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Cultural Commodification and Its Consequences in the Neoliberal "Niche". Globalization - Core-Periphery Hierachies

It is usually said that today everywhere culture is being economized under diverse strategies and with diverse outcomes. But, this severe subjugation of the cultural sphere by the economic parameters doesn't solely mean annihilation of culture by its commodification. Namely, this commodification of culture has particular purpose – to exchange former mechanisms of social coherence or order into the new realm under the incursion of free trade economy and its oppression.

As much as globalization has been a major project of forming the new types of transnational political, social, cultural and subjective dynamics, it is undeniable that within it the power of the state is eroding, in strict economical meaning and organized at the national scale. Dynamics of change of a national in relation to expansion of the global is often observed through prism of decline of regulatory power of the state, most often through processes of privatization, denationalization and generally, through deregulation of the market. Globalization is to a large extent based on transnational circulation of capital, and in that sense downward of the role of the state might be envisioned. However, that process is two-dimensional and it includes adjustments to the dictatum of transnational capital, but also to the central role of the state in production of legality around new forms of economic activities.1 In that sense, “the political and cultural power of nation-scale power is not necessarily eroding at all and may be hardening in many places. Second, the erosion of the economic power at the national scale is highly uneven and not necessarily universal, with the US or Chinese state enjoying a quite different fate from Malaysia or Zimbabwe.2 Some of the activities which were previously organized at the national level are now spread through different scales. “National states are reframing themselves as purer, territorially rooted economic actors in and of the market, rather than external compliments to it. Social and economic restructuring is simultaneously the restructuring of spatial scale, insofar as the fixation of scales crystallizes the contours of social power.3

“At this point, globalization is everywhere a capitalist project, developing simultaneously on the regional and world scales. But this project is always expressed through local systems of governance and culture.4 In the situation on the external periphery of globalization, what is likely to see are changes caused by a strong manipulation by local systems of power which are developing paralelly with predatory capture of a market. Neoliberalism as dominant ideology of contemporary capitalism is preaching about free and unrestrained market, privatization of public commons and limitation of the role of the state in those processes. Due to Croatian philosopher Petar Milat, neoliberalism today doesn't stands only for aggregation of practices and concepts, but it is characterized by significant spatial extension, geopolitical determinant in the sense of description of “new spatial constellations which are determined by a very concrete measures.5 Consequently, today is possible to think about many different neoliberalisms, in sense of processes developing at the peripheries and margins. In that way at the post-Yugoslav space, neoliberalism receives a special dimension which often acquires also a temporal component, but not in a sense of a "delay" for dominant global developments (because, it is here ... that neoliberalism is really at home! 6), but in terms of duration and conduct of processes of economic transition. That is how one or more of neoliberalisms are successfully being realized in the “niches,” at the margins of today's order. “Here, neoliberal practices are acting as a parasites at the already existing infrastructures, and they are creating profit by counting on differential of diverse regions and spaces.7 Neoliberal practices, especially at those places, are influencing at deepening of ever bigger social inequalities.

However, through decentralization of production and the consolidation of the world market, “the international division and flows of labor and capital have fractured and multiplied so that it is no longer possible to demarcate large geographical zones as centers and periphery, North and South.8 On one hand, there is a systematic quest for the creation of niches for the capital investments and the extraction of profit. On the other, although all levels of production can exist simultaneously in different parts of the world's geographical regions; there are differences among them in terms of capitalist production, less of the nature and more in degree – uneven developments as the part of larger contradictory development of capitalism.9

Frame-working Contemporary Cultural Policies

In the text "Three Nexal Registers: Identity, Peripheral Cultural Industry, Alternative Cultures”, Nikola Janović and Rastko Močnik are noting that policies of neoliberal globalization are at the moment framing any possible cultural policy and this means that first it has to be decided “either to follow the mainstream that is transforming the cultural domain into an important new niche for capital accumulation, or to oppose the prevailing tendency10 (including viability of the very alternative). Besides transnational entertainment companies, this couple of authors detects three groups of relevant cultural policy agents: 1) Mainstream culture-oriented agents composed of national operators – national governments, national cultural industries (in particular, cinematographic and audiovisual industries), institutions of “national culture”; 2) The marginal profit-oriented agents as peripheral commercial cultural producers and their apparatuses; and 3) The group of marginal culture-oriented agents composed of various alternative cultural producers and audiences, practicing “small business”, often “socio-culture” projects and establishing the spaces not yet invaded by the free trade mantra. The first group of cultural policies is based on the premises of national identity and local cultural specificness as places of cultural distinction (that are often defended from invasive neo-liberal hegemony). The second group gathers peripheral cultural industries where culture falls under the logic of capitalist exploitation, but which are challenging core-periphery relations within the structure of contemporary capitalism. The third group of policies establishes alternative spaces of production, but also comes under the compel of economic marginalization and commercial exploitation.

Cultural Practices in “Transitional” Processes

Rhetoric of "transition" is blurring a state of account. Values are determined by direction in which we are going, instead by reality that we are living in, so the sinless ideality of capitalism could be preserved – and that is imaginable only in case that reality we are living in is not named as capitalism (because in counterpart, it would became obvious that capitalism is neither sinless nor ideal).11 Capitalism doesn't arise when process of privatization of public commons is finalized. In many countries of Eastern Europe including former Yugoslavia countries, already today, bigger part of industry is in a private hand in comparison to the USA and most of the countries of West Europe.

As it was already mentioned, in post-Yugoslav territory neoliberal practices are acting as a parasites on the already existing infrastructures, extracting profit through mechanisms within which paralelly existing: dominant free market postulates combined with the identity-based and arbitrary decision-making of bureaucracy joint with manipulations of local power structures. Seemingly culture is marginalized appearance in overall process of “transition” and its consequences. What is the most usual claim is that today culture everywhere is being economized under diverse strategies and with diverse outcomes. Through the examples of “cultural development” of city Novi Sad (Serbia), some of the major and above mentioned but meddled flows of cultural policies (agents) are visible.

Two examples

Regarding the cultural life of Novi Sad, year 2007 and 2008 were marked with the idea of building the new infrastructure for the Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina (MSUV) and of abandoning the very plan. The new Museum's infrastructure supposed to be built at the Danube shore, in the so called China Town part of the city. The China Town is site of an old industrial complex (of former nail factory "Petar Drapšin") which is used as a crafts-spot and more occasionally as a sight for different cultural activities.12 After international and regional call for proposals in 2007, there was the project accepted which plans forming of the Museum complex as a new creative area by preserving and restructuring of three already existing building and building of two new objects.13 In order to start with the realization of the project, a permission for using the land at that location was needed, which is in the ownership by the state but with the right of use by the City government. But, the City government failed to transfer that right of land usage since an intention and interest of private investor for that attractive location appeared. By building of the new Museum infrastructure, it was planed to preserve some of the buildings and also some of the crafts which could support Museum's activities. Still, in presumption and inevitably, some of the crafts-workshops would have to be removed from the site. Also, presumption is that such transformation would influence of its whole direct urban environment – as an economic booster and also as a potential reason for the real-estate speculations inevitably joined with processes of gentrification.14 Culture and its infrastructure are in this case used as a marker which adds value, attract attention and increase profitability of location/land for direct and profitable investments.

What is unwrapping here is that three models (and their agents) of dominant neoliberal cultural policies are meddling. Building of the new Museum of Contemporary Art certainly is part of the “national” cultural policies and industries, as state- established and owned institution, a prominent model of representative “national culture”, made by state intervention. Firstly, this representative model was highjacked by the peripheral strategies of global capital with the intention to transform the cultural domain into an important new niche for capital accumulation,15 (in this case achieved by exploitation of immaterial domain by the material). Secondly and finally, the whole area remains almost the same as it was – a place for alternative spaces of cultural production, not yet being under a lens of free trade strategies and simultaneously suffering from distinct economic marginalization.

Another example dates from year 2009, when the music festival Exit16 planned to build “Eko Park” (Eco Park) at the old-town Petrovaradin side of the Danube, in Novi Sad. One thing that distinguishes that music festival and which puts it on “the European map of popular culture and economical success”, to use vocabulary of the local power structures, is that it takes place at the several centuries old Petrovaradin fortress. There was an intention to regenerate Danube shore bellow and nearby the fortress, for the purpose of, before all, a camp for the festival visitors and then as new and the biggest park spreading onto 600.000 square meters that would stay and serve to the benefit of Novi Sad's citizens.17 The enormous amount of money18 was allocated for that purpose from the public funds by the City and Province governments. Only a month after the funds allocation, river Danube flooded the whole area, making the project realization impossible and it remained unknown what have happened with the already allocated public funds. What is equally intriguing is the background of the processes of regeneration and ecologysation of the Danube shore is putting another nontransparent layer over the case. Namely, the main area of the “Eco Park” would have been placed at the public space of already existing beach which is regularly visited by the citizens and nearby there's a settlement of old, self-made houses and shacks where Roma and refugees families live joint with reach fisherman culture. However, in the attempt to prepare and coax the ground for such an investment in the public property, initiators employed specific vocabulary in order to bring about negative solidarity: “That particular location doesn't have any practical or useful purpose; some spots at the location are used as wild landfill; water source which supplies the whole Novi Sad is completely unprotected; at that location there has been noticed appearance of the wild beach with numerous illegal restaurants.19 Ecology-based rhetoric was utilized which characterized existing settlements as wild, illegal and non-hygienic; even counter-natural – as a culturalized ideals of pure and uncorrupted nature, which then could easily slide down to the contemporary fascists ideology and rhetoric of cultural, race and every other form of purity and incorruptness.20

What is at stake in the second example is strategy of profit-oriented peripheral commercial cultural industries of local managerial structures, which are operating under the trodden logic of capitalist exploitation. According to Janović and Močnik, in the effort to create their own markets, peripheral producers exploit the nexus cultural material and more generally the nexal social dimensions, therefore expanding the logic of capitalist exploitation into the recently formed social spheres of global capitalism.21 Still, this private cultural entrepreneurship is to a big extent supported by the state and its public funds, as a “Serbian national brand” and one of the most important “national” cultural products (which both imports global trends of commercial music festival, but preserves local cultural specificities).

Those intertwinings are creating a patched-work structure of different agents and their strategies in dominant and contemporary cultural tendencies. That structure is full of multidimensional tensions and competitive spirit, since “every agent attempts to create a niche where it could secure a relative monopoly to itself. Such a niche is culturally constructed, it is underpinned by representations of a particular life-style, it possesses its own cultural traditions, mythologies, heroes, has its own jargon, its shibboleths etc.22

Instead of a Conclusion: Post-political Realm

It is usually said that today everywhere culture is being economized under diverse strategies and with diverse outcomes. But, this severe subjugation of the cultural sphere by the economic parameters doesn't solely mean annihilation of culture by its commodification. Namely, this commodification of culture has particular purpose – to exchange former mechanisms of social coherence or order into the new realm under the incursion of free trade economy and its oppression. As Janović and Močnik write, replacement of the commodity-relation for the lost political social relation today has enormous consequences and it is probably one of the most fascinating socio-structural events of our time – “What really vanishes between triumphant economy and emerging cultural diversity is the political sphere 23 Question about contemporary ideas and potential of political change remains, and it is often mentioned that those ideas have vanished from our political horizon. Actual models of subversive cultural strategies that could bring changes in common social relations often seems nonviable. However, appropriation nature of capital still leaves some spaces open for articulation of “oppositional movements”24 in the cultural sphere, which can seek to undermine articulations of the capital rather then the other way around.25 From one side, it would mean constant construction of new cultural forms, new definitions of transformational politics and new movements, and from the other, establishing trajectories of their internationalization rather then closing them into identity based national politics.


1 Saskia Sassen, Protugeografije globalizacije, Zagreb, Multimedijalni institut, 2003., 19.

2 Neil Smith, http://neil-smith.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/newglobalism-new-urbanism.pdf (10.06.2010.)

3 Ibid.

4 Looking Out from the Margins, Interview with Brian Holmes, Trans_European Picnic: The Art and Media in Accession, reader, Eds.: kuda.org, Nat Muller, Steven Kovats, Novi Sad, Futura publikacije, 2004., 20.

5 Petar Milat, Najmanje i najviše – Uvodne napomene, Operacija grad, Priručnik za život u neoliberalnoj stvarnosti, reader, Savez za centar za nezavisnu kulturu i mlade, Multimedijalni institut, Platforma 9,81 – Institut za istraživanja u arhitekturi, BLOK – Lokalna baza za osviježavanje kulture, SU Klubtura / Clubture, Zagreb, 2008., 12. (Translations from Serbo-Croatian to English language are made by the author, unless noted).

6 Boris Buden, Commentary on Branka Ćurčić: Autonomous Spaces of Deregulation and Critique: Is a Cooperation with Neoliberal Art Institutions Possible?, 2007., hhttp://eipcp.net/transversal/0407/buden2/en (12.06.2010.)

7 Petar Milat, Ibid., 14.

8 Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, 2001, 335.

9 Neil Smith, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space, University of Georgia Press, 2008.

10 Nikola Janović, Rastko Močnik, "Three Nexal Registers: Identity, Peripheral Cultural Industry, Alternative Cultures," 2006, http://www.pozitiv.si/petrovaradintribe/pages/Rastko-Nikola-PolicyBook%5B1%5D.doc, (23.08.2010.)

11 Tibor Varady, Postmoderno vlasništvo, Republika, br. 478-479, Beograd, 2010., 17.

12 When cultural activities in the area today are mentioned, aside from temporary renting of some of the spaces for music rehearsals, several old industrial buildings are presently in use by the Museum of Forgotten Arts established as a private initiative and by the Student Cultural Center Novi Sad.

13 Call for proposal ended on June 27th 2007 by the decision of international jury and the price went to the project of the team of people from Canada and Serbia: Robert Claiborne, Lia Ruccolo and Ivan and Petar Markov. http://www.msuv.org/informations/istorijat.html (10.06.2010.)

14 Since 2008, construction of exclusive residential-business complex Park City has been realized, in Liman part of the city located nearby park and the China town location. Investor in this project was Dutch company Vondel Capital.

15 In June 2010, the bankruptcy of the Vondel Capital company is announced, which reflected both finalization of the Park City residential-business complex and further investments into the new one in the China town.

16 Music festival Exit sprang as a student initiative of couple of Novi Sad University students first engaged in the student protests in 1996/7, and the first festival was held in 2000 at the Danube shore in the overwhelmed atmosphere of long-waited democracy. From the modest youngsters gathering, in 10 years Exit music festival grew into one of the biggest commercial festivals in Europe. Also, during this decade of its development, around one and then two non-governmental organizations which run festival, there are 9 private companies established by the members of the festival crew. Although commercially oriented, the festival still receives majority of the public funds for culture and non-governmental initiatives by the City government, which then are untransparently distributed through their companies.

17 hrough promotional leaflet of “Eko Park”, Novi Sad, 2009 it was offered: “new and the biggest park so far in Novi Sad; contribution to development of ecological standards in the city; contribution to development of Novi Sad as the city which could parry the most beautiful European cities; assurance of a new location for interactive content, sports activities and cultural events, restaurants, open-air galleries, arranged marina for boats.”

18 The amount of money allocated for building “Eco Park” was 330.000 EUR. Division of the city budget for culture between public cultural institutions and those independent is usually 90% to 10%, but part of that 10% is part where commercial Exit festival is applying too and receiving about 80% of that part of the budget. When those funds are extracted, it means that relation between independent cultural scene and the others is 2% - 98%, or the budget for all activities of independent art&culture scene is approx. 200.000,00 EUR.

19 Promotional leaflet of “Eko Park”, Novi Sad, 2009.

20 Todor Kuljić, Fašizam, Izdavačko preduzeće Nolit, Beograd, 1977.

21 Nikola Janović, Rastko Močnik, Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 David Harvey, The Art of Rent: Globalization, Monopoly and the Commodification of Culture, 2008, http://www.generation-online.org/c/fc_rent1.htm (28.08.2010.)

25 In year 2009, in Novi Sad, there was loosen independent initiative of artists and cultural workers being established, named Za kulturne politike – Politike kulture (For Cultural Policies – Politics of Culture). Their activities are directed to constantly pressuring the City government and trying to make it aware that there is a significant critical mass that is willing to participate in public dialogue and transparent creation of local cultural policies. The aim of the initiative is, through open dialogue and critic, to contribute to the building of more efficient and transparent models of cultural policies (against cultural monopolies and non-transparency in distribution of public funds). Their strategies include organizing: meetings and negotiations with the City Ministry for Culture, public debates, press conferences, discussions, seminars, campaigns, etc., www.zakulturnepolitike.net (31.08.2010.)

Content type
Projects Nach dem Ende der Politik
World-Information Institute
Date 2011
Location Vienna


globalization social inequalities transnational capital nation scale power profit cultural industries oppositional movements economic marginalization Malaysia Novi Sad USA Zimbabwe Petar Milat Eko Park
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