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44 | 2023 – Failures: When cultural experiences are thwarted


The advent of web 2.0 along with the development of sites such as TripAdvisor has made it all the more apparent: not all cultural experiences are successes. Failure is commonplace in cultural practices, and yet it has been left largely unexplored by academics in social sciences. How can it be defined? Studied? Understood? This call for papers aims foster dialogue about unsuccessful cultural experiences so as to better understand both them and what they reveal about our relationship not only with cultural experiences but culture itself.

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Notes de la rédaction

Under the direction of Camille Jutant and Hécate Vergopoulos

Call for papers for a thematic issue

For the past few years, failure has elicited a certain amount of interest in artistic, cultural and scientific fields. Several interdisciplinary artistic events have even gone so far as to make it a central theme of their programming, such as the METEOR festival in Norway whose program in 2019 was centered around the concept of “radical failure”1 and the Great Failure Festival organized by four universities in The Netherlands in May 20222. Failure is analyzed both as it participates in creative action and as how it contributes to reveal the norms and expectations that one has concerning the works and biography of artists. Recently, the Fondation de France gave a prize to a platform dedicated to archiving failed scientific experiments3. Since 2017, the France Culture TV show “Superfail” has presented failed events, failures, catastrophes and mistakes in all parts of society. Failure is presented as a social fact, but what is especially interesting is the covering up of such failures and how this reveals the functional norms and structures of society.

In human and social sciences, a 2018 seminar organized by the research team “Praxis et esthétique des arts” at the Université d’Artois was devoted to this topic, an issue of the journal Agôn titled “Rater” (to fail) was released in 2021, in addition to past issues of Sociologie de l’art devoted to “Échecs et ratages en art” (Failures and mistakes in art) (1994) and Post-scriptum which analyzed “la figure du raté” (the figure of failure) (2011). Along with others, these examples and approaches are especially aimed at the study of the conditions of failure (Heinich, 1995; Stiénon, 2020), its aesthetics and poetics (Hachette, 2021; Idoudi, 2011; Thimonier, 2021), but also its heuristics and “productive” nature (Danto, 2021; Menger, 2009), ultimately leaving little room for audiences of art and culture. In other words, failure is rarely approached from the perspective of cultural practice. Only Jean-Didier Urbain studied this in relation to tourism and what he called “failed trips” (2008).

This issue aims to make up for this lack in the study of cultural practices. It will question the idea of failure from the point of view of audience’s cultural experiences. Failure will be defined, at least provisionally, as a frustration of audiences’ cultural expectations which creates dissatisfaction. It will operate on the principle that any cultural experience exposes the subject to a certain level of failure.

It seems necessary today to take stock of the studies dealing with these issues in social sciences seeing as the notions of audience and cultural experience both crystalize tensions and high expectations for success amongst professionals working in culture, and are a particularly fertile space in which to question the very concept of failure.

On the one hand, the notion of audience is particularly effective in relation to policies of cultural democratization, meaning access to works, to infrastructures and to cultural experiences. From this perspective, visitors and audiences perform this access and publicize it (Cefaï & Pasquier, 2003). In this respect, as a mentality of performance was coming about in cultural institutions in the 2000s, audiences’ presence became, for said institutions, an indicator of success or failure in their projects (Renaud & Navarro, 2021). All cultural outreach work is thus subject to a double imperative: to ensure access and to achieve success in a satisfying experience by guiding, recommending or accompanying visitors in their quest for enjoyment, leisure, discovery, etc. Important to consider as well is how digital platforms and social media, which publicize cultural practices, are an invitation to participate and influence (Beuscart, et al., 2019; Micheau, et al. 2017; Paquienséguy, 2017), as signaled through likes, views and engagement (Bonaccorsi & Jutant, 2019). These practices have the effect of creating anxiety around failure for cultural institutions that now have to offer explanations about their audiences’ satisfaction or lack thereof.

On the other hand, though, cultural experiences in particular are difficult to categorize simply in the opposition between “satisfaction” and “dissatisfaction” (Le Marec & Deshayes, 1997). For example, the history of museum evaluation shows just how diverse cultural experiences can be (one can be disappointed by an exhibition and still return to a museum, or have misunderstood an object or an explanation and still consider it a rich experience). Still in the case of museums, research has shown that there are certain constants and variables that affect a cultural experience: “the (oft-underestimated) effort of visitors to understand what has been presented to them, the importance of social practices, and mindsets of discovering and recognition” (Le Marec & Chaumier, 2009:12). Thus, if one reckons that failure is a breach of the cultural experience rather than a hindered desire for satisfaction, it is important to find out how, with whom, why and in what context this desire for understanding, discovering, recognition and/or sociability are thwarted.

This issue does not seek to advocate, to promote or to demonstrate the hidden virtues of failure, but rather to analyze how failure invites a critical analysis of cultural experiences, starting with the concept of experience itself. Following the work of philosopher Laurence Devillairs, a certain caution in respect to the learning or heuristic opportunities of failure must be applied: “the fascination with failure, which turns them all into learning or enrichment opportunities, relies on an overpromotion of experiences. The latter is seen as something of a gift or a miracle: a gift because it allows for revelation, a miracle because it’s able to transform negatives into positives. Experience functions as a sort of intermediary, a transformer of energy, between us and reality; it negotiates our connection to reality in the sense that one negotiates a turning (…). But it is indeed a fascination, or even a lure » (2020: 196-197).

This issue is no more aimed at evaluating cultural experiences by using failure as an indicator of good or bad practices.

Below are three lines of inquiry that could be explored by authors’ proposals.

Line 1: How can one grasp the failure of a cultural experience?

A first concern will be to grasp failure both in terms of definition and in terms of methodology. Thus, an initial question will be around the particular nature of cultural failure. What makes a cultural experience a failure? Failure is close to many other phenomena: defeat (Lacroix, 1964), mistake (Chateauraynaud, 1991), error (Besson & Kikuchi, 2015). While Heinich regroups all of these terms under the general notion of failure, we propose here that it is in fact distinguishable from these other “unfortunate” situations (Heinich, 1995). Are these variations on failure better understood syntagmatically or paradigmatically? In other words, is failure a more or less intense experience, is it more or less acute or serious than those other experiences that might meet the summit of catastrophe which, in the end, failure avoids (Barbéris & Maurer, 1998)? Or is instead a singular experience as opposed to those others defined by their own particular discomfort? What is a cultural failure?

Following on from this, cultural failure can be examined from a methodological standpoint. Can one be observed as it happens, or does it necessarily arise through memory, story and testimonial? If that’s the case, how then can we dig up and encourage verbalization about these “burns”, the memory “of strong but unpleasant experiences, be it because of shame, humiliation or embarrassment” (Winkin, 2017: 190)? How can we encourage a written or verbal recounting of what may be at its own origin, and how can we qualify this very recounting?

Line 2: What does the experience of cultural failure produce?

A failure is, in and of itself, an experience. It makes evident a certain conflict between what was experienced and what should have been. This conflict can arise from the opposition between ideal and reality (Urbain, 2008) or project and realization (Lacroix, 1964) or even, in linguistics, to-be-said and said (Barbéris, 1991; Barbéris & Maurer, 1998) which, within the context of studying practices, can become to-be-done and done.

If failure is subjective (what is a failure for some may not be for others), it does contain a objective reality: something within the subject is resistant to its “project for being” or its “desire for being (Lacroix, 1964). The subject is thus incapable of adapting its project to experience (Urbain, 2008), or unable to find its moment (Certeau, 1990). Consequently, it can fall prey to a feeling of “social degradation” in correlation with a “depreciation of the self” (Lacroix, 1964: 14). What does this experience of failure mean for a cultural subject? How does it affect a cultural subject? Faced with an imperative to succeed, is there any way to capitalize on failure or does it lead inevitably to inhibition and oblivion? Does failure not serve an invitation to enact a sort of reflectiveness on the experience in process? Failure would thus acquire a sort of (trans)formative quality that it would be interesting to study more in depth, especially by analyzing if and why a subject can benefit from failure in order to transform its vision, and then identifying such transformations.

Line 3: What does cultural failure mean?

Finally, an analysis could be carried out on how failure reveals definitional frameworks, standards and norms relative to cultural experiences. What is it that failures are upsetting in the beliefs, representations and knowledge of a cultural subject?

One question that could be posed is to know what is at stake in the expression of a failure, of a conflict or of a rejection (Heinich, 1995). Is this a key to knowing how subjects analyze and evaluate “cultural” situations? And what of the standards and references drawn upon to judge what qualifies an experience as “cultural”?

Is failure not linked to a conflict between different definitions of cultural experiences, between that taken on by institutions and actors that postulate certain goals and roles on behalf of the audiences receiving the experience (Chaumier & Mairesse, 2013; Davallon & Flon, 2013) and that constructed by those very subjects for whom they are meant? If, for example, a cultural experience is defined as a gap that needs to be filled, an unbalance to correct between those in the know and those not (Ghebaur, 2014, 2017); between professionals and amateurs; between experts and neophytes (Dufresne & Gellereau, 2004); between locals and foreigners, how then can it be lived as anything other than a risk of failure?

Selected Bibliography

Barbéris, Jeanne-Marie. 1991, « L’oral en cadences, ou "Ratage" et régulation du discours », in Cahiers de praxématique, 16,

Barbéris, Jeanne-Marie & Maurer, Bruno. 1998. « Sur le "ratage" en discours oral », in L’information grammaticale, 77, pp. 43-47.

Baudou, Estelle ; Coulon, Aurélie & Rioual, Quentin (dir.). 2021. « Rater », Agôn, 9,

Bélanger Michaud, Sarah Danièle (dir.). 2011. « La Figure du raté : perspective comparatiste », Post-scriptum, n°13,

Besson, Florian & Kikuchi, Catherine (dir.). 2015. « L’Erreur, l’échec, la faute », Questes, n°30,

Beuscart, Jean-Samuel, Coavoux, Samuel. & Maillard, Sisley. 2019. « Les algorithmes de recommandation musicale et l’autonomie de l’auditeur : Analyse des écoutes d’un panel d’utilisateurs de streaming » Réseaux, 213, 17-47,

Bonaccorsi, Julia & Jutant, Camille. 2019. « L’amateur de musique à cinq pattes. Énonciations industrielles de la pratique culturelle et poétiques du goût », in Croissant, Valérie, (dir). L’avis des autres. Prescription et recommandation culturelles à l’ère numérique. Éditions des archives contemporaines, Collection Ère numérique - Lab ELICO, pp. 63-79.

Cambro, Maxence & Lempicki, Anne (dir.), 2018. « Ratage, erreur et échec dans les arts de la scène et visuels. Une approche esthétique et économique », 13 avril 2018, Université d’Artois.

Certeau, Michel de. 1990 (1980). L’Invention du quotidien. 1. Arts de faire. Paris : Gallimard. 349p.

Chateauraynaud, Francis. 1991. La Faute professionnelle. Une sociologie des conflits de responsabilité au travail. Paris : Métaillé. 474p.

Chaumier, Serge & Mairesse, François. 2013. La médiation culturelle. Pairs : Armand Colin. 280p.

Davallon, Jean & Flon, Émilie. 2013. « Le média exposition », Culture et Musées, hors série, pp. 19-45

Danto, Isabelle. 2012. « Fluxus, un ratage fécond », in Esprit, 12, pp. 134-136.

Devillairs, Laurence. 2020. « Échecs, ratages et banqueroutes », in Guérir la vie par la philosophie, Paris : PUF, pp.196-199.

Ghebaur, Cosmina. 2014. « "C’est pas pour nous normalement", La médiation culturelle et les non- publics », in Tumultes, n° 42.

Ghebaur, Cosmina. 2017. « Enquêter sur les non-publics de la culture : quelle posture de recherche pour quel dispositif méthodologique ? », in ¿ Interrogations ?, n° 24,

Hachette, Pauline. 2021. « Les heureux ratés de l’expérience. Du nouage entre éthique et esthétique dans quelques scénographies de "La Belle Meunière" », in Agôn, 9,

Heinich, Nathalie. 1994. « La faute, l’erreur, l’échec : les formes du ratage artistique », in

Sociologie de l'art, 7, pp.11-25.

Heinich, Nathalie, 1996. « L'art contemporain exposé aux rejets : contribution à une sociologie des valeurs », Hermès, La Revue (n° 20), p. 193-204

Idoudi, Saber. 2011. « Poétique de l’échec chez Cioran », in Post-scriptum, 13,

Jamin, Jean. 1986. « Du ratage comme heuristique ou l’autorité de l’ethnologue », in Etudes rurales, 101-102, pp. 337-341.

Jeanson, Francis, 1973. L'action culturelle dans la cité. Éditions du Seuil. 248p.

Kefalidou, Charikleia Madgalini. 2021. « Failure and failing, an ethos of the (self) exiled? The case of the playwright William Saroyan », in Agôn, 9,

Lacroix Jean. 1964. L'Échec. Paris : PUF. 116p.

Le Marec, Joëlle & Deshayes, Sophie. 1997. « Évaluation, marketing et muséologie », in Publics et Musées, n°11-12, Marketing et musées (sous la direction de Jean-Michel Tobelem) pp. 165-191.

Le Marec, Joëlle & Chaumier, Serge. 2009. « Évaluation muséale : Hermès ou les contraintes de la richesse », in La Lettre de l’OCIM, 126, pp. 7-14.

Menger, Pierre-Michel. 2009. Le Travail créateur. S’accomplir dans l’incertain. Paris : Gallimard/Seuil. 670p.

Micheau, Béatrice, Després-Lonnet, Marie & Cotte, Dominique. 2017. « La recommandation musicale entre inscriptions documentaires, pratiques sociales, et dispositifs d’écoute », in Études de communication, 49, 33-56.

Paquienséguy, Françoise. 2017. « Le glissement de la prescription dans les plateformes de recommandation », in Études de communication, 49, 13-32.

Renaud, Lise & Navarro, Nicolas. 2021. « Quand le public est “données”: pour une nouvelle économie de l’évaluation », in Les publics de la culture à l'ère numérique : colloque interdisciplinaire, FABRICC - Université de Poitiers, Dec 2021, Angoulême, France.

Sociologie de l’art, 7, « Échecs et ratages en art », 1994, 123p.

Stiénon, Valérie. 2020. « Banalité, délégitimation, oubli : des conditions du ratage en littérature », in Contextes, n°27,

Thimonier, Victor. 2021. « "…Rater encore, rater mieux", poétique du ratage chez Jean-François Peyret », in Agôn, 9,

Urbain, Jean-Didier. 2008. Le voyage était presque parfait. Essai sur les voyages ratés. Payot. 556p.

Winkin, Yves. 2017. « Brûlures fertiles : traces mnésiques et travail ethnographique », in Galinon-Mélénec, Béatrice (dir.), L’Homme-trace. Des traces du corps au corps-trace, CNRS Editions, pp. 183-197.

This issue’s guest editors

Camille Jutant is a lecturer in Information and Communication Sciences at the Université Lumière Lyon 2. She is a member of the Elico laboratory (équipe de recherche de Lyon en sciences de l’information et de la communication). Her research deals with the practices of cultural visitors and their relationship with outreach around cultural objects (digital apparatus, game mediation, scenography and space, text, etc.).

Hécate Vergopoulos is a lecturer in Information and Communication Sciences at the CELSA Sorbonne Université. She is a member of the GRIPIC (groupe de recherches interdisciplinaires sur les processus d’information et de communication). Her work deals with outreach and tourist experiences and is concentrated on what she calls “tourism dysphoria”, that is the instances of interpretive discomfort in which a touristic experience is no longer self-evident.

Sending proposals

Please send in proposals (between 5,000 and 7,000 characters) by email before September 22nd, 2023 to:

Camille Jutant:

Hécate Vergopoulos:


Dominique Poulot:

Pauline Grison :

Formatting for proposals

- 5,000 to 7,000 characters including spaces

- The .docx document should be named as follows: C&M-N°44-PC-Author’s last name (or principal author if more than one).

- The document should be written in 12-point Times New Roman justified

In order, it should have the following:

- LAST and first name of author 1

- Email address

- Status: Position and institution (university, research lab)

- Title

- Biography (maximum 600 characters)

The same is applicable for any other authors of the proposals.

- Proposal title

- The body of the proposal should include details of the disciplinary or interdisciplinary approach adopted, the issues at stake, the field or corpus studied, the methodology employed and preliminary projection of results.

- 5 keywords

- 5 references used in the article.


September 22nd, 2023: Deadline for proposal submission.

October 15th, 2023: Acceptances and refusals of proposals are sent to authors.

January 31st, 2024: Deadline for finished articles.

February 2024: Double-blind peer-review.

March 2024: Feedback to authors (acceptance or rejection on the basis of peer-reviews).

June 20th, 2024: Deadline for final changes including metadata.

December 2024: Issue publication.


Camille Jutant

Hécate Vergopoulos

Culture & Musées, the Journal

Culture & Musées is a double-blind peer-reviewed bi-annual journal devoted to publishing new research on cultural audiences, institutions and outreach. It aims at a wide readership of researchers, students as well as museum and cultural heritage professionals. Culture & Musées is a recognized journal in the field of Information and Communication Sciences (71st CNU section).

The journal is supported by Avignon University et UGA Éditions. It is published with the support of France’s Ministry of Culture, the Région Sud, the Institute of Human and Social Sciences at the CNRS and the Centre Norbert Elias (CNE).

The journal is indexed by the INIST and the Arts and Humanities Citation Index and Current Contents/Arts Humanities (Thomas Reuters), Mir@bel - - Web of science – Scimago - Scopus.

Culture & Musées is open access and published on OpenEdition:

Heads of Publication

Publication Directors: Isabelle Brianso & Éric Triquet (Avignon Université)

Editors-in-chief: Dominique Poulot (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) & Éric Triquet (Avignon Université)

Assistant Editor-in-chief: Gaëlle Crenn (Université de Lorraine)

Editorial Board

Pascale Ancel, Université Grenoble Alpes

Florence Andreacola, Université Grenoble Alpes

Arnaud Bertinet, Université Paris 1

Isabelle Brianso, Avignon Université

Marie-Charlotte Calafat, Mucem

Marie Cambone, Université Grenoble Alpes

Sandra Costa, Université de Bologne

Saskia Cousin, Université Paris Nanterre

Gaëlle Crenn, Université de Lorraine

Catherine Cuenca, AGCCPF, Université de Nantes

Manuelina Maria Duarte Cândido, Université de Liège

Jacqueline Eidelman, École du Louvre

Daniel Jacobi, Avignon Université

Emmanuelle Lallement, Université Paris 8

Joëlle Le Marec, Sorbonne Université

Jean-Marc Leveratto, Université de Lorraine

François Mairesse, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3

Anik Meunier, Université du Québec à Montréal

Dominique Poulot, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Vincent Poussou, Direction des publics et du numérique de la Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais

Lise Renaud, Avignon Université

Olivier Thévenin, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3

Eric Triquet, Avignon Université

Fabien Van Geert, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3

Mathieu Viau-Courville, OCIM

Jean-Christophe Vilatte, Université de Lorraine

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