One Paragraph at a Time

Progress on An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action is slow, but steady, one paragraph at a time. Here’s one from yesterday:

In my work as a scholar of arts entrepreneurship, I walk a fine line between critiquing the neoliberal economic governance regime of late capitalism and supporting it through the mere use of the word “entrepreneurship,” which many associate with the Thatcher/Reagan ideology of self-interested individualism and small government. While acknowledging the paradox, I explain it (some would say “flippantly”) by asserting that entrepreneurship is a behavior, an action, not necessarily an economic construct. Yet, we cannot deny that the current state of the arts economy results from the small government trend of the 1980s, which eventually reduced the NEA and other public funding for the arts to a shell of its former self following the “Culture Wars.” If, following, neoliberal ideology, every individual is responsible for themselves, then why provide funding to individuals? There are, of course, other “moral” arguments that were used by the NEA’s detractors at the time, but ultimately the Culture Wars were as much a victory for neoliberal economic ideology as for the social conservatism that made for splashy media headlines.

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This story from 1995 foregrounded the “values” argument, but it wasn’t that simple then, nor is it now.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is director of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, including its award-winning arts entrepreneurship program, Pave: http://pave.asu.edu The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of ASU. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix and "like" the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship at http://www.facebook.com/pages/pave-program-in-arts-entrepreneurship/386328970101 Find Pave's journal, Artivate, at http://artivate.org
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2 Responses to One Paragraph at a Time

  1. Pingback: Intro to Essay #4: Novelty | Creative Infrastructure

  2. I can see why untangling that paradox is important for the work you do! We are perennial victims of the temptation to see things as simpler than they are. Entrepreneurial behavior *seems* to have something fundamentally in common with a particular political ideology, but does that make them the *same* thing or even *necessarily* related? The appearance that it does is strengthened the more we take ‘entrepreneurship’ as some specific thing with an essence and attributes. It looks like something from the political ideology playbook because we see an analogy if only we reduce entrepreneurship to its imagined basic characteristics.

    This is an illusion and an oversimplification, I think. 1) Entrepreneurship is many things, not one. At most what we call entrepreneurship share what Wittgenstein called a ‘family resemblance’. There is no single essence by which all things entrepreneurial may be described. Pick any point on the Ouroboros image you use to describe entrepreneurship and it is an open question whether these things necessarily lead in one direction or come entirely from a specific antecedent. At the very least, there is a difference between what entrepreneurial behavior is to its practitioners and to the community in which it is made manifest. But the diversity only gets started there. Entrepreneurship is a *fundamentally* pluralistic activity. 2) Boiling all this multiplicity down to its supposed ‘essence’ typically says more about the human temptations in understanding than it does the things to be understood. As Isaiah Berlin pointed out, we look at the world as hedgehogs or as foxes. The hedgehog keeps things simple. And as hedgehogs we do not command a clear view of the diversity of entrepreneurial behaviors. And so the form of expression, ‘entrepreneurial’, in its simplicity as a word often gets taken as *representing* something equally simple. Those letters forming specifically this one word give a peculiar sort of impression. The precision of the letters composing the word only hides the multiple ways the word is used and the variety of things that get described by it. No less than that ‘art’ describes only ‘one’ thing or is used for only a single type of enterprise hides its own diversity. ‘Entrepreneurial’ is just such a word, it seems.

    The ‘fine line’ you are navigating is an illusion of hedgehog proportions. And since we are mostly talking to other hedgehogs it seems pressing and real. It *IS* how we often navigate our way. The trick is to see the illusion, the illicit demand of simplicity in the face of diversity. Which is a thankless task, in my experience. But we can either keep our eyes on the natural multiplicity or we can revert to the old hedgehog games and ask all the wrong questions in all the wrong places…. Or maybe that is only what it looks like to a fox 🙂

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