Proboscis have commissioned me to do some research into the eBooks and how they have been used in the past by all sorts of different people and organisations. As part of the research, I created an eBook of my own – the eBook Observer – to help me conduct the interviews. I’ve already had the chance to interview a few people and will be posting profiles of cases in the coming weeks.
I’ll also be posting some of my ideas about my ongoing research on eBooks and the other resources available on Bookleteer. My personal interest on the subject of the eBooks began to take shape while conducting some research on a previous Proboscis project called Snout (read Measure Once, Cut Twice here) . It got me wondering about how people who work in cultural organisations create and disseminate information about their work. This is a particularly interesting challenge because, for the most part, the production, distribution and dissemination of information by and about arts organisations has taken-on negative connotations.
For example, there is a growing (and entirely credible) perception that publicly funded arts and creative organisations in the UK and elsewhere are facing pressure from government stakeholders and other funding bodies to “instrumentalise” and “deliver value for money” rather than focus on the work of making art. In an article entitled Auditing Culture (2004) Eleonora Belfiore claims that arts organisations “have found themselves forced to turn to the “rationalised rituals of inspection”” as the result of a “legitimacy void caused by the the erosion of cultural authority that followed the diffusion of theories of cultural relativism” (Belfirore 2004: 195). In other words, arts organisations have had to get better at generating reams of information that articulate and justify organisational aims and objectives that are consistent with the aims and objectives of stakeholders while also delivering on their promises to “be more inclusive” or “encourage audience participation”.
But the problem with this view is that this information is only generated for the benefit of funding bodies and without any meaningful ties to the actual work being done within these arts organisations. I would prefer to think about this kind of work as information practices rather than as “measuring impact” or as “providing evidence”. Once we move past framing this work within the intentions articulated by policy or funding bodies, it is possible to understand the creation and circulation of information as a practice; what Leah Lievrouw calls informing-as-praxis. That is: examining how the work of producing, distributing and interpreting information as practices in themselves are embedded within particular social, political and cultural environments and developed as part of these artists’ creative work rather than simply as an obligation to funding sources or a board of directors. I’m not arguing that the pressures that Belfiore and others have identified don’t exist, rather that these pressures are part of a more complex picture of cultural and creative practices.
The eBooks and how they are designed and used by Proboscis and their collaborators represent an interesting opportunity to take a closer look at how informing-as-praxis takes place between cultural and creative organisations. I’d be interested to hear anyone’s reactions to this approach and would love to any recommendations of authors you think might be relevant.