mercoledì, ottobre 02, 2013

The Value of my Master's

Issued on September the 23rd
class of Cultural Economics: Theory 
Master in Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship

A few months ago, I submitted my application for the Master’s in Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship at the University of Rotterdam. In economics terms, my decision may be seen as follows: 1.850,00 € in tuition fees, about 10.000,00 € in travel cost to come and live in the Netherlands, no salary for eight months at least, and a concentrated effort at my office to make my time off at work accepted; in return, a 2000,00 € fellowship from my regional department, and an uncertain future increase in my income. The choice does not appear very rational!
Nonetheless, I did my best to make my resume appealing, to collect all my published papers, and to write a convincing motivation letter. I did my best to be a successful candidate.
My master’s decision was indeed an everyday example of value based choice. I will briefly recall the concept of value as used in this paper, try to map a few values relevant in the choice of my master, and show how these values are consistent with a psychological paradigm shift.

“Values are qualities of actions, goods, people, social entities that people find good, beneficial, important, useful, beautiful, desirable, constructive and so forth. Values are personal in the sense that individuals experience them as such and they are social in the sense values derive their impact from being shared among group of people” (Klamer, 2013, p. 7). Klamer distinguishes the following groups of values: social, societal, cultural, historical, moral, personal, transcendental, and functional.

According to classical economics, my master’s has got a functional value: I expect to increase my cultural capital and in return increase my social prestige and income. However, according to the current state of affairs, it is not so clear that any master’s may guarantee a job better than the one I have already. The lottery effect, ie the remote chance of picking up a great position, may play a role as in the creative side of cultural industries, but functional values are nonetheless too uncertain to be pivotal in my decision.

First, social values were at stage. I had developed among colleagues and external companies and associations few idiosyncrasies but a lot more strong friendships. In both cases, previous experiences were about to work as biases. I felt I could easily end up playing influence peddling without self criticism or growth. It was time to move on, invest my extended social capital in projects out of my city council or simply have a beer with that human capital free of working constraints.

Societal values were at stake as well. Public subsidies had been cut down and most of the  administrators simply refused to inquiry about any further organizational model. According to local decision makers, culture had to act independently of private capitals constraints as a means to educate people. Strangely enough, the projects that were finally achieved failed to engage audience: people refused the paternalistic approach and criticized the public cultural investments, advanced at the expense of more basic services. It was time to overtake the frustration of balance sheets and reset the beloved cultural activities within a different frame. To some extent, I did want to study economics to go beyond the economics constraints I had got used to.

Cultural values, furthermore, framed my choice. As a traveler, I had enjoyed more and more the blurring frontiers of European Union. As a professional, I could not stand the steady contrast between Italian policies and European regulations. Rotterdam was the birth place of Erasmus. The university itself brought his name. What better place to attempt to get free from monetary anxiety and bring back the political and cultural idea of the founding fathers. One of my most inspiring sources had been A Certain Idea of Europe, a short essay by George Steiner trying to identify the bedrock of European identity. Steiner posited around bars and cafes as cultural circles, about landscape as a collection of walking distance stretches. I found that debate much more rewarding than the current one on public debt control. Could I contribute to refresh the mainstream of the conversation about a European utopia? That was exactly the task of a European cultural entrepreneur, I thought.

Through my initial readings – Morgan (Morgan, 1943) and Cameron  and Quinn (Cameron & Quinn, 2011) among others - , I have finally also clarified a personal value. Suffering the constraints of my previous working position, as I briefly recalled before, I was actually complaining about the main pitfalls of hierarchical mechanistic institutions. My need for a new framework was indeed a dream for a more adhocrat attitude: think new, think different. Recalling my answers to the first survey we students were given at the seminar of cultural organization, I do realize, nonetheless, that the mechanistic metaphor is deeply routed in me. My vision of cultural business included planning, design, basically fitting creative production into an organizational routine. Here comes the personal challenge. Am I still able to get out of my mechanistic metaphor, enter a board conceiving an expo or a concert, and provide that board brand new insights? Inspiring contributions by the master's would be a relevant value in this respect.

To come to the conclusion, quite independently of pure economic rational analysis, I have decided to take a master’s in Rotterdam to foster an improvement in my social, societal, cultural and prsonal values. This combined set of values may be perhaps the hallmark of a shift of paradigms. Undertaking this new educational experience, I have tried to make my way from hedonic enjoyment,  ie the relaxing sensation of mastering a well known work flow in a hierarchical and predictable city council in Italy, to personal expressiveness, ie the thrilling sensation of matching my skills with the challenging new ways of thinking of a multicultural Dutch university (Waterman, 1993, in Kombrink, 2003). If so, I hope to have optimally balanced skills and goals and enjoy that feeling of excitement “that takes the middle between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with our capacity to act” (Csikszentmihalyi 1975, 1988, in Kombrink, p. 17).

Cameron, K.; Quinn, R. (2011). Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture. San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1988). ‘The Flow Experience and its Significance for Human Psychology, In: M. Csikszentmihalyi & I.S. Csikszentmihalyi (eds.), Optimal Experience: Psychological Studies of Flow in Consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 15-35.
Klamer, A. (2013). Doing the right thing. A Value Based Approach to Economics.
Kombrink, D. (2003). Cultural Capital and Well-Being. Rotterdam: Erasmus University of Rotterdam.
Morgan, G. (1943). Images of Organization. London: Sage.
Waterman, A. S. (1993), ‘Two Conceptions of Happiness: Contrasts of Personal Expressiveness (Eudaimonia) and Hedonic Enjoyment’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64:  678-91.

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