Art Term

Social turn

Social turn was first used in 2006 to describe the recent return to socially engaged art that is collaborative, often participatory and involves people as the medium or material of the work

Jeremy Deller The Battle of Orgreave 2001 still frame
Image courtesy of Tenantspin and FACT

The term was coined by the art historian Claire Bishop in her 2006 essay The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents. Art that operates under the umbrella of social turn tends to happen outside museums or galleries, although this it not always the case. Because much of the art is collaborative and focuses on constructive social change, it is rarely commercial or object based – two things that are seen as elitist and consumerist.

Often when discussing social turn the filmmaker, writer and founder of situationism Guy Debord is alluded to for his promotion of a participatory art in which he wished to eliminate the spectator’s position.

An example of social turn would be Tennantspin 1999, an art work by Superflex in which they devised an internet TV station for the elderly residents of a Liverpool housing project.

Related glossary terms

Socially engaged practice