The power of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences

Claire Malaika Tunnacliffe clairetunnacliffe@yahoo.frJuly 2016

Abstract. Urban street art is a powerful tool in reflecting the experience of the urban, provoking an engagement of urbanites with their environment, and in re-socialising public spaces. En- counters with urban street art within the everyday create social interstices, opening up ways of seeing and feeling the world differently; allowing for a creative feedback loop between artist, individual spectator and society. Through the lens of environ- mentally engaged urban street art, this working paper explores how this artistic and social movement reconnects the natural and social worlds within an increasingly urban existence. By disconnecting from the world around us, we have forgotten the natural and social entanglements that make up the fabric of the urban context, and in doing so we continue to create irreparable damages to the environment. With environmentally engaged urban street art disrupting the mainstream experience of the urban, the spectator is provided with an alternative vision of the world at play within the everyday setting. As a result, it is proposed that at the crossroads between urban street art and everyday life, the spectator evolves from a passive to an active participant in the contemporary make up of urban cities. By awakening new understandings and raising consciousness, environmentally engaged urban street art provokes a re-engagement of urbanites with the environment, acting as a catalyst for transformative social change.

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The Artistic Dividend: The Arts’ Hidden Contributions to Regional Development

Ann Markusen and David King


Artistic activity is often viewed as a discretionary ele- ment in a regional economy, rather like icing on a cake of industry, finance and basic services. The eco- nomic impact of the arts has generally been gauged by totaling up the amounts that patrons spend on performances and restau- rant meals, parking and shopping in districts around major the- atres, symphony halls and galleries. The occupation “artist” conjures up dual images of a few star painters, composers and photographers who land the prestigious grants and the many aspiring actors, dancers and writers waiting tables to underwrite creative time in attic rooms.

In this study, we show that this is an impoverished view of the arts and its role in the regional economy. It treats the arts as a con- sequence of, even a parasite on, a successful business economy. We show, on the contrary, that artistic activity is a major and varied contributor to economic vitality. We suggest that the productivity of and earnings in a regional economy rise as the incidence of artists within its boundaries increases, because artists’ creativity and specialized skills enhance the design, production and market- ing of products and services in other sectors. They also help firms recruit top-rate employees and generate income through direct exports of artistic work out of the region.

Using an occupational approach rather than a focus on major arts organizations and venues, we define artists broadly to include actors, directors, performance artists, dancers, choreographers, musicians, composers, authors, writers, painters, sculptors, and pho- tographers. We showcase several artistic careers that are highly entrepreneurial — where the artist is not starving, working menial jobs or waiting for the next grant, commission or role but actively seeking diverse markets and venues for their work. Many artists directly “export” their work to customers, firms and patrons else- where, enabling them to live in the region, to contract work from other individuals and to generate work for and prompt innovation among suppliers. Artistic networks, often enhanced by new spaces for working and gathering, are helping to spread entrepreneurial ideas and practices both within and outside the region.

Artists, like firms, have locational preferences and gravitate towards certain regional economies. We show that some metro- politan areas in the US host larger contingents of artists than oth- ers of similar size. We proxy the significance of the artistic divi- dend by the incidence of artists in a regional workforce. We find the pre-eminence of New York and Los Angeles as artistic poles softening as artists spread out toward selective “second tier” cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Albuquerque and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Artistic specialization is not a function of rapid growth — fast-growing Atlanta and Dallas/Ft Worth have below-average concentrations of artists, as do slower-growing Chicago, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

This “artistic dividend” is a product of long term commitments by philanthropists, patrons and the public sector to regional arts organizations, arts education and individual artists. It is enhanced by entrepreneurial activity among artists and fostered by (and contributes to) high urban quality of life. Through extensive interviews with artists in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul (MN) a region with relatively high artistic presence, we show the importance of amenities, quality of life and an active and nur- turing arts community in attracting and retaining artists. For the artists showcased, we document how they have built their careers, why they decided to live and work in the region, and the ways in which their careers have enhanced the success of other individu- als and businesses in the regional economy.

Artistic activity as a significant contributor to the regional econ- omy needs nurturing. In comparison to the very modest amounts they devote to the arts, state and local governments pour hundreds of millions of dollars into downtown revitalization, new plant attraction and even big box retail developments in the suburbs. Vis- à-vis the arts, large physical performing and visual arts spaces receive the lion’s share of public and patron support while the labor side of the equation is under-nourished. Our work suggests that artist-dedicated spaces such as older industrial buildings made into studios and new or renovated live/work spaces and occupation- dedicated gathering venues such as the Open Book in Minneapolis deserve public and patron support. Patrons and arts foundations should consider unconventional grants to arts occupational groups to help their members position themselves in larger national and international marketplaces, enhancing the export orientation of the artistic sector. Similarly, channels of connection between regional businesses and the artistic community could be enhanced to facili- tate contributions by artists to business product design, marketing and work environments. Finally, among artists themselves, we coun- sel more attention to and cooperation in entrepreneurial pursuits, including changes in attitude toward artistic careers.

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Social Structure

John L Martin and Monica Lee 

Social structure refers to patternings in social relations that have some sort of obduracy. Within this general definition, there are two primary families of more specific approaches. In the first, ‘structure’ may be used to refer on the macro level to the abstract organization of reciprocally defined social categories that are seen to comprise some social whole. In the second, the term can be used to refer to smaller scale ‘social structures,’ configurations of concrete relationships among individuals without reference to a notion of a larger societal totality. We organize our exposition accordingly. (We note that Porpora (1989) in addition gave as conceptions of social structure first, that of Anthony Giddens, which we treat here as an extreme form of the first understanding of structure, and second, relations between variables, but we have not seen any examples of people claiming this as a definition of structure, and we discuss this under the related heading of social systems below.)

Structure as Abstract Relations between Social Positions

Although all the approaches in this category link structure to some sort of organization of positions or types that anchor action, they differ as to the logic of the organization of the positions that may variously be taken to be social functions, roles, or classes.

Structure and Function

The idea of ‘social structure’ was first introduced by Herbert Spencer (e.g., 1896[1873]: pp. 56–60). At the time, the word ‘structure’ in biology referred to what we would now call ‘organs,’ sets of contiguous tissue that performed a specifiable function for the organism as a whole. Spencer argued that society had ‘social structures’ that carried out social functions.

Thus the root of the idea of social structure comes from the organismic metaphor applied to society. This metaphor is certainly an old one; in the Western tradition we often begin with Plato, who (we now say) suggested that the city might be understood as a ‘man writ large,’ and thus a convenient place for an anthropology. (In the Republic (II:368d) Plato argues that, given that those of us with imperfect vision have an easier time reading larger letters, we should find a place to study the nature of justice similarly writ large, and that is the city. From here, he uses our interdependence to derive the need for specific occupations, for specialization, and for trade (369–371).) Now indeed, Plato did suggest a mapping between characteristics of persons and those of the city. Most important, Plato made a distinction between (what might appear to us as) cognition, emotions, and instincts. Thus in the fourth book of the Republic (espec. x436), Plato had Socrates demonstrate that there are three parts of the soul that have different functions – that we “learn with one part of ourselves, feel anger with another, and with yet a third desire the pleasures of nutrition and generation.” (The physical organs to which these were taken to correspond were for many centuries taken to be the head, the heart, and the liver, organized in a vertical hierarchy.) So too, he argued, the city has three classes, each of whom must do its part. Some make things (or ‘make money,’ corresponding to the appetitive), some make rules (corre- sponding to the nous, the intellect), and some make war. These correspond to three qualities of the good city, which should be wise (the wisdom of the city is the wisdom of its counselors), brave (the bravery of the city is the bravery of its fighters), and sober (Republic, x428–434). Now despite his famous emphasis on our interdependence and even on the division of labor, Plato did not propose an organismic model of the state, and it seems that no such developed analogies arose in Europe until the mass of differentiable urban occupations were no longer associated with servile status.

With the rise of materialist views of human beings and of society, organismic metaphors were extended into more developed allegories: thus Hobbes (1943[1651]: pp. 8, 171, 183–188, 193f., 246–257) proposed correspondences in the body politic to nerves, blood and joints, and could liken its states of illness to pleurisy, Siamese triplets, and constipation. But despite his categorical rejection of metaphor, Hobbes’s use of the organismic language stemmed as much from his love of pursuing a simile as from his explanatory goals. (Thus not only is the distribution of goods analogous to nutrition, but these good ultimately come from either the land or the sea, ‘(the two breasts of our common Mother),’ adds Hobbes (1943[1651]: p. 189).) Certainly, Hobbes treated the organismic predicate as one of metaphor and not as one of identity (e.g., systems “may be compared . to the similar parts of man’s body” (emphasis added)), and alternated between it and others (the common- wealth as building, as Leviathan, or as ‘Mortall God’). 

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Framing Bias: Media in the Distribution of Power

Robert M. Entman

School of Media and Public Affairs, The George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052

This article proposes integrating the insights generated by framing, priming, and agenda-setting research through a systematic effort to conceptualize and understand their larger implications for political power and democracy. The organizing concept is bias, that curiously undertheorized staple of public discourse about the media. After showing how agenda setting, framing and priming fit together as tools of power, the article connects them to explicit definitions of news slant and the related but distinct phenomenon of bias. The article suggests improved measures of slant and bias. Properly defined and measured, slant and bias provide insight into how the media influence the distribution of power: who gets what, when, and how. Content analysis should be informed by explicit theory linking patterns of framing in the media text to predictable priming and agenda-setting effects on audiences. When unmoored by such underlying theory, measures and conclusions of media bias are suspect.


This article proposes integrating the insights generated by framing, priming, and agenda-setting research through a new, systematic effort to conceptualize and under- stand their implications for political power. The organizing concept is bias, that curiously undertheorized staple of public discourse about the media.

With all the heat and attention it incites among activists and ordinary citizens, bias is yet to be defined clearly, let alone received much serious empirical attention (Niven, 2002). The term seems to take on three major meanings. Sometimes, it is applied to news that purportedly distorts or falsifies reality (distortion bias), some- times to news that favors one side rather than providing equivalent treatment to both sides in a political conflict (content bias), and sometimes to the motivations and mindsets of journalists who allegedly produce the biased content (decision-making bias). This essay argues that we can make bias a robust, rigorous, theory-driven, and productive research concept by abandoning the first use while deploying new, more precisely delineated variants of the second and third.

Depending on specific research objectives, the distinctions among these three con- cepts can be crucial (Scheufele, 2000). The present article suggests that parsimonious

Corresponding author: Robert M. Entman; e-mail:

Journal of Communication 57 (2007) 163–173 a 2007 International Communication Association 163

Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916


Framing Bias R. M. Entman

integration can nonetheless serve at least two goals. First, systematically employing agenda setting, framing, and priming under the conceptual umbrella of bias would advance understanding of the media’s role in distributing power, revealing new dimensions and processes of critically political communication.1 Second, such a pro- ject would offer normative guidance for scholars, for journalists striving to construct more ‘‘fair and balanced’’ news, and for the many citizens and activists who feel victimized by biased media (cf. Eveland & Shah, 2003).

Most of the studies that do explicitly explore bias focus on presidential cam- paigns and administrations and find little evidence of decisive or consistent, liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican bias (D’Alessio & Allen, 2000; Niven, 2002; but cf. Jamieson & Waldman, 2002; Kuypers, 2002). Yet this conclusion sits uneasily alongside findings, not usually filed under ‘‘bias’’ scholarship, that reveal news consistently favoring one side. Examples of such apparent content bias include the media’s images of minorities (Entman & Rojecki, 2000; Kang, 2005) and their coverage of U.S. foreign policy (Entman, 2004). The consolidating question, then, is whether the agenda setting and framing content of texts and their priming effects on audiences fall into persistent, politically relevant patterns. Powerful players devote massive resources to advancing their interests precisely by imposing such patterns on mediated communications. To the extent we reveal and explain them, we illuminate the classic questions of politics: who gets what, when, and how (Lasswell, 1966)?

Reconsidering connections

Scholars can shed new light on bias by examining linkages among the three concepts that have received such intense scholarly scrutiny. We can define framing as the process of culling a few elements of perceived reality and assembling a narrative that highlights connections among them to promote a particular interpretation. Fully developed frames typically perform four functions: problem definition, causal anal- ysis, moral judgment, and remedy promotion (Entman, 1993, 2004). Framing works to shape and alter audience members’ interpretations and preferences through prim- ing. That is, frames introduce or raise the salience or apparent importance of certain ideas, activating schemas that encourage target audiences to think, feel, and decide in a particular way (see, e.g., Gross & D’Ambrosio, 2004; Iyengar & Simon, 1993; Kim, Scheufele, & Shanahan, 2002; Price, Tewksbury, & Powers, 1997).

The strategic framing contests that occupy the heart of the political process take place in the first instance over the agenda (Riker, 1986). Agenda setting can thus be seen as another name for successfully performing the first function of framing: defining problems worthy of public and government attention. Among other things, agenda problems can spotlight societal conditions, world events, or character traits of a candidate. The second or ‘‘attribute’’ level of agenda setting (McCombs & Ghanem, 2001) centrally involves three types of claims that happen to encompass the core business of strategic framing: to highlight the causes of problems, to encour- age moral judgments (and associated affective responses), and to promote favored

164 Journal of Communication 57 (2007) 163–173 a 2007 International Communication Association

R. M. Entman Framing Bias

policies. Priming, then, is a name for the goal, the intended effect, of strategic actors’ framing activities.2

The oft-quoted but misleading phrase that inaugurated the modern study of media effects is that: ‘‘the media may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about’’ (Cohen, 1963, p. 13, emphasis in original). Although the distinction between ‘‘what to think’’ and ‘‘what to think about’’ is not entirely clear, the former seems to mean what people decide, favor, or accept, whereas the latter refers to the consid- erations they ‘‘think about’’ in coming to such conclusions. The distinction misleads because, short of physical coercion, all influence over ‘‘what people think’’ derives from telling them ‘‘what to think about.’’ If the media really are stunningly successful in telling people what to think about, they must also exert significant influence over what they think. 

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Beyond the Head: The Practical Work of Curating Contemporary Art

Sophia Krzys Acord 

Abstract In contemporary art, the curator plays an important role in the production of artistic meaning through exhibition-making. Although sociology has tended to see this work as the exercise of tacit or embodied knowledge, curatorial knowledge and plans may be elaborated and altered by the situated actions of exhibition installation. While curators know a successful installation “when they see it,” this depends on the indexical particularities of artworks and environments which cannot be predicted in advance. In demonstrating the practical ways in which culture is mobilized in situations of object (inter) action, this paper emphasizes the “making” in artistic meaning-making.

Keywords Culturalsociology.Distributedcognition.Actor-networktheory. Object-interaction


Speaking at the outset of the 21st century, art critic David Sylvester suggested that the most important people in the cultural world are not artists but curators, “the true brokers of the art world” (Millard 2001, p. 118). Curators have risen to prominence in the contemporary art world because of the increased importance of mediating between institutional bureaucracy, market forces, artistic representation, and public taste. In particular, the crux of curatorial practice in contemporary art is the construction of artistic meaning through the exhibition. As Greenberg et al. (1996, p. 2) describe, “Part spectacle, part socio-historical event, part structuring device, exhibitions—especially exhibitions of contemporary art—establish and administer the cultural meanings of art.” Yet, little is known about how curators go about creating these meanings in the physical process of exhibition installation.

S. K. Acord (*)
Center for Studies in Higher Education, University of California, Berkeley, 771 Evans Hall #4650, Berkeley, CA 94720-4650, USA


448 Qual Sociol (2010) 33:447–467


As a form of artistic mediation, curatorial work is traditionally seen by sociology as tacitly structured by “conventions,” “internalized dialogues,” and artistic “codes.” Particularly in contemporary art, this expertise is developed through a curator’s widespread familiarity with the international art world (Moulin and Quemin 1993; Octobre 1999). A curator’s knowledge about how to present contemporary artworks to the public is generally assumed to be part and parcel of their knowledge of the artwork (Tobelem 2005). This reduction of curatorial work to the exercise of tacit knowledge, however, overlooks the role played by artistic objects in their own mediation, and in doing so, fails to provide a documented, explanatory model of how culture enters into action. If something goes without saying because it came without saying, how, when, and where can it finally be said?

In order to look in depth at the practical and material dimensions of curatorial meaning- making in action, this article draws on comparative video-based, microethnographic studies of the exhibition-making process at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts and ARC/ Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris, supplemented by visual interviews with 34 other elite curators of contemporary art. This paper also draws on useful theoretical concepts in human-object interaction, distributed cognition, the sociology of affordances, actor-network theory, and learning to illuminate the extra-verbal dimensions of curatorial work. In particular, by examining how curators build successful installations through their physical orientations to artworks, this study demonstrates the reflexive and process-oriented ways in which tacit knowledge, aesthetic codes, and meaningful conventions are born, communi- cated, and mobilized in situations of (inter)action. In doing so, it argues for a more dynamic understanding of curatorial mediation, and the central import of object-oriented qualitative research to the sociological study of culture and action.

Dawn of the curator of contemporary art

The curatorial profession became standardized in the nineteenth century, hand in hand with the advent of the modern museum. As Bourdieu (1993 [1987], p. 204) explains, among an array of “specialized agents” (e.g., curators, critics, art historians, dealers, collectors) who shaped the economy of cultural goods, curators became crucial actors “capable of imposing a specific measure of the value of the artist and his products.” The combining of artworks by different artists to give selective readings on art and on the history of art is one of the fundamental principles that has underwritten curatorial practice since the mid-19th century. As traditional art curators overwhelmingly hold advanced degrees in art history, they generally mount exhibitions that are scholarly in nature (Alexander 1996; DiMaggio 1991; Zolberg 1981). This scholarly nature is reflected in the art historical nature of museum display, where exhibitions generally display artworks in a linear fashion within an overall historical perspective.

The 1960s and 1970s, however, witnessed the emergence of a new breed of curators in the burgeoning contemporary art world, including Harald Szeemann, Pontus Hulten, Lars Nittv, and others. Rather than base their approach to exhibition-making in art historical conventions, these curators engaged in critical curatorial practice, experimenting with the very nature of the exhibition format. In other words, the avant-garde movement among artists was met by an avant-garde movement in curating. This new breed of curator, akin to a stage producer or orchestra conductor, became sought out by institutions, often those dedicated to contemporary art but others as well, for their wide personal networks, effective


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social abilities, expertise on a particular subject, and powerful visions, rather than an advanced degree in art history.

Key here to the new museum curator’s role is the planning of temporary “ahistorical” exhibitions (Meijers 1996), often arranged thematically or contextually (Staniszewski 1998), in which the curator plays a role not unlike “author” of the exhibition (Heinich and Pollak 1989a). The exhibition is a way to validate the originality of the curator’s point of view, his or her aptitude for discovering new talents, and the artworks themselves by exhibiting them in a dialogue with each other to an initiated public (Octobre 1999). In contrast to the taxonomical or art historical approach to exhibiting traditional art, the exhibition process in modern and contemporary art is integral to the meaning of the art work (cf. Caillet et al. 2002; Ducret et al. 1990).

Significantly, the exhibition of contemporary art communicates the object by contributing another layer of meaning or interpretation to the artist’s original intention (Davallon 1999), which may be hazy to begin with. Practicing artists and performers have long recognized that artistic creation is an experimental and emergent process, involving input from traditions and intentionality as well as physical objects and spaces (Elkins 1999; Becker et al. 2006; Jarvis 2007). In contrast, as I will now examine in the following literature review, sociology has tended to see artistic mediation as distinct from the creative process, based on theories and guidelines rather than situated knowledge production.

Literature review

In their review of work in the sociological study of culture, Wuthnow and Witten (1988) describe two distinct views of culture as an “explicit” social construction and an “implicit” feature of social life. While the sociology of the arts continues to be driven in the main by the “explicit” conceptualization of culture as a recorded product or symbolic good, the specific study of the mediating activities surrounding explicit cultural forms is a window onto broader sociological conceptions of implicit culture (Acord and DeNora 2008). As demonstrated in this brief literature review, the study of knowledge production by mediators in art worlds (i.e., what informs curators’ decision-making) sheds light on how culture operates in general (i.e., to inform general patterns of individual and social meaning-making).

In the dominant “production of culture” approach in the sociology of the arts (cf. Peterson and Anand 2004), meaning-making is seen to be an outcome of institutional structure or the values held by particular actors. The artistic value of an artwork resides not in its material properties, but in the individuals, institutions, and processes that mediate between artist and spectator (cf. Crane 1987; Heinich 1998; Moulin 1967, 1992; White and White 1965; Wolff 1981). These different groups have a highly interrelated existence; for example, museums buy what galleries promote, and critics justify their value.

As Bourdieu (1985, p. 728) describes, the position of a mediator in this social space— what he terms the “field of cultural production”—plays an important, structuring role by suggesting the cognitive “‘filling-in’ strategies” by which he or she makes meaning. Using the example of a manuscript submission to a publisher, Bourdieu (1993 [1976], p. 134–135) observes how the publisher explains his choice to accept the manuscript with an absolute kind of “flair,” what Bourdieu describes as the “ultimate and often indefinable principle” behind his choice. This indefinable principle is explained by the fact that both parties have


450 Qual Sociol (2010) 33:447–467


what Lamont (2009) terms a “shared sense of craftsmanship,” which led the author to prepare his text based on what he perceived the publisher would want to read. In his “Outline of a Sociological Theory of Art Perception,” Bourdieu explains how such tacit “codes” play a central role in artistic knowledge:

An act of deciphering unrecognized as such, immediate and adequate “comprehen- sion,” is possible and effective only in the special case in which the cultural code which makes the act of deciphering possible is immediately and completely mastered by the observer (in the form of cultivated ability or inclination) and merges with the cultural code which has rendered the work perceived possible. (Bourdieu 1993 [1968], p. 215)

Artistic meaning-making, then, is the reference to and propagation of cultural codes, as linked to the mediator’s position (and strategic position-takings) in the cultural field. It is exercised through the mediator’s habitus, the set of “objective” dispositions he has by virtue of his place in the social order (Bourdieu 1979). As Bourdieu (1972, p. 79) notes, “It is because subjects do not, strictly speaking, know what they are doing that what they do has more meaning than they know.” The power of the habitus as a reproducer of cultural codes (in the explicit cultural sense of the codes by which one encounters art) comes from its tacit mastery (implicitly acting through the habitus). 

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