Cultural Value and the Digital: Practice, Policy and Theory

AHRC RCA / Tate Collaboration

This collaborative and interdisciplinary research project between Tate, the Royal College of Art and London South Bank University (2013/14) was based upon the recognition that contemporary professional practice, policy-formation and understandings of cultural value remain resolutely analogue despite the profound changes in how knowledge and contemporary culture is being produced and experienced. This is due to the fundamental changes in human communication that digital technologies and network cultures are creating. Prevailing accounts and concepts of cultural value are essentially based upon representational systems and forms, which were originally developed in relationship to analogue technologies. Whilst our social, political and cultural value systems remain tied to representational forms through which society and the individual are constructed and identified, network culture is defined by new non-representational forms of distributed communication and exchange of value in which both the social and the human are being reconstituted.

The key problem which this project addressed was that despite the substantial amount of research analysing the impact of digital technology and the rise of network culture, this research has yet to easily translate into the professional practices of new media nor the policy field of new media and cultural value. The reason for this is rooted in the separation of the practical spheres of theory, practice and policy which itself is historically based upon representational systems of knowledge. This project sought to develop new understandings of network culture required to develop new modes of knowledge production which are closer to and connected with the new conditions of network culture.

The project aimed to address the problem of both the limits of representational thinking and the separation of its modes of knowledge production in relationship to analogue and digital cultures by a practice-led enquiry. The project experimented with dialogic and interdisciplinary modeling of new knowledge by bringing together practitioners, theorists and policy-makers who are inter-connected through existing institutional practices and partnerships.

In collaboration with Tate the project adopted a situated approach to engage with Tate's own networked practices as a means of tracing value in network relations and producing a dialogic response from the network. It focused upon Tate's digital projects and research initiatives across Tate Media, Tate Learning, Tate Collections and Tate Communications to examine its modes of digital access and co-production.

The research culminated in a three week public research programme that brought Tate staff engaged with Tate's digital projects and practices into dialogue with UK and European co-producers and users along with leading digital culture theoreticians, policy-makers, funders to investigate and recorded their responses and engagements with a structured series of research questions. In addition to Tate staff participants included James Bridle (writer), James Davis (Google Cultural Institute), Wolfgang Ernst (Humboldt University Berlin), Maya Gabrielle (National Theatre), Kristoffer Gansing (Transmediale), Marc Garrett (Furtherfield), Beryl Graham (University of Sunderland), Rachel Falconer (The White Building), Paula Le Dieu (Digital Director), Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures), Alessandro Ludovico (Neural Magazine), Sonia Lopez (MACBA), Margriet Schavemaker (Stedelijk Museum), Katrina Sluis (The Photographers’ Gallery), Lucy Sollitt (Arts Council England).

All of the public research programme was recorded and is available on both the Tate and RCA website ensuring public access to the sessions along with the project's report and final research findings. 

The full programme of the research discussions can be downloaded here.

The final report can be downloaded here.

Project team

Principal Investigator – Professor Victoria Walsh (Royal College of Art)
Co-investigator - Dr Emily Pringle (Tate)
Co-investigator - Professor Andrew Dewdney (London South Bank University)
Project Research Assistant - Ioanna Zouli (Royal College of Art / Tate / LSBU)
Project Assistant - Helen Griffiths (Tate Research)

Project enquiries: email Ioanna Zouli

To find out more visit the project's microsite. You can also read about Tate Encounters on the Tate website, or a write up of the session 'Resolutely Analogue?: Art Museums in Digital Culture' here.

Public Research Dates

20-21 May 2014, Tate Britain
2-3 June 2014, Tate Britain
16-17 June 2014, Tate Britain

Final conference: Monday 7 July 2014, Tate Modern