamics, as a method with inherent possibilities for critique.

Players may, if they choose, relabel, redesign and recalibrate our games, adding in more festivals from other parts of the world, or, in Bookfestivalopoly, changing their hierarchical arrangement on the board.

Publications of Fabiani, Jean-Louis | Central European University

They could also, as one Bookfestivalopoly player suggested, change the rules to acknowledge the pre-existing advantage of different kinds of writers taking into account gender, class, and race, for example. The next generation of these games, then, may see players—even or especially those with less research experience or job security—depicting radically alternative ways of interpreting book festivals and literary culture. Condition: Brand New.

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