SOAS University of London

School of Arts

Arts, Culture and Commodification: Themes in the Global Creative and Cultural Industries

Module Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

The course is designed to explore themes – around the emergence of the cultural industries, the commodification of art and culture and the potentialities of digital culture – that are relevant across Media, Music and Arts and Archaeology, and to bring together expertise from each department in a team-taught course.

It will give students an overview of the history and scale of the global cultural industries and how they intersect with politics, the economy, and ideas of the self and of community. It will use case studies drawn from across SOAS regions to ground the course in specific examples that address transnational and localised framings.

The course is designed to bring together theoretical perspectives and practical examples and to raise questions around work and careers in the cultural industries that will enable students to consider the connections between their undergraduate studies and their future careers. It will also serve as an on-ramp and taster for students considering postgraduate study at SOAS, since it features introductions to themes and teaching staff who offer more detailed courses at postgraduate level (including MA in Global Creative and Cultural Industries, MA in Global Digital Cultures and MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa).

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • To have an understanding of key concepts applicable to the creative industries and how to apply these key concepts to analyse critically various elements of the creative industries
  • To have an understanding of the role of the digital technologies and how to apply these within music, media and the arts
  • To have an understanding of the inter-relationships between the globalisations of new media and the localised


Two hours of teaching per week

Scope and syllabus

Part 1: How did we get here?

Week 1: Commodifying creativity: What are the Global Creative & cultural industries

Introduction to the basic terms, what do we mean by creativity and how does it relate to ideas about art and the media? History of the idea of cultural production. How does it apply beyond Europe and the USA? What does it mean to commodify creativity? Is selling art selling out?

Week 2: Arts, Technologies & Modernities: the emergence of Popular Cultures

A brief history of modernity; the commodification of culture through technologies from the printing press to the iPad. What are popular cultures, mass consumptions and (what) do they highlight? The emergence of mass broadcasting and the (old) model of the broadcast media.

Week 3: The Digital Sublime: Bubbles, boosters and technosceptics

An exploration of the origins of digital culture and philosophy; Silicon Valley libertarian entrepreneurialism; how the internet promised to change everything (for the better); Techno-determinism and digital heretics

Week 4: Convergence and the rise of Social Media: Web 2.0 and beyond

How digital has challenged and transformed ‘the media’; interactivity and convergence - the media centre in our pockets; the transformation of time and space; the digital arts; the Social Media revolution

Week 5: Whose Arts, whose Cultures?

The political economy of the ‘new economy’; Who owns culture?; the rise of the technologists; copyrights and copywrongs; precarious work in the creative economy; between preservation and appropriation.

Part 2 – Where are we and what does it mean?

Week 6: Framing photography: Representation and the turn to digital

From the technologies of mass (re) production (Benjamin) to the simulacra (Baudrillard) the rhizome (Deleuze & Guattari) and Instagram

Week 7: Music online: Sampling, Remixing, Streaming,

The digital death (and rebirth?) of the music industry; the digitising of sound; MP3 and the iPod; Streaming; the end of music ownership?; critiquing the eternal present

Week 8: Displaying the past: Curation & the Universal Museum

Exploring the contemporary role of the museum; the politics of preservation and display; repatriation and cultural obliteration; the politics of heritage and cultural ownership in a globalised world of social media.

Week 9: Social media, Selfies and Self-presentation online

Making your own media; Blogs, podcasts, YouTube; agency in user generated content; creativity democratised or the rise of the cult of the amateur; The Twitter revolutions; Facebook and freedom.

Week 10: Banksy & Biennales: the global business of selling art

How has globalisation impacted on the art market; the relation between local arts art fairs, Biennales and global business; recap of course themes

Method of assessment

  • Book or Article Review (1,000 words) - 25%
  • Group projects, to be completed before end of course - 25%
  • Assignment (2,500 words) - 50%

Suggested reading

  • Abbate, Janet. 1999. Inventing the Internet. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Benjamin, W., 1968, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Illuminiations
  • Benkler, Yochai. 2006. The wealth of networks: how social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.
  • Coombes, Annie E., 1994. Reinventing Africa: museums, material culture and popular imagination in late Victorian and Edwardian England. Yale University Press
  • De Beukelaer, Christiaan. 2015. Developing Cultural Industries: Learning from the palimpsest of practice. Brussels: European Cultural Foundation
  • Flichy, Patrice. 2007. The internet imaginaire. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press
  • Hesmondhalgh, David. 2013. The Cultural Industries (3rd edition), London: Sage
  • Liu, Alan. 2004. The laws of cool knowledge work and the culture of information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • McRobbie, Angela. 2016. Be creative: Making a living in the new cultural industries. Cambridge: Polity
  • Mosco, Vincent. 2004. The digital sublime: myth, power, and cyberspace. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Oakley, Kate and Justin O’Conner. 2015. The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries. London: Routledge
  • Phillips, Whitney. 2015. This is why we can't have nice things: mapping the relationship between online trolling and mainstream culture.
  • Pinney, C. and Peterson, N., 2003. Photography's other histories.
  • Streeter, Thomas. 2011. The net effect: romanticism, capitalism, and the internet. New York: New York University Press.
  • Tagg, J., 1993. The burden of representation: essays on photographies and histories.
  • Turner, Fred. 2006. From counterculture to cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the rise of digital utopianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Wajcman, Judy. 2004. TechnoFeminism. Cambridge: Polity


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules