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Winter 2005

Multimedia, minority languages and the New Economy, by Glyn Williams

By now it is acknowledged that the ability of a language group to produce and reproduce itself rests heavily upon the extent to which the associated language enters the labour market and provides opportunities for social mobility at least within the regional labour market (Williams, Roberts and Isaac, 1978). If this is, indeed the case, then language groups which do achieve a presence in the regional labour market are obliged to confront the prospect of economic restructuring and social change, much like the normative language group within society. They are obliged to be capable of flexibly modifying their role in the economic order through formal or informal agencies of Language Policy.


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1. Introduction

2. The New Economy

3. Operating within the New Economy

4. Post structuralism (1)

5. French Discourse Analysis (FDA)

6. Knowledge and learnig

7. Conclusion

8. Bibliography


1. Introduction

Normative language groups will penetrate every aspect of the economy and will be taken for granted as the language which is used within every kind of economic operation. In contrast, minority languages will be restricted in their reach and extension into economic activity.

Within industrial age economy several minority language groups have succeeded in achieving a significant presence in public sector activities and, most notably perhaps, in the regional media (Nelde, Strubell and Williams, 1996). These public sector activities are not insignificant within regional economies characterised by the absence of large private sector enterprises. This has been of value to the minority language group if only by reference to how the associated  promise of accessing high profile, well paid and highly skilled occupations using the minority language serves as a motivating force for parents seeking the best for their children. However, these opportunities have been restricted to minority language speakers and the associated labour market segmentation has generated considerable animosity in some quarters.  Consequently we are a long way away from the scenario within which the minority language is of benefit to everyone, whether they speak the language or not. Minority languages remain a problem rather than becoming an asset.

2. The New Economy

Currently we are confronting a new round of economic restructuring within which industrial age economy is slowly giving way to what is known as the New Economy (Williams, 2000). It is this challenge that is facing minority language groups. Any region or social group which fails to engage with the New Economy is in danger of becoming the source of displaced labour for that economy. It is clear that there are definite spatial concentration by reference to the hardware and software developments –two of the main components of the ICT sector in Europe which leaves many minority language regions out of these developments and obliging new forms of entry trajectories. The concept of path dependency, or how earlier forms of economic activity will determine future forms, means that for several such regions the existing media sector and how it transforms into multimedia activities will be a key to that trajectory.

However, there are two contexts within which the media sector is obliged to change.  Firstly there is the issue of convergence and how it merges previously separate sectors and activites; and secondly there are the new ways of working associated with the development of knowledge as an asset. Economic activities are redefined (fig. 1):

Figure 1. Toivonen 2001:75 (Modified by Kentz)

Figure 1. Toivonen 2001:75 (Modified by Kentz)

The convergence of ICT and media breaks down the barriers which have separated the world of broadcasting, publishing, communication and IT. New partnerships are required. The  Infocom sector uses digital communication to create a content industry which uses hardware and software to distribute digitised information (fig. 2).

Figure 2. Infocom Sector

Figure 2. Infocom Sector

The synthesis of many fields of expertise links with IT capabilities and stimulates content and services production. It is claimed that the content industry could be worth as much as 5% of EC GDP, becoming responsible for employing 4 million workers.

Its annual growth rate could be up to 20%, creating up to a million new jobs between 2000 and 2005 (EC, 2000). There are already oportunities for the creation of new systems of entertainment which can reach a global market at relatively low cost. The key involves the link between product and process innovation (Williams and Kantz, 2003).

New workflows are necessary and these can now operate trans-regionally (Williams, In Press). The semantic web uses software specifically designed to cope with on-line working. Human language technology in the form of machine translation and voice recognition allows on-line working to evolve regardless of language differences.   Even large video files can be moved effortlessly across space via broadband. Trans-regional development using interoperable cultural archives for content production used as shared resources is feasible. It opens up markets formerly closed by language and culture, while accessing a global market which includes a range of regional diaspora.

In summary there are the kinds of changes which are summarised in the following table which must be addressed:

Table 1. The Old Economy and the New Economy

  Old Economy New Economy
Economy-wide characteristics
Markets Stable Dynamic
Scope of competition State Global
Organisational form Hierarchical
Geog. mobility of businesses Low High
Regional competition Low High
Organisation of production Mass production Flexible production
Key Factor of production Capital/Labour Innovation/Knowledge
Key technology driver Mechanisation Digitization
Source of competitive advantage Lowering cost via economy of scale Innovation, Quality, time to market, cost
Importance of research/innovation Moderate High
Relations with other firms Go it alone Alliances/collaboration
Main policy goal Full employment Higher wages/incomes
Skills Job especific Broand, cross-training
Requisite education A skill Lifelong learning
Labour-Management relations Adversarial Collaborative
Nature of employment Stable Risk and opportunity
Business-government relations Impose requirements Assist company growth/innovation
Regulation Command+control Market tools, flexibility

3. Operating within the New Economy

There has been a tendency to consider these changes by reference to two or even three separate emphases. Firstly, there is the structural focus involving the organisational and spatial focus claimed to be necessary to simulate knowledge generation and innovation. It includes reference to the importance of the regional and the cultural and how it leads to the conception of Regional Innovation Systems (Braczyk, Cooke and Heidenreich, 1998). The emphasis on learning as the precursor of knowledge generation leads to an emphasis on proximity and the focus on the kinds of interaction which are claimed to stimulate process and product innovation. Local knowledge and regional culture are claimed to be essential for shared knowledge to be promoted. This involves the reasoning behind the emphasis on industrial clusters, the Triple Helix relationship between Universities and the public and private sector in promoting the learning process, the emergence of incubators and Science Parks as the organisational basis for such developments, etc. These approaches tend to be driven by the geographical and the economic metadiscourse with some input from among Sociologists. 

Secondly, there is focus on the kinds of interactive contexts within which knowledge is claimed to develop. Evidently, this links with the first concern, but the emphasis tends to be more on the interaction than the process. It involves the anthropological metadiscourse and its concern with small scale interactive analyses. It has resulted in a focus on what are called communities of practice as the basis whereby knowledge is created (Wenger, 1998) (2). These are small scale communities which are capable of being studied using the ethnographic methods of Anthropology and the Sociology of work.

Thirdly, far less emphasis has been placed on the relevance of language for the entire process. The focus here is less on structure and the interactive process than on the interpersonal process of knowledge generation. It must engage with the other emphases and should ignore disciplinary concerns in developing its focus. It is the later which I wish to focus upon in this paper. The relevant starting point involves what is being claimed about the nature of knowledge and how it can be developed.

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