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The 5th Nordic Geographers’ Meeting
University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland, June 11-14, 2013

The NGM is a biennial meeting of Nordic geographers, taking place in turn in one of the Nordic Countries.
The 5th Nordic Geographers Meeting will be held in Reykjavík, Iceland, at the University of Iceland, 11 – 14 June 2013.
The theme of the NGM 2013 is Responsible Geographies. Both human and physical geographers are encouraged to participate under this broad heading. The conference language is English.

Variant call for session + workshop papers


Competitive cultural nationalisms across Northern Europe: research practices and cultural policies


In 2006, Scotland’s current first minister Alex Salmond alleged a Northern European “arc of prosperity”, citing Ireland’s boom-time national image. Also in 2006, Marita Muukkonen, then of Finland-based art magazine FRAME, and formerly of the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Arts (NIFCA), wrote:

“Looking at recent policy and political developments in arts and culture in Finland and the EU it becomes clear that cultural-political instrumentalisation and economisation is infused with nationalist and protectionist tendencies, and that is a growing concern.”

With the strengthening tendency of the transformation of cultural politics into cultural economics highlighted – whereby the processes of arts and culture become a competitive factor of national economic growth – the fuller integration of the aesthetic disciplines into the nation’s economic production of value emerges as a most notable concern.

Moreover, the new articulations of existing power relations that are bound up in these processes – i.e. the way in which notions of passion for and pleasure in work serve as disciplinary devices, enabling high levels of (self-) exploitation (Abbing, 2007); the extremely low levels of union organisation in much cultural labour (Hesmondhalgh/Baker, 2010) – evidently reveals that a promised freedom of autonomy and self-realisation for ‘creative’ workers as a means of economic development did not protect from national financial crises.

With many of these debates situated firmly within policy and practice – marking the shift from a framing of cultural to creative economies (Garnham, 2005) – with this session we invite proposals which enquire into the scope and space for a critical geographical engagement with the issues raised, such as:

  • the extent to which research practices have explored national ‘cultural intimacy’ (Herzfeld, 1997) across Northern Europe – the complex ways in which state and local practices interact, the nation-state eventually containing disparate groups’ contradictory actions and ideologies within national symbolism and sentiment;
  • the impacts on cultural equality and communicative freedom in the context of cultural-economic policy approaches of ‘competitive nationalism’;
  • and with these two strands of inquiry firmly in mind, the extent to which research practices and policy measures come to perform the making of (ir)responsible geographies, and, moreover, frame the meaning of such activities.

For us, such debate is central in furthering the understanding of the effects of cultural policy in the context of ‘place-making’ and the production of space, so as to “critically account for the way ‘power is exercised upon and through practices of mediated public communication’” (Barnett, 2003). And in doing so, allow an exploration of the positions taken and interventions made that not only render policy ‘mobile’ but provide insight into the productive capacity of these across cultural policy, practice and geography.

Suggested topics of exploration for both the paper session and workshop include, but are not restricted to:

What positions, interventions and practices render policy ‘mobile’?

  • How does state-mediation through competitive nationalism(s) exert influence over processes of communication and expression in culture?
  • In which ways and by what means are aspects of culture(s) defined, activated, negotiated, distributed or absented in these processes?
  • What are the experiences of international competitive place-making (Harvey, 2002; Peck, 2007) in contexts of nationalist production of space?
  • How have critical curatorial trends within the arts publicly situated power and the politics of cultural domination in relation to national ‘cultural intimacy’ – with regard to upholding democratic rights and freedoms in culture and communication, and the actual material conditions which support critical autonomy?

What are the impacts of these mobilisations on artist, personal, cultural, national and group identities; mediated cultural and informational practices; inequalities and exclusions; autonomy and agency; communicative and other freedoms?

  • Where does the discourse of ‘cultural diversity’ (tendency to think of immigrant cultures as self-contained and internally coherent) intersect with a politics of redistribution – a wider cultural politics that’s otherwise excluded?
  • To what extent do notions of cultural diversity or positive community identities, in seeking to contain cultural difference rather than enable communication between different groups, repeatedly work with other processes to produce inequalities of access and outcome in the domain of culture, as in many other aspects of society?
  • What does it mean for aspects of life and identity, including education, arts, sports and culture if harnessed as factors of national economic advantage?
  • How does locating perceived injustices within a national script disallow for reflection on and of wider international experiences?
  • Acknowledging the differing historical configurations upon which they are contingent, what does it mean for countries also undergoing contested and reformulated nationalist assertions of identity?
  • What role have assertions of national identity in informing the economising of culture and the policies that shape culture?
  • How is contested public space situated as regards to communicative freedom and cultural provision under resurgent nationalisms?
    What are the limitations of a ‘rights based’ discourse (Lefebvre, 1968; Harvey, 1989; Swyngedouw, 2010; Smith, 1993; Mitchell, 2003)?

By exploring such topics above, how can we critically develop and enact communicational practices that produce (ir)responsible knowledges toward a more equitable distribution of cultural infrastructures?

  • Where do a set of arguments in confronting inequality under the referent of ‘cultural democracy’ sit with regards to wider struggles for social and economic justice?
  • Are notions of cultural democracy and equality in cultural provision at all able to counter some of the negative tendencies outlined here?
  • To what extents are research practices, within and outwith academic institutions, able to intersect with policy?
  • To what extent can these practices open-up a critique of an unqualified, overly celebratory literature on creativity and regeneration (Belfiore, 2009; Merli, 2002), which constructs so-as-to exploit the ‘moral prestige’ of the artist?
  • What kinds of methodologies, positionalities and processes are required to engage critically in these policies and politics?

With this call for papers we are seeking contributions to two sessions:
(a) a paper session, centred around 20 mins papers; and
(b) a collaborative facilitated workshop, based on short impulse papers (5 mins) or poster presentations. Please indicate in your submission to which session you would like to contribute.

Session organisers:

Lisa Bradley, Variant editorial group, and University of Glasgow, Scotland
Leigh French, Variant editorial group, and Glasgow School of Art, Scotland
Gesa Helms, Variant editorial group, and University of Glasgow

If you are interested in participating in this session, please submit an abstract via the conference website between November 1 2012 through January 31 2013.

Please feel free to ask Lisa Bradley, Leigh French, and Gesa Helms any questions related to this session, at <[email protected]>.

We also intend a dedicated themed supplement within Variant magazine (funding pending) based on the session papers.



Hans Abbing, Why are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts. Amsterdam University Press, 2007
Clive Barnett, Culture and Democracy: Media, Space and Representation. Edinburgh University Press, 2003
Eleonora Belfiore, 'On bullshit in cultural policy practice and research', International Journal of Cultural Policy, Volume 15, Issue 3, August 2009
Nicholas Garnham, 'From Cultural to Creative Industries : An analysis of the implications of the “creative industries” approach to arts and media policy making in the United Kingdom', International Journal of Cultural Policy, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2005
David Harvey, ‘From managerialism to entrepreneurialism: The transformation of urban governance in late capitalism’, Geografiska Annaler 71B, 1989, pp3-17
David Harvey, 'The Art of Rent: Globalisation, Monopoly and the Commodification of Culture', in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (eds) A World of Contradictions: Socialist Register 2002 (November 2001)
Michael Herzfeld, Cultural intimacy: social poetics in the nation-state. New York: Routledge, 1997
David Hesmondhalgh, Sarah Baker, '"A Very Complicated Version of Freedom": Conditions and Experiences of Creative Labour in Three Cultural Industries', Poetics: Journal of Empirical Research on Culture, the Media and the Arts, vol.38 (1), February 2010, pp4-20
Henri Lefebvre, Le droit la ville. Paris: Anthopos, 1968
Paola Merli, 'Evaluating the social impact of participation in arts activities: A critical review of François Matarasso's Use or Ornament?', International Journal of Cultural Policy, 2002 Vol. 8 (1), pp107-118
Don Mitchell, The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space. Guilford Press, 2003
Marita Muukkonen, 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place : The Possibilities for Contemporary Art Institutions to Function as Critical Political Spaces', paper, Public Preparation, Translocal Express, Tallinn, Estonia, 2007
Jamie Peck, 'The creativity fix', Fronesis 24, 2007
Neil Smith, 'Homeless/global: scaling places'. In: Bird J. (ed.), Mapping the futures: local cultures global change. New York: Routledge, 1993.
Erik Swyngedouw, 'Post-Democratic Cities For Whom and for What?', paper, Regional Studies Association Annual Conference, Budapest, 2010

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