Transformation in Cultural Industries

Candace Jones, Patricia H. Thornton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

The cultural industries consist of those organizations that design, produce, and distribute products that appeal to aesthetic or expressive tastes more than to the utilitarian aspects of customer needs such as films, books, building designs, fashion, and music (Peterson & Berger, 1975, 1996; Hirsch, 1972, 2000; Lampel, Lant, & Shamsie, 2000). Less widely acknowledged, but as critical, cultural industries also create products that serve important symbolic functions such as capturing, refracting, and legitimating societal knowledge and values. For example, educational publishers influence what concepts and theories are promoted to students by the books they publish. Architects shape the sensibilities of interactions at work, home, and play by their choice of technologies, space design, and material resources. Music producers discover and promote vocal artists whose lyrics shape our understandings of age, gender, and ethnicity. Because of the societal impact of these symbolic functions, cultural industries have continued to interest both popular writers and sociologists alike. However, to a large degree the cultural industries have been considered unique and out of the mainstream, not a subject for developing general theory, and therefore relatively understudied by scholars of organizations. We argue it is no longer the case that cultural industries are so unique - representing small markets and industries of little matter to research in the sociology of organizations. Cultural industries are now one of the fastest growing and most vital sectors in the US and global economies (United States Census Reports, 2000). This growth is fueled in a large part by the nature of the knowledge, creative, and symbolic assets of cultural industries. These assets are increasingly the key underlying drivers of innovation and competitiveness in both national and global economies (Florida, 2002). In this volume we attempt to recognize that the functions of the symbolic, creative, and knowledge-based assets of cultural industries are also characteristic of the professional services industries as well, for example as design services, advertising, and even the more mundane services of auditing. Design services, one of the fastest growing areas in the US economy (United States Census Reports, 2000), employs symbolic, knowledge and creative assets to create desirable products for clients and consumers. Brand and product marketing has shifted from its primary focus on price and location to aesthetics, identity, and image management (Schmitt & Simonson, 1997). Even audit practices involve not only knowledge of standard accounting procedures, but more importantly the creative interpretation of complex tax codes, and the creation of symbols of public confidence in corporate practices. Yet few scholars have explored how cultural, professional services, and other industries illuminate one other. While a large part of our research and knowledge in the field of sociology stems from the study of the decreasing returns industries based in the economic traditions of land, labor, financial capital, and the industrial corporation (Chandler, 1962; Arthur, 1996; Fligstein, 1990), the US Census data reveal that these industries in all likelihood will not be the key drivers of the economy in the future. Instead, increasingly, those industries driven by creative workers and the professions - with organizing principles based in knowledge and aesthetics - combined in novel ways with the institutional logics of the market and the corporation - will be the industries to shape the new views of organizations and our understandings of institutional and organizational change. To date, we have a few descriptive and conceptual pieces with initial explorations such as Hirsch's (1975) comparison of the record and pharmaceutical industries, Powell's (1990) discussion of the convergence of biotech, high tech, film, music, and book publishing as network organizations, and Jones, Hesterly, & Borgatti (1997) examination of similarities among semiconductors, auto manufacturing, airplane outsourcing, and film for the application of network governance. We believe that scholarly work, however, has not yet cultivated insights from these cross connections to help us to understand institutional and organizational change. Indeed, in this volume our journey into the realm of cultural industries produces insights that would not be revealed in a Chandlerian (Chandler, 1962,1977) or Fligsteinian (Fligstein, 1990, 1996) world of organizations. By examining the ways in which participants of cultural industries organize and accomplish their goals, our attention is focused on fresh sociological insights and new challenges in the study of organizations. Given these transformational changes, the manuscripts in this volume illustrate how the boundaries become blurred between cultural and other related industries that also rest upon the endeavors of creative workers. In particular, we see these blending processes in the chapters that examine cell phones, television critics, accounting, and architecture. These dynamic interactions in the commercial landscape between the cultural and professional service industries provide a richer context for the authors in this volume to examine changes in a specific market or industry, and also to advance more generally our knowledge of the latest theoretical and methodological tools sociologists have to offer in understanding the institutional transformation of organizations. We are delighted to present these studies to you. Djelic and Ainamo (2005) explore the transpositions in institutional logics from the realm of aesthetic fashion to that of high technology in the context of the market for the emergent technology of cell phones. One of their findings points to the need for scope conditions on one of the key umbrella concepts of contemporary organization theory. Djelic and Ainamo show that the distinction between technical and institutional environments (Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Scott & Meyer, 1983), may well be in the era of market capitalism - a more mercurial one. They show for example how the transposition of a fashion logic into the high technology market for cell phones is at the same time utilitarian and cultural, albeit a product designed and marketed to customer expression. Moreover, the agents or institutional entrepreneurs responsible for blurring the boundaries of the aesthetic and the utilitarian are not always rational actors and pioneers with unique inventions (DiMaggio, 1988). Institutional entrepreneurs do not start from scratch but piece together and recombine cultural elements available in society in ways that often involve creative discovery as well as happenstance (Thornton, 2004). Worth's innovation of the modular dress, where component dress parts - sleeves, skirts, bodices, cuffs, trims, what have you - were rearranged in a myriad of permutations to maximize the product differentiation of the white dress for imperial ball occasions, is the telling metaphor. We see, not only in the origins of fashion logics themselves, but also in the track record of cell phone start-ups the potential for this hybridization of fashion and technology logics with varying consequences for strategic success in the product market. Dowd, Liddle, and Blyler (2005) examine the interplay between production strategies and market concentration for the careers of creative workers. Market concentration has previously been found to limit the diversity of cultural products in the market (Mezias & Mezias, 2000). Dowd et al. assess how the product strategy of decentralization of musical performing acts mitigates the negative effects of concentration, with the effect of allowing for more diversity in cultural products as examined in a higher percentage of female acts. However, they also find that the density of female musical acts never exceeds more than 25% in contrast to their prior findings on African-American musical artists. Dowd et al. attribute this "glass ceiling" on female acts in the marketplace to the "inattention" of record label executives to female acts, reflecting society's gender bias. In short, although the consumer market may be receptive to increasing numbers of female acts, shown by the number of prior female acts that gained top song status on Billboards, there is a limit to this acceptance. This limit is demonstrated by the record companies not signing available female talent even though the success of prior women's acts should have paved a legitimizing path. Their important and timely research shows that unless production strategies are accompanied by a corollary change in societal level logics, change is unlikely to occur in cultural products available in the market. Bielby, Moloney, and Ngo (2005) point out that there has been little attention to the scholarly study of the aesthetics of popular culture. They address this gap in the literature by examining the television critic's role in an increasingly market driven world in which there are great pressures to evaluate television in terms of "what will," rather than "what should" the audience be watching. As in the case of architecture in this volume (Thornton, Jones, and Kury), the Bielby et al. research highlights a case in which critics are situated in environments with conflicting constituencies that requires mediating between the dual demands for aesthetic and commercial evaluation. Using multidimensional scaling to generate descriptive mappings of meaning structures (Mohr, 1998), they show that, over time and during significant industry transformation, television critics attended to a remarkably consistent set of core evaluative criteria directed to these dual constituencies. ...

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransformation in Cultural Industries
EditorsCandace Jones, Patricia Thornton
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Publication series

NameResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
ISSN (Print)0733-558X


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