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Studying Digital Creative Industries in India: Initial Questions

This brief overview of the discourse around creative industries is an attempt to explore some ways of identifying what could be digital creative industries in India, and the questions they raise and problematize for us in terms of cultural expression, knowledge production, creativity and labour. The term ‘creative industries’ has been around for a while now, but with the advent of the digital, and with interest from different sectors, especially with a focus on policy and economic development, it would be essential to critically examine the discourse around the term, and see where it may be changing to open up new possibilities, particularly for the arts, humanities and design.

 

Introduction

The term ‘creative industries’ has been popular for more than two decades now, and continues to remain an important sector for research and development, as indicated by several shifts in policy and public discourse in the last few years. A significant move has been the foregrounding of creativity and knowledge as important resources for economic growth and social well–being. The term has a connection with the older and more specific term ‘cultural industries’, with its origins in the Frankfurt School [1] of theory, but has developed as part of a larger discourse around the creative economy/knowledge economy. First used in Australia in 1994 as part of a report titled Creative Nation [2], it became more widely recognized in the following years with the setting up of the Creative Industries Task Force by the United Kingdom’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport in 1997.The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) [3] was perhaps the most prominent global effort in recognizing and taking steps towards fostering the growth of creativity and cultural production as part of sustainable development.

Following this there have been several other initiatives across the world, most noticeably in the Anglo-American context, that have built upon this framework to ease and facilitate cross-cultural flows and diversity in the circulation of information, labour and goods. Increasingly, the attempt now is to understand the relevance of these efforts in the digital age, where several advancements in technology and the ubiquitous presence of the internet continue to determine the creation, circulation and consumption of cultural commodities. This blog post is an attempt to outline some initial thoughts on what could be the possibilities of studying ‘digital’ creative industries in India. The digital is an inherent aspect of much cultural and creative expression today, given the steady transition from analogue to digital and the increased presence of internet in almost every domain. What would constitute creative digital industries in the present moment, how do they determine the larger course of cultural production, and pose new questions for labour, commodities, creativity and technology more broadly are some of the questions explored here.

According to the UN Creative Economy Report 2010 [4] the creative industries:

  • are the cycles of creation, production and distribution of goods and services that use creativity and intellectual capital as primary inputs;
  • constitute a set of knowledge-based activities, focused on but not limited to arts, potentially generating revenues from trade and intellectual property rights;
  • comprise tangible products and intangible intellectual or artistic services with creative content, economic value and market objectives;
  • stand at the crossroads of the artisan, services and industrial sectors; and
  • constitute a new dynamic sector in world trade.

As the report mentions, these are ‘evolving’ concepts and definitions, and just the number of areas that can come within the purview of the creative industries has increased greatly in the last decade. The report classifies creative industries under four different models as illustrated here:

Classification of creative industries.
Source: UN Creative Economy Report 2010.

 

Creative Industries in India

In India, there has been a keen interest in the potential of creativity as a resource, although creative industries may not be a popularly used term. From a policy perspective it is largely in terms of opportunities for economic growth, and more recently the potential for innovation and entrepreneurship, as seen in the Niti Aayog report presented in 2015 [5], which says that:

the committee proposes using digital platforms to encourage innovation, reforming the educational system to encourage creativity and upskilling workers to make them more employable, improving the ease of doing business, and strengthening intellectual property rights. Finally, the committee also proposes a number of measures to change cultural biases and attitudes towards entrepreneurship in the long-term, including attaching entrepreneurship to large scale economic and social programs, promoting new high-potential sectors via the government’s “Make in India” campaign, fostering a culture of coordination and collaboration, attempting to redefine cultural notions of success, and tying entrepreneurship with the social inclusion agenda.

The report therefore reflects an interest in harnessing creativity or creative labour as a significant factor in fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, and in some sense also expanding the scope of such entrepreneurship by tying it with social inclusion and encouraging collaboration. What this also has implications then is for educational reform, capacity-building and upskilling for increased employability and better livelihoods, something that requires a systemic and focused effort spread over time. The report also explicitly speaks of strengthening an existing intellectual property regime, which also has been a rather dominant framework for the creative industries discourse from a policy perspective. While there is a need to focus on growth and innovation, a perceived objective of IP, the easy conflation of the two is problematic. Further, the role of IPR in fostering innovation and socio-economic development, as reflected in the draft National IPR policy (2014) [6] is contentious, as responses to the draft have pointed out [7]. It would also be imperative to understand better the ‘cultural notions of success’ and how these would also impact the creative industries discourse in India.

As part of a large research initiative titled Culture: Industries and Diversity in Asia (CIDASIA) [8] spread over two years, the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society Bangalore worked on some of the pertinent questions that emerged out of the creative industries discourse in India and the sub-continent. In a report produced as part of this initiative creative industries are described as:

[T]he vast sector that has emerged with the arrival of modern technologies (emphasis as in the original) and forms of mass reproduction since the colonial period. This sector has now become an important site of intervention for both governments such as in UK, Australia and India and international agencies such as the United Nations.

Further, about the programme the report says:

The initiative attempts to assess the viability of international and government policies for cultural and creative industries and thus lay the groundwork for a hitherto unprecedented intervention of philanthropic organizations in the domain. We specifically focus on culture industries through the node of ‘livelihoods’ that we see as inextricably tied to this sector.

The importance of the question of livelihood to the growth in culture industries remains even today, as they are a source of employment for a vast section of society, mostly in rural areas, and often fall into what is called the unorganized sector. Low capital investment and the disputable legality of many of these industries however, make this connection a complicated one, as pointed out by the CIDASIA research. The study critiqued existing models of creative and cultural industries which emphasized copyright and intellectual property rights (IPR) as safeguards of livelihood and identity, a rather contentious connection given the presence of a large underground economy based on creative labour, which is also often migrant in nature. Other initiatives in the programme included a consultation to rethink the existing debates around cultural policy and diversity, with a focus on the rights of marginalized people, rights in the domain of mass culture, copyright and IPR. Diminishing spaces for cultural or political-artistic performances, and the role of creative cities in fostering such spaces was another area of concern.

There were several learnings from these initiatives about the nature of creative industries (audio-visual media including film and television), the conflation and overlap with culture industries (including craft and legacy industries) and the complex relationship between the two, and how the latter benefits from the first. The question of livelihoods, particularly those of non-citizens, or the migrant is an important one, for it highlights the cultural visibility of these industries, and more importantly establishes the presence of an underground economy that produces goods of high economic value, using cheap labour. Policy reforms, especially with respect to IPR and any regulation of these industries would need to take into account these features. The convergence of difference forms of cultural production with the growth of new media technologies, in particular is a pertinent question. Along with growing concerns around piracy, growth of new kinds of content, exclusivity and distribution become important factors here. The availability of capital and technology, and a growing global presence has also changed dramatically the nature of several creative industries, such as media, entertainment and advertising, but also brought with it challenges of finding creative and sustainable business models [9]. The problem of cultural impenetrability, or the difficulty of certain commodities to find a market in certain countries was also brought up as part of a study on the Korean wave in India. The translation of cultural worth into economic value, here studied through an examination of the cinema as cultural object, produced interesting observations in addressing the commodification of these objects and understanding the problem of value in this context [10]. The role of technology in the growth of the creative industries was an inherent aspect of all these studies, with factors such as context, conditions and quality of access, and the need to understand the problem of the 'last mile' as a conceptual and cultural problem, rather than a technological one, being emphasized in these findings [11].

 

Creative Labour?

The importance of the question of livelihood to the growth in culture industries remains even today, as they are a source of employment for a vast section of society, mostly in rural areas, and often fall into what is called the unorganized sector. Low capital investment and the disputable legality of many of these industries however, make this connection a complicated one, as pointed out by the CIDASIA research. The study also critiqued existing models of creative and cultural industries which emphasized copyright and intellectual property rights (IPR) as safeguards of livelihood and identity, a rather contentious connection given the presence of a large underground economy based on creative labour, which is also often migrant in nature. Other initiatives in the programme included a consultation to rethink the existing debates around cultural policy and diversity, with a focus on the rights of marginalized people, rights in the domain of mass culture, copyright and IPR. Diminishing spaces for cultural or political-artistic performances, and the role of creative cities in fostering such spaces was another area of concern.

In the last decade alone, the internet and digital technologies have grown at an exponential pace in India. Creative industries have been driven greatly by advancements in technology, and the role of the digital here then becomes an important aspect of the discourse, in terms of either a space, object or context. The term itself has drawn different kinds of criticism, beginning with the juxtaposition of creativity and industry, or the ‘economisation of culture’, as another product of contemporary capitalism, a critique that stems from the Frankfurt School. The problems are several, as outlined here by Andrew Ross [12]:

It may be too early to predict the ultimate fate of the paradigm. But sceptics have already prepared the way for its demise:: it will not generate jobs; it is a recipe for magnifying patterns of class polarisation; its function as a cover for the corporate intellectual property (IP) grab will become all too apparent; its urban development focus will price out the very creatives on whose labour it depends; its reliance on self-promoting rhetoric runs far in advance of its proven impact; its cookie-cutter approach to economic development does violence to regional specificity; its adoption of an instrumental value of creativity will cheapen the true worth of artistic creation.2 Still others are inclined simply to see the new policy rubric as ‘old wine in new bottles’ – a glib production of spin-happy New Labourites, hot for naked marketization but mindful of the need for socially acceptable dress. For those who take a longer, more orthodox Marxist view, the turn toward creative industries is surely a further symptom of an accumulation regime at the end of its effective rule, spent as a productive force, awash in financial speculation, and obsessed with imagery, rhetoric and display.

Similar concerns may be highlighted in the Indian context as well, where the employability of many in creative fields of work, which often fall under the informal or unorganized sector, has always been fraught with uncertainty. The access to cultural and social capital also defines the discourse in a certain manner, as largely urban-centric and focused around a particular class. Education, training and capacity-building efforts in creative fields, and access to these are an important factor that requires further exploration. As reflected in the discussions above, the prevalent imagination of cultural and creative industries still focusses on IPR and socio-economic development of certain sectors of the knowledge economy, therefore making invisible other kinds of labour. The appropriation of the term itself to focus on innovation in certain sectors, at the cost of others, and streamlining and regulation of these in some way would be another aspect of concern. More importantly, the definition of creativity, as beyond skilling for certain kinds of work also needs to be emphasized in these discussions.

 

Key Questions

Whether these are still pertinent criticisms now is a question, and more importantly, what would be new ways to frame the creative industries debate today would be a relevant starting point of engagement. The following are some questions that could be useful in mapping the creative industries discourse and how it could be thought about today, post the digital turn:

  1. What are digital creative industries? Is it possible to identify a smaller subset of industries that would come within the purview of this term, or is it another entry point into the creative industries discourse in India, where the digital is all pervasive? What are new kinds of creative industries that are heavily and/or purely reliant on the internet and digital technologies?

  2. Does the digital add a new perspective/dimension to how we theorise the notion of creative labour, because of the manner in which it affects, or determines creative expressions in the present, on the internet and more broadly in the digital? More importantly, do we need to critically think about a definition of creativity itself, today within the digital context? How do we then understand questions of precarity in working conditions, innovation and entrepreneurship in this space?

  3. Who is the creative subject? Is it possible to understand such a subject outside of the very Eurocentric discourse around creativity and ‘creation’, which paints the creator as hegemonic in some sense? Another new way to reframe the livelihoods question is to understand the creative worker/knowledge worker, and how to think of these distinctions. What are the new ways to understand this debate?

  4. The discourse around creative industries has largely been framed within the context of the intellectual property rights, and as a method to ensure the stability of the IPR regime. Given the changes, and many nuances to the IPR debates in the last few years, and the growth of the Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) movement, it would be useful to understand the growth of creative digital industries in this context.

  5. What does this tell us about a growing digital economy in India? Creative industries would raise interesting questions about the fostering of a digital economy in India, and the many ways in which it determines cultural production in the rest of the world.

 

Endnotes

[1] Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, 'The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,' 1944. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/adorno/1944/culture-industry.htm.

[2] See: http://apo.org.au/resource/creative-nation-commonwealth-cultural-policy-october-1994.

[3] See: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=31038&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html.

[4] See: http://unctad.org/en/Docs/ditctab20103_en.pdf.

[5] See: http://niti.gov.in/mgov_file/report%20of%20the%20expert%20committee.pdf.

[6] See: http://dipp.nic.in/English/Schemes/Intellectual_Property_Rights/IPR_Policy_24December2014.pdf.

[7] For more on this see: 'Comments on the First Draft Of The National IPR Policy' submitted by the Centre for Internet and Society, 2015 http://cis-india.org/a2k/blogs/cis-comments_first-draft-of-national-ipr-stategy.pdf, and 'SpicyIP Tidbit: New IPR Policy in 2 months' by Balaji Subramanian, SpicyIP, October 2015, http://spicyip.com/2015/10/spicyip-tidbit-new-ipr-policy-in-2-months.html.

[8] See: http://cscs.res.in/irps/cidasia-1.

[9] S. Ananth, 'Business of Culture in India,' 2008. http://cscs.res.in/dataarchive/textfiles/textfile.2009-12-18.9970782136.

[10]'When The Host Arrived: A Report on the Problems and Prospects for the Exchange of Popular Cultural Commodities with India,' 2008. http://cscs.res.in/dataarchive/textfiles/textfile.2009-07-17.9853066637/file.

[11]Ashish Rajadhyaksha, 'The Last Cultural Mile' (Bangalore: Centre for Internet and Society, 2011) http://cis-india.org/raw/histories-of-the-internet/blogs/the-last-cultural-mile/the-last-cultural-mile-blog-old.

[12] Andrew Ross, 'Nice Work of You Can get it: The Mercurial Career of Creative Industries Policy,' in MyCreativity Reader. Eds. Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2007).

 

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Puthiya Purayil Sneha

Sneha is a Programme Manager at CIS, and co-leads the [email protected] programme. She is engaged in a mapping of the emergent field of Digital Humanities in India, and is also interested in questions on the nature of textuality, reading, and writing practices in the digital sphere. She can be reached at sneha[at]cis-india[dot]org.