Adam Arvidsson – Creative Class or Administrative Class. On Advertising and the Underground.

(forthcoming in Ephemera, 1/2007- download Arvidsson.finaleditmarch07-1)


The interconnections between the advertising industry and the underground have been institutionalized to such an extent that advertising professionals, although they often identify as members of the ‘creative class’, often concede that real creative production tends to unfold elsewhere. As one event bureau professional told me:

There are, like, these two groups, on the one hand the ‘correctly creative’; the people that go to the right places, Barcelona, New York, Paris, and have the right bike, and the right glasses and live on the Islands Brygge or Vesterbro [Copenhagen neighborhoods in the process of gentrification] and dress in a certain way. They choose a role where they can confirm each other. Then there are the ‘true creatives’, like strange people: maybe they study at the university or make music, or underground theater, and they’re just born with it, and they’re crude and not well adapted, and they think untraditionally and alternatively, and these strange people are the ones that advertising agencies really want to get in touch with.


At the same time, the ‘underground’ has changed as well. It has become less political, more individualized and competitive, and more open to cooperate with the creative industries and with business in general. In this respect the Copenhagen underground scene has gone through changes similar to those described by Muggleton & Weinzeirl (2003) and McRobbie (2002) in the case of Britain, only about five years later. As in the UK, the transformation of the Copenhagen underground was linked to the establishment of the electronic music scene as the centre of underground culture. Electronic music accomplished two things: first, it expanded the size of the underground scene. With new technologies, PCs and music editing software, the capacity to engage in independent music production expanded to involve the kinds of people that did not embrace the political and existential ethos of an earlier generation of underground artists. In short, “the nerds now got involved as well”. Second, as the electronic music scene expanded outside the cultural and spatial boundaries of the older political underground, it came to create its own events. This involved using new venues and connecting to other emerging scenes, like video art, fashion and design, which further expanded the size and scope of underground culture. It also tended to introduce an entrepreneurial logic into independent cultural production. DJs and party organizers began to see themselves as cultural entrepreneurs, putting together music, artists and venues to create an event, marketing it to get the right kind of audience and charging money at the door to cover costs. In short, they invested time and money in order to cash in on respect (more than on money).

If underground cultural production in the 1980s had moved within ideologically coherent communities with strong internal solidarities and clear boundaries that set them off from the rest of the city (the Autonomen/Punk scene with its occupied buildings and frequent clashes with the police), it now began to look more like an ethical economy (with an emphasis on ‘economy’) marked instead by open-ended networks (Wittel, 1999). Cultural producers perceived themselves as enterprising individuals who invested their time and money and put their reputation at stake in producing events that might increase their credibility and standing within the peer group. This entrepreneurial turn tended to open up the underground to the creative industries and the rest of the city. First, because event producers now accepted and actively sought out sponsorships to help cover costs and to increase the attraction of their event by providing things like free beer. Second, because the frequency of these events led to the opening of a number of clubs which transformed the (former) underground into an important part of the urban nightlife scene, with the result that independent ‘underground’ cultural producers and creative industry employees began to frequent the same environments and ‘network’ with each other with greater ease than before.



Indeed network entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future. On the one hand there is a continuing interest on the part of business to sponsor underground artists: “That’s how I see the future of the underground, that we can be used to speak for those who make a lot of money, because there is no money in selling records any more.” On the other hand, new information and communication technologies (like file sharing) that permit new ways of distributing and circulating music have enabled new forms of cooperation that in turn generate new forms of life. These can be successfully marketed to business:

So we won’t be unemployed just because music has become more openly accessible. It only means that people form new groups, with new things in common. And these become even harder to find and grasp for people on the outside. This makes it even more difficult for businesses to stay in touch.

To summarize: at least in case of the event bureaus, the ‘underground’ has become an integrated element to the economy of the culture industries. Underground artists and advertising professionals mutually utilize each other. For the underground artists, sponsorship provides resources to be mobilized in the drive to maximize one’s standing and respect. To the advertising professionals, the underground produces the authentic forms of life that have become increasingly valuable in contemporary viral or event marketing strategies. The cultural industry appropriates the creativity of the underground by hooking into its networks. The network entrepreneurs play a crucial part here. By means of their position at the top of the hierarchy of the underground they are endowed with the kinds of contacts, sub-cultural capital, respect and the general biopolitical capacity that enable them to recruit and mobilize desired forms of life and to guarantee their quality. The people who are recruited by network entrepreneurs, like DJs and artists, in turn make use of their networks, either to mobilize an attractive crowd of friends and acquaintances, or to develop their own artistic capital in terms of skills and up-to-date-ness. At yet a lower level there is the ‘deep underground’ where innovations are made that will slowly trickle upwards. All of these levels are also connected laterally to other environments and milieus (Berlin, New York, Barcelona), chiefly, but not exclusively through ICTs. It is as if the event bureau plants a root (or maybe a rhizome) in the productive multitude that dissipates almost ad infinitum, and allows it to establish a value stream.

Hannah Arendt om arbete, tillverkning och handlande

[…three fundamental human activities: Labor, Work, and Action]

Med vita activa avser jag tre fundamentala mänskliga verksamheter: arbete, tillverkning och handlande. De är fundamentala eftersom var och en av dem svarar mot ett av de grundläggande villkoren för mänskligt liv.
Arbete är den verksamhet som motsvarar de biologiska processerna i människokroppen, vars spontana tillväxt, metabolism och slutliga förfall hämtar näring från de naturföremål som arbetet skapar och bereder för att som livsnödvändigheter tillföra dem den levande organismen. Arbetets grundvillkor är livet självt.
Tillverkning är den verksamhet som svarar mot den icke naturliga karaktären av den mänskliga tillvaron, vilken inte kan infogas i artens eviga återkomst och vars individuella förgänglighet inte kompenseras av släktets potentiella oförgänglighet. Tillverkningen ger upphov till en “artificiell” värld av ting, vilka inte utan vidare sällar sig till naturföremålen utan skiljer sig från dessa genom att de till en viss grad motstår naturen och inte utan vidare slits ned av livsprocesserna. I denna tingvärld hör det mänskliga livet hemma, och den erbjuder människan en hembygd i den mån den består längre än mänskligt liv, motstår det och konfronteras med det såsom objektiv-föremålslig. Tillverkningens grundvillkor är världslighet, d.v.s. att mänsklig existens är hänvisad till föremålslighet och objektivitet.

Handlandet är den enda verksamhet inom vita activa som utspelas direkt mellan människor utan något tings eller någon materias förmedling. Dess grundvillkor är pluralitet, d.v.s. att det är människor och inte Människan som lever på jorden och befolkar världen. Alla aspekter av människans betingning [Bedingtheit] är på något sätt relaterade till politiken, men just pluraliteten är villkoret för allt politiskt liv – inte bara dess conditio sine qua non utan dess conditio per quam.

Med detta överensstämmer Bibeln i så motto att Gud enligt en version av skapelseberättelsen inte skapade människan utan människorna: “till man och kvinna skapade Han dem“. Denna i pluralis skapade människa skiljer sig principiellt från den Adam som Gud danade av “stoft från jorden”, för att därefter bygga honom en kvinna av hans revben. Här är pluraliteten inte något människorna ägde, utan deras mångfald blir ett resultat av mångfaldigande. Varje idé om “människan över huvud”, hur den än är utformad, uppfattar människans pluralitet som resultatet av en oändligt varierbar reproduktion av en urmodell och bestrider därmed implicit handlandets möjlighet. Handlandet erfordrar en pluralitet i vilken alla visserligen är detsamma, nämligen människor, men där ingen är det på samma sätt som någon annan människa som någonsin har levat, lever eller kommer att leva.

[NOT: I analysen av postklassiskt politiskt tänkande är det ofta belysande att se vilken av de båda bibliska versionerna av skapelseberättelsen som citeras. Det är exempelvis betecknande för skillnaden mellan Jesu och Pauli undervisning att Jesus åberopar sig på 1 Mos 1:27: “Haven I icke läst att Skaparen redan i begynnelsen ‘gjorde dem till man och kvinna'” (Matt 19:4), medan Paulus vid ett liknande tillfälle insisterar på att “kvinnan är av mannen” och att hon därmed är till “för mannens skull” /…/ (1 Kor 11:8-12). Skillnaden indikerar mycket mer än olika uppfattningar om kvinnans roll. För Jesus ledde tron omedelbart ill handlande /…/; för Paulus var den primärt fråga om den individuella frälsningen.
Särskilt intressant i detta hänseende är Augustinus /…/ som inte bara helt och hållet ignorerar 1 Mos 1:27, utan dessutom menar att skillnaden mellan människa och djur består i att människan skapades unum ac singulum medan alla djur kallades till existens “flera samtidigt”. /…/]

35: Alla tre verksamheterna och deras motsvarande villkor är vidare förankrade i de mest allmänna villkoren för mänskligt liv, nämligen att de kommer till världen genom födelse och försvinner ur den genom död. Vad mortaliteten anbelangar säkerställer arbetet individens överlevnad och artens fortbestånd. Tillverkningen skapar en artificiell värld som i viss mån är oberoende av invånarnas dödlighet och sålunda representerar beständighet och varaktighet gentemot deras flyktiga tillvaro. Handlandet slutligen skapar, såvida det rör grundandet och bibehållandet av politiska institutioner, betingelser för generationernas kontinuitet, för minne och därmed för historia.

ur Hanna Arendt: Människans villkor, 1958
Översättning: Joachim Retzlaff
Daidalos, 1998

Paolo Virno: A Grammar of the Multitude.

Paolo Virno: A Grammar of the Multitude. For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life
Semiotext(e), Los Angeles/New York 2004

24: “I believe that in today’s forms of life one has a direct perception of the fact that the coupling of the terms public-private, as well as the coupling of the terms collective-individual, can no longer stand up on their own, that they are gasping for air, burning themselves out. This is just like what is happening in the world of contemporary production, provided that production – loaded as it is with ethos, culture, linguistic interaction – not give itself over to econometric analysis, but rather be understood as a broad-based experience of the world.”

40: “My thesis, in extremely concise form, is this: if the publicness of the intellect deos not yield to the realm of a public sphere, of a political space in which the many can tend to common affairs, then it produces terrifying effects. A publicness without a public sphere: here is the negative side – the evil, if you wish – of the experience of the multitude.”
41: “The general intellect, or public intellect, if it does not become a republic, a public sphere, a political community, drastically increases forms of submission.”

50: “It was not necessary to have read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics to know that labor, political action, and intellectual reflection constituted three spheres supported by radically heterogeneous principles and criteria. /…/
So then, this ancient tripartioning which was still encysted into the realm of common sense of the generation which made its appearance in the public scene in the Sixties, is exaclty what has failed today.”

51: “In fact, political action now seems, in a disastrous way, like some superflous duplication of the experience of labor /…/ it follows them closely while offering a poorer, cruder and more simplistic version of these procedures and stylistic elements.”
67: “The peculiar publicness of the Intellect /…/ manifests itself indirectly within the sphere of the State by way of a hypertrophic growth of the administrative apparatus. The administration, and no longer the political-parliamentary system, is the heart of ‘stateness’ /…/ because the administration represents an authoritarian coalescence of the general intellect, the point of fusion between knowledge and control /…/ In short, we no longer face the well-known processes of rationalization of the State; on the contrary, we must acknowledge the achieved statization [statizzazione] of the Intellect which has occured.”

52-53: “The performing arts […] have indeed a strong affinity with politics. Performing artists – dancers, play-actors, musicians, and the like – need an audience to show their virtuosity, just as acting men need the presence of others before whom they can appear; both need a publicly organized space for their ‘work’, and both depend upon others for the performance itself.” (Hanna Arendt, Between Past and Future)

56: “The speaker alone – unlike the pianist, the dancer or the actor – can do without a script or a score.”
66: “While the virtuoso in the strictest sense of the word (the pianist, the dancer, for instance) makes use of a well defined score, that is to say, of an end product in its most proper and restricted sense, the post-Fordist virtuosos, ‘performing’ their own linguistic faculties, can not take for granted a determined end product.”
41: “The sharing of linguistic and cognitive habits is the constituent element of post-Fordist process of labor. All the workers enter inte production in as much as they are speaking-thinking.”
56: “contemporary production becomes ‘virtuosic’ (and thus political) precisely because it includes within itself linguistic experience as such. If this is so, the matrix of post-Fordism can be found in the industrial sectors in which there is ‘production of communication by means of communication’; hence, in the culture industry.”

102: “all of post-Fordist labor-power can be described using the categories with which Marx analyzed the ‘industrial reserve army’, that is, unemployment.”
103: “there is no substantial difference between employment and unemployment. It could be said that: unemplyment is non-rumerated labor and labor, in turn, is remunerated unemployment.”
102: “For the post-Fordist multitude every qualitative difference between labor time and non-labor time falls short.

61: “My hypothesis is that the communication industry (or rather, the spectacle, or even yet, the culture industry) is an industry among others, with its specific techniques, its particular procedures, its peculiar profits, etc.; on the other hand, it also plays the role of industry of the means of production. /…/
The culture industry produces (regenerates, experiments with) communicative procedures, which are thendestined to function also as means of production in the more traditional sectors of our contemporary economy. This is the role of the communication industry, once post-Fordism has become fully entrenched: an industry of the means of communication.”
60-61: “When money mirrors in itself the value of commodities, thus showing what society has already produced, the spectacle exposes in a separate form that which the aggregate of society can be and do.”

85: “Nihilism is a praxis which no longer enjoys a solid foundation, one made up of support structures and protective practices upon which one can rely.”
86: “Opportunists are those who confront a flow of ever-interchangeable possibilities, making themselves available to the greater number of these, yielding to the nearest one, and then quickly swerving from one to another.”
87: “Cynics recognize /…/ both the preeminent role played by certain cognitive premises as well as the simultaneous absence of real equivalents.”