Cultural Value and the Digital: Practice, Policy and Theory

This collaborative and interdisciplinary research project between Tate, the Royal College of Art and London South Bank University is based upon the recognition that most contemporary professional practice, policy-formation and understandings of cultural value remains resolutely analogue. This is despite the profound transformation in how knowledge and contemporary culture is being produced and experienced due to the fundamental changes in human communication that digital technologies and network cultures are creating. Prevailing accounts and concepts of cultural value are for the most part based upon representational systems and forms, which were originally developed in relationship to analogue technologies. While our social, political and cultural value systems remain tied to representational forms through which society and the individual are constructed and identified, network culture is defined by new non-representational forms of distributed communication and exchange of value in which both the social and the human are being reconstituted.

The key problem addressed by this project is that despite substantial amounts of research analysing the impact of digital technology and the rise of network culture, the findings have yet to easily translate into the professional practices of new media, nor the policy field of new media and cultural value. We speculate that the reason for this is rooted in the separation of the practical spheres of theory, practice and policy, which itself is historically based upon representational systems of knowledge. This project seeks to develop new understandings of network culture required to develop new modes of knowledge production, which are closer to and connected with the new conditions of network culture.

The proposed project aims to address the problem of both the limits of representational thinking and the separation of its modes of knowledge production in relation to analogue and digital cultures by a practice-led enquiry. The project will experiment with dialogic and interdisciplinary modelling of new knowledge by bringing together practitioners, theorists and policy-makers who are interconnected through existing institutional practices and partnerships.

In collaboration with Tate, where various strands of work in these areas are already underway, the project adopts a situated approach to engage with Tate’s own networked practices as a means of tracing value in network relations and producing a dialogic response from the network. It will focus upon Tate’s digital projects and research initiatives across Tate Media, Tate Learning, Tate Collections and Tate Communications to examine its modes of digital access and co-production.

The research will culminate in a three-week public research programme that will bring Tate staff engaged with Tate’s digital projects and practices into dialogue with UK and European co-producers and users, along with leading digital culture theoreticians, policy-makers, funders and managers to investigate and record their responses and engagements with a structured series of research questions generated in advance by the project’s research analysis of the disjunctures between practice, policy and theory, which restrict a new modelling of cultural value in network culture today. All of the public research programme will be recorded and uploaded to Tate’s website, ensuring public access to the sessions along with the project’s report and final research findings.

Project Information

Project type
Research project
Project team
Dr Victoria Walsh, Royal College of Art – Principal Investigator
Dr Emily Pringle, Tate – Co-investigator
Professor Andrew Dewdney, London South Bank University – Co-investigator
Ioanna Zouli, Royal College of Art/Tate/LSBU – Project Research Assistant
Helen Griffiths, Tate – Project Assistant