Understanding and challenging inequality in culture

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Sheffield Methods Institute


The Creative Industries Sector Deal positions the Creative Industries as a central part of the UK economy in the imminent post-Brexit period, with major implications for its role not simply economically, but also socially and culturally. It also recognises that the Creative Industries are sites of inequality, although questions are raised about whether this is primarily to do with messaging, in which people from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds simply don't know enough about what working in the Creative Industries can offer them.

Understanding and Challenging Inequality in Culture (UCIC) aims to directly address issues raised in the Industrial Strategy and in the Creative Industries Sector Deal. It builds on several previous AHRC-funded projects in order to understand the contemporary dynamics of inequality in culture, addressing both cultural labour and participation, through the analysis of existing data with the potential to shed light on inequalities in areas that have not had a major focus so far. It does so through five central research questions, coproduction with key actors in the Creative Industries throughout, and a plan for impact through which inequalities in culture can be meaningfully challenged. It uses existing data throughout, in order to make the most of the UK's strong data resources around culture, both datasets designed for academic analysis, and data originally collected for other reasons which can be analysed to answer questions about inequality in culture.

The five questions are:
1. How can members of underrepresented groups access work in the creative industries? How successful are current approaches to challenging inequalities?
2. How far do boards of directors, and of trustees, reflect and reinforce existing inequalities in the creative industries?
3. Do snapshots of inequality in culture conceal high levels of year-on-year change in participation, both within and across forms?
4. How does understanding cultural participation as a network inform our understanding of inequality in culture?
5. How similar are the dynamics of inequality in the creative industries in the UK to those of a salient international comparator?

These questions have been chosen in order to work across different parts of the Creative Industries: RQ1 involves analysis of access to work in the Creative Industries, which have historically mainly been answered using qualitative methods; RQ2 involves systematic analysis of the most senior levels of organisations in the Creative Industries, above even workforce level; RQ3 involves the analysis of changes in cultural participation, rather than merely differences, to understand the persistence and volatility of inequality in cultural participation; RQ4 involves the analysis of participation at the organisational rather than individual level, and RQ5 puts inequality in culture in the UK into an international context. Through answering these questions, issues of inequality will be raised at different levels across the Creative Industries, in order that the questions raised in the Creative Industries Sector Deal can be comprehensively addressed and action taken.

UCIC will answer these questions in collaboration with two key organisations in the Creative Industries, who are positioned to effectively challenge the sector and work alongside organisations within to make changes.

Planned Impact

Impact is at the centre of UCIC. The project involves coproduction with key organisations in the cultural industries with the capacity and motivation to address issues of inequality in the sector, challenging some of the celebratory discourses in the Creative Industries Sector Deal to recognise structural inequalities that are not simply supply-side problems, or problems of insufficient information about cultural participation being offered to groups who attend less often. The long-term impact of the project will be to generate a clear picture of the dynamics of inequality in culture so that they can be directly confronted by the people with the power to change them; along the way, the current research priorities of crucial organisations can be met so that they can better understand inequality in order to be able to change it.

Impact will be achieved in UCIC through five major routes, described in more detail in Pathways to Impact: through working with key policymakers in the UK, with institutions in the CIs in the UK themselves, with institutions that work alongside CIs in the UK, with general publics, and with CI organisations internationally. These routes will each be different, based on the particular needs and challenges associated with each. The crucial elements will be: coproducing research design and analysis with the project partners and with key relevant stakeholders, including in Australia for RQ5; the generation of public-facing and accessible versions of research, in collaboration with project partners; and working with the international advisory board to identify how impact can be pursued in national contexts beyond the UK and Australia.

I will extend the experience of having worked on Who is missing from the picture?, in which we worked with CI institutions to generate meaningful discourse in and around the media to produce engagement across a range of publics and audiences.
Description There's a couple of key publications from this award so far.

The first, in Cultural Trends, shows alternative approaches to understanding diversity and inequality in audiences, through using box office data rather than survey data. In addition to providing support for existing research, demonstrating major inequalities in the audiences for a wide range of different events, it also shows differences within certain categories. For example, the work demonstrates particularly striking inequalities in the audiences for literary events, with people in the least deprived areas being far more likely to attend these events than people in the most deprived areas, and that this is most pronounced for literary talks and author readings, while poetry and spoken word are more mixed.

The second, published by Ukie (and with academic-facing publications in preparation) demonstrates the diversity of the UK games workforce. This work shows that while games is significantly below comparable figures for the overall in-work population, such as with low representation of women and people from working-class backgrounds, it also shows that there are some areas where the opposite is the case, such as relatively large proportions of LGBTQ+ people.

2021 update: the work has been significantly affected by the pandemic. I've been awarded a no-cost extension to the project as a result, and there'll be more to report next year. However, there have been some key publications that have been released this year, particularly Culture Is Bad For You.

2022 update: as promised, there's some more to report, with a paper having been published in Poetics. This paper shows how arts governance is entangled with finance and property. Several papers are at various stages of review and so fingers crossed I'll be submitting that information next year.
Exploitation Route The work using Audience Finder data is being used by the Audience Agency to reflect on their data practices more generally, and in particular with reference to the redesign of Audience Spectrum, their tool for classifying audiences for different venues. In addition, this work might be helpful to venues and arts companies to understand the profiles of their audiences. Meanwhile, the work with Ukie is being used by individual games companies to reflect on how their workforces differ from the national average, and what might be done about this, while also being used by similar bodies in other countries.

2021 update: the work has been significantly affected by the pandemic. I've been awarded a no-cost extension to the project as a result, and there'll be more to report next year.

2022 update: the Poetics paper includes the release of a significant software package, ukboards, available at https://pypi.org/project/ukboards/.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description 2020 submission: The work with Ukie (which also follows on from AH/S012109/1) has been used both within Ukie and across the games industry, with people reflecting on how these figures might have implications for working practices in games. Some of the impacts are covered in this report by the Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/games/2020/feb/19/video-games-industry-diversity-women-people-of-colour. The work has also been referenced in Parliament - https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-02-11/debates/13948B92-5AF5-4AD5-A7C2-01F9C2216056/MediaDiversity - described as an example of "positive first steps across sectors traditionally seen as a closed shop". As this has only been published very recently, it's likely that there'll be more to say in the next ResearchFish round. The work using Audience Finder, with the Cultural Trends publication included in this ResearchFish round, has been influential in terms of current use of data, and in the redesign of the Audience Spectrum programme. As with the work with Ukie, this is currently at an early stage, and there'll be more to say next year. 2021 update: the work has been significantly affected by the pandemic. I've been awarded a no-cost extension to the project as a result, and there'll be more to report next year. 2022 update: momentum is still strong with the Ukie work (although not as quickly as I might have hoped - an unsuccessful grant application included a more ambitious plan of work), see the 2022 report
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Economic,Policy & public services

Description Nigel Adams discussion in Hansard
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact It's a bit early to say, but it shows that the work's been recognised by government and there are plans to make changes in responce
URL https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-02-11/debates/13948B92-5AF5-4AD5-A7C2-01F9C2216056/MediaD...
Description The Audience Agency 
Organisation The Audience Agency
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Development of two joint PhD studentships
Collaborator Contribution Development of two joint PhD studentships
Impact Two PhD studentships, currently advertised here: https://datacdt.org/projects/patterns-of-engagement/ and https://datacdt.org/projects/geographies-of-engagement/
Start Year 2019
Title ukboards: Query UK Charities Commission and Companies House board data 
Description Software to query Companies House and Charity Commission APIs, and construct network datasets based on those 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2020 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Please see the Poetics paper referenced in this RF submission (and more to follow) 
URL https://pypi.org/project/ukboards/
Description Eagle Labs, Sheffield 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Barclays Eagle Lab Game Technology Frenzy - this was an event at which I was invited to present on findings from the UK Games Industry Diversity Census. There were around 60 people in the audience, who worked in games in the region.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://events.barclays.com/ereg/inactive.php?eventid=512019
Description Ukie report launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This was a launch of the UK Games Industry Census report, and took place at the Microsoft flagship store in London. Speakers were Jo Twist (CEO, Ukie), Nigel Adams (Minister of State, DCMS), Clare Barclay (COO, Microsoft UK), Sam Ebelthite (CEO EA UK), Khally Saarman-Jones (Studio Manager, Payload), and Kish Hirani (CEO, BAME in Games). I presented the findings of the research, along with hard copies of the report distributed to all recipients. There was a total of 120 people there, mostly senior people in the games industry. This report was subsequently discussed in Hansard by Nigel Adams - https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-02-11/debates/13948B92-5AF5-4AD5-A7C2-01F9C2216056/MediaDiversity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/raise-the-game-improving-diversity-and-inclusion-in-the-games-industr...
Description Visit to Sumo Digital 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I delivered a presentation on the findings to Sumo Digital, a large games company. Its main offices are in Sheffield, where the presentation was delivered, but it was also streamed to its other offices. I received questions afterwards from people working in a wide range of roles in the organisation, and we plan to continue working together.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020