Cultural workers in between the local creative industries and global trends: Jaka Primorac shares

23 Oct

Jaka Primorac works as a Research Fellow at the Department for Culture and Communication at the Institute for International Relations in Zagreb, Croatia. She holds a PhD in Sociology from Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Zagreb. Her primary research focus is on cultural and creative industries, cultural labour and digital culture. She worked on a number of research projects in Croatia and abroad (e.g. for ERICarts Institute, ELIAMEP , European Parliament), and is a co-author of the county profile for COMPENDIUM of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe. She was the winner of Cultural Policy Research Award in 2005.

1. Jaka, you are currently a Research Fellow at the Department for Culture and Communication of the Institute of International Relations in Zagreb.  In your research work, you look at the co-relations between globalization and local development in the field of culture. What in your opinion are the main trends, especially related to the countries of Southeastern Europe?

When looking at the global influences and local cultural change in Southeastern Europe, there are several trends that could be highlighted. Firstly, this is the influence of the global cultural industries and their impact on local level – this involves mainly the re-interpretation of their formats that can be rather diversified according to the local context. Secondly, in most of the countries of Southeastern Europe, we have the development of our ‘own’ local cultural production that is small-scale, where the markets are rather fragmented. Cultural communication and cooperation in the region are rather limited, and in the recent years new/old connections started to emerge – mainly between the countries of ex-Yugoslavia. The situation for financing cultural field was problematic in the past, but the influences of the global recession made the situation even more difficult. The financial cuts for culture are present either on the state level (and in the countries of Southeastern Europe this level of funding is very important), local government level or from the sponsors or donators.

Thirdly, there are opportunities provided by the globalization processes through possibilities of developing specific niches of local cultural production and opening these niches to the broader global (niche) audiences and in this way of broadening the cultural markets and their influence. This can be achieved through the usage of new emerging digital tools, although one should not be too techno-optimistic. Other new approaches to cultural communication and collaboration could be developed, that involve more participatory approach in decision-making. As an example of such different approach I would mention Croatian Clubture network as a non-profit participatory network that gathers independent cultural organizations.

I would say that this is a very difficult time for the cultural field in the whole of Europe and globally as well, and the answer lies in the structural changes that would benefit culture as well.

2. Your PhD thesis, which you defended in 2010, is titled: “The Changes in Structure of Work in Creative Economy: Culture, Transition and Creative Class”.  Could you share with us why you were inspired by this topic? What are the main outcomes of your research?

I was inspired to do this research for two main reasons. Firstly, I have noted that there is a lack of research on cultural labour, especially on cultural actors themselves. Even the classics of cultural theory such as Raymond Williams were not so much interested on the conditions of those who make culture and how they live from it. Secondly, research that focused on the transition processes in Southeastern Europe, scarcely tackled the aspects of cultural transition. The notion of entering post-transitional phase was mainly done looking at the economic and political sphere, while the cultural was neglected. These are the ‘gaps’ that I have tried to supplement with my work.

In my research I have showed how the specificities of work in creative economy have characteristics of nonstandard work, but also of underemployment and voluntary work, and that this situation is even more precarious for cultural workers in Southeastern Europe due to the general unfavourable conditions of its’ creative economy. New policies for protection of work rights need to be developed as the current ones do not function to full extent and leave cultural workers to develop their own tools for protecting their work. On the basis of the researched data on work in/and creative economy I have showed that the processes of rationalization of the field, the development of local production, influence of new technologies, and opening of cultural consumption towards new formats are still under way. Therefore, we can say that in the countries of Southeastern Europe the processes of cultural transition are still not finished.

 3. In the last few years you have been participating in numerous projects, led by ERICarts Institute, ELIAMEP Institute and other organizations. Which one of them had an influence on you in terms of helping you to work in a collaborative mode on a research project as well as understand multicultural aspects at work? Why?

Every project has its own challenges and benefits, and I have learned a lot from each project that I’ve participated in. Nevertheless, I would say that working both on the COMPENDIUM project for ERICarts and on Seventh Framework project MEDIADEM for ELIAMEP I got an insight into richness of diversity of European cultures, their similarities, but also of dangers of misunderstandings when we think that we are speaking of the same issues, when actually we are not. This is always a challenge when doing comparative research projects such as these.

When you mention multicultural aspects, I would like to stress that for me it was important to be part of the organization and to participate at postgraduate courses at the Interuniversity Centre that our Department organized in the period 2002-2006 on the initiative of Dr Nada Švob-Đokić. They were the only such courses at that time that gathered people from Southeastern Europe and that were focused on cultural (policy) research. At the time when cultural communication between the countries of the region was lacking, for me this was important in meeting professionals from cultures so near and yet so far away at that time, and to be able to work with them. I am happy to say that I still continue to collaborate and communicate with many of them.

 4. In 2005 you were the proud Winner of the Cultural Policy Research Award for your research project on position of cultural workers in creative industries of Southeastern Europe. Did this award change your professional perspectives and activities? If yes, in what way?

The award definitively changed my professional perspectives as it provided me with funding to do my research and it opened many doors for acquiring data, going to conferences and workshops, etc.  The publication of my research online gave me more visibility on the European cultural research scene and it provided me with additional networking with colleagues from the field. The CPRA is a really great project and I hope that it shall continue in the future together with the Young Researchers Forum as they give many opportunities for young researchers, and as they further strengthen cultural policy research capacities. I was glad to hear that this year’s award went to Aleksandar Brkić from Serbia, and I am looking forward to reading the outcomes of his research.

 5. Which one of your numerous publications in diverse areas of cultural policy you cherish the most? Why? Which one was the most difficult for you to complete?

It is difficult to pinpoint one publication, as each one is a different struggle in themselves – either because writing is a kind of a “struggle with yourself”, or/and because of a particular conditions, deadlines etc. The publication for Cultural Policy Research Award for me was a particular challenge as it was my first solo publication of a larger scope that was to present me to the European cultural policy research audience. I felt a great responsibility because of the jury who has put a trust in me, and because I wanted to present my work as best as I could.

I still cherish the work that I did for the book ‘The Culture of Oblivion: Industrialization of Cultural Activities’, which was my first co-authored book in Croatian (with Nada Švob-Đokić and Krešimir Jurlin) that was published in 2008 by Jesenski & Turk and Croatian Sociological Society. I am still very much satisfied with the part that I wrote, and the cover of the book has a photograph that I’ve made as well.

6. What do you think are the main changes and challenges in the cultural policy research field in Europe nowadays, especially considering the involvement of emerging researchers?

Since its beginning it has always been difficult for the cultural policy research to be recognized in full in the academic circles, but the situation now is much better than ten years ago – as it was stressed at the last international conference on cultural policy in Jyväskylä. Cultural policy research field is established now with the conferences, courses, journals, awards, etc., but more should be done to connect researchers to do joint research projects. For me the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary nature of cultural policy research proves to be always challenging: anybody who enters this field should not be put off with the problems that this brings, as the benefits always arrive. I myself start and look at a research work from my background in sociological research, but I always find in-views from other fields to be inspiring for future research.

 7. How do you spend your free time? Are you still interested in photography?

Photography has been my hobby for years now, and this ‘relationship’ has its ups and downs… I would say that I enter a new phase now – with my new camera and a new enthusiasm.

I do like going out – I would say that I am a cultural omnivore as I like going to diverse concerts, cinema and exhibitions. When I am tired of the ‘city life’ I prefer going to the seaside. Recently I started up mountaineering – there is such serenity in the mountains that cannot be found anywhere else. Mountain Velebit has been a particular beautiful discovery for me.


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