Production of Culture Research Paper

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I. Introduction

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II. Law and Regulation

III. Technology

IV. Industry Structure

V. Organizational Structure

VI. Careers

VII. Market

VIII. Summary

I. Introduction

First articulated in the 1970s, the production of culture (POC) perspective focuses on the ways in which human beings organize the production of expressive symbols (e.g., art, literature, music, video) and how that organization of production affects the nature and content of what is produced. For example, the requirements of capitalist industrial organizational arrangements may produce symbols quite different from those in a pre-industrial society. Likewise, within the same society, the social arrangements surrounding the production of visual art may work in the same manner as those of book publishing and music production or differently. And changes in production processes and arrangements over time will affect content as well.

This emergence of the POC perspective took place in a sociological world in which culture, particularly culture as carried in expressive symbols, was not the center of attention. Beginning in the late 1930s, the dominance of the Chicago School, with its “process” model of cultural interpretation, was under attack from those concerned with social structure (Matthews 1989). By the 1970s, structural approaches had seized the mainstream, in part because of their quantitative measurement potential. However, as Matthews (1989) points out, symbolic interactionism and labeling theory were there too. At the same time, the “critique of mass culture,” which had focused on expressive symbols, if only to celebrate high culture over “mass” (or “brutal”) culture (Jacobs 1959), was having its last gasp in the face of more relativistic approaches (Gans 1999; Mukerji 1979) and the 1960s’ radical attack on traditional institutions.

Also by the 1970s, the U.S. version of media effects research, with its search for specific effects from specific messages, had largely come up empty (Peterson 1979). And within sociology, much of the analysis of the content of symbolic culture was labeled as the study of “popular culture” and often denigrated. If the sociology of deviance was pejoratively labeled as being about “nuts and sluts,” studies of popular culture often seemed to fall into the “images of aliens in popular films of the 1950s” ilk.

In this context, the sociology of culture was being done but had moved to the margins. As outlined by Peterson in his seminal piece “Revitalizing the Culture Concept” (Peterson 1979), four major perspectives on culture coexisted within the field: “Culture Mirrors Society”; “Homo Pictor” (expressive symbols are critical to creating and recreating society); “Manipulated Code” (cultural symbols serve to maintain or change the power structure); and “the Production of Culture.” A common thread running through three of these perspectives was an explicit focus on expressive symbols, whether it be their creation, manipulation, or reception. However, in the United States, by far the most dominant of these was a “culture mirrors society” formulation that was part of both the structural-functionalist perspective and Marxist approaches.

For structural functionalists, culture was mainly about norms and values specifying role performance (Hall and Neitz 1993). In this context, the structure of roles and statuses that make up society is the focus, and culture is relatively less problematic. In other words, the important aspects of culture manifest themselves in social structure. For Marxists, culture was epiphenomenal and therefore less of a focus than what is going on in the base of society.

By the late 1980s, sociologists were expressing surprised delight over the resurgence of culture within the discipline (Wuthnow and Witten 1988). This resurgence can be credited in large part to work in the POC perspective and its articulation in 1976 in a special issue of the American Behavioral Scientist, edited by Richard A. Peterson. This edited volume was then republished as part of the Sage Contemporary Social Issues Series (Peterson 1976). A special issue of the journal Social Research on the production of culture, edited by Lewis Coser, followed in 1978. However, in contrast to Peterson, who framed the production framework as an emerging and exciting body of research showing how the context and processes of production affect content, Coser’s vision was more limited. In his “Editor’s Introduction” (Coser 1978), he sees the value of the production perspective as being in its ability to shed light on the high culture/popular culture distinction, a distinction that was, in fact, already becoming a nonissue for sociologists. Thus, it was Peterson’s vision, that culture could be brought back in through what was essentially an organizational sociology mode of inquiry, that “stuck.”

Although it had been written a decade earlier, one of the early works that could be claimed by promoters of the perspective as illustrative of its power was Harrison and Cynthia White’s Canvases and Careers: Institutional Change in the French Painting World (White and White 1965). This remarkable book, while it annoyed art historians with its lack of attention to aesthetic valuation (Haskell 1965), showed the usefulness of the production perspective for offering alternative explanations to the accepted canons of explanation for artistic movements. In this work, the Whites show how the rise of French Impressionism was influenced as much by the collapse of the French Academy as by “natural” changes in aesthetic logic at the hand of artistic genius. By examining the construction of artistic careers within the context of organizational processes of the day, the Whites provided a template for future POC research.

However, the greatest promise of the POC perspective was in its linking to a larger body of theory and research on complex organizations, occupations and careers, and industrial sociology. Early works by Paul Hirsch, including his 1969 book, The Structure of the Popular Music Industry: The Filtering Process by which Records Are Preselected for Public Consumption (Hirsch 1969), his 1972 American Journal of Sociology piece, “Processing Fads and Fashions” (Hirsch 1972), and articles in The Nation (Hirsch 1970) and the American Behavioral Scientist (Hirsch 1971) were also key in developing this link. Hirsch examined the popular music industry while linking to the organizational work of Charles Perrow (1967) and, in particular, the organizational-set analysis of James Thompson (Thompson 1967). Likewise, Peterson and Berger’s 1971 Administrative Science Quarterly piece, “Entrepreneurship in Organizations: Evidence from the Popular Music Industry” (Peterson and Berger 1971), contributed directly to the then emerging organizational environment perspective. However, while much of the POC literature deals with industries, organizations, and occupations, ultimately relatively few were to explicitly build on the potential of these early studies to link to the larger literature (some exceptions include Anand and Peterson 2000; DiMaggio 1991; Dowd 2004; Peterson and Berger 1971, 1996; Powell 1988; Ryan 1985).

So sure was Peterson of the ability of the POC perspective to “mainstream” culture in sociology that he argued (Peterson 1979) that there was no need for a “sociology of culture” subdiscipline, a subdiscipline that is now well-established within the field. Nevertheless, Peterson was able to articulate a coherent framework for analyzing culture production. Initially called contingencies (Peterson 1979), the earliest formulation was one of rewards, evaluation, organizational dynamics, market structure, and technology. Later (Peterson 1985), these became six constraints: law, technology, industry structure, organizational structure, market, and occupational careers. While recognizing the reciprocal and often simultaneous influences of these factors in the production process, Peterson offered the constraints as a convenient analytical framework for separating out the various factors. It is along the lines of these factors in the production of symbolic cultural products that the remainder of this research paper is organized.

In the following paragraphs are some classic and more contemporary illustrations of each of the constraints in operation. These examples are drawn almost exclusively from the United States. Cross-cultural comparisons are underdeveloped in the field and beyond the scope of this article. As noted in the foregoing, while each constraint is analytically distinct, in practice the constraints form an interlocking system in which change in one constraint affects one or more of the others. Thus it will become apparent that some examples placed in one section could just as easily be placed in one or more of the others.

II. Law and Regulation

Symbol production systems that are formally organized into industries are situated in a larger milieu of law and regulation. From censorship laws, to conceptions of freedom of the press, to regulations regarding media ownership, the law is an important constraint on the production of expressive symbols. What is produced, who is allowed to produce it, and under what circumstances, are all influenced by law and regulation. Sometimes the legal/ regulatory system does so directly by censoring content. But, more often, it does so indirectly. To cite just a few examples, the law influences the POC in the following ways: (1) through the outright banning of certain products or, more commonly, through mandating rating systems, and warning labels that can lead producers to alter their products to achieve a particular rating for access to a particular audience; (2) by creating and implementing tax laws that affect where producers physically locate, and what is held or not held in inventory; (3) by creating and implementing regulations regarding ownership that affect levels of competition and, therefore, producing organizations’ strategies for creators and consumers; and (4) through the use of copyright law that acts as a mechanism for turning creative works into private property. Copyright law is of particular interest within the POC perspective because of its close ties to changes in technology. Copyright law became important when technology made it possible to easily reproduce symbolic cultural products, and new interpretations of copyright are negotiated in response to changes in technology.

Because copyright law is the mechanism for transforming symbolic expressions into private property, it is the foundation on which our for-profit mass media industries are built. Without copyright law, it would be less possible to make a profit from books, television programs, music recordings, and movies. Copyright law is central to the POC because the fate of entire industries can hang on its interpretation.

When copyrighted works are copied without permission, the costs can be enormous. But the consequences of new technologies of reproduction are often difficult to see. For example, in an earlier era, Sony’s Betamax video recorder was attacked by Universal Studios and the Walt Disney Corporation as a violation of copyright law. Both sides saw controlling the technology as crucial to their success (Luckenbill 1995). In a case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court, Sony won, and Universal and Disney “lost.” However, by losing, they later found themselves enjoying a multibillion dollar revenue stream in the home viewing market (Epstein 2006).

Not only does copyright law affect who can make a living and how he or she makes it within culture production, what is created, that is, the creative content, can be affected as well. A classic study showing the importance of copyright law in shaping the content of cultural products is Griswold (1991). Her study is worth discussing in some detail here because it so nicely illustrates that seemingly mundane and technical changes in production milieus can have significant effects on content. Griswold begins with the observation that literary critics have long noted the difference in style and content of nineteenth-century British and American novels. The British novels tended to focus more on love, marriage, and middle-class domestic life, while the American novels focused more on a rugged male protagonist combating nature, the supernatural, or organized society. Humanistic analyses typically located these differences in American and British national character. However, Griswold points to copyright as the catalyst for change.

Prior to 1891, the U.S. copyright law did not protect foreign authors. Because American publishers were not required to pay royalties to foreign authors, it was more profitable for them to publish books by these foreign authors. To compete, American authors had to provide publishers with a product different from that of their English counterparts. Through content analysis, Griswold shows that, beginning in 1891, when the United States signed the international copyright agreement giving protection to foreign authors, the themes begin to converge. American novels now had themes similar to those of the British authors. The logic was that, because of the new agreement mandating payment to foreign authors, American publishers lost their incentive to promote foreign authors over native authors. American authors, in turn, lost their incentive to remain in niche markets.

Digital sampling provides a contemporary example of the relationship between copyright law and content. Sampling, the direct quoting of recordings of previous works in a new composition, has been made progressively easier and more accurate by the advance of sound reproduction technologies. For example, early electronic music composers in the 1940s used the new medium of tape recording to splice together bits of prerecorded tape into new compositions. The samples were often “looped” in such a way that they played for a continuous period. This same analog technique was used with success by the Beatles in some of their recordings (Martin 1979).

Digital sampling first appeared on the scene in the late 1970s, and, in subsequent years, technology made sampling progressively easier and less expensive while allowing the making of an exact duplicate of a recording. This technology helped drive forward the creative use of previously recorded works, especially in rap music. However, various court interpretations of copyright law have placed considerable burdens on sampling and have created an industry centered on the “clearing” of samples through licensing and collecting royalties for copyright holders (Krasilovsky and Shemel 2003).

Sampling was dealt a particularly serious blow when, in 2004, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in the case of Bridgeport Music and others versus Dimension Films essentially mandated a license for all samples, no matter how small (Keyboard, Online Edition 2005). The cost of using an unlicensed sample is significant. Well before the Bridgeport case, rapper Vanilla Ice lost all his royalties for his hit song “Ice Ice Baby” when courts ruled that his sampling of the bass line and melody of the Queen/David Bowie recording “Under Pressure” constituted copyright infringement. At the same time, the costs for using a sample legally are not inconsequential. At the time of writing this, the cost of a license to use the material can be as low as $250 and as high as $10,000 and may even entail giving up a percentage of future royalties.

As a practical matter, only sampling that obviously “quotes” other works is vulnerable since more minor samples are difficult to detect. But restrictions on this type of quoting are significant. In fact, some of the most creative work in rap has involved quoting. For example, Public Enemy’s 1988 release, “It Takes a Nation of Millions,” combines hundreds of quotes into a new and critically acclaimed creative product. However, in the late 1980s copyright holders began to demand royalties for the use of such samples. As Public Enemy member Chuck D puts it, “Public Enemy was affected because it is too expensive to defend against a claim. So we had to change our whole style, the style of ‘It Takes a Nation’ and ‘Fear of a Black Planet,’ by 1991” (McLeod 2004).

In another example of the impact of copyright on culture production, in 2003, DJ Danger Mouse layered vocals from rapper Jay-Z’s “Black Album” on top of the rhythms and chords from the Beatles’s “White Album,” releasing 3,000 copies. “The Grey Album” quickly became an underground hit, and MTV called it a “cultural landmark” (MTV 2004). However, EMI Records, owners of the copyright for “White Album,” sent a “cease and desist” letter to DJ Danger Mouse, as well as to Web sites and record stores that were making the recording available. This resulted in an Internet protest known as “Grey Tuesday” in which copies of the album were made available for free download on more than 100 sites while other Web sites were turned gray for a day.

The point is that creative works are situated in what Schumacher (1995) terms “the politics of authorship” (p. 263), and one of the arenas where these politics are played out is copyright law. Not surprisingly, organizations spend considerable resources attempting to influence these definitions in such a way as to protect and enhance capital (Leyshon et al. 2005). And the larger point is that the creators and creative industries exist in a legal milieu that both constrains and enables creativity.

III. Technology

As the previous section suggests, issues of law in culture production are closely intertwined with innovations in technology. From the artist’s brush to the musician’s instrument to the computer mouse and software, the “tools of the trade” affect the creative process.

Peterson and Ryan (2003) trace the impact of technology in music production and consumption from the advent of music notation in the eleventh century to the invention and mass production of the piano in the nineteenth century, through the early recording and radio industries, and into the digital age. The impact of the phonograph record on music nicely illustrates the interaction of technology with market, another of the six constraints, and their combined impact on symbolic culture.

One of the effects was due to the fact that, to exploit the economic potential of the new phonograph technology, merchandisers attempted to market recorded music to discreet demographic groups. In the process, relatively clear lines replaced what had once been blurred lines between genres (see also Ennis 1992). Other effects noted by Peterson and Ryan included more rapid changes in musical genres as new innovations were disseminated more rapidly and widely, greater musical cross-fertilization among musicians, new tastes among a public exposed to a greater variety of music than ever before, and the creation of new ways of making a living for musicians and business entrepreneurs.

Technology also affected the social arrangements for making music. Early difficulties in amplifying sound in such a way that it could be adequately recorded had privileged some instruments and singing voices over others. The introduction, in the 1920s, of the electrical microphone solved these problems and allowed new creative possibilities. However, this technology also created new problems (Read and Welch 1976; Ryan and Hughes 2006).

For example, the new technology allowed softer singing styles and softer instruments to be heard. Unfortunately, the new microphones were also adept at picking up unwanted noise from the environment, necessitating the building of dedicated recording studios. Because of this need for control of extraneous noise, dedicated sound-recording studios became critically important sites in music production. Not only did they contain the necessary recording technology, in time many became known for their own particular sound characteristics and links to local music cultures. However, new technologies in the form of home studio recording and networked “virtual” studios have lessened their impact (Theberge 2004).

Other examples of the importance of technology in the creation process abound. The introduction of tape recording after World War II, and then the introduction of the everincreasingly sophisticated multitrack recorder in the 1960s and 1970s helped to turn the recording process itself into an art form (Ryan and Hughes 2006; Ryan and Peterson 1993). In literature production, the personal computer and word processor have greatly enhanced opportunities for self-production, in motion pictures the compact video camera has had a similar effect, as has the digital camera in photography, and in visual art the personal computer and graphics software have opened the door to new creative forms. And all these media now use the Internet as a form of distribution. This latter phenomenon points to the fact that technology is more than a creative tool. As we shall see in the following sections, technological change often drives changes in both industry and organizational structure.

IV. Industry Structure

Industry structure refers to the number and size of firms competing in a particular organizational production field (DiMaggio and Powell 1983). For example, one could look at the number of book publishers operating nationally or the number of competing retail bookstores operating in a given locality. A particular concern of those working in the POC perspective has been the effect of industry structure on creativity and innovation. This question has become increasingly important as symbol-creating industries have worked to take advantage of technological change through mergers seeking to maximize “convergence” and vertical and horizontal integration. In this context, a key question, examined across a number of cultural fields, is the relationship between competition and diversity. For example, considerable attention has been paid in the literature to what are considered to be negative effects of large media organization mergers that reduce the number of players in any particular production field. There has been particular concern about the negative effects of oligopolies on television and newspaper news divisions (see, e.g., Bagdikian 2004; Gans 1999; Hoynes 2001; Law, Harvey, and Kemp 2002). However, in a contrary view, Gamson and Latteier (2004) argue that mergers don’t necessarily harm diversity, and Rossman (2004) found that censorship of a controversial country music recording group came more from independent stations than from large chains. New developments, such as the proliferation of Internet “blogs” or diaries, suggest for some a future in which news may bypass the large media news divisions altogether.

In a seminal study that tested theories from the literature on the economics of innovation, Peterson and Berger (1975) examined the relationship between the number of firms in the music industry over time, and innovation. They found that when fewer firms controlled the market, they tended to be more conservative and less innovative. This is because, to some degree, they perceived that they had a “lock” on the market for a particular product for which there was sufficient demand. However, this conservative strategy gradually alienated portions of the market for popular music until a level of available audience was reached that provided incentive for new, smaller firms to move in and innovate musically and with new artists, attempting to capture that market. Eventually, the larger firms would respond with innovations of their own, buy up the smaller firms, and return the industry to a condition of oligopoly. Peterson and Berger were able to show this cycle repeating itself through time in the music industry.

This provocative piece has led to several replications, including Lopes (1992), Peterson and Berger’s (1996) own replication, and Dowd (2004). In the latter study, Dowd shows how organizational structure, specifically centralized production versus decentralized production, mediates the relationship between industry structure and innovation.

Using time-series analysis, Dowd shows that a high concentration of firms reduces the number of new performers This centralized production characterized the industry when Peterson and Berger carried out their original study. However, when production is decentralized into semi-autonomous divisions, represented by semi-independent “labels” in the recording industry, the negative relationship between concentration and innovation is weakened or eliminated. At the time of writing this, only four firms dominate music production, signifying a strong oligoplistic system. However, a strategy of outsourcing elements of production to subsidiary labels and independent suppliers creates an effect mimicking inter-firm competition. Thus, it is not only the organizational topography of the industry that is important for culture production. The internal structuring of organizations is important as well.

V. Organizational Structure

As noted previously, much of the creative work of symbolic culture production takes place in the context of for-profit or nonprofit complex organizations. Culture-producing organizations face some particular problems that affect their form and way of doing business. Chief among these is what Perrow (1967) terms the “unanalyzability” or inability to rationalize the creative aspects of production that characterizes expressive symbol production. As a result, culture-producing organizations tend toward an “organic form,” often seen in skilled trades and craft production. This is a form where creative personnel must be loosely supervised so that they are given room to create, but, at the same time, they must be closely managed enough to meet organizational requirements for usable products. In culture-producing organizations a typical solution to this challenge is to employ “boundary spanning personnel,” editors, directors, producers, music publishers, artists and repertoire personnel, art dealers, talent agents, and so on, who can mediate between the organization and the artist (Ryan and Wentworth 1998). Thus, a major theme for those working in the POC perspective is how creative work is organized in various fields as well as how the internal structures and cultures of producing organizations affect what is produced.

Focusing on production in the country music industry, Ryan and Peterson (1982) show how, using an organic “job-shop” structure (Peterson and Ryan 1983) made up of mostly temporary alliances, work is organized into a “decision chain” linking creative inputs, distributors, and consumers. The system is designed to weed out what is, from those responsible for marketing and distributing output, an inevitable oversupply of creative raw material.

Oversupply is a key ingredient in most culture production because there is so little knowledge about which products will be successful, and yet, innovation is necessary because many cultural products have a comparatively short “shelf life.” Rather than producers having a firm and consistent view of audience taste, the main effort at each stage of production was centered on what Ryan and Peterson (1982) term a “product image.” The product image refers to conceptions of what characteristics a product must have to be acceptable to decision makers at the next stage in the process.

The exact nature of organizational logics and structures can vary across cultural fields and across genres within the same field. So, for example, country music-producing organizations have evolved some relatively stable sets of practices and organization (Peterson and White 1979, 1981), while rap music has resisted such rationalization. Negus (1998, 1999) has shown how the fluid affiliations among rap performers, as well as the creative use of the appropriation of the work of others through sampling noted previously, have strained the organizational logics of ownership that dominate major music companies.

In an example of the relationship between technology and organization, and following in the tradition of Tuchman’s (1978) fieldwork in news organization fieldwork in the 1970s, Klinenberg (2005) shows how the convergence of Internet technology with traditional forms of news gathering has altered the news. He examines the impact of four trends on news production: (1) the transformation of what were formally privately held news companies into publicly held companies; (2) the hiring of professional news managers tasked to increase efficiency; (3) significant investments in digital technology; and (4) increased horizontal integration among various media (movies, books, television networks) within the larger organization. One outcome of these organizational innovations has been a thinning of news staffs and an increased use of freelance personnel. These changes in the use of personnel have resulted from synergies created by the mergers. For example, in situations where it is possible for personnel to produce news content for multiple outlets (a process known as convergence), this has reduced the number of reporters needed.

Within this new constellation of personnel, Klinenberg shows how news-gathering routines have been altered in a number of important ways. For example, the time available for producing and gathering the news has been shortened as technologically enabled 24-hour news outlets voraciously consume new material. Convergence has led to increased emphasis on graphics that can be used across multiple media, while reporters have to learn to work across media. Time constraints for reporters have resulted in a reduction in the number of investigative stories and a corresponding increased use of online sources. And, finally, demands to deliver particular markets to advertisers have led to a decline in foreign news, and “localized” versions of newspapers.

In the same way, Epstein (2006) shows how the mega mergers have affected motion pictures. Here too, the pursuit of convergence means that products are shaped by the fact that money is made in many more ways than just bringing audiences to theaters. Where once the pursuit of ticket sales drove the creative process, now it is the pursuit of video games, fast-food tie-ins, soundtrack sales, themepark rides, and DVD and video sales that are significant.

VI. Careers

Research in the POC perspective has shown that the ways careers are made and sustained in a production field is another key component within the production process. The norms for constructing careers affects the roles available in the process, who is recruited into those roles, the type of training that is received, the rewards available, the creative routines followed, and so on. For example, Ryan and Hughes (2006) discuss how the advent of sound-recording technology created the roles of the recording engineer and music producer. Often combined into one role in the beginning days of recording, the early aesthetic was to reproduce as accurately as possible the live performance of musicians. However, new technologies, in particular multitrack recording, helped elevate the role of the producer and altered aesthetic norms in such a way as to make the recording something more than live performance. However, as Ryan and Hughes show, affordable digital recording technology, coupled with the Internet, has made it increasingly possible for musicians to self-produce their work and, in the process, bypass the professional producer and the traditional decision chain. Ryan and Hughes argue that the traditional creator/editor relationship, which some argue is necessary for producing great art, has been altered for many, perhaps to the detriment of at least some creators.

Another characteristic of culture production related to careers is that, in most instances, there is the requirement that there be known authorship—in other words, the value of the cultural product to the producing organization often resides in the reputation of its author. This is because the identity of the author essentially constitutes a sort of “brand” to the consumer. Consumers are not likely to get excited about “the new release from Sony,” but they may indeed be excited by a new release by a particular artist (Ryan and Wentworth 1998). At the same time, since audience response to innovation is relatively unanalyzable, the “track record” becomes the key ingredient in occupational access: Since neither the producing organization nor the audience have a good sense of what will capture the audience’s imagination, both tend to rely on those who have been successful in the past (Bielby and Bielby 1994).

The importance of authorship varies across cultural fields, and the nature of some collaborations means that true authorship is sometimes obscured. For example, motion pictures are the result of complex collaborations among producers, scriptwriters, cinematographers, sound engineers, actors, and directors. However, authorship is often assigned to the director (Allen and Lincoln 2004) for reasons of marketability and occupational norms. Similarly, in the music industry, it is often true that music recordings reflect the expertise of the producer as much as that of the recording artists. But, again, in most instances it is the artist’s name that serves as the brand for the product. Only in rare instances, for example in the case of a George Martin or a Phil Spector, does the producer receive anything akin to author credit except from true aficionados or industry insiders (Ryan and Hughes 2006).

Notions of authorship in POC careers are closely tied with issues of authenticity. Peterson (1997) has shown how the meaning of authenticity has been renegotiated in country music over the years. The sound of the recording is important, but so are the credentials of the performer. Where once being southern, uneducated, and rural were important to making it as a country artist, now simply alluding to such images is an essential mark of authenticity. Similar struggles for authenticity have been studied among Chicago blues musicians (Grazian 2004), jazz musicians (Lopes 1999), and, in what is perhaps the most contested area of authenticity negotiation, rap music (Harrison 2003).

Each field of culture production has norms for “breaking in.” For example, Peterson and Ryan (1983) describe how, to break into country music songwriting, new writers are expected to coauthor songs with established writers, even when the latter contribute little more than their names to the composition. And race, gender, and age all matter in the construction of careers in culture production. For example, in rap, reggae, blues, and country music, race and socioeconomic origins are crucial factors in constructing authenticity. Lincoln and Allen (2004) have shown that gender and age constitute a sort of “double jeopardy” in film acting, with negative effects of being female and older on both the number and prominence of roles received. Similar negative effects of being nonwhite, female, and older have been found among film and television scriptwriters (Bielby and Bielby 1993, 1996, 2002).

Research in the POC perspective shows that the construction of occupational careers in culture-producing organizations is built on balancing the need for innovation with the organizational requirements of predictable supply and form. The research also shows that technology plays an important part in mass media occupations. Technology has eliminated some occupations, created others, and substantially changed still others. And the key point is that as culture production occupations change, so too do cultural products.

VII. Market

Thus far we have seen how, operating in a field of law and regulation, cultural industries engage in symbol-creation activities relying on such strategies as focusing on the track record of creators, employing boundary-spanning personnel as creative managers, and forming fluid project teams in an attempt to produce an orderly supply of properly formatted creative products. It is at this point that the audience enters the process. When patterns of culture consumption are examined, producing organizations like to say that they are simply “giving the audience what it wants.” This turns out to be not exactly true. Research in the POC has shown that producers construct a particular image of audience characteristics. In cultural industries, these beliefs are based on such factors as market or audience research, experience, and plain old “gut feelings” (Bielby and Bielby 1994; Gitlin 2000). This constructed image highlights some preferences and plays down others based on organization interests. It is this constructed image that the POC literature refers to as market, and the view is that markets are much more than economic entities.

One of the key insights of the POC perspective is that these constructions of market, or what producer’s “know” about their audience, are often faulty. For example, in 1984 the television networks ABC and CBS “knew” that sitcoms no longer appealed to audiences and that white Americans would not be interested in viewing a program about an upper middle-class black family. The show was turned down by both networks before being picked up by NBC (Gold 1985). Eventually titled “The Cosby Show,” it went on to move NBC from last place to first place in the ratings, capturing a large white audience. Culture industry lore is full of examples of such spectacular miscalculations of audience preferences. For example, in 1965, Columbia Records “knew” that Bob Dylan’s six-minute-long recording “Like a Rolling Stone” was not suitable for release. The song became a major hit and has been lauded as one of the greatest rock recordings of all time (Marcus 2005).

However, at other times, intuitive notions of market pay off. Crewe (2003) shows how a small group of editors at men’s magazines successfully developed and promoted magazines aimed at what they believed to be “the new lad,” conceived of as a sort of role-playing stance between traditional and modern masculinity. This conception of the new lad was not based on market research but rather the personal experiences and intuitions of these few editors.

Even where industry personnel rely on more rigorous quantitative methods to uncover audience preferences, their vision is often obscured. For example, the Nielsen ratings are used to determine the fate of television programs costing millions to produce, as well as to make decisions affecting billions of dollars in advertising placements. However, the methodology and results have widely been criticized as faulty, producing a distorted picture of viewing habits (Milavsky 1992). Similarly, motion picture producers often rely on biased samples and poorly designed focus groups to make key decisions about their releases (Epstein 2006; Ryan and Wentworth 1998).

Anand and Peterson (2000) show how changes in market research methodology can have profound impacts on a cultural field. They tell of how, in 1958, the music industry trade magazine Billboard was able to define itself as the most important and objective source of music popularity data. For the next 30 years this data, in the form of the weekly Billboard Charts, was used to make decisions about the performance of organizational units and artists, and as a measure of audience taste. However, in the late 1980s, new bar code and scanning technology made it possible to change the methodology from self-reports from a sampling of music stores to “point of sale” data compiled electronically from each cash register transaction. Billboard, aligning itself with the Soundscan company (now Nielsen Soundscan), which had exclusive rights to the data, began publishing these point of sale rankings. The effects were dramatic. The new data showed that country music was much more popular than previously thought; the charts were more volatile, with albums moving on and off more quickly; and it was learned that consumer interest in new products developed more quickly than thought. The new technology also led to a decline in the power of independent labels and created a new measure for success within the industry, absolute sales versus relative chart position. Thus producers’ notions about their market were substantially altered by new sources of data.

It is not only the constructions of market by producers that are important within the POC. In for-profit media, content is often used primarily as a lure to bring desired audiences to advertisers. Where producers are dependent either directly or indirectly on advertisers for funding, they must align their image of market with those of the advertiser. In this way, not all audience members are equal. In television, advertisers are generally seeking adults aged 18–49 but may specialize in some of the following ways: women aged 18–49, women aged 25–54, and adults aged 25–54 (Littleton 2005). In this context, when producers say there is “no market” for a program, they may be talking about absolute numbers, or they may be referring to an audience with particular demographic characteristics. For example, in 2005, CBS cancelled a series, Joan of Arcadia, both because its audience of 8 million viewers was “too small” and because that audience was “too old,” with a median age of 53.9 years (James 2005).

Digital technology has allowed new types of audience construction (Turow 2005). Where once advertisers focused on “tonnage” (the sheer size of the audience), there was a gradual move to audience segmentation-based “target-marketing” based on demographic characteristics, and lifestyle constructions. The increasing carrying capacity of satellite, cable, and Internet media systems has allowed the creation of specialized cultural products targeted at ever-narrowing slices of audience. At the same time, devices such as digital video recording and pop-up filters allow consumers to avoid advertisements and have initiated a new focus among marketers on what Turow (2005) calls “customer relationship management” (p. 113). Here marketers trade special services to customers in exchange for more intense and highly individualized surveillance of customer preferences. At the same time, Turow shows that service providers such as, Google, and Yahoo are increasingly creating content in the hopes of creating virtual “walled gardens” within which consumers will conduct most of their consuming activities.

VIII. Summary

The POC perspective was a key factor in bringing culture back to the mainstream in sociology. Its focus on the production side of the production/consumption relationship allowed direct links to the established subdisciplines of organizational and industrial sociology, and the focus on structural constraints on creativity fit well with the prevailing perspective of the day. The key insight of the perspective was that in modern societies there is no simple correspondence between culture and society, thus undermining the classical “culture mirrors society” formulation. By showing how the daily practices of culture production are embedded in and shaped by a larger milieu of law, regulation, industry structure, organizational structure, technological change, and markets and careers, the POC perspective showed that to simply focus on culture consumption was to get a distorted view of society.

There are clear policy implications form such a perspective, while they are rarely drawn out. A common defense of the entertainment industry against the charges of reformers is that they are “simply giving the public what it wants.” The POC perspective shows that this is only partially true. Consumers are indeed ordering from a menu of cultural fare, but that menu is limited to items that serve the needs of the various contingencies of the production process. There are few opportunities for the audience to select from items not on the menu. The POC also has much to contribute to arts policy. The research clearly shows the important effects that copyright law, regulation, and technology have on artists’ careers and on the creative process.

Of course, there are weaknesses as well. While it was the link to research and theories in organizations and work that provided the greatest promise, relatively few studies actually make this link. Thus, many studies will discuss the behavior of culture-producing organizations but not compare this behavior with research and theory relating to organizations in general. Future research needs to do a better job of making this link. Not only do most studies in the POC tradition not link explicitly to the larger organizational literature, they often do not explicitly define themselves as POC. Rather, it is often left for POC researchers to collect studies focusing on one or more of the six constraints and provide the perspective as context. Most important, what remains to be done is to draw some general principles of the operation of production factors across culture production fields. Only then will the perspective do a better job of predicting, rather than just explaining, the effects of the production process on creative symbols.


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