— Cultural Sources of Newness


The theme for the 2018 Annual conference of the European Group for Organization Studies EGOS, “Surprise in and around organizations: Journeys to the unexpected”,  immediately intrigued me because it resonated with my current research on paths into and out of academia. And the location was tantalizing: Tallinn, Estonia. So I joined forces with two adventurous colleagues—André Sobczak (Audencia Business School, Nantes, France) and Anna Svirina (Kazan National Research Technical University, Russia)—to invite submissions for a subtheme entitled “Journeys into the unexpected: Paths and identities in academia” .

However, as convenors we faced a significant challenge because “unexpected journey—academic conference” is an oxymoron. Academic conferences are highly ritualized and structured events.

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Officially, the WZB research unit “Cultural Sources of Newness” ended in 2014, but intellectually it continues to be generative. Michael Hutter, the former director, and Ignacio Farías, one of the senior research fellows, put their heads together to take the results of our research program a step further.

In the course of intensive discussions about the five cultural techniques* for generating newness that were specified in the research unit’s final report, they reduced the number to three, namely configuring frames, creating objects and risking valuations. More importantly, they realized that all these techniques are really ways of inducing indeterminacy. In a social world that demands innovation but is geared toward eliminating uncertainty and toward gaining certainty, it is not easy to install approaches that are oriented in the opposite direction.

Fortunately, the reviewers of the Journal of Cultural Economy pressured the authors to explain their choice of exactly three ways of sourcing newness. Taking up this challenge led them to take another step forward, resulting in an analysis that takes the fundamental temporal nature of newness into account. Their article demonstrates: Now really matters for sourcing newness!

 “Now separates and connects events that are already over from events that have not yet happened. Each of these three ways resonates with such a now, wedged between not yet and already over. For each of these three ways of sourcing newness, one of the two others constitutes the horizon of past events and the other constitutes the horizon of future events. As the durations of events follow each other, multiple nows appear and then disappear. Taken together, they constitute a circular process that maintains indeterminate situations. Three components are a minimal condition for temporal sequences in which present, past and future are kept distinct.”

The article makes the concepts come alive by illustrating them with a rich diversity of examples.

You are welcome to access the full text by clicking on the link below to get a free e-print:


* The five techniques identified in the final report were: 1) Bordering spaces and environments,  2) Suspending rules and routines,  3) Curating contributions and circumstances,  4) Translating forms of value, and  5) Valuating novelties.





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Under the theme of “Organizing in the shadow of power,” the 32nd EGOS conference  in Naples, Italy, July 7-9, 2016 offered multiple opportunities to consider the conditions under which occupied spaces can be sources of newness. More than 2,400 conference participants from around the world occupied essentially the entire Monte S. Angelo campus of the University of Naples Federico II. And during precisely those same days the fashion giant, Dolce & Gabanna,  occupied much of the seafront and the old town–with the help of innumerable police and security guards. The Arts, Design and Organizations  (ADO) track of EGOS continued its tradition of connecting to the host city, by visiting two very different cultural centers, one of which started when artists occupied a former monastery. What did we experience, and what can we learn from these various ways of occupying spaces?

Occupying spaces with arts and crafts in Naples

Discovering spaces to occupy with arts and crafts in Naples: LANIFICIO

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One of Michael Hutter’s new books, The Rise of the Joyful Economy, is appreciated as a source of newness.  Here we republish the review Jason Potts wrote in “The Conversation”.


The Rise of the Joyful Economy

Jason Potts, RMIT University

The relationship between the art world and the market economy has long been one of Sturm und Drang. Deep down, a battle of weltanschauung plays out between light and dark, sky and earth, imagination and rationality, between two different value systems that still must occupy the same physical, political and moral universe.

The great value of modern cultural economics is to have brokered a grand reconciliation between these worlds, with the analytic concepts of market failure and externalities in cultural production and consumption, and the application of non-market valuation techniques to, as it were, price the priceless. The result is a formula to transfer resources from the economy to the arts that is allocatively efficient, maximising the value of both.

And while the target of various grumblings from those who would prefer such decisions were determined more historically or politically, rather than economically, there is a rigorous beauty to this way of counting.

So it is an interesting development when a preeminent cultural economist (and economic sociologist) publishes a new book of broad historical sweep, arguing that the deep relationship between these two worlds (between the arts and the economy) is not what we have previously thought. The book was the subject of a special, standing-room-only panel at the recent International Conference of Cultural Economists.

The Rise of the Joyful Economy, Michael Hutter.
Routledge, 2015

Michael Hutter’s The Rise of the Joyful Economy (2015), which focuses on the visual arts, begins in 1420 with the development of linear perspective, and traces how that artistic development played out in the economy of the day, creating surprising new opportunities.

He then examines the paintings of conversations, of among others Joseph Wright, Francis Hayman and William Hogarth, and the way this focused a consumer revolution in the emergence of social taste. Moving into the 1950s and 1960s, Hutter traces the translation of artworks into experience goods through case studies of repetition in the modernist architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (the Seagram building) and in Andy Warhol’s Flowers series.

Later in the book he maps these artistic revolutions to three associated periods of economic growth: the period of exploiting cognitive illusion (1430-1860); the period of exploiting social relations (1730-1890); and the period of exploiting serial variations (1920s-present).

Hutter then runs the argument the other way, examining artistic responses to economic change. First in the “silent narratives of assertion” in merchant society in the paintings of Flemish artists Petrus Christus (Goldsmith in his Shop, 1449) and Pieter Aertsen (Meat Stall with the Holy family, 1551). Then in the painting of new consumer entertainment of Parisian artists Antoine Watteau (Shop Sign, 1720) and Édouard Manet (Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882). And thirdly in the intentional entanglements between high art and high commerce in, for example, Andreas Gursky’s digital photograph 99 Cent (1999) and in Takashi Murakami’s installation Vuitton Shop (2007).

These micro-sociological case studies in art history illustrate an overarching idea about the nature of the dynamics in the arts, culture, and the economy. The idea is to conceive of distinct arts and economic worlds, or “plays of value” as Hutter frames it, and to propose a general theory of change that arises from the clash between these worlds. This approach fundamentally recasts the relation between arts and economy by showing them to be statically distinct, but dynamically coupled.

Consider what this implies about the dynamics of both the arts world and the economy. In the standard account, growth and change originate from within each world, from the artist and from the entrepreneur respectively. The arts world and the economy are self-contained, linked only by brokered side payments (cultural policy) to generate efficient levels of output. That understanding, in which the different worlds are distinct, is part of the modern consensus and the grand reconciliation between the cultural sector and the market economy.

But if Hutter is right, then that understanding is wrong. If dynamics in each world originate from the clashes and irritations between each world (which Hutter both theorises and extensively documents) then we may need to rethink the basic relationships between economic and cultural policy.

Yet the book isn’t about policy – a third “play of value”, in Hutter’s terms. It’s about a new type of economy that he seeks to differentiate from such policy fashionable neologisms as knowledge economy, creative industries, or experience economy.

Joyful Economy argues for us to redirect our attention away from isolated industry sectors towards the dynamics of tension and resolution, created by interactions between different “logics of worth”.

The joy in The Joyful Economy is an answer to the brilliant but pessimistic Hungarian-American economist Tibor Scitovsky, who argued that a growing consumer economy that failed to nurture ever enhanced consumer sophistication in high quality experience goods would plunge society into, as he put it in the title of his 1976 book, a Joyless Economy.

Hutter does not fault the logic of Scitovsky’s diagnosis, but finds that Scitovsky failed to understand the deeper co-evolutionary dynamics at play. That difference matters because it is from those outworkings that the Joyful Economy emerges.

The Conversation

Jason Potts, Professor of Economics, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Starting a big research project that is very different from my past studies requires exploring new theories and methods. Old friends are a delightful source of learning. This week offered two ideal opportunities: one planned, one spontaneous; one with a woman I met at Academy of Management conferences in the early 1980s; one with a man I met when he was 6 years old in the late 1970s; one via Skype, one over dinner. Both generously shared their experiences in generating, analyzing and communicating their research-based knowledge.

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Crossfertilization is a recognized source of new ideas and products. Companies create multifunctional teams and move employees around the organization and the world so that their knowledge and competences can mingle with those of others and, hopefully, spark off new ideas to explore together. Crossfertilization is also used in laboratories in experiments to create products, for example in the agricultural and health sectors. Academia is replete with publications about the benefits of crossfertilization, but is not very good at putting it into practice. Instead, this world has increasingly tended towards structuring itself in disciplinary and sub-disciplinary silos with their own norms, languages, and reward systems.

Last year two colleagues at the WZB launched an unusual initiative for crossfertilization at the WZB when they invited people throughout the institution to share their thoughts and findings on the theme of Religion and Society. It was fascinating to see how a topic that has no official home in the institution attracted people from many different units and diverse disciplines. When asked why they came to the meeting on this topic, many said this was a personal intellectual interest for which they had not yet found an outlet or platform in their academic setting. The organizers invited people to use the new platform to present research ideas, whether in the earliest stage of development or in advanced paper form.


Silke Gülker presenting at WZB April 2016

Silke Gülker presenting at WZB April 2016

This week Silke Gülker  (WZB research group Science Policy Studies) presented findings from her current project, conducted with support from the prestigious Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, on “Science and (Religious) Culture: Identity Constructions in Stem Cell Research in Germany and the USA”.  She wanted to try out her ideas on us before presenting them at the upcoming conference of the German Sociological Association (Division for the Sociology of Religion).

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What a lot of experiences a week can bring! Last Tuesday I was in A (Aix en Provence) for Béatrice Toustou’s PhD defence of her thesis on collaborative creative processes in industrial R&D labs; this Tuesday I was in B (Berlin) putting collaborative creativity into practice with my colleagues. In between, I was in Gothenburg, presenting the fruits of collaborative creativity in the form of our new edited volume on artistic interventions in organizations. In all of these, the/a WWW played an important role.


Béatrice Toustou PhD Thesis

Béatrice Toustou PhD Thesis

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Dinosaurs waiting for newness--or the End of the World

Dinosaurs waiting for newness–or the End of the World

A museum with dinosaurs is not where one would necessarily expect to find newness.


Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, still pockmarked by war damage

Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, still pockmarked by war damage


But this is precisely where it is in the making right now in Berlin. The Museum für Naturkunde and the German Federal Culture Foundation have launched a four-year artistic intervention program with international artists. The program is very ambitious: It

“aims to experimentally transcend the communicative barriers between the artistic domain and that of the natural history museum, in order to open up fresh perspectives both on nature and on museum culture, to shed new light on scientific objects, and to change the way we view natural history museums in general.” 

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How can one do justice to the multiplicity of experiences and discussions shared with a diverse mix of participants in a 2-day event to mark the end of a three-year experimental project on artistic interventions in organizations? The German intermediary “Unternehmen! KulturWirtschaft” at the beautiful Nordkolleg Rendsburg chose once again to try a new approach: they brought in Drej, a team of three young designers, to develop a pop-up art exhibition during the event. No-one knew in advance exactly what the artists’ process would be, nor what the outcome of their interaction with the content of the project, the space of the conference, and the participants would look like. It was a risky decision befitting the innovative approach to trusting the process that this intermediary had taken all along.


Drej team at work

2 members of Drej team at work in their in situ atelier

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A new German study of highflyers in business and academia comes to disturbing conclusions: the structural conditions of work and careers in both spheres may well be stifling the preconditions required for creativity and innovation. The authors, Christiane Funken, Jan-Christoph Rogge and Sinje Hörlin, end their book Vertrackte Karrieren (Campus 2015), with the warning that “not much newness can be expected in future” from these knowledge workers (p. 228; my translation).


Vertrackte Karrieren

Vertrackte Karrieren, Campus Verlag 2015

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